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Business Of The House

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 8 March 1962

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May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?

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

MONDAY, 12TH MARCH—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: Air Estimates, 1962–63.

Consideration in Committee of Vote A.

TUESDAY, 13TH MARCH— Supply [9th Allotted Day]: Committee stage of the Civil Estimates, Vote on Account, 1962–63, when we propose to debate National Insurance Benefits and National Assistance Scales.

WEDNESDAY, 14TH MARCH—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: Navy Estimates, 1962–63.

Consideration in Committee of Vote A.

THURSDAY, 15TH MARCH—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Army Votes 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 11.

The Royal Ordnance Factories Estimate.

The War Office Purchasing (Repayment) Services and Army Supplementary Estimate.

Navy Votes 1, 2, 6, 10, 11 and 14.

Air Votes, 1,2,7,8,9,11.

Air Supplementary Estimate.

It may be found to be generally convenient to devote two hours to each of the three Services.

FRIDAY, 16TH MARCH—Consideration of private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 19TH MARCH—The proposed business will be: Supply [12th Allotted Day]: Committee stage of the Civil Supplementary Estimates.

At 9.30 p.m. the Questions will be put from the Chair on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Votes, under the provisions of Standing Order No. 16.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there will be a suspension of two hours on Monday and Wednesday in connection with the Air and Navy Estimates?

On another matter, he will recall the Question of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) earlier this week and the exchange which took place thereon, in the course of which the question of a permanent Standing Committee on Procedure was raised. Has the right hon. Gentleman had time to think about the particular problem raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and about the more general question of a permanent Standing Committee of the kind suggested?

On the first matter, it is proposed to suspend for two hours for both the Air Estimates and the Navy Estimates, following the same procedure as for the Army Estimates.

On the other matter and the Motion which is on the Order Paper, there are, I think two points. I have always made clear—I hope that the House will agree with this—that it would be wrong to censure the Committee of Selection, which is composed of very experienced Members from both sides of the House, for doing what I believe we have instructed it to do.

I do not agree with what the Leader of the Liberal Party said last week, that the Standing Order would not need amendment. I think that the Committee has followed the Standing Order as it stands. If we wish to give different instructions, as it were, as a House, I am very ready to consider that. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that perhaps a Standing Committee on Procedure to consider this and other matters remitted to it by the House might be the best way of proceeding. If that is convenient to the House, I shall be very happy to agree.

[ That this House takes note of the situation of the honourable Member for Caithness and Sutherland and other minorities in the House in relation to selection for service on Standing Committees; and expresses its disquiet at the present position.]

Is it not possible for the numbers on the particular Committee to be increased? If there is any question of upsetting the composition of the Committee, the difficulty could be overcome simply by increasing the numbers. I suggest that as a possible way out in this case, without derogating from the suggestion that there should be a Committee on the whole subject.

Here again, the Committee of Selection was obeying the instructions given to it by the House. The Select Committee on Procedure of a Session or two ago suggested that, on the whole, the numbers appointed to Standing Committees should be smaller than hitherto. The Committee of Selection was carrying out that suggestion.

On another matter relating to Committees, will the Leader of the House say what has happened to the Motion on House of Lords reform and whether it is the Government's intention to find time for it this Session?

[ That is is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament be appointed to consider whether any, and if so what, changes should be made in the rights of Peers of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or of the United Kingdom, and of Peeresses in their own right, to sit in either House of Parliament, or to vote at Parliamentary elections, or whether, and if so under what conditions, a Peer should be enabled to surrender a peerage permanently or for his lifetime or for any less period having regard to the effects and consequences thereof.]

It will be either in the next announcement of business—that is what I hope—or at worst the one after that.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the Motion regarding the selection of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), to which he has referred, is in no way intended to censure anyone for what has happened? Could he tell us Whether, after he has had conversations through the usual channels, perhaps with the Leader of the Opposition, he will be able to make a statement on the matter during the course of next week?

