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Business Of The House

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 29 March 1962

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

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

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

MONDAY, 2ND APRIL—Second Reading of the Colonial Loans Bills, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Committee and remaining stages of the West Indies Bill [ Lords].

TUESDAY, 3RD APRIL—Report and Third Reading of the Sea Fish Industry Bill.

As the House is aware, the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down opposed Private Business for consideration at seven o'clock.

WEDNESDAY, 4TH APRIL—Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Progress on the remaining stages.

THURSDAY, 5TH APRIL—Housing (Scotland) Bill

Completion of the remaining stages, which are to be obtained by seven o'clock.

Afterwards, a debate on an Opposition Motion on University Grants and Salaries of University Teachers.

Motion to approve the Valuation (Statutory Deductions) Order.

FRIDAY, 6TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 9TH APRIL—My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget.

The general debate on the Budget Resolutions and the Economic Situation will be continued on Tuesday and Wednesday and brought to a conclusion on Thursday of that week.

On Tuesday's business, may I ask the Leader of the House first, whether it is the intention of the Government to discontinue any further debate on the Sea Fish Industry Bill at seven o'clock or to continue, should it be necessary, a further debate on the Bill after the Private Business has been disposed of?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman find time before the Easter Recess for a debate on the Central African Federation?

I concede that Tuesday's business does look rather formidable. We would certainly suspend for both parts of the business that I have announced, and then see how we get on.

On the question of a debate on Central Africa, I think that the House realises that, in effect, I have announced the business for two weeks. This is inevitable because of the date of the Budget. There then remain just three days before the normal date of adjournment for the Easter Recess. I hope that on one of those days we can, by agreement, find time for a discussion on one of the topics of major importance. Perhaps we could have discussions on that.

May I ask my right hon. Friend what progress is being made with the Motion that he is tabling arising out of the Motion on the rights of minorities, and whether there will be a debate on this issue?

[ That this House takes note of the situation of the hon. 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.]

I have had drawn up a possible Motion which I hope to put on the Order Paper within a few days. I will, as I undertook to do, keep my hon. Friend and other hon. Members closely concerned with this matter in touch with what is happening.

The Motion in my name will, presumably, be debatable, although I hope that the debate will arise not so much on that Motion but on the Motion as it is returned from the Standing Committee on Procedure if the House agrees to set one up.

Mr. Speaker, may I return to the point that you said I could raise now? Is the Leader of the House aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for hon. Members to obtain Oral Answers from the Home Secretary? Only half the Oral Questions tabled to him were reached today. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last time the Home Secretary answered Questions orally was on 1st February, and that apart from one or two Questions at the end of one day the previous occasion on which he answered Questions was on 9th November, which means that Questions have been put to him only three times during this Session.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there was a case for some rearrangement before the Home Secretary undertook his new responsibilities, and that now that we have Central African Federation mixed up with Home Office the position is even worse? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will do something to ensure that Members can get Oral Answers from the Minister in charge of what is probably the most important Department of the State?

I am aware of this difficulty, which arises from time to time in connection with a number of Ministries which, for various reasons, happen to come under close questioning in the House. The position is that from time to time in the Session, especially at the breaks at Easter, Whitsun and in the summer, it is standard form to consider the matter of the order of Questions again, and the weight allotted to the different Ministries. I entirely agree that we should do that at the Easter Recess, and I shall be glad to take part in those discussions.

Presumably, Questions about Central Africa must now be addressed to the Home Secretary. Is my right hon. Friend aware that on 12th April Oral Questions to the Commonwealth Relations Office and to the Colonial Office are the top two on the list, and that Questions to the Home Office are last but one, and, therefore, unlikely to be reached? Would it be possible so to arrange matters that Questions about Central Africa on that day, addressed to the Home Secretary, could have the same priority as they would have been given if they had been addressed to either of the other two Departments that I have mentioned?

