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Business Of The House

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 29 April 1954

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May I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he will state the business for next week?

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 3RD MAY—Second Reading: Finance Bill.

TUESDAY, 4TH MAY, AND WEDNESDAY. 5TH MAY—It is proposed to begin the Committee stage of the Television Bill.

THURSDAY, 6TH MAY—Supply [14th Allotted Day]: Committee. Debate on the Metropolitan Police until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, debate on the Protection of Consumer Standards.

FRIDAY. 7TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

There are three points I wish to raise. First, on the second half of the business next Thursday, we propose to put down a Motion for discussion. Secondly, may I ask, with regard to the question of setting up a Committee on Private Bills, whether the Government have given any consideration to that matter? Thirdly, are the Government now prepared to grant a day for the consideration of the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the notice on the first point. On the second point, the Government have now considered the matter and have come to the conclusion that it is desirable that a Joint Select Committee of both Houses should inquire into Private Bill procedure. On the third point, I can only remind the right hon. Gentleman of what the Prime Minister said on Wednesday, 14th April.

But surely it is the duty, is it not, of the Government to provide time for the consideration of a report of an important Committee set up by all hon. Members of this House?

Why does it not follow? It is not the duty of the Opposition, it is the duty of the Government. I have always understood that the Leader of the House had to consider not merely Government business but the general issues which come before the House from all Members of the House. This is preeminently a matter for the whole House because it was a Committee set up by all hon. Members of this House.

Yes, of course, it was set up by the decision of the House, but it was on the Motion of one of the hon. Friends of the right hon. Gentleman.

May I raise two points with the right hon. Gentleman? Surely it is the normal case, as my right hon. Friend has said, that when a Select Committee of this House reports, it is competent for the House to deal with the report, and if there is a request from a substantial body of hon. Members that it should be discussed, it is normally—I should have thought universally—the case that the Government provide the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly, and is it not the case that the Prime Minister himself said that this was not a matter for the Government, it was eminently a House of Commons matter? Therefore, surely it is a case where the Government should provide the time whereby the House can discuss it and not demand that the Opposition shall sacrifice Supply time, which is for the purpose of checking the executive Government as against the House of Commons?

That may be, but of course the right hon. Gentleman, as we all know from his book, will realise that it often happens at this time of the year that there is very little Government time available but a great deal of Opposition time. On many issues within both his and my recollection, if the Opposition are very anxious for a debate, they have taken steps to facilitate it.

Surely the point that the right hon. Gentleman has raised—the fact that this question was raised from this side of the House—is irrelevant. There are many reports—for instance, those of the Committee of Privileges—for which, irrespective of which side raises the matter, it is the duty of the Leader of the House to provide time for consideration.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will arrange for an early discussion of perhaps a rather less controversial matter, the Taylor Commission's Report on Crofting?

Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on the matter raised by my two right hon. Friends? This Committee has reported unanimously and therefore that in itself ought to make the matter a House of Commons one rather than to put the emphasis, as the right hon. Gentleman is doing in a partisan way, on the Opposition.

Ought not the right hon. Gentleman to answer, Mr. Speaker? I am open to correction, but my recollection is clear. Can the right hon. Gentleman find any precedent in the existence of the Labour Government from 1945 to 1951 when there was a demand for discussion of a Select Committee's Report where the Government did not provide time? This is an unparliamentary and a rather monstrous idea. When a report is presented to the House of Commons—not to the Government or to the Opposition—it is right and elementary that the Government should provide time, and it is no excuse for the Leader of the House to say that the Government have congested the programme and that therefore they cannot provide time. What has the right hon. Gentleman to say?

I can only repeat what I said before: I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend has said.

May I ask my right hon. Friend what are the circumstances which led Her Majesty's Government to propose to set up a Joint Select Committee on Private Bill legislation? What new factors have arisen to cause that decision?

That, no doubt, can be discussed when the Motion comes before the House, but representations were made, and it is a considerable time since these matters were investigated.

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether it is the Government's intention ever to provide time for the discussion and consideration of the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses? Further, can he quote any precedent where a Government have definitely refused to provide time for consideration by the House of the report of a Select Committee?

As far as I can understand it, that was almost word for word the same question as the one put by the right hon. Gentleman.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the consideration which he has just offered to the hon. Baronet the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) does not apply precisely to the question that I put to him on the other matter?

Really they have nothing to do with each other, because what I said in reply to the right hon. Gentleman involved a Government Motion setting up that Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman, in reply to the hon. Member for Croydon, East, who asked what was the reason for taking that action, said that action had not been taken for some time and that it was an important matter. That applies equally to the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses.

The right hon. Gentleman has perhaps forgotten how this matter arose. It arose during the debate on the Ashridge Bill initiated by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who has studied this matter carefully.

