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Business Of The House

Volume 629: debated on Thursday 3 November 1960

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May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech will continue on Monday, 7th November, and be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday, 8th November.

I was going to say, as it is according to precedent that the business statement is made first, that it would be convenient if you, Mr. Speaker, would be good enough to indicate which Amendment or Amendments you propose to call and the days upon which they will be taken, but I think that you have now been good enough to indicate your choice and, therefore, it is unnecessary for me to ask.

If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, I did not indicate to which day I was proposing the subject matter should go. I will complete that by saying that I think the Amendment on education should be taken on Monday

[But humbly regret that the policies of your Majesty's present advisers are inadequate to reduce the size of classes in schools, to plan for educational advance on the lines recently recommended by the Central Advisory Council of the Ministry of Education, or to ensure that all young people leaving school shall have full opportunities for further education, whether at a university or other educational institution.]

and the Amendment on rent and tenure on Tuesday.

[But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no proposals to alleviate the hardships caused by excessive rents and insecurity of tenure, to assist local authorities in providing homes, or to deal with the high cost of land and other difficulties whch now obstruct a solution of the housing problem.]

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. I will go on with the business for the rest of the week, which is as follows:

WEDNESDAY, 9TH NOVEMBER, and THURSDAY, 10TH NOVEMBER—Debate on Public Investment and Economic Policy, which will arise on the Government Motion already on the Order Paper to take note of the White Paper published on Tuesday.

It may be found generally convenient to the House to devote the first day's debate chiefly to the investment programmes of the nationalised industries.

At the end of business on Wednesday we hope to obtain the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution; and, on Thursday, the Motion to approve the Import Duties Order relating to Playing Cards.

FRIDAY, 11TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the British North America Bill.

Second Reading of the Indus Basin Development Fund Bill, and the Administration of Justice (Judges and Pensions) Bill, and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolutions.

MONDAY, 14TH NOVEMBER—The proposed business will be the Second Reading of the Land Drainage Bill, and the Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will find time for an early debate on agriculture? May I also ask him a second question? In putting it, I should like to make plain that I did not intervene in the questions on procedure which were put to you, Mr. Speaker, just now, because I thought my question appropriate to direct to the Leader of the House. It is this. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that whoever is speaking for the Government in tomorrow's debate will be in a position to clear up the confusion which has arisen concerning the Prime Minister's statement on the Polaris submarine base?

On the subject of agriculture, there are in this Session two Supply days at the service of the Opposition before Christmas, so it might be possible to find that convenient for a debate on agriculture. I will certainly take note of the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Tomorrow's debate continues the debate on the Address and, by general agreement, is to be devoted mainly to foreign affairs. But I am certainly quite ready to discuss with my right hon. Friend or hon. Friends involved, the request made by the right hon. Gentleman. I would only say, in passing, in reference to the long discussion that we had on this very important matter, which was raised by many hon. Members, that there has been an opportunity on each day in the debate on the Address, absolutely according to precedent and tradition, for hon. Members to raise this important subject and to discuss it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is obviously far more convenient to raise this issue during a debate on foreign affairs, because it is a matter of foreign affairs? Is he also aware that we shall be putting questions arising out of the statement in Washington, so I hope that the Government will be in a position to answer?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his indication that that will be so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) drew the attention of the House to its historic right to control the standing Army and the numbers contained therein. Because, this year, we have had no debate on the subject, it is most unfortunate that this most important matter has not been raised. When the Army Act was pasted, in 1954, it was on the basis that there would be four affirmative Orders and then the Government would present a Bill.

At that time the Leader of the House, Viscount Crookshank, would not agree to amending the Standing Orders of the House, but he gave an undertaking that a Select Committee would be set up before the end of the period so that the whole matter could be looked at again. Those of us who are interested in this question think it an absolutely vital subject and that the House should not pass from consideration of the Queen's Speech before getting an undertaking from the Government of their intentions in this matter.

I hope that I can give the hon. Member a full assurance on this matter. The effective Orders will expire at the end of December and then continue for a further twelve months by Order in Council, but further Acts will be required to continue the present one in force beyond the end of 1961. The necessary legislation, therefore, will be introduced this Session so the hon. Member and his hon. Friends will have an opportunity in the ordinary way to discuss these matters.

