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Business Of The House

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 9 November 1961

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Will the Leader of the House state the business of the House for next week?

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

MONDAY, 13TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Education Bill,and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

As already announced, we hope then to obtain the Second Reading of the Health Visitors and Social Workers Training Bill, and the Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

TUESDAY, 14TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Sea Fish Industry Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Consideration of the Motion to approve the White Fish and Herring Industries (Grants for Fishing Vessels, Engines and Conversions) (Amendment) Scheme.

WEDNESDAY, 15TH NOVEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.

If not previously obtained, the Second Reading of the Export Guarantees Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Consideration of the Motions to approve the Import Duties (General) (No. 7) Order, and the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order.

THURSDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

FRIDAY, 17TH NOVEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the Export Guarantees Bill.

Second Reading of the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution

MONDAY, 20TH NOVEMBER and TUESDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER—The proposed business will be for a two-day debate: the Second Reading of the Transport Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Second Reading of the Education Bill may well take the whole of Monday? In that case, will he give an assurance that the Government will not persist at a very late hour with the Second Reading of the Health Visitors and Social Workers Training Bill? May I also ask whether the arrangement which was arrived at last year, whereby the Opposition have two Supply days before Christmas, is accepted for this year?

I certainly will not try to proceed with the Health Visitors and Social Workers Training Bill, which is an important Bill, at an unreasonable hour. The answer to the second question is, "Yes, Sir".

Is my right hon. Friend consulting the Minister of Transport, as he apparently promised last week, to see whether we can have a full day's debate on shipbuilding and shipping? Will that debate take place before we have the Transport Bill, in view of the fact that most people in the country are profoundly disturbed by what is going on in shipbuilding and shipping and that those of us who are interested in our maritime nation want to know where we stand?

I have had discussions on this matter, as I promised the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) last week that I would. The Minister is having discussions with the industry on the recent Report, and I suggest that we should not consider this matter further until these discussions are concluded. But I will bear in mind what has been said last week and this week about the desirability of time for this subject.

On a point of order. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment with my right hon. Friend for a change, in order that he may defend the liberties of the House in this matter.

In the light of the number of Questions which have been asked this afternoon, may I ask the Leader of the House whether time will be found for a debate on the specific subject of Civil Defence? Also, can he hold out any hope of a debate on the Albemarle Report on the Youth Service? It was a very valuable Report, which has not received the consideration in the House which it deserves.

On neither of those subjects at this stage can I promise Government time. They are suitable perhaps either for private Members' time or Supply time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure he is—that one of the days in the last Session promised for a debate on the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee was postponed or lost? On 1st August his predecessor gave a definite and unqualified pledge that it would be made up early this Session. I do not press my right hon. Friend for an answer now, because it is a complicated matter, but will he at any rate say that he has not forgotten this and that this pledge will be kept?

Yes, Sir. I am aware of the position. We will take into account what was said by my predecessor in planning these days for this Session.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that one day is sufficient on Thursday for the very important Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, particularly in view of the fact that I understand that two days are being given to the Transport Bill? Will he consider the possibility of allowing a longer time for Thursday's business?

I do not think that I could undertake to have longer than one day for this matter. It has been before the House for just over a fortnight, and I am sure that whatever our views on this subject it is desirable that the views of parties in the House should be on record and that we should proceed to remove doubts and anxieties as soon as we can.

Is it proposed to restore to the Order Paper the Motion which stood on the Order Paper last Session about a possible Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the position of Peers and other matters affecting another place?

I will certainly undertake to put a Government Motion on the Order Paper, but I will not undertake that it will be in precisely the same language as the previous Motion, which has not met unqualified approval from all quarters.

Does what the right hon. Gentleman has just said indicate a definite change of view on the part of the Government? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that his predecessor refused to consider any amendment of the terms of reference. May we be a little clearer on this matter?

Yes, Sir. I hope to have discussions with the right hon. Gentleman and others at a fairly early date on this matter. If we can obtain agreement I am prepared to consider an amendment to the previous Motion.

Is it the Government's intention, as reported in the newspapers, to put a Motion on the Order Paper to set up a Select Committee on Procedure with a view to making recommendations for the further expedition of the business of the House?

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen a Motion on the Order Paper dealing with pit closures and railway closures in Scotland, and signed by every Scottish Member on this side of the House? It will be the general wish that this matter should be debated at an early date.

[ That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to appoint an independent committee to inquire into and report upon the social and economic consequences of the pit closures in Scotland proposed by the National Coal Board and the railway closures and curtailment of services in Scotland proposed by the British Transport Commission; and further calls upon Her Majesty's Government to direct that these closures and curtailment of services will not take effect until the report of the committee has been received and considered.]

Yes, Sir. I have studied that matter. It is the view of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power that an inquiry as suggested by the Motion is perhaps not necessary, and I imagine that some at least of the aspects of the Motion, subject to your guidance, Mr. Speaker, will be in order during the two-day debate on the Transport Bill.

In view of the deplorable state of Civil Defence, will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision that in the type of world in which we are living this is a subject only for private Members' time?