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend has said, and I am very glad he has made that explanation. The Committee of Selection is a Committee of the House which we have appointed to carry out instructions we have given to it.

As far as timing goes, I shall, of course, consult through the usual channels and, perhaps, on this occasion, through more unusual channels as well, and do it as quickly as I can.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in considering the appointment of such a Committee as was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, bear in mind that the whole difficulty arises out of the practice in making the selections—Which may be correct; I am not criticising—of giving the major parties the dominant control of the situation? If the subject is to be reviewed by a Committee, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the possible advisability of having someone on the Committee who is not, as it were, represented by the usual channels?

One of the factors which may give rise to difficulty is the necessity, which I am sure the House recognises, that just as a Government, in order to carry on at all, must command a majority in the House, so they must have a majority in a Standing Committee. The Standing Order refers specifically to this, and it is precisely that matter and the sort of point which the hon. Gentleman raises which should be considered by the Committee which has been suggested.

Has any approach been made to my right hon. Friend by the Opposition in connection with Motion No. 74, dealing with the Common Market? Some of us would like to know whether it is to be debated so that we may find out whether the Leader of the Opposition has been nobbled by Mr. Kennedy on this as well as on defence.

[ That this House requires the following as conditions of entering the European Economic Community, namely, guarantees safeguarding the position of British agriculture, the Commonwealth, and the European Free Trade Area countries; that Great Britain retains her present freedom to conduct her own foreign policy and to use public ownership and economic planning to ensure social progress within the United Kingdom; further welcomes the initiative of the United States Government in seeking a low tariff agreement between the United States of America and the Common Market; and urges that the products of the underdeveloped countries be given free entry into the Common Market.]

When my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal made a statement to the House, there was a suggestion afterwards that, at some appropriate time, which we did not attempt to define too closely, it might be appropriate to debate this matter.

Was not an announcement made by the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means at the opening of our proceedings this afternoon that, because of the objection raised by an hon. Member opposite to the proposal to make an appointment to the Committee of Selection, the matter would be dealt with on Monday? Was that correct, or was it merely an irrelevant statement?

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that in the appointments made by the Committee of Selection to several Committees or to any particular Committee, it sometimes occurs that one is not selected if one is not in favour with the usual channels, which, of course, is the antithesis of democracy?

On the first matter, the position is a well known and almost formal one, that the Question is put off from day to day until it is either obtained or, if sufficiently opposed, it has to be discussed by the House. I hope that the agreement which I think we have come to this afternoon will enable that item of business to go through.

The second point which the right hon. Gentleman raises is precisely the sort of matter which such a Committee should consider.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to give further consideration to the Motion standing in my name and the names of 130 right hon. and hon. Members which deals with the plight of widows and pensioners, and has he had time to speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about it?

[ That this House, recognising the hardship suffered by retired officers, pensioned other ranks and widows of the armed services, especially those who are old, whose retired pay and pensions cannot be debated under Pensions ( Increase) Bills and bear no relation to current awards, urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to improve the pensions of widows bereaved before 4th November, 1958, and to examine the conditions peculiar to all armed service pensioners, and, as soon as economic circumstances permit, to introduce special provisions to improve their retired pay and pensions.]

I have spoken to the Financial Secretary, who has a special responsibility in this matter, and I have done what I told my hon. and gallant Friend last week I would do. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that legislation is involved. There have been several pensions Acts since the war—five in all, I think—and I have represented fully to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and to my right hon. Friends the sense of the Motion which has been tabled.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the Motion on the Order Paper in the names of 150 right hon. and hon. Members asking for facilities for consideration of the Racial Discrimination and Incitement Bill? Can he respond to that request, or at least give the House an opportunity to consider the Motion?

[ That this House requests the Government to provide facilities for the consideration of the Racial Discrimination and Incitement Bill.]

