HC Deb 28 March 1961 vol 637 cc1138-90

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Thursday, do adjourn till Tuesday, 11th April.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]

3.37 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I am aware that the terms of this Motion appear to be similar in form to that which has been moved on previous occasions, and with which the House has felt able to concur, but there are considerations which arise this year which lead my right hon. and hon. Friends and I to feel that the House ought to have a discussion on this matter before coming to a decision. There are reasons why it looks to us as though the Motion should not be approved by the House this year in this form.

There are various considerations which I wish to urge on the House. It cannot be forgotten or overlooked that the Government are moving that we should adjourn at the end of a period in which the House has not been permitted full discussion of important items of public business which have adversely affected many of our poorer and less-well-off citizens.

When the Government took the view, as they did, that we could not afford sufficient time to allow the various Health Service legislative actions to be debated in the House, it is rather peculiar, to say the least, that immediately after insisting that we do not have the time, and having dragooned their own majority to allow them to have a Guillotine, they should then propose that we should have the same Adjournment period as we have had in previous years, when this point has not arisen. If for no other reason, one would be bound to oppose the Motion to register a protest that when, clearly, time was available, the Government should have pretended that it was not and went on with the Guillotine.

Although the protest side of what I have to say is an important factor to bear in mind, it is not by any means the only consideration to be advanced against the Motion. The state of the business of the House is a powerful argument against allowing the Government to have this Motion. On today's Order Paper, there are no fewer than 31 items of Government business still to be dealt with and no fewer than nine of which the Government propose to try to push through today.

There is not only the Motion which we are now considering and on which, I deduce, a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends will want to address the House; and I have no doubt that there will be views on the other side, too. After that, as a sort of supreme irony, we have a Motion proposing, in effect, a Guillotine for tomorrow. Today, therefore, the Government are proposing to adjourn for a lengthy period at the very same time as we prevent ourselves discussing in full and in detail the last stages tomorrow of the National Health Service Bill.

Then, the Government wish to take today the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill. None of us would want to prevent that Bill being taken today. Indeed, only the obstinacy of the Government and their failure to do their job competently on one occasion has prevented that important Measure being properly considered before and being law by now. After that, the Government want us to take the Hyde Park (Underground Parking) Bill and the Patents and Designs (Renewals, Extensions and Fees) Bill [Lords], and they then want us to take the Human Tissue Bill. The Government then wish to take the Sheriffs' Pensions (Scotland) Bill and the Local Authorities (Expenditure on Special Purposes) (Scotland) Bill—all today.

It surely cannot be a sensible way to proceed that we should try to push all that lot through today and, at the same time, say that we are so easy with everything, that we are under such ordinary, normal procedure, that we can afford to take a normal Adjournment this time.

It is not only the amount of Government business. It is not my business to be very much concerned with whether the Government get their business. We have some opportunities to help in this respect and we shall use them. There are, however, a lot of other important issues which the House has not been allowed to discuss. I have had a look through the reports of the discussion on each of the last three Thursday afternoons following the business statement.

Let us look at the items for which hon. Members on both sides have, within the last three weeks, been pressing the Government to find time, on all of which the Home Secretary and Leader of the House has replied that we were so pressed—he uses almost the same statement each time about the pressure of business—that he is unable to find time.

Let me relate some of the issues for which the press of time is too great for the Government to find time at a moment when it is proposed to adjourn as though there was no pressure of business. There is the leasehold Motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) and 98 other hon. Members have repeatedly been seeking an opportunity to discuss and on which the Home Secretary, when last pressed on the matter, said that the press of business was such that he could not give a favourable reply. And yet the question of leasehold enfranchisement is of tremendous importance, not only in Wales, but in England as well.

[That this House, noting with deep disquiet the cruel exploitation of leaseholders in South Wales by finance corporations and ground landlords who are demanding excessive premiums before renewing leases for a period of 80 years, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to repeal the Act of 1954 dealing with the leasehold system and to introduce a measure granting to leaseholders the right to purchase their freehold at a fair and reasonable cost.]

To show that these matters are not by any means confined to this side of the House, there is a Motion for which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), whom his place to support me, has several times pressed. This is a Motion, signed by the hon. Member and by hon. Members on both sides, calling on the Government to arrange that certain people on small fixed incomes should be exempted from paying the increased charges levied under the National Health Service Bill.

[That this House is of the opinion that persons of limited means should not be required to apply to the National Assistance Board for the refund of National Health Services charges, but that instead all persons entitled to treatment under the National Health Service whose total net income is below an agreed income tax code number or its equivalent shall, on production of evidence of that income rating, be excused payment of all National Health Service charges.]

The Home Secretary told his hon. Friend that because of the press of business, he could not find time for that essentially humanitarian Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) asked the Home Secretary the other day, arising out of the business statement, whether he would find time for the Motion on the Order Paper, signed by a large number of hon. Members, concerning training and employment in Scotland, where there is a particularly pressing problem concerning young people.

[That this House, recognising that the increase in the number of school-leavers in Scotland in 1961 and 1962 will greatly exceed the anticipated net increase in jobs and recognising further that the number of apprenticeships available in recent years has fallen far short of the number of youths offering themselves for apprenticeship training, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take steps immediately to bring about a substantial increase in employment in Scotland, and in particular to take steps to ensure that our most valuable asset, the potential skill of our young people, is not lost to the nation by a failure to provide adequate employment with training for skill.]