As to my predecessor's undertaking about a Select Committee, I understand that the undertaking was given on 17th March, 1955, to the effect that a Select Committee would be set up after the Second Reading, which, I think, on this occasion, bearing in mind previous history, is quite reasonable. I have no wish to go back on the undertaking given by my predecessor in this respect.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will reconsider his decision about the course of the debates in the coming week? Reference has been made to the debate on foreign affairs tomorrow. The question has been addressed to him as to whether the Minister of Defence, or whoever replies to the foreign affairs debate, will seek an opportunity to clear up the confusion which apparently exists about the Prime Minister's statement, but the right hon. Gentleman was not quite sure whether that would be possible. He said that he would convey that information to his right hon. Friend, but surely he will agree that even if a statement is made by the Minister of Defence, or whoever replies to the debate tomorrow afternoon, that will not satisfy hon. Members who have appended their signatures to this Amendment.

May I also direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that what is required on an urgent and controversial issue of this kind is not only a debate but, if necessary, a vote, if the Government's reply is unsatisfactory. May I put this further point? On this I feel very strongly. [Interruption.] I am not concerned about what my hon. Friends on the Front Bench may think about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) had better await what happens tonight. Perhaps he will not be as cocky after that as he is at present. May I ask, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.] If anybody wants to shut me down they had better do it outside. I know you will not do that with me.

I am not quite sure about that. Perhaps the right hon. Member will be able to conclude his question.

I express regret to you, Sir, but I would point out that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East interrupted me. Otherwise I would not have said anything. I am saying what I think is necessary and so long as I am in order—and apparently Mr. Speaker thinks that I am—

I would not put it quite as high as that. I was desiring the right hon. Member to conclude, as soon as conveniently possible, his question to the Leader of the House.

I express regret to you again, Sir. I am sorry if I have said anything improper which bears on your conduct or the proceedings of the House. [Interruption.] Perhaps I may be allowed to put my point. I have been distracted. The point I was putting to the right hon. Gentleman was this. In the past he has been very flexible as regards the usual channels. In the somewhat unusual situation in which we find ourselves, could he be a little less flexible about the usual channels and pay some regard to the views of private Members? I understand that the Leader of the House is taking my point. May I ask him whether he will do so on this occasion?

Far be it from me to join in the internecine strife on the other side of the House. I do not think that we want to extend the atmosphere of tension which has existed on this subject this afternoon, but I shall attempt to address myself to any hydra-headed arrangement that may emerge after this evening. In that way, I shall try to represent the minorities as well as the majorities in all matters on the subject the right hon. Member has raised. I think that I can give the House the assurance that it is the intention of the Minister of Defence to speak at the end of the debate tomorrow. It is, therefore, right that I should convey to him the impression I have gained from hon. Members that he should deal with this important matter. That, I hope, will satisfy hon. Members.

I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think that it will satisfy hon. Members. For one thing, will the Minister deal with the Polaris submarine? That is an important matter, but not the most important matter. The people expect us to debate the most important question, which is the whole state of our defences and the defence of the Western world. It seems to me that many of the subjects which have been put down for discussion are less important and could be postponed to another occasion.

I have to guide myself very carefully on what is within your purview, Mr. Speaker, on the choice of Amendments. That is essentially a matter for Mr. Speaker and we have heard his Ruling and accept it. It is open to any hon. Member, including the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), to take part in the debate tomorrow and I have said that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, in response to requests, will deal with this matter himself. That is the best opening that I can find on the Motion for the Address.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of what the Leader of the House Chas just said, I wonder whether I might be allowed to put this to you? We all accept your Ruling that you must decide which Amendments should be called to the Loyal Address, but I think that a situation may arise—I think it has arisen in these particular circumstances—where, after the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House have come to an understanding about the business to be dealt with on the Loyal Address, some other event takes place which causes back benchers, in however great a minority, to put down an Amendment to the Loyal Address subsequently to the arrangement having been arrived at.

I am sure that what you have ruled so far would be generally accepted by the House, but may I put this to you? Could you give hon. Members on the back benches an assurance that when an event does take place which leads to an Amendment being put down after agreement between the two Front Benches, it shall not be ruled out for all time and that no alteration can be made in the Amendments you intend to select?

I would not give any hypothetical ruling of any sort or kind. I would not desire to bind myself in any way except that I will always perform my duty to the House as I conceive it best.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he would consider a suggestion I wish to make to help him in his difficulties? My suggestion is that if he looks at the Motion relating to the proposed American Polaris submarine base in Great Britain he will there find a Motion which very largely covers the issue about which there has been controversy. I wish to ask him whether he would submit this point of view to the Prime Minister before he makes his statement in the House tomorrow.

Naturally, the Prime Minister, in these important negotiations with the head of the Government of the United States of America, will want to have the assurance that the House of Commons is behind him. This is an important international agreement and, in my view, it is very important that the Prime Minister should understand and get the opinion of all hon. Members. Suppose the statement tomorrow is unsatisfactory, as it may be. The Prime Minister will surely want a vote of the House of Commons. I suggest that the whole issue is covered by the Motion and I respectfully ask the Leader of the House to give that his consideration.