With respect, that was not what I said. I said that I could not promise Government time.

A large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are very anxious to take part in the debate on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. As a second day is not to be made available, will my right hon. Friend consider giving us an extra hour after ten o'clock for this discussion?

I will, of course, consider the views of the House in this matter and have any discussions which might be appropriate.

Is the Leader of the House aware that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) is completely unsatisfactory? His answer referred merely to the transport aspect, but we in Scotland are very much concerned about the serious position arising from the pit closures in Scotland. Will he consider giving us time to debate the question of those closures?

I understand the anxiety felt by hon. Members about these matters, and I thought that I had associated myself with it. However, my answer was correct, that some railway aspects of it at least would be in order on the Transport Bill. We are now concerned with next week's business, and I cannot promise Government time for this Motion.

Does not the Leader of the House appreciate that these two items of pit closures and the projected changes in respect of railway lines and trains are of such importance to the whole economy of Scotland that it is most unfair to suggest that they should be discussed only incidentally during the course of a debate on a Bill? I ask the Leader of the House to put these matters in their proper perspective and ensure that we get a day in which to debate them.

I did not by any means suggest that the two-day debate on the Transport Bill was the only opportunity. In my first reply to the Leader of the Opposition I confirmed that the Opposition have at their disposal two Supply days before Christmas.

If hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies feel that this is a matter which should be discussed on one of those days, no doubt they will make representations to the Leader of the Opposition.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision on the Albemarle Report? Will he consult his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is very enthusiastic about the Report and who will probably be able to persuade him to realise that it is extremely important that there should be a debate on it?

I must tell the House frankly that I cannot at this stage, when the Government are anxious to get the Second Readings under way so that the Committee stages can be proceeded with, see any prospect of Government time being provided for this purpose.

Many of us greatly deplore the fact that two days are not to be allotted to the Second Reading of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, but can the Leader of the House at least give us an assurance that the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House?

No, Sir. This is not a constitutional Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, it is not. In any event, there is no set procedure that constitutional Bills are necessarily taken on the Floor of the House. The Government, in the ordinary way, propose that this Bill be sent to a standing Committee.

May I revert to the Scottish question? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that very important policy considerations are involved? There is a strong feeling in Scotland that the Government are embarking on a policy of closing every service in Scotland which is not showing a commercial profit? In those circumstances, if the Leader of the House cannot find time for the Motion to be debated on the Floor of the House in Government time, will he consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland with a view—this would be a very bad alternative, but it would at least be something—to it being debated in the Scottish Grand Committee?

Yes, Sir. I was already aware of the anxieties of Scottish Members about these matters. The questions which have been put to me this afternoon obviously reinforced my feeling. I will discuss this matter with the Secretary of State.

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, is not the reply which the Leader of the House has just given to the effect that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill is not a constitutional Bill a matter on which you might reasonably rule? I sat on the Select Committee on Procedure which dealt with this. I am not making a party point to the Leader of the House. I hope he will believe that. My view is that this is a constitutional Bill in the context in which we considered constitutional Bills in the Select Committee. I hope that there will be some consultation about this, because I am sure that the Leader of the House would not wish to mislead anybody.

I have no desire to mislead anybody on this subject. I inquired into this, because it was an obvious question which might be raised this afternoon, and I was informed that it was not a constitutional Bill. I will gladly, if necessary, recheck my advice.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). We have not had the advantage of a Ruling from you about it, Mr. Speaker. May I submit this to you, Sir?

It was not a point of order. I did not feel that it was right for me to indicate which was the right view between the two opposing views, as it did not involve order.

In a moment, no doubt. I do not know what the Leader of the Opposition desired to ask when I called him.

I am concerned about the same question, Sir. Is the Leader of the House aware that his answer to the question whether the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill is to be taken in Committee of the whole House or in Standing Committee has caused considerable surprise on these benches? Whether or not it be strictly speaking in order for the Bill to be taken upstairs, is the Leader of the House aware that this Bill is of very great importance to the Commonwealth, that it raises extremely far-reaching issues, and that it would be very undesirable that it should be taken upstairs? It would be far better if it were taken on the Floor of the House, where the public generally can follow the arguments for or against far more easily.

It is, of course, a Bill of the very first importance. I have undertaken to recheck this with the best advice I have available to me, but in my own view it is not a constitutional Bill, although I imagine this is a matter which is very difficult to define. Accordingly, the view of the Government is that it would be appropriate for the Bill to be considered by a Standing Committee.

May I press the Leader of the House on this? Whether or not it is always the rule that a constitutional Bill is taken on the Floor of the House, surely the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that no other Bills are taken on the Floor of the House? Is it not the fact that in the normal course of events anything which is of this degree of importance—as it happens, it is not a very long Bill— should be taken on the Floor of the House?

I should have thought that the precedents would argue against the Leader of the Opposition on this, because the majority of Bills which are taken on the Floor of the House are taken on Fridays and other days—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, as is happening this Friday and on succeeding Fridays at this stage. This, obviously, does not apply to a Bill of this importance; this Bill could not conceivably be dealt with in that way. Everybody would at least agree about that. That being so, I think that the view I have expressed to the House is the right one.