Again, the Home Secretary said that he could not find time for this because, he said, the pressure of business was so great.

I hope that the House will regard it as happy that I should move from one side of the House to another. To show that there is no partiality, there was the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who, also, is not in his place to support me at this essential moment, who spearheaded a lot of hon. Members on his side of the House who were demanding an early debate on the Bill to deal with the proposed subsidy for the new Cunard liner before the tenders go out.

The point was made by the hon. Member that it would be improper for the Minister of Transport to go further still with his operations in this matter before the House of Commons had been able to discuss the Bill, and before it was clear even whether the House would approve the Bill under which the Minister proposed to act. Again, the Home Secretary said that he could not provide a debate on that essential Bill before the administrative action was taken because of the press of business, and yet we are told today that because there is no such press of business we can go away in the ordinary way.

Then there is the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) who, again, is not in his place today, who has been tireless every Thursday in demanding time for a debate on a Motion concerning what we all recognise to be a tragic situation—unemployment in the shipbuilding industry in Northern Ireland.

[That this House notes with very grave concern the serious problems facing the British shipbuilding industry, and urges Her Majesty's Government to take all possible steps to remedy the situation.]

The hon. Member has had the same dusty answer from the Leader of the House as other hon. Members have done, that pressure of business was such that we could not even discuss the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland.

There is a variety of other issues. Some hon. Members opposite have been trying to get a debate on decimal coinage. There is the Albemarle Report on the Youth Service in England and Wales, for which, again, the Government say that they cannot find time. There is the Wolfenden Report on Sport and the Community, for which the Leader of the House has refused time. I know of two issues which I regard as of tremendous importance, both related subjects—the shipping industry and the shipbuilding industry—on both of which there is a tremendous case for urgent discussion. Requests for both discussions have been refused repeatedly week after week because, it was said, we had so much business to do that time could not be found.

In the light of all these things it seems to me that the ease with which the Leader of the House thought that he could nod to you, Mr. Speaker, and persuade us to go away for Easter as though we had no public business to conduct at all was little short of frivolous. An hon. Member opposite has given notice that he will raise something or other on the Adjournment because of the flippant answers he received. This seems to me a flippant action on the part of the Leader of the House.

This matter does not end with business which we say we want to discuss and for which the Government say they cannot find time. Urgent matters of legislation are being held up because the Government cannot find time to conduct Government business. There is, for example, the Land Drainage Bill, in which many of us are very interested and about which we are deeply concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "The farmers."] It goes much wider than farming. The Bill is of enormous importance to millions of people who are affected by floods and drainage problems. It is a shocking business that we cannot get that Bill through the House of Commons.

I received the Report of the Heneage Committee on Land Drainage in England and Wales. I thanked the Committee for it and promised the chairman speedy action on it over ten years ago, when I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. I think that the chairman has passed on since then. Certainly, in the ten years since the Government have been in power, they have been thinking about it. It must be the longest period of gestation ever known to any species of animal in this country. Finally, after ten years' gestation the Government produced a Bill in November last. It was read a Second time in November and it was out of Standing Committee in February of this year. But so well had the job been done that after that it was brought back to the House and recommitted in respect of a whole series of new Clauses which the Government had not even thought of up to then.

We had one day's debate on 21st February, on Recommittal. We spent seven hours on the Bill and we got through a few Clauses. At the end of the day I invited the House to agree to a Motion to report Progress because the Minister's answers were getting progressively more confusing and more profused than the Bill. This was a Motion which the Leader of the House immediately saw the wisdom of accepting, and the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to our constructive criticism which, he said, had helped so much that day.

This was the last that we saw of the Bill. It has now disappeared again. Since 21st February the Bill seems to have gone back into whatever dark hole it was in during the previous ten years. This is a tremendously important Bill. If the Government cannot find time to get through legislation of their own of this order what possible ground is there for suggesting to us that we should give ourselves the normal holiday at Easter?

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

The right hon. Gentleman said that the chairman of the Heneage Committee had passed on. May I assure him that my predecessor is still very much alive and kicking?

Mr. Brown

I am glad to hear it. He was a great friend of mine and I am sorry that, as was done in the case of Mark Twain, I have exaggerated the news. I hope that, alive and kicking, he will do some kicking of the Government and get them to press on with the Bill.

The Land Drainage Bill is not the only piece of legislation which the Government cannot get through the House. There is the Road Traffic Bill. It is a very important and far-reaching Measure, but the Government were under such pressure that they could not introduce it into the House of Commons where it should have started its journey. We shall be involved in considerable difficulties with that Bill because the Government could not proceed with it in that way.

On the grounds of Government business alone, and the business that we want to see properly placed on the Statute Book, there is a great case against this Motion. But it does not end there. In the things that we are actually discussing we do not do ourselves justice.

The Leader of the House has referred to a statement that he made in the early hours of the morning the other day on the great, worrying problem of the state of our security services. That statement ought not to have been made in the early hours of the morning. It ought not to have been made in a wholly inadequate debate of an hour or so at that time of the day, but it was the only time available to us and the only opportunity to make a statement. It had to be done at that time because the Government could not find adequate time during a proper part of the day for us to discuss it. There are, therefore, plenty of grounds for our not allowing this Motion to go through without discussion. It would be completely wrong to do so.