In the circumstances we had better deal with one thing at a time. There wilt be an opportunity tomorrow, although perhaps not as broad as some hon. Members would wish. There will be an opportunity for a statement by a responsible Minister, namely, the Minister of Defence. This Amendment remains on the Order Paper. You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that it is not a matter for you, that it is a matter for arrangement, but I do not think that we can pursue that on the Address. You have made your decision about the Amendments. I suggest that we use what opportunity there is to deal with this matter on the Address and that we leave the other consideration until later.

May I pursue a question raised by my right hon. Friend at the beginning of this series of questions to the Leader of the House about changing the business for next week to provide an extra day? Mr. Speaker has given his Ruling about the selection of Amendments in the framework of the time allotted for the debate on the Address. If there were another day, there would at least be a new circumstance which Mr. Speaker might like to consider in relation to the points which have been put to him. If there is more time, the question of priority and of competition between Amendments becomes easier to resolve.

I beg the Leader of the House to give this serious thought. I should like to point out to him, if I may, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition does not speak for the party in defence matters. The policy of the party is the policy set down in the Amendment to the Address, and my right hon. Friend has, very courageously and very frankly, declared his intention to fight this policy. He has said quite clearly that he does not agree with it, that he thinks that it is all wrong, and that he would like to see it reversed. He will quite clearly do nothing to assist it, although for the moment he is the Leader of the party in the House.

For the Leader of the House it has this relevance: when he comes to agreements with the usual channels about time in the House for discussing defence, he is in negotiation with representatives of a minority and not of a majority opinion in the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We were all at Scarborough, and if the conference did not adopt a new policy on defence, then I am left wondering what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition intends to fight. I thought—

I apologise. I was misled by the interruption. I had been pointing out to the Leader of the House that the point of view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition in defence matters is not, as he himself knows, and has declared, the opinion of the party which he aspires to lead. It was the interruption which challenged that which led me into straying beyond the confines of order, and I am sorry.

But I ask the Leader of the House to realise that I am not making a narrow point here. I am making a point of which I am sure he understands the relevance. If he were to confine his discussions about time for defence debates in the House to people who agree with him, and not to take into consideration those who do not agree with him and who represent a large mass of popular opinion outside, then the ability which the House of Commons ought to have to give effect to the debate which is running in the nation, and to bring it to the Floor of the House for determination, would be ruined. Some of us, I think I ought to say, will not allow the official policy of our party to be disfranchised in the House of Commons.

Order. I must ask the hon. Member, unless we are to have a wide, absurd and irregular debate, to confine himself to the question of next week's business.

I hope that the Leader of the House will bear in mind what I said to him. I ask him once more to consider very carefully whether, as Leader of the House, and equally, Mr. Speaker, you as the protector of the rights of back bench Members, should not consider giving an extra day to this general debate to allow those of us who want to discuss the question of defence the opportunity of discussing it.

I have already given consideration to this. The debate on the Address will take six days. Before the war it used to take five days. We now have six days, and we cannot allot more time. We are purposely giving two days for the economic debate in the following week, and we are making an arrangement for two Supply days before Christmas, together with a lot of other business.

This matter resolves itself into two parts. We cannot alter the arrangements for the debate on the Address, but, in considering the business, negotiations can certainly take place. The Government are not at all averse to having a debate on defence; we shall be very glad to have one. But I must also say that Her Majesty's Government must take the usual channels as we find them from day to day. That is the constitutional method of running business. In view of the obvious difficulties, I suggest that we leave over for future consideration the question of the Amendment which is on the Order Paper, signed by a large number of hon. Members, and that today we simply take the business as it is. If we do, then we may make progress with the rest of our business, after over an hour of this discussion.

Will the Leader of the House, without further delay, set aside a room in the House for a Whips Office for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who is setting himself up as leader of this party?

Order. I think that the hon. Member has passed outside the business for next week.

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that there is a strong opinion among a number of hon. Members that we should have an early opportunity to debate this question, and that we should do it in a form in which the opposition to the Polaris agreement can be expressed clearly and openly, and, if necessary, in the form of a Division?

I suggest that there is one way in which he might possibly make this opportunity available—and that is to consider this agreement between the British and American Governments as in the nature of a treaty. It would lie on the Table of the House of Commons under the Ponsonby rules and, following that, it would be open to debate. I suggest that, in any case, that ought to be done, in view of the high importance of this agreement, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider it.

