HC Deb 20 December 1961 vol 651 cc1360-8
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

TUESDAY, 23RD JANUARY—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Administration Bill [Lords], and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Consideration of the Motion on the Wool Textile Industry (Scientific Research Levy) (Amendment) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 24TH JANUARY—Supply [4th Allotted Day].

Motion to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, when a debate will arise on an Amendment to take note of the Sixth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates, 1957–58, the Seventh Special Report, 1958–59, relating to Treasury Control of Expenditure, and the Report on the Control of Public Expenditure (Command No. 1432).

THURSDAY, 25TH JANUARY—We shall ask the House to consider a Timetable Motion for the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and the Army Reserve Bill.

FRIDAY, 26TH JANUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

The House may have noticed the Government Motion on the Order Paper, relating to today's debate, which would have the effect of extending the time available for debate of the Motion for the Adjournment by one hour.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Leader of the House aware that the imposition of the Guillotine upon these two vital—short, but important—Bills, the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill and the Army Reserve Bill, is a gross abuse of the power of the majority? What conceivable reason can there be for this? Would he not agree that, although, of course, the Government of the day must have this power, it should be used only when the Government are in great difficulty about getting their legislation through in time, or when there has been unreasonable obstruction by the Opposition? How can he possibly claim that either of these two things apply in the present instance?

Mr. Macleod

I think that the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition are meant for consumption outside this House. If he looks at HANSARD he will find that he addressed almost identical questions in March this year to my predecessor on two different Bills.

These two Bills, as every hon. Member in the House knows, are of the first importance. In view of the Amendments on the Notice Paper, and the progress that has been made so far, the Government have only two choices. The Government either have to ask for these powers or drop the Bills. We have no doubt about which we should do.

Mr. Caitskell

How can the Leader of the House possibly say that there has been any serious obstruction by the Opposition? Is he aware that the greater part of the first day in Committee on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was spent on the important Amendment to exclude the Colonies, which deserved a full day's debate by itself? Is he aware that the second day was concerned with the question of Ireland and that the Closure was moved in opposition to the wishes of a number of hon. Members opposite?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the time spent during two days on the Army Reserve Bill has not been a matter of obstruction by the Opposition, but of genuine criticism by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Is he aware that, to say the least, it is extremely unusual to apply the Guillotine to a Bill such as the Army Reserve Bill, which concerns the manpower of the Armed Forces?

Will the right hon. Gentleman please seriously think again about this matter? Does he not realise that the Government actually rejected proposals made from this side of the House which would have enabled the Committee stage of the Bill to proceed faster? How can he possibly justify what he is proposing to do now?

Mr. Macleod

On the question of precedents, on the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill, 1907, the Military Service Bill, 1918, and the Military Training Bill, 1938, similar procedure was applied. No one can say that there have not been precedents of this sort. The Leader of the Opposition knows perfectly well that what he has said is a complete distortion of what has happened.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what the Leader of the Opposition knows perfectly well is that the Guillotine is a crude device to hide the lack of confidence in the Government Front Bench about their own supporters?

Mr. Grimond

What is all this urgency about these Bills when, in each case, we have been assured by those in charge of them that they may not be needed? Has not a great deal of time, particularly on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, been taken up by hon. Members opposite? Has the right hon. Gentleman any precedent for a day such as yesterday, in which the Government first had to vote down one of their Motions and then announced the Guillotine on two Bills, one of which was not then before the House at all?

Mr. Macleod

It frequently happens procedurally, and to all Governments, that they vote against a Motion which they have put down. The most usual case is the Motion for the Adjournment. The right hon. Member knows that this has happened a considerable number of times. I hope to table the timetable Motion today, when I think that the House will find that the time allowed for the future stages of the Bills will not be ungenerous.

Sir R. Nugent

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is nothing very novel about a timetable Motion? It is for the general convenience of the House and this is an occasion on which it is very much for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Macleod

I entirely agree.

Mr. Shinwell

Why is the right hon. Gentleman showing so much indignation about the Army Reserve Bill? Can he furnish a precedent—he has made some reference to Bills of this character—for the inability of the Minister in charge of the Bill to clarify the Money Resolution, which forced him to arrange for a Motion to be moved for the Chairman to report Progress? Is he aware that much of the discussion yesterday could have been avoided if there had been clarification of the Money Resolution?