There are also problems overseas. No doubt the Leader of the House will be willing to give us a pledge that if anything deteriorates in the situation in Laos, for example, he will be willing to see that the House is immediately recalled. I would certainly expect such a pledge, but I am not at all sure that in the situation that exists in that area it is good enough to go away in this way without having a proper discussion and examination of the problem. As at present advised, I could not take the responsibility of advising my right hon. and hon. Friends to pass this Motion. We shall listen to what has to be said, and I hope that the Leader of the House will listen to what has to be said on this subject. I hope that we shall have from him some indication that he is willing to think again.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I should like to congratulate—

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

On a point of order. May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) rose before you called the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)?

Mr. Speaker

I did not see the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden), but it does not affect the matter. I called the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).

Mr. Silverman

I should like to begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), if I may still call him so, on the speech which he has just made. It is some encouragement to those of us who have been doing this kind of work on this sort of occasion for so long to find that, even so late, the leaders of the Opposition have seen the wisdom and advantage of it. I think that this is the first occasion on which a Motion of this kind, at any rate in post-war years, has been moved by the Front Bench on behalf of the official Opposition, though there have been occasions, I frankly admit, on which a move of this kind, made very often by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), has been supported from the Front Bench.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper might have included a number of other things among those matters which the House has not been permitted to discuss adequately, though I appreciate that he said that he did not wish to take up too much of the time of the House.

We are spending an enormous amount of money this year—substantially more than in any previous year—on defence Estimates. The trouble that the House got itself into on that occasion was due entirely to the fact that time was so short and that we voted hundreds of millions of pounds on the nod, as simply and as formally as the Leader of the House would like to get this Motion through today. Whatever may be thought about the merits of the proposals—and on this side of the House not much is thought about the merits of the Government's defence policy, for we voted unanimously that we had no confidence that it afforded us any defence—no one can be in any doubt that the voting of sums of money of this size, for whatever purpose, should never, in the House of Commons, be a formal or nominal proceeding, carried through without proper examination and discussion.

On that occasion, there were also excluded by this procedure a whole series of Motions from Members opposite, sometimes on defence and sometimes on Civil Estimates, questioning expenditure on a variety of things about which they were quite properly anxious to have a lot more information. Indeed, even my right hon. Friend—I hope that he does not mind my revealing it—on one occasion came to me when we were protesting against what we thought was a misapplication of Standing Order No. 16, and told me that he thought we were quite right in our protest, though possibly we had not chosen the right occasion for making it, or, in his opinion, the right method. But, certainly, the House will one day have to reconsider the method by which it still purports to control and examine Government expenditure, when, in fact, it has no influence on it whatsoever.

It has become a mere pretence—almost a contemptible pretence, but certainly a contemptuous one—that the House of Commons nowadays really exercises control over Government expenditure. Why does it not do so? Nobody thinks, in principle, that it should not exercise such control. The reason is that we have the Guillotine procedure and all this lumping together in one Vote of millions of pounds for expenditure, some of which one may approve and some one may not approve but which one can either accept in total or reject in total.

The reason that we have to do it in that way is not one of principle, but one of time. The only defence ever offered for it is that we have not enough time. I do not want to develop that part of the argument, however, for some of my hon. Friends may wish to do so, and other hon. Members want to make their case.

I recognise that although this kind of opposition to this kind of Motion serves a profitable Parliamentary experience, it is not usually seriously intended. It is used as an occasion for airing grievances, or for calling the attention of the Government and of other people to outstanding important matters which cause anxiety and which will call some day for attention. But, at the end of the day, no one thinks that it is really worth while persisting with a notion, which I am sure my right hon. Friend did not intend, that we could adequately discuss all the matters he listed in his speech on Good Friday and Easter Monday. Clearly, we could not do that, and if we had the rest of next week there would still be many matters not dealt with, but which should be dealt with.

On this occasion, however, there is a substantial necessity for voting against this Motion, unless the Government are prepared to give the House certain assurances. I agree with my right hon. Friend in asking for an assurance that if the situation in the Far East were to deteriorate Parliament would be recalled, in spite of the fact that its adjournment is not for a long period. I agree with that request, but I do not think that it goes far enough. The House ought not to pass this Motion, or refrain from opposing it in the Division Lobby, unless the Government are prepared to give specific assurances that they will not, in the absence of Parliament and before consulting Parliament, allow any British soldier to be involved in any military expedition in Laos or anywhere else.

I recognise that the situation today looks less anxious than it did. I recognise that this is certainly not the occasion to discuss any of the merits. I recognise, further, that, even if this were the occasion, the time might not be opportune, while negotiations look hopeful, for going too deeply into the merits of the situation or for discussing too brutally how it was allowed to occur or to develop.

Without discussing any of these things, however, it is not going too far to ask the Leader of the House to assure us that no risk will be taken that any British blood will be spilt, that no military adventures will be undertaken, and that we shall not be involved in any military adventures of a Korea-like pattern in the case of the dispute now proceeding in Laos. It would be wholly wrong if such a thing were to happen. It was disastrous enough on the last occasion, when the political assessment was fantastically and catastrophically mistaken. The results were disastrous, especially for this country.

I do not want to go into details, or to draw parallels, or even to define faint lines of distinction, but I hope that the Leader of the House's joviality at the moment is not intended to indicate any view on his part that this is not a very serious situation, and that Great Britain ought not to be military involved, committed or obliged, whatever ultimately may be decided upon, while Parliament is absent and without prior consultation with Parliament. Unless the Government are prepared to give the clearest and most specific assurances on that point, the House ought to reject the Motion.