I have nothing to add to the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). This matter must lie over for further consideration.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware that he has gone a long way to meet my hon. Friends, inasmuch as in ruling out any possibility of giving time in the debate on the Address for this subject, he showed, if I understood him, that he is willing to find time for the discussion of this Amendment? If he will be good enough to say that he confirms that, then it seems to me that we can depart from the subject and have an ordinary debate.

I can give no absolute undertaking. I simply said that in the debate on the Address there is an opportunity, tomorrow, for example, and that the Minister of Defence will take up what he has been requested to do. I said that the Amendment on the Order Paper must fall for future consideration and must be considered in the normal way through the usual channels and with hon. Members who are interested. That is what I have always tried to do. Further than that I cannot go.

The whole of this argument arises from the statement made by the Prime Minister in the course of his speech on the Motion for a Loyal Address. In view of the misleading nature, in important respects, of the Prime Minister's statement, which has been challenged in the United States, does the Prime Minister intend—quite apart from any other consideration—to make a clearer statement in the near future? I submit to the Leader of the House that it is not playing fair with the House to put up a "stooge" in another place to extricate the Prime Minister from this position—

It is not fair to put up a representative in another place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw"] I withdraw the word "stooge" if you, Mr. Speaker, rule it to be out of order, and substitute "spokesman". It is not fair to put up a "spokesman" in another place to extricate the Prime Minister from the misunderstandings and unsolved riddles arising out of this statement.

I should like the Leader of the House to appreciate that many hon. Members will not be satisfied with a few minutes' statement by the Minister of Defence tomorrow in the hope that that will clear up the situation. The Prime Minister made a statement in the House which has been challenged. It is his duty to come to the House at the earliest possible moment and clear the matter up, whether a debate takes place afterwards or not.

I think that we should get on with the business of the day. I suggest that we await the debate tomorrow and then see what we make of it. That would be far the fairer.

Has the Leader of the House seta my Motion on the Order Paper relating to a matter of Privilege? Can he give me an assurance that he will give us an early date for a debate on that Motion?

[That so much of the article in Reynolds News, dated 23rd October, 1960, complained of by the honourable Member for Nuneaton on 25th October, 1960, be referred to the Committee of Privileges.]

I have seen the hon. Gentleman's Motion, and I know what importance to attach to Motions of Privilege, but I cannot at present give an early day.

Does the right hon. Gentleman know that 150 Members of Parliament are going out to the Federation of Central Africa under these auspices? It is rather urgent. That is why I am asking him this question. At the Press interview the first six said that they warmly backed the Federation and deplored any talk of secession. Yesterday, the Daily Express said this

"Six visiting British M.P.s, including two Socialists and a Liberal, said tonight: 'We were doubtful before, but now we are convinced that the Federation must not be broken up'."
It strikes me as the most extraordinary amount of influential—

Order. The hon. Member's Motion relates to a newspaper article which did not say these things. We are running too wide on this.

I am pointing out to the Leader of the House why I respectfully ask him to regard this matter as of some urgency rather than just not giving us a day.

I cannot go further at present, but I shall be interested to have any information given me by the hon. Member.

In considering the debates that we are still to have on the Gracious Speech, will the Leader of the House ensure that we do not have a repetition of the lack of courtesy that we experienced yesterday, when the Government did not even think it right for one of their spokesmen on the Front Bench to reply to yesterday's very important debate?

Very often we have complaints that Ministers speak too much and take up too much time. What the Government did yesterday was quite deliberate in order to give more time to back benchers. If hon. Members want to hear more Ministers, I will note the hon. Gentleman's point of view, because Ministers like speaking and the more we hear the Ministers the more we like them.

Order. We are discussing next week's business. I ask the hon. Gentleman to address himself to that.

I am even nearer to the subject, Sir, because I am referring to tomorrow's business.

Will the right hon. Gentleman represent to the Prime Minister that he was the individual who made the statement on Tuesday which has caused all the confusion? Since the Prime Minister made the statement, he is the individual who ought to clear up the misunderstandings which have been created between the United States' State Department and Her Majesty's Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman also assure us that, if the Prime Minister does decide to deal with his own statement and explain it, it will not be in the form of a personal statement such as we had in the early part of this week?

As I said before, we must take one thing at a time. We had better hear what the Minister of Defence has to say tomorrow.

The Leader of the House has said that the Government would welcome an early debate on defence. There have been a number of submissions from this side. Will he consider the possibility of having an all-night sitting early next week after the major Amendments have been debated, so that those of us who wish to debate defence can use our time in the night hours?