There are opportunities to discuss matters which the House wishes to discuss. The hon. Gentleman will recall that he brought an all-party delegation to discuss this matter with me last week. I have written to him today and sent copies to all those who came with him to see me. I have no objection whatever to his publishing my reply if he wishes to do so. It is only fair to say that, having consulted my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in this matter, I have not changed the view I put previously to the hon. Gentleman.

It is difficult to understand quite what my right hon. Friend has said to the Financial Secretary about the Motion to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) referred. Am I to understand that he, not as Leader of the House but as Chairman of the Conservative Party, commended the terms of the Motion to the Financial Secretary? Further, on the point about legislation, will my right hon. Friend please remember that, if we must find time for it, all of us, on both sides of the House, I think, would be prepared to sit all night to put the legislation through?

I will certainly bear that in mind. Naturally, I represented the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), in my capacity as Leader of the House, to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. It is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of course, who has the prime responsibility—although a number of other Ministries are also involved—to decide what action should be taken on the Motion.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the proposal to put increased accommodation for hon. Members above the roof was deferred for one year because of the financial exigencies of the Government? It was presumably for that reason, also, that the proposed Select Committee on Accommodation was not set up. Bearing in mind that we hope that a start will be made on this work during the Summer Recess, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the time is ripe to set up a Select Committee on Accommodation to plan these further facilities for hon. Members, and so not entirely leave us to the whims of the Civil Service?

I have been having discussions not just in connection with the Palace of Westminster but also about another site which the hon. Gentleman knows about and which is in prospect of being developed. I have no announcement on these matters to make at this time, but I have been considering the problem.

If my right hon. Friend is to have discussions on the Motion on minority rights through the usual channels—and perhaps through unusual channels—will he take account of the fact that it is the Government and the Opposition supporters who are in the majority in this House and that the Independent Members outnumber those of the Liberal Party?

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) has pointed out that there are now 150 signatories to his Motion calling for a debate on his Racial Discrimination and Incitement Bill. How many names of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are required on a Motion to justify its discussion in this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision?

I recognise the support given to the Motion. The principle of detestation of racial discrimination is not in dispute. What is genuinely disputed by those who detest racial discrimination as much as does the hon. Gentleman is whether it is possible effectively to move against it by the sort of Bill contemplated. That is the true matter that is in dispute.

Does not that answer by the right hon. Gentleman provide a very strong case for a debate on the subject? Will he reconsider his point of view on this? Either the case made out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough is an overwhelming one, widely supported—in which case there are many precedents for the Government to find time for the Bill—or, if there is a dispute, should it not be cleared up by debate?

Clearly everybody knows that there is dispute in this matter because, in one form or another, the Bill has been before the House for many years and has never commanded the universal support of the House, although I acknowledge that it has considerable support in all parties. I do not believe that it would be right, therefore, for the Government to provide time for a Bill that is contentious in order to lift it, as it were, over the many other Private Members' Bills to which they and their sponsors attach a good deal of importance.

The right hon. Gentleman has put down various Votes on Service Estimates, for next Thursday. It is customary practice to do so, but it provides extremely inadequate time for the discussion of a number of important matters under about eighteen different headings. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of a rationing of time by devoting two hours to each Service, but we did not get such a division last year. Is there any chance that we shall get it this year, and that those of us who want to raise the question of expenditure on nuclear weapons, on Vote 7, of the Air Estimates, will get a chance of doing so?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, these matters are often arranged. The procedure I have suggested for next Thursday follows the one we have had over the last seven years, and I hope that the House will agree to take these subjects in the order I suggest—the Army, the Royal Navy and then the Royal Air Force—and to give them each two hours.

In view of the stress laid in the Defence White Paper on the importance of civil defence, and the fact that there was not a Minister from the Home Office present during the defence debate earlier this week, may we have time to debate this very important subject?

I cannot promise a special day for this subject, as I have said before to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and others, but we are discussing at present important matters of defence and I would have thought that, in some of these debates at least, the question of civil defence would be in order.