Is not my right hon. Friend mistaken in assuming that there is some technical distinction between constitutional Bills and Bills which are not constitutional? Is not that a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation at which our procedure has arrived?

About a quarter of a century ago my hon. Friend tried to teach me constitutional history and law.

I expect so, but we cannot tell whether that was the fault of the pupil or the master. I did not mean to imply that there was any hard and fast line. What I said was that there is not, in fact, a requirement that a Bill, even if it be what one calls a constitutional Bill, is automatically taken on the Floor of the House.

Is it not true that there could not be any such requirement, but that there is in fact a well-established practice that Bills which amount to what would in rigid Constitutions be classified as constitutional should be taken on the Floor of the House? Is it not always extremely regrettable when, as happened sometimes under the former Socialist Administration, Bills with a clear constitutional content are sent upstairs?

I agree with that. I think that by convention such Bills are taken in general on the Floor of the House. But I do not accept the contention made from the other side of the House that this Bill should be so included.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that because of its economic state now no coloured immigrants will want to come to Scotland? Will he, therefore, consider leaving Scotland out of this Bill?

If I may revert to the two Scottish issues already mentioned, the right hon. Gentleman said earlier that he would let the Opposition "carry the can" for the Government's policy. Is he still adhering to that decision, or does he propose to abandon it in view of the fact that during our debate on the coal industry it was stated that the closing of pits was part and parcel of Government policy? As the Government bear the responsibility for this, ought they not to provide the time to debate it?

I do not think that I can add much to the answers I have already given, and, in particular, the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton), that I would consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on the proposals put to me.

I should like to revert to the problem of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. Is it not admitted on both sides that as this is a distinct departure from our traditional attitude to our fellow subjects of the Queen living overseas, and the whole of the former Colonies that have become independent, it ought to receive the full consideration of this House before such a tremendous departure is made, particularly as it seems we shall be sorting out in Liverpool or the Tyneside the exact position of a person born in the southern part of Ireland, or feeling allegiance to that part, and what, in future will be our relationship to our fellow citizens?

I have always acknowledged the immense importance of this departure. I said so to the House eight months ago when answering Questions as Secretary of State for the Colonies. But, after all, the House will consider the Bill on Second Reading, on Report and on Third Reading, and will have full opportunity then. The question is whether the Committee stage as well should be added to those three stages. The view I put before the House is that it should not.

But is it not the duty of the Leader of the House to carry out the will of the House? Is it not clear from the very strong representations that have been made not only from those of us in front of the right hon. Gentleman, but from his own back benches, that there is an overwhelming feeling in the House that this is a matter that concerns every one of us, and that it would be quite intolerable if this Bill were to be sent to a Standing Committee where only 16 of my hon. Friends would have a chance of discussing, line by line and detail by detail, this fundamentally important Bill? Will not the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, bow to the will of the House, clearly expressed on this matter, and take the discussion on the Floor of the House?

I would not think, with respect, that the point of view that has been put forward, which is certainly held very strongly, is by any means as unanimous as the hon. Lady believes. It is quite clear that three of the four stages of the Bill will be taken in this Chamber. The question we are discussing now is whether the fourth stage should be added to that, and I have made my view clear to the House. I shall, of course, take into account the representations that the House has made.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when Leader of the House, sent to Standing Committees major nationalisation Measures which had just as high constitutional content as the Bill now being discussed?

In view of what the Leader of the House has just said, may we take it that he will reconsider this matter in the light of the views expressed, at any rate on this side of the House, and consult his right hon. Friends?

As long as it is understood that it is entirely without commitment, of course I will.

When the right hon. Gentleman does reconsider the matter, will he not bear in mind that this Bill would alter fundamentally the rights of British subjects from many parts of the world; that their status would be altered; that the right they had freely to move into the United Kingdom would be restricted or limited or, in some cases, abolished; and that, therefore, it is really very difficult to suppose that the Bill is not of the most fundamental constitutional importance?

It is certainly of the most fundamental importance. The hon. Gentleman will admit, if he locks at any of my Answers on this subject over a period of years, that I have always recognised that. I have no wish to stand on technicalities about whether this is or is not a constitutional Bill. I am advised that it is not, but I agree that this is not the point which matters most. I gave an undertaking a moment ago to the Leader of Opposition; perhaps we can leave it at that.

In view of what the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) quite inaccurately said, will the Leader of the House take note that there were no nationalisation Bills during my short period of leadership of the House, but that one Measure was analogous to this one—the British Nationality Act. That Bill was taken on the Floor of the House —during the Committee stage of which the noble Lord played a most undistinguished part—and I regard it as strictly comparable with this Measure.

I certainly share one thing with the right hon. Gentleman. There will be no nationalisation Bills taken during my period of leadership of the House.

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Committee stage of the Government's proposed transport denationalisation Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House, also?

I should like to look at that, but the normal procedure will be followed, I am sure.