I am conscious of the difficulty, which is particular to the facts of that day. The solution which I hope will be found to be most appropriate is that on Thursday, 12th April, Questions on Central Africa, addressed to the Home Secretary, should be taken between Questions to the Commonwealth Relations Office and Questions to the Colonial Office, which would bring them second on the list. This would meet the special difficulty on that day, and I think that something on those lines would meet the wishes of the House.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether a time limit will be imposed to the debate on Thursday, after seven o'clock? If a time limit is to be imposed, will he consider extending it?

In the ordinary way, the debate on Thursday, 5th April, would come to an end at ten o'clock. If there is a general wish to have an hour's extension I should, naturally, be willing to consider it, although I remain of the view that, in principle, it is not a very good idea.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether we shall be able to have a debate on the Annual Agricultural Price Review, in view of its controversial nature?

Not at this stage. Now that we have the Estimates for this subject before us it would appear to be a suitable occasion for the Opposition to say that they wish to have it dealt with on Supply.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that he told me on 15th March he said that he would consider the question of a debate? Should not he find time to debate this important Review?

As for the Sea Fish Industry Bill, I hope that the Government will not treat it casually, because it is an important Bill. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that it is given adequate discussion in the House.

I have already given an undertaking to the Leader of the Opposition that I will watch the progress of Tuesday's business on the Sea Fish Industry Bill, but a complication arises—as the hon. Member well knows—if this is put off now, since, in view of the date of the Budget, it probably could not be arranged until after Easter, and then there would be a delay in the payments envisaged. That is why it has been arranged for 3rd April. As for the other matter, what I said to my hon. Friend represents the position.

Has my right hon. Friend given further consideration to the Motion dealing with Service widows' pensions, signed by over 230 hon. Members?

[ 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.]

This is the fourth time that I have asked the Leader of the House what can be done about it. Will he take into consideration the fact that this matter is viewed seriously not only in the House, but in the country? It is a very small matter, financially. If my right hon. Friend could give us some hope that something is to be done about it, either by means of a debate or through legislation in the near future, we should be satisfied.

This is an important matter, and the great interest which is taken in it is shown by the number of names attached to my hon. Friend's Motion. I have drawn that fact to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to those others among my right hon. Friends who are concerned, and I have nothing to add to my business statement.

On the business for Wednesday and Thursday, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the reprint of the Scottish Housing Bill was available to Members only today? Is it not a little sharp that it should be put down for discussion again on Wednesday of next week?

No. It is true that the reprint became available only this morning, but the report of the Business Committee, which we await in connection with the one-and-a-half days' business next week, will be available in accordance with the Allocation of Time Order under which the Bill is at present working. As Scottish Members will know, the Bill has been before the House since 1st November, and 22 sittings in Committee have been completed on it. I do not think that our suggestion is at all unreasonable.

Having regard to the number of Motions on the Order Paper, how does my right hon. Friend decide which ones should be included for discussion? As I have asked him before, on what occasion does democracy take precedence over the Executive? Is he aware that democracy in the House of Commons has stated that it thinks that widows of Regular officers and other ranks are being scandalously treated? Please, when can democracy have a go?

It is impossible to produce any academic answer to the question of what importance should be attached to the number of signatures to a Motion. A doctrine was laid down by Lord Morrison in this respect, although I cannot remember its precise words. I cannot lay down what weight is to be attached to a Motion on the basis of the number of signatures. All I can do is say that under the procedure of the House it is the Leader of the Opposition who is the Midas in this matter. He has a number of days at his disposal—not the Leader of the House.

As for the question raised by my hon. Friend, I told my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) earlier that I have drawn this matter to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that action must lie with him.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the Motion that has now appeared on the Order Paper for many weeks concerning the need to safeguard the democratic results in the next General Election and the giving of fairer treatment to ordinary people?

[ That this House, aware of the growing influence of television and radio on the life and thought of the nation, is anxious to safeguard the right of free speech; considering that the most fruitful possible use should be made of this influence during the next general election, calls upon the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Independent Television Authority, the political parties and others to ensure that in the broadcasts bearing on the election, the people's right of free speech be maintained, and that speakers be chosen not on a basis of class, accent or acquired mannerism, but for their sincerity of purpose, record of service and experience in all walks of life; and urges the appointment of a Select Committee to consider and report on how television and radio should be used in a general election.]