What difference does that make in a House of Commons matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman differentiating between reports to the House that arise on the Motion of some particular Member, whether Front Bench or back bench?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must realise that his explanations get more and more irrelevant?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Leader of the House has obviously failed to catch the sense of my question, I will put it in a little plainer language. Can we have a definite reply to this question?

My point of order is that my question has not been answered and I am putting it again, Sir.

I am afraid that complaints about the inadequacy of answers are very common in this House, but they are not points of order.

I suggest that a point of order is a correct point of order if a question has not been replied to in any shape or form, and that therefore it is in order to repeat the question.

May I ask the Leader of the House to bring his memory back to the question of a general character asked by my right hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the Opposition and may I now ask a particular question on the same subject: whether the right hon. Gentleman remembers that the last time this subject was dealt with was in 1946, and that then when a Select Committee reported the Labour Government did in fact provide time for a debate? Will he not at least do the same as the Labour Government did in 1946 and be decent to the House?

I think that the question of my hon. Friend deserves an answer, but evidently the Leader of the House has decided to dig his heels in and to deny the ordinary Parliamentary facilities. Therefore, may I ask the Prime Minister—who is at any rate usually a House of Commons man—whether it is within his recollection that when a Select Committee reports it does not report to the Government or to the Opposition, but to the House of Commons? Therefore, does not the Prime Minister think that facilities ought to be granted to the House of Commons by the powers that be in order that we may debate this, rather than that it should be a partisan move by the Opposition in Supply time when partisan issues are discussed? May I appeal to the Prime Minister to undertake at any rate to reconsider the position indicated by the Leader of the House?

I thought that it was a very reasonable proposal which we made, namely, that a discussion should take place through the usual channels and assistance should be given to the Government by the Opposition, who have so much time at their disposal, to find an opportunity for discussing a matter with which they are very sympathetic, and for which they have pressed so strongly. And I must say that if they go on pressing like this, it may well be thought that they are unduly biased in the matter.

I am sorry for the Prime Minister's last remark. The Prime Minister has now put forward a new point, that is, that there should be discussions with the Opposition through the usual channels to see what adjustment can be made for finding time. That is another proposal. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that it is the duty of the Opposition to maintain the rights of the Opposition and that Supply days are essentially Opposition time for the purpose of criticising the Government It is not right for the Opposition to give that time away. Therefore, I suggest that there should be discussions through the usual channels, and I hope that also there will be consideration in the Government of this very important matter of the status of reports made to this House and not to the Government.

Supply days are very often used to a large extent for other matters, and it is surely quite reasonable that there should be talks through the usual channels on all matters. We do not wish in any way to prevent the discussion of this matter, but, on the other hand, it must take its place in the ordinary course of business. There is no rule against using Supply days if other matters are thought to have greater weight, and there are innumerable precedents existing.

I wonder whether the right ton. Gentleman would give me one precedent where a Supply day has been used for the debate on the report of a Select Committee to this House?

I naturally came to the House with my mind full of an enormous list and categories of such cases, but I am afraid that it would take up too much time if I were to attempt to produce it.

Order. I understand from the recent exchanges that there are to be further talks through the usual channels. Perhaps we had better leave it there for the moment.

I have been endeavouring for some time to ask the Leader of the House a question on a totally different matter. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on a matter about which I have not wearied him for a long time now. He will remember that he repeatedly promised to consider at some convenient time the question of finding time when the House might consider the Report of the Royal Commission on the death penalty. It was a distinguished Commission which took a lot of evidence and sat for five years and which unanimously reported that the present state of the law on this really grave matter is wholly unsatisfactory. Can the right hon. Gentleman now hold out any new hope that the Government will find a little time to consider that matter?

With regard to the business on Thursday next, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is proposed to suspend the rule with regard to the debate on the protection of consumer standards?

It has not been put to me, and I do not think so; but if it is desired, of course it can be discussed in the usual way.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, may I ask your guidance? I heard with great pleasure that, rather reluctantly and at the last moment, the Government suggest that they are prepared to discuss the question of a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses through the usual channels. We appreciate that and thank the Government for it. We admire the way in which you, Sir, as Speaker of this House, protect the interests of every hon. Member, every back-bencher, irrespective of party. In view of the fact that this Select Committee's Report is a matter affecting the whole House; that the Select Committee was set up by the whole House and that its findings have a bearing on all backbenchers—perhaps some more than others—may I ask to what extent it is possible for you to do something to protect the interests of back-benchers and the House in this matter in the same admirable way as you have done in the past?

That is not a matter for me. Were there any violation of the rights of hon. Members in any part of the House, I should do my best to check and prevent it; but I think the matter has now reached the stage of talks through the usual channels, and we had better leave it there.

Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[The Prime Minister.]