Mr. Macleod

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, and in answer to an earlier question by the Leader of the Opposition, I mentioned earlier three very similar Bills in connection with which allocation of time Motions had been moved. I do not accept for a moment the strictures on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War.

Mr. Dance

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the activities of some hon. Members opposite have made it virtually impossible to accede to the request of the Leader of the Opposition for a full day's debate?

Mr. Jay

Would not the best way to expedite business after the Recess be to get a new Leader of the House?

Mr. Wigg

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill, 1907, and the Military Service Bill, 1938, are the only two examples there have been since 1881? Is he aware that since the war a tradition has grown up, and become a convention, that no Government would move the Closure on Vote A and that that was because of the desire in all quarters of the House to keep defence matters above party? Would he not, even at the eleventh hour, reconsider entering into discussions through the usual channels to avoid the use of the Guillotine and, if necessary, to have, by formal agreement, a timetable to meet the Government's convenience?

Mr. Macleod

In the last few words of our exchanges last night we dealt with this point. Naturally, the timetable Motion will allow for this point to be discussed by the Business Committee.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the Leader of the House recall exactly why the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill is having its Committee stage on the Floor of the House? Does he remember that his original intention was to send it to Committee upstairs because he was doubtful whether this was a Bill of great constitutional importance, but that on recon sideration he decided that it was and that for that reason, and that reason alone, the Committee stage was brought on to the Floor of the House?

Does the right hon. Gentleman know of any recent precedent on a Bill of grave constitutional importance, which is not urgent, in which the Government, because they object to the activities of hon. Members of the Opposition, have seen fit to introduce a Guillotine Motion? May I ask him whether he knows of any precedent in which a Government has told the House of Commons that they propose to apply a Guillotine Motion to one Bill because they object to the proceedings on another?

Mr. Macleod

I did not say that. If the hon. Member wishes to study the precedents he will find them on pages 490–91 of the 16th edition of Erskine May.

Mr. Marsh

Will the Leader of the House tell us why the Government have got themselves into this sort of difficulty only since he has been Leader of the House? They managed quite well before.

Mr. W. Hamilton

When are we to have a debate on the outrageous Supplementary Estimates for the agriculture subsidies? Is he aware that there is a great deal of feeling among consumers and among the farmers that this money is going to middle men? When will this scandal be stopped? If there is a debate, may we be assured that there will be a spokesman from the Scottish Office to answer for the scandalous goings on in Scotland?

Mr. Macleod

I understand the feeling on that matter. Perhaps I should have explained the position in more detail in answer to questions on business last week. The agriculture Estimates will require a special Consolidated Fund Bill. That will mean that there will be opportunities of debate, and we shall no doubt be discussing this sort of matter through the usual channels. I think that a few days after we return it should be possible to find an opportunity for this.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the Leader of the House explain his earlier supplementary answer to me that the Government had to choose between either introducing a Guillotine Motion or abandoning the Bills? Is he seriously suggesting that it was impossible for the Government to go through a number of days in Committee on these two Bills, during which progress would be made, as it has been made? What does he mean by saying that the Government would have to abandon the Bills altogether? Why does he suppress the views of the House of Commons in this way on these two vital Bills? Will he please think again about this matter before he commits himself to a course which he will bitterly regret before long?

Mr. Macleod

I am not very impressed by threats. Every hon. Member, on both sides, knows exactly that what I said is the correct position in relation to these Bills.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill has aroused very real bitterness and opposition, particularly in one respect, from his own party? Is he aware that this has caused the Government to have second, if not third, thoughts on the question of the Irish immigrants? Are we to take it that the Government consider that a full discussion of our future relations with our Commonwealth and Empire is to take an inferior place to the need to ram through this legislation by a Guillotine?

Mr. Macleod

No, Sir. That is not the case. The right position is for the Government to put in the allocation of time Motion what they consider to be a reasonable time. That will be put before the House and we shall discuss it on the Thursday of the week in which we return.