4.9 p.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I intervene only briefly because I think that it is right that at least one hon. Member on this side of the House should pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) for his speech—not so much for its contents, but for his ability to make it with his tongue stuck so far in his cheek. It is obvious to anybody that the Recess on this occasion is short.

Mr. Nabarro

Much too short.

Mr. McAdden

Before my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gives way to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion and agrees that we should sit over Easter and not have a Recess, I hope that he will dispatch his Parliamentary Private Secretary to the House of Commons Transport Office to find out how many Members opposite have already made their transport arrangements and how much discomfort sitting over Easter would cause them. I hope, therefore, that he will not be precipitate in responding to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions, and will remember that the right hon. Gentleman does not speak for his entire party on this or any other matter.

In those circumstances, it might be just as well if my right hon. Friend sticks to his decision to have a limited Recess, as he has already proposed, and does not worry unduly about those who are seeking to raise all kinds of matters which they know perfectly well they would not for one moment want to interfere with the Easter holidays which they have already arranged at places to which they have booked to go—whether behind the Iron Curtain or elsewhere. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear all those factors in mind before coming to a decision.

4.11 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

I hope that the Leader of the House will not be misled by that somewhat frivolous interruption—perhaps "flippant" is the better word. I have made arrangements to attend a conference of the National Union of Teachers, as I have done at Easter for the past twenty years. However, I believe that my duty is here and I and the conference would be willing—it would be an added pleasure to the conference—to put first things first.

When I had the pleasure of serving as a schoolmaster, the Leader of the House was the Minister of Education. I served on the executive of the National Union of Teachers and I used to appear before the right hon. Gentleman and I treated him with great respect. In those days I did not know as much about him as I do now, but I have always held, and still do, that he is a man who tries to keep an open mind and is at least amenable to reason.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Used to.

Mr. Thomas

He is not sitting there playing with his papers and not listening. He is listening now.

I submit to the right hon. Gentleman an argument on behalf of the Principality of Wales. As the Leader of the House knows, week after week I have been rising in my place and, when I caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, which I sometimes did—

Mr. Lipton


Mr. Thomas

Nearly always—I have pressed the right hon. Gentleman to let us discuss the Motion about leasehold enfranchisement in Wales. There are three hon. Members opposite who come from Wales. I do not see them this afternoon. It may be that they have gone to Wales.

Mr. Lipton

They have gone home.

Mr. Thomas

They have expressed anxiety about the leasehold problem in Wales and it is quite wrong that the right hon. Gentleman should ask me to go back to Cardiff and say that I have eleven days' holiday away from the House, but that the Minister keeps saying that there is not time to discuss leasehold enfranchisement. That is not a reasonable position in which to put any hon. Member.

It is interesting that it is the Celts—the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh—whom the Leader of the House is pushing aside when he makes us take this pre-emptory leave from the House of Commons. The hon. Member is now leaving, but we can manage without him, as we so often have to do.

Mr. Lipton

Will my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) make it clear to which hon. Member he is referring?

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton).

Mr. Thomas

I am sorry that there are all these interruptions, because I am trying to put a reasoned case to the Leader of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a tremendous amount of correspondence from Wales about leasehold enfranchisement. He has given the appearance of being sympathetic and I believe that he is. I hope that he will not lightly disregard the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) to allow us at least one day longer to discuss this question.

It is not for me to speak for Ireland, but I have a deep affection for Northern Ireland—and Southern Ireland; to play safe—but there are hon. Members here who have the privilege of representing constituencies in Northern Ireland where there is a grievous problem. My friends who represent the Labour Party in the Northern Ireland Parliament write to me from time to time asking for questions to be raised here on their behalf. Coming from a part of South Wales which knows what unemployment is like, and how cruel it can be, I believe that the House ought not to say that we do not have time to discuss the problems of Northern Ireland and that we must have our holidays.

Apart from the problem of Northern Ireland, I hope that the Leader of the House will realise that he will have very much offended Wales if he is obstinate on this question. I support both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—

Mr. Nabarro

Still hon. Friend?

Mr. Thomas

He is my hon. Friend and always will be. He is one of the best Parliamentarians in the House. I have been a Member for five Parliaments and I know of no one with a greater sense of what is right and wrong in this Chamber.

Mr. Speaker

Since it is a matter of right and wrong, I am sure that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would feel that it is out of order in discussing this Motion.

Mr. Thomas

I take it, Mr. Speaker, that that is your Easter message to me, and I sit down.

4.16 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I very much regret that I have not been able to be present in the House for a considerable time.

You will no doubt recall, Mr. Speaker, that on previous occasions I have objected to the passing of Motions of this nature without full and proper consultation and consideration of the problems involving the Middle East. In particular, you will recall that in December I brought the attention of the House to the question of the manufacture of atomic weapons in the State of Israel. There are further anxieties which would make me disinclined to accept a Motion of this nature. They are that there will definitely be serious international trouble over the waters of the River Jordan.

I know that the Press of this country and other people do not like to mention these problems and it may be very valuable and helpful if I say that that is one of the major international problems which we will have to face. I am sorry that there has been very little discussion of the Middle East and I very much regret that the Motion will be passed without there being time for a debate on many of the problems in which our country is involved, not only with our Armed Forces in that area, but in the Middle East generally.

Judging by the reports which I have received concerning the progress of this honourable House in its discussions of Middle East policy, I have now changed my mind and decided that it would be a very good thing if this honourable House accepted this Motion and had a holiday for ten days, because I believe that it needs it.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I do not know what all the fuss is about. I assure the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) that I shall be available next week. I am not going away. I cannot afford it.