Has the Prime Minister considered the need to set up a Select Committee?

I have studied that matter, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also has, but he has nothing to add to the answer which be gave the hon. Member in the House.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the exchange of question and answer concerning the senseless squabbles of the unions on Merseyside. Cannot he provide time for the House to debate this disaster to national welfare?

I am sure that the last words—[HON. MEMBERS: "Last."]—on that subject were spoken a few moments ago by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. He said that while discussions and negotiations are going on it is not right to air these matters in the House. At any rate, it is not wise.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so anxious to rush the Housing (Scotland) Bill on to the Statute Book, in view of the fact that it is universally execrated in Scotland? Does not he think that it might be wiser to give up at least Wednesday to the discussion of the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay)?

[ That this House deplores the conduct of Lord Beaverbrook in authorising over the last few years in the newspapers controlled by him more than seventy adverse comments on members of the Royal Family who have no means of replying.]

Can the Minister tell us why he is so reluctant to give his hon. Friend an opportunity to state his case against a Member of the House of Lords and an ex-member of the Government?

Because I attach more importance to the progress of the Housing (Scotland) Bill than to a debate on the Motion to which the bon. Member referred.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when we are likely to deal with the remaining stages of the Health Visitors and Social Workers Training Bill? It came out of Committee two months ago. Despite one serious difficulty about it, both sides of the House want to see it on the Statute Book.

The hon. Member probably knows about the discussions that went on on this matter. There was a suggestion that we should take it next week, but we have come to a different arrangement in order to try to be helpful. I should like to see that Bill on the Statute Book fairly soon, but it is now unlikely that it will be debated before Easter.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noted the remarks made by the Patronage Secretary, a week ago last Friday, when he announced in the House a rearrangement of business in connection with the British Transport Commission Bill, and said that he would seek his right hon. Friend's advice to see whether it would be possible to accept the Instruction standing in the names of a number of his hon. Friends? Has he given the matter consideration on the basis of that assurance?

I noticed that exchange. The hon. Member will know that the organisation of private business in this way is for the Chairman of Ways and Means. I am quite certain that he will have noted what the hon. Member has said.

In the interests of fair play, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his attitude towards proceedings on the Housing (Scotland) Bill? He will appreciate that it left the Committee only on Tuesday evening and that we received the reprint only this morning, which leads us to suspect that there may have been a certain amount of anticipatory printing. This leaves only four days in which to put down Amendments and if they are starred Amendments they must be put down before Monday. Having guillotined the actual discussions on the Bill, is it fair that the right hon. Gentleman should now guillotine the time for consideration of those Amendments?

The House has been considering the Bill for a long time, as the hon. Member knows very well indeed. I am certain that there is nothing unusual in the interval now proposed. I am sure that he will be able to put down the Amendments he wishes to be considered in the time.

Why is there this undue haste in trying to get the Bill on to the Statute Book, since there is an element of retrospection in it in any case? May I urge the Leader of the House to reconsider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), with every word of which I agree, that the Leader of the House would be likely to save very much more public money if we discussed the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay) than in discussing the Housing (Scotland) Bill?

I have answered that question before both in general and in response to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I do not agree with the views which I know Scottish hon. Members opposite have in relation to the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I regard it as an important part of the Government's legislative programme. Clearly, it is right that we should take it in this way.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider what he said some minutes ago about Questions to the Home Secretary? Rather than juggling with the order of subjects with which the Home Secretary deals, is it not clear now that, because of his extended responsibilities, the Home Office warrants having two days a week for Questions? Will the Leader of the House approach the matter from that point of view rather than by creating further confusion through dealing with different subject matters which come under the purview of the Home Secretary in a different order?

In view of next Thursday's business, would the Leader of the House consider a suspension of the rule for the Motion on University Grants if discussion on the Housing (Scotland) Bill is to take a great amount of time on that day, because of the number of hon. Members who will want to speak about university grants?