Mr. G. Brown

In view of what the Minister repeatedly says about these two Bills, does he not agree that on the Army Reserve Bill, on the first day in Committee, we agreed from this side of the House to the request which the Minister made—the only request that he made—on the point when we should finish the day's discussions? We agreed to the Amendments which he said that he wanted before that day's discussions finished. Is he further aware that on the second day, last night, we made an offer from this side of the House that further Amendments than those already considered should be taken, and that all discussion or all consideration of that offer was brusquely and rudely refused by the Leader of the House?

Mr. Macleod

With respect, that is not wholly the position. In yesterday's business, one group of Amendments—a number of Amendments taken together—was obtained, and that by the Closure. What the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested was that we should take just one more and then leave the Bill. On that basis, and with the number of Amendments which there are on the Notice Paper, it would be clearly impossible to finish the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Brown

But the Minister admits, does he not, what I said about the first day? We gave him what he asked for on the first day. On the second day he made no counter-proposal and had no conversations with us. He just rewarded our offer with the Guillotine.

Mr. Macleod

That is not so, because on the first day, although at a late stage an agreement was reached, the Minister in charge of the Bill expressed himself as disappointed with the progress.

Mr. Lindsay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill is eagerly awaited in the big cities, which are relying on the Government to get it through as soon as possible and are only amazed that the Opposition are so out of touch with public opinion?

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the Leader of the House realise that the Christmas Recess gives him an admirable opportunity of consulting the other realms in the British Commonwealth of Nations about the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill? Will he take advantage of that opportunity to have those views discussed in a leisurely and proper way, without the Guillotine, when the House resumes?

Mr. Macleod

That is a very good point. Consultation on these matters by the Ministers who are most concerned with them is continuous.

Mr. Callaghan

Is it a fact that when the proposals for last night's business were made by my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House made no reply at all?

Mr. Macleod

This was a Motion to report Progress, which, on all Bills, is a matter for the Minister in charge. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is for the Leader of the House."] It is not for the Leader of the House. It is for the Minister in charge of the Bill in all cases. The Secretary of State for War said that he was not prepared at that stage to set a limit to where we should go, but that we should make further progress.

Mr. Callaghan

I was here last night and heard some of the proceedings. Is it not true that after that exchange between the Secretary of State for War and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend put proposals forward about the amount of progress which should be made, and that they were neither rejected nor accepted, nor was any reply given to them except after the Leader of the House had 'walked out of the House, when he returned and announced a Guillotine? Does he think that he will lead the House of Commons in that way?

Mr. Macleod

Both the Secretary of State for War and I made it clear that we thought that the proposals made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were entirely inadequate.

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

Is the Leader of the House not aware that the uncertainty caused by the delays on these two Bills is creating the utmost uneasiness and unhappiness amongst very many people outside the House and that the sooner we come to fair and proper resolution of these two Measures, after a proper discussion of them under the terms of the timetable, the greater will be the satisfaction given to the great majority of people in this country?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I feel that in discussing the business for the week when we return we ought to leave some content for the debate on the allocation of time Motion. I am anxious to move to another topic for a moment.

Mr. Callaghan

May I put one further point? So that we may get the debate straight when we resume, may I ask this: if the Leader of the House thought that the proposals made last night by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, which were concrete proposals, were inadequate, why did he not make a counter-proposal?

Mr. Macleod

That is for the Minister in charge of the Bill to decide in the first instance. It was quite clear, as anybody who was here last night must have seen, that the Opposition had no intention whatever of meeting us.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

If the Leader of the House is not open to threats, is he open to peaceful persuasion? Is he aware that there is considerable anxiety in Scotland about pit closures and cutting down railway services? Is he further aware that a strong deputation of miners is coming here from Scotland to lobby Members early in the New Year? Does he think that he can now give us a satisfactory answer as regards providing time to debate this question?

Mr. Macleod

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I can respond much more readily to that approach. I cannot, on the business statement for the first week after the Recess, which I have announced, give any undertaking on those matters. We have had a number of discussions in one way or another—on Bills recently before the House, on Adjournment debates, and so on—on pit and railway closures in Scotland.

Mr. Lipton

Will the Leader of the House explain why he made an announcement about the Guillotine last night and another announcement about the Guillotine again today? If he is to duplicate efforts in this way, he himself will waste the time of the House to a very considerable extent. I ask him to remember that saying the same thing twice does not make it twice as effective.