I have a simple solution to this problem. I regard the matter seriously and I am not speaking with my tongue in my cheek, or indulging in any acrobatics of that kind. I suggest that those of us who want to meet next week should be permitted to do so. There should be no question of compulsion and I am certain that there are volunteers on both sides of the House. I hear them all around me. The only stipulation I make is that neither of the Front Benches should be present. We can then proceed to debate these intricate subjects of vital significance to the nation and the world at large, which we are prevented from doing on normal occasions.

I have argued this matter with the Leader of the House on previous occasions. For many years I have suggested that far too much legislation of a trivial character passes through this assembly. Much of it has no significance whatever, makes no impact on the public mind, and, in the long run, is completely forgotten by those for whom it is intended. Let us take some of the matters to which my right hon. Friend referred.

There is the question of pensions for sheriffs in Scotland. Have not they enough already? Why should we trouble about them? Then there is the Human Tissue Bill. I do not know what that refers to, and I doubt whether anybody else does—

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

Why not have a look at it?

Mr. Shinwell

That is an idea. We could discuss it next week.

Mr. G. Brown

As I understand it, the Human Tissue Bill is a piece of legislation which makes it possible for people to bequeath organs of their bodies, on death, for use by other people who lack those organs. This is a very important Bill, which can provide a relief which is not at the moment available to a very tragic group of people.

Mr. Shinwell

I am unacquainted with pathological subjects, but I defer to my right hon Friend's knowledge of the matter. No doubt there is a human aspect to be considered. But I would much prefer to be here next week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for that purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Monday?"] Not Monday. I cannot be here on Monday. I have arranged to go out with my wife then. With great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House my wife takes precedence in these matters. But on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I will suggest the subjects to be discussed.

Mr. Lipton

A free vote.

Mr. Shinwell

There need be no vote at all. This would be a debating assembly, where we could discuss matters of primary importance to this country and to the world. There is the question of shipping and shipbuilding. We have tried to arrange for a debate on these twin subjects for a long time, but have been prevented from doing so. Surely time can be found for a debate on an important matter of that sort.

There is our economic position. It is true that we shall shortly be discussing the Budget, but we never have a thoroughgoing discussion of our economic position. We are very grateful to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates), who is now paying us a visit. We have missed his criticism of the Government.

Mr. S. Silverman

He thinks that he needs a holiday already.

Mr. Shinwell

Now that he has returned to this country I hope that he will avail himself of the opportunities open to him. He raised the question of the Middle East, which we cannot debate on its merits, but which is a danger spot if ever there was one. It is as dangerous as the area referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I admit that there are all the elements of danger inherent in the situation in that part of the world, and it would be a very good idea to have a debate on it.

I suggest that it would be imposing too much upon you, Mr. Speaker, to expect you to be present next week while these general debates are taking place, but an understudy can be found quite easily. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, who is very popular with hon. Members on both sides of the House—there are some exceptions, but we need not be worried about them—

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is now outside the terms of the Motion.

Mr. Shinwell

Perhaps I should have read the Motion before I rose.

There is one matter upon which I speak with the utmost seriousness. I appeal to the Leader of the House to arrange for debates on the very important topics which I have referred when we return. This is a debating assembly. It is a sounding board for various topics which are of interest to the general public and to hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are many Motions on the Order Paper. Are we never to debate them? What does the Leader of the House say when he is appealed to on Thursday afternoons when questions relating to business are asked? He says that a debate may take place "if time can be found"—and time never can be found—or "if the Opposition use a Supply Day for the purpose." There are occasions when a Supply Day can validly be used, but it is generally for the Government to bring forward topics so that the House and the country can be acquainted with the views of hon. Members.

I hope that that happens. I have no expectation of the right hon. Gentleman's agreeing that the Motion should be defeated, but he may like to consider my suggestion that if a score of Members, or perhaps a hundred, come here next Tuesday morning, and somebody can be found to take the Chair, we should select a number of subjects for debate on Tuesday and the succeeding two days. We could have a worth-while debate of a kind which is not usually provided for in the House. I hope that something on these lines can be done.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

This debate has been very good-humoured, even good-tempered, but it is the type of debate that makes people outside the House feel that we are very foolish, and are wasting our own time and that of the nation. In the public imagination this kind of debate is coupled with those all-night sittings which produce so few results, and which make people outside think that we are acting very stupidly.

Not long ago a serious-minded person told me that he thought that we were like a lot of silly schoolchildren, although we were supposed to be trying to run the affairs of a great Empire. Although the debate has been very good-humoured, and has been taken in good part by hon. Members on both sides, we know that the indignation which the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) tried to show was quite "phoney", and that the right hon. Gentleman knew that it was.

Mr. G. Brown

I cannot let that suggestion pass. The hon. Member has said that my speech was "phoney". He is entitled to his point of view on that, but he is not entitled to say that I knew that it was "phoney". That is an unfair suggestion, and I hope that the hon Member will withdraw it.

Mr. Osborne

I certainly withdraw it, if the right hon. Member is so touchy on the subject. Although he objected to the length of the Adjournment, he never said on what days he would like us to sit. Would he like us to sit on Good Friday, like Pontius Pilate? On how many days does he want us to sit? People outside are saying that we are just playing with our time.