On the first point raised by the hon. Member, without prejudicing the conversations which should take place, I should say that what he has suggested is a possibility. When I was Minister of Labour for a time I answered Questions on two days a week, then for a time on one day a week and then again for a time on two days a week. These are matters which relate to pressure on departments. I will consider the suggestion about Thursday, although I do not think that, on the whole, it is a particularly good idea. We are to take an important Motion afterwards and I do not wish that to come on unduly late.

Can the Leader of the House say whether he has yet given consideration to the rights of Members of Parliament to control their own conditions of work and if he is now in a position to reappoint the Committee on Accommodation, which has been left in suspense for so long?

I shall try to give an answer to that either at business time or by means of a statement in one way or another before the Easter Recess.

May I ask a further question about the answer which the Leader of the House gave concerning the very short interval between the conclusion of the Committee stage and the coming to the Report stage of a very important Bill? Wall he bear in mind that it is unusual to have so short an interval? The fact that the matters involved are well known to those hon. Members who had the advantage of sitting on the Committee is nothing to the purpose because on Report it is for the House to consider the Bill as it left the Standing Committee. A great many hon. Members are interested in the important questions arising from the Bill. They have had no opportunity of knowing what has been going on in the Committee. They will have a very short and exiguous time in which to bring themselves up to date on it.

I appreciate the point of the hon. Member's intervention that on Report a wider quorum of the House considers the Bill than in Standing Committee, but the two points I made were that the Bill has been before the House since 1st November and that in the Allocation of Time Motion it was made clear that we should have the report of the Business Committee, on which the timing of these two stages depends, within five sitting days. That, of course, has been taken into account in the statement I made.

The Leader of the House will be aware that there was a long debate on nurses' salaries this week. It is to the credit of the Minister of Health that he sat through most of that debate. Will an opportunity be given during next week's business for us to have a statement on the Minister's attitude and outlook on nurses' salaries?

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you have considered the proposal for setting up a Speaker's conference to consider the proposal as set out in the Motion on the Order Paper?

[ That this House welcomes the increasing interest and support of the people throughout the country for the televising of the proceedings of the House of Commons; deprecates the unsatisfactory staged political debates and Parliamentary reporting by television and radio; urges that arrangements be made for Parliamentary debates and questions to be seen and heard by the people, like HANSARD, unedited; and calls upon Mr. Speaker to consider calling a Speaker's Conference or to adopt some other appropriate procedure so that action may be taken as soon as possible to have this Resolution implemented.]

I did not know that the hon. Member was going to ask me about that. I do not think it is a matter for me, but now that the hon. Member has asked me I will consider whether or no it is a matter for me.

May I ask the Leader of the House when he expects his right hon. Friends to make up their minds about the Toothill Report, and whether he intends to provide a day for us to debate it?

There has been some discussion, although I agree only in an Adjournment debate—

on a limited point because of the rules of the House; that is natural. There are opportunities on Supply Days, in general debates and on Private Members' Motions.

Has my right hon. Friend any news about the Prime Minister's statement on the Radcliffe Report? My right hon. Friend will bear in mind that he has said on previous occasions that he would make a statement fairly soon.

These matters are not including in the business of the House, but I think that I can say that that statement will be made next week.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the Business Committee on the Scottish Housing Bill is to be guided and how that Committee is to guide the House in view of the fact that the Committee, I understand, is to meet on Monday in connection with the Housing (Scotland) Bill, by which time there will not be time for a single Amendment to be put on the Notice Paper to show that Committee the importance of the business to be discussed?

The House will probably not receive the report of the Committee until Tuesday, by which time it will be too late to put down any effective Amendments because of the time allocated by the Business Committee. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the outrageous suggestion that we should take consideration of the Bill so quickly? He is not being a Leader of the House, but the leader of his Tory Party.

and it is inaccurate.

The allocation of time in these matters is not a matter of first importance to the Government. The whole point of having a Business Committee is so that full weight can be given to the views of the Opposition. In winding up the debate on the Allocation of Time Motion the Minister of Transport made it absolutely plain that so far as possible we would virtually take the allocation of time which the Opposition suggested for the Report stage of the Bill. Therefore, this matter and the weight given to the different Clauses is in the hands of the leaders of the party opposite. In this way full opportunity is given for discussing the parts of the Bill to which they attach most importance.

Will the Leader of the House face up to the question which I raised earlier, when I pointed out that the Business Committee will not meet until Monday? It cannot take into account what the Opposition would want, because Amendments cannot be put on the Notice Paper until Monday. The reprinted Bill has come before the House only today. In fairness, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the matter again? He ought to be fair, not only to the Government, who want to press on with this legislation, but to the Opposition and the House as a whole.

The hon. Member must recognise that the point of a Business Committee, on which the Opposition are represented, is so that the Opposition and not the Government will have the major say in the allocation of time for themselves. If the point made by the hon. Member means anything, it means that his Front Bench representatives on the Business Committee—I am sure that this is not true—are not in touch with the feelings of his party. I am certain that what they put forward will be entirely in sympathy with what the Opposition need.

I am drawn to my feet because of the last remark of the Leader of the House. I do not claim that I shall want to put down a lot of Amendments to the Scottish Housing Bill, but it seems to me that the Report stage of a Bill is a matter for the House. I do not think that we can let it pass as an occasion for a private arrangement between the usual channels. Nor do I think that we can accept that because a Bill has been considered by a Standing Committee for a long time the whole House is seized of the sort of Amendments which should be put down or the points at issue. There is a large back bench interest in this matter.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether, as a general rule, it is desirable that a Bill should be reprinted and presented to Parliament on a Thursday morning before the weekend, that the Business Committee should meet on Monday and that the Report stage of the Bill should come up on Wednesday.

Of course I will consider that. But I think—perhaps it was because I was telescoping the argument—that the right hon. Gentleman is under some misapprehension. The Business Committee is not—I did not mean to suggest for a moment that it is—just a reflection of the usual channels. On the contrary. It is composed of the Chairman's Panel of the House and goes very wide indeed. In respect of each Bill hon. Members who have special knowledge of the position are added, and I am certain, with the combination of experience, that these points may be met.

I wish to be quite sure about something. I think that we have to consider some limit to the use made of business question time, and I should like to be sure that the hon. Member is rising to a different point.

I am rising, Sir, to a point which cropped up in a question which I have already put to the Leader of the House regarding Thursday's business after seven o'clock and I am proposing to offer him a solution to the difficulties which he faces in respect of that business.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if the business on Tuesday night and on Wednesday morning had proceeded as expected there would have been a great deal more time for the consideration of the difficulties of university lecturers? The right hon. Gentleman is guillotining that amount of time. Therefore, will he also give the time up to seven o'clock now allocated to Scottish business to considering the university business, and give the whole of Thursday to discussing the position of the university lecturers and the contingent difficulties arising for the universities, and find other time later for Scottish business?

With respect, I do not think that that would help very much. On the Consolidated Fund Bill this was the second subject selected for debate by the Opposition and there would have been a major discussion. But, partly because we discussed an early-day Motion for a considerable length of time, and partly because of the great interest in the pay and conditions of nurses, it was thought right—and I agree—not to take the matter at a particularly late hour. I suggest that the Government have not been unhelpful about this. We have agreed to put off a Bill of our own to meet the wishes of the Opposition.

Again, I should like to be sure that the hon. Member is rising to a different point.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that if the Government put down a Recommittal Motion in respect of the Scottish Housing Bill hon. Members will not be able to see it until such time that they will not be able to exercise their usual right to put down Amendments, will you accept a manuscript Amendment if such a situation arises? This is the position in which we are placed by the unseemly haste of the Government.

I think that the hon. Member and others have well developed the point they are making and I cannot feel that anyone has failed to understand it.

I will look at a manuscript Amendment if it is tendered, in the circumstances then arising, and I will then decide.