Ordinary back benchers feel that a great deal more could be said, and seriously said, by back benchers if only those on the Front Benches could make speeches lasting less than one hour.

Mr. Lipton


Mr. Osborne

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made a most important suggestion. He said that there does not seem to be time for the House to have any control over the expenditure of money, and that vast sums are voted automatically. Like him, I would like more time to be given to a discussion on that subject, but I would remind him that whereas, in previous days, it was a function of back benchers to check spending by the Executive, back benchers today urge the Executive to spend more and more. Our function has changed completely. Instead of our being the watchdogs of the public purse we have become the most extravagant spenders of all. Each of us—

Mr. S. Silverman

The hon. Member has probably forgotten that four of my hon. Friends and myself are in our present position because we voted against an enormous amount of public expenditure—without his support.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) to relate what he is saying to the Motion.

Mr. Osborne

The Motion proposes that we should have an Adjournment of eleven days. I am opposing the suggestion that it should be shorter. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that I did not support him when he opposed the expenditure of so much money, but may I remind him that when I opposed the expenditure of public money on the Lancashire cotton industry he made no protest at all.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This bears no resemblance to being in order. The hon. Member should be good enough to remember what is the Motion before the House.

Mr. W. Yates

If, on a Motion of this nature, it were to go out from the House that back bench Members are not in a position to control public expenditure as part of their duties and that they encourage public expenditure, it would create a very bad impression.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are discussing nothing of the kind on this Motion. I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind the rules which we have to keep.

Mr. Osborne

I am sorry if I have transgressed. I will bring myself back into order. I am sorry if I said anything contrary to the rules.

While this debate is quite amusing, outside the House it is misunderstood, and it is thought that we are spending valuable time which we ought to be spending on a serious matter. The right hon. Member for Easington suggests that we should come back on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. I challenge him: if the Press were not allowed to report the debate, neither he nor his hon. Friends would come here to speak.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I want to stress the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that we should not agree to this Motion unless we are given a definite assurance from the Leader of the House that no British soldiers will be sent to Laos and that we shall not be involved in any warlike action in that part of the world.

I say that because of the speech by the Foreign Secretary in Bangkok which has been reported in today's issue of The Times. From this speech it is obvious that we are on the brink of a very serious situation. The Foreign Secretary said that events in Laos face us with a "serious and explosive situation". In view of the fact that we are faced with this "serious and explosive situation"—in the words of the Foreign Secretary—I do not think that we should adjourn until we are given a definite assurance by the Leader of the House that we shall not be involved in the slightest way in any military operations in that part of the world. If we are not given that assurance, then I assure the House that hon. Members sitting in this part of the House will divide on that point alone.

We have been told by the Prime Minister of Australia that we must not shrink from force of arms in meeting the Communist challenge in that part of the world. I suggest that behind all the headlines there is a substantial risk of this country being committed to a war on the lines of Korea. The correspondent of The Times writes today: It is your Correspondent's belief that the British Government have taken in principle the decision to commit armed forces as requested. Is this so? If we cannot be given a definite assurance on the point by the Leader of the House, we are justified in voting against a Motion by which the House would adjourn before we have an assurance that we shall not be involved in a chain of events as tragic and disastrous as Korea.

4.36 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) made an important point when he started by suggesting that this discussion was good fun, but that it denigrated Parliament. Hon. Members on this side of the House, who believe that the House should not adjourn at this stage for so long a time, do so not for reasons of amusement. There is a strong feeling on this side that there are many things which the House ought to discuss, and that there is a variety of points which hon. Members wish to raise.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) referred to the situation in Laos. We can have all sorts of arguments about the situation there, and whose responsibility it is, but surely it would be a very strange man who said that this was a light-hearted subject and was put forward with a lack of interest in Parliament. This is an important issue. What is important is not the allocation of responsibility for the situation which exists in that part of the world, but the fact that hon. Members are going with their buckets and spades on holiday without having discussed the matter. It is a serious problem which should be taken seriously.

What damages the House and Parliamentary government is not all-night sittings or arguments about whether the House should adjourn; it is the fact that Her Majesty's Ministers increasingly treat these issues of great importance with a degree of contempt which is appalling.

We propose to go into recess a matter of days after we have had to apply a Guillotine to issues which affect every man, woman and child in the country. How does it arise? In itself, it is important. Two very small Bills were produced by Her Majesty's Ministers which involved enormous changes in the attitude towards the social services. They were Bills which, rightly or wrongly, leaving aside the merits of the case, aroused considerable feeling on this side of the House, and my hon. Friends wanted to discuss them. The Guillotine was introduced and difficulties arose, in which you yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were involved, simply because the Patronage Secretary looked at his watch and decided that it was time that he had his cocoa and went to bed.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Order. The hon. Member must keep to the Motion. What happened then has happened, and it will not be affected by the period of the Adjournment.

Mr. Marsh

I must respect your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I submit that the basis of our argument against the Government's Motion on this issue is that the Government are treating major issues which come before Parliament as not meriting debate by the House. I am quoting an example when the House was placed in difficulty not because it was procedurally difficult to debate a subject, but because Ministers and other hon. Members opposite did not want to debate it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said that we could come back during the Easter Recess, and that he did not understand what all the fuss was about. I do not understand what all the fuss is about, either. If the Government withdraw the Motion it will not affect hon. Members opposite. We discussed the Health Service charges without their presence and we had a long series of debates on the contributions without their presence; they were sleeping downstairs and elsewhere. They did not speak in the debate.

We could have three or four days' debate next week without their presence and without their speaking. Indeed, I do not think that it is coincidental that the standard of debate was probably higher when they were not here than when they were here. I support my right hon. Friend; it does not matter whether they are here or not. Her Majesty's Opposition are quite prepared to come here and to discuss the issues which affect the nation and which are of importance to the country. The Leader of the House can take up the challenge if he wishes, for the Opposition are quite prepared to put Parliament first.

It is a perfectly simple issue, one which can easily be tested. Whether the right hon. Gentleman will remain Chairman of the Conservative Party after testing Her Majesty's Opposition is doubtful. Nevertheless, there are a number of issues which Parliament should discuss before adjourning for the Recess.

We have seen in recent weeks a major change in the attitude of the Government towards the social services and the methods of financing them. This is important. Up to and including the last General Election we were all on the same side over the social services. Hon. Members on this side supported them, and up to the General Election and until the results were announced right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in favour of them. But in the last few weeks there has been a change. A major body of Conservative opinion has begun to suggest that there should be charges on all the social services, in particular on education. The Bow Group, for example, has suggested that there should be a charge on education.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I find it very difficult to connect the hon. Gentleman's remarks with the procedural Motion before the House.

Mr. Marsh

What I am trying to do, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—I seek your guidance on this—is to point out that in recent weeks there has been a major shift among Government supporters in their attitude towards the financing of the social services. I seek to suggest that this is a situation which was never put before the electorate and which the electorate has never had an opportunity of discussing.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may or may not be so, but I find difficulty in connecting it with the date of the Adjournment.

Mr. Marsh

I am trying to suggest that we might well continue to meet during the Easter Recess so that hon. Gentlemen opposite who want to put the case for a charge on primary education of 5s. a week may be permitted to do so and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House may vote against it.

Even if that point—I do not want to be difficult about this, Mr. DeputySpeaker—is regarded as not important, there are other issues which the House should discuss. Is it, for example, reasonable that the House should adjourn for Easter at a time when there are major difficulties in Central Africa and no fewer than 87 of the Government's supporters have their names to a Motion of, virtually, no confidence in the Colonial Secretary?

Is it right and proper that when Central Africa is faced with difficulties which may well result in bloodshed, which are certainly very difficult and which affect people of all shades of opinion in this country, we should have a situation in which the Colonial Secretary, in the eyes of many in Central Africa, does not know who his friends are? The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Opposition support him, but he is not sure how many hon. Members on the Government benches support him.

I submit that it is very wrong indeed that we should go into recess when this difficulty exists and when these problems continue in Central Africa while, at the same time, we have a situation here where 87 opponents of the Government's policy in Central Africa have no opportunity of taking their consciences through the Division Lobby on the issue.

While we of the Opposition may well have difficulties from time to time, we have not got a situation where large numbers of us object to the occupants of our Front Bench and are then coy about saying so. The last thing of which anyone could accuse the opposition is hypocrisy. The Colonial Secretary sits on the Government Front Bench in borrowed time, knowing that 87 knives are pointed at his back. We ought to use some part of the Easter Recess to discuss colonial affairs so that the Colonial Secretary can go to Northern Rhodesia, speaking on behalf of Parliament, not only Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The right hon. Gentleman is not the only one who is going there. There is a private company organising trips by hon. Members. I understand that it is known as "Voice and Vision". I know nothing about it, but I have heard about meetings in different parts.

Mr. Marsh

One of my difficulties about replying to my hon. Friend is that, without going too much into detail, I have also been on that trip. All I would say to my hon. Friend is that when we came back from Central Africa—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This has no relevance to the Motion before the House.

Mr. Marsh

I assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I would not myself have raised that point.

I move now to another very important matter. We are discussing the procedural Motion to adjourn for the Easter Recess. I do not regard this as a particularly humorous dispute between the two sides of the House. The country is at present in considerable danger. It is in danger from difficulties of involvement in foreign conflicts. It is certainly in danger of considerable economic difficulties. The House is not discussing all these issues with the amount of attention that it should.

The argument of the Opposition is that it is not denigrating Parliament merely to suggest that we should devote more time to discussing the issues which face Parliament, but it is denigrating Parliament when we get to the stage where we are faced with half a dozen Measures in one day when the Government Front Bench knows that we cannot discuss any of them with the detail they merit.

My final point involves the question of defence, a subject with which we on this side of the House are intensely concerned. We have different attitudes to many aspects of the subject, but all of us on this side believe that our country should be defended. There are all sorts of arguments as to how it should be done; but that is reasonable.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that this has much to do with the Motion before the House.

Mr. Marsh

With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I suggest that there is a very close involvement with the Motion. Within the last week the House has been told that, however much it discusses deefnce and methods of defence, we have no national security, that the security services for which the Prime Minister is responsible are virtually non-existent. Although we have been promised a statement tomorrow by the Leader of the House on the recent spy trial which has filled the newspapers—apart from the little pieces which have demonstrated the decline of the British middle classes in other fields—the House has not yet had an opportunity of discussing one of the most serious defence situations which has ever faced it, and it does not appear to be likely to be given a chance to discuss it.

You may well ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, why it is particularly important that we should discuss this subject immediately if the right hon. Gentleman is tomorrow to make a statement about the setting up of a committee of inquiry to deal with the revelations about which we have heard. Within the last week or two we have had a case which has received national prominence, from which it appears that it was possible for a person in the employment of Her Majesty's Embassy in Warsaw to be removed from there because he was apparently a drunkard and mixed with all sorts of dubious company and was regarded as not a politically stable and safe person, and then to be placed in the Underwater Weapons Research Establishment at Portland.

Some of us feel that this is a matter of such urgency that it ought to be discussed in this House. But, with respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it will not be dis- cussed tomorrow. What will happen will be that the right hon. Gentleman will rise, with his usual degree of urbanity, and tell us that there will be a committee to inquire into this. Then, when we begin to ask awkward questions, someone who will be in the Chair will get up and tell us that it is not the time to debate the issue. But we want to debate the issue.

We have had another example, the case of a woman who had disciplinary action taken against her because she took home for the weekend, presumably as light reading, secret classified information from a Government establishment. She brought it back to her place of employment, but she was discovered, and she appeared before a disciplinary court and was suspended from classified work for six months. At the end of that time she also gravitated to the Underwater Weapons Research Establishment at Portland—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member cannot go into details of these cases. He can only call attention to them.

Mr. Marsh

All I am trying to suggest is that these details, which, I think, are important points of principle, show that this country, far from arguing about methods of defence, should realise that it has had no defence secrets for probably the last six years—

Mr. S. Silverman

Probably longer.

Mr. Marsh

Probably longer. My hon. Friend and I are in complete agreement on this question.

Mr. W. Yates


Mr. Marsh

Why not? I am quite convinced that if hon. Gentlemen opposite ever break their graveyard unanimity and start discussing the serious issue among themselves, they will find that it is impossible to preserve the monolithic unanimity of which they are so proud. They will also find that it is nothing to be proud of.

We on this side of the House believe that Parliament may well find itself faced with criticism which will stem not from the fact that it discusses such issues but because it does not. So long as there are major issues affecting the people of this country, hon. Members on this side of the House are prepared to place Parliament first and come here to discuss them. We believe that the Government have made such an appalling mess during their period of office, and that the country is in such danger in relation to foreign affairs and economic matters, that Her Majesty's Opposition should have the opportunity of putting the Government right.

4.53 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I do not intend to deal with foreign affairs and defence, not because I consider them unimportant but because there are three matters—one of which has appeared on the Order Paper for a considerable time—affecting Scotland—to which I wish to refer. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) would not regard that as trivial because a fortnight ago he gave a word of support when I was arguing that we might discuss an Opposition Motion relating to the training of apprentices and the provision of employment for young people.

[That this House, recognising that the increase in the number of school-leavers in Scotland in 1961 and 1962 will greatly exceed the anticipated net increase in jobs and recognising further that the number of apprenticeships available in recent years has fallen far short of the number of youths offering themselves for apprenticeship training, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take steps immediately to bring about a substantial increase in employment in Scotland, and in particular to take steps to ensure that our most valuable asset, the potential skill of our young people, is not lost to the nation by a failure to provide adequate employment with training for skill.]

We have had before us for a considerable time, the Guest Committee's Report dealing with the question of licensing in Scotland, which proposes tremendous new departures. The Committee was presided over by a distinguished Scottish judge. So far, the Government has failed to provide an opportunity to discuss the Report.

The Leader of the House is bound to be aware that there is a threat of a teachers' strike in Scotland because of great unrest not only among teachers, but regarding the whole educational system in Scotland. One would think this a matter of such great importance that the Government would provide time for a debate.

In dealing briefly with the Motion on the training and employment of young people in Scotland, which is signed by every hon. Member on this side of the House who represents a Scottish constituency, and which has been on the Order Paper for a considerable time, I wish only to refer to yesterday's proceedings in support of our claim that this Motion should be debated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) asked the Minister of Labour: … what was the ratio of wholly unemployed boys of 18 years and under to the number of notified unfilled vacancies for boys in Glasgow and Birmingham respectively, at the latest convenient date. The Minister replied: At mid-March this year, for every 100 wholly unemployed boys, 97 in Glasgow and 1,004 in Birmingham."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1961; Vol. 637, c. 949]

A similar Question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), comparing Lanarkshire with Warwickshire—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is going far beyond the terms of the Motion. We cannot debate these details.

Mr. Hoy

I do not wish to, and I would not seek to, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I chose these three instances to show why a debate was necessary. I was about to say to the Leader of the House that the figure for Lanarkshire was 88 vacancies and for Warwickshire, 1,070.

In addition, we find that in Scotland there are three boys of 18 and under who have been unemployed for more than six months for every one in the Midlands. Because of that we ask that time be provided to give hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies the opportunity to discuss the need to provide decent and adequate training facilities, and to make the greatest use of the skill of our young people in Scotland by providing them with employment. It is no use complaining that young people hang about street corners, if society fails to provide them with opportunities to work.

When we have so many young people under 18 registered as unemployed for six months, surely it is not asking too much of the Leader of the House to provide time in the near future to discuss this important Scottish problem.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I can well understand why right hon. and hon. Members opposite support this Motion, because from Monday dinner-time until Thursday night a considerable number of them spend a lot of time seeking "pairs". Sometimes they give the impression that they would not mind if the House did not sit at all, that it would be very convenient for them if we did not have to come here. I do not class the Leader of the House in that category. We regard him as one who tries to understand and appreciate the seriousness with which some hon. Members approach their tasks. I hope, therefore, that the Leader of the House will pay due attention to what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) had to say.

This afternoon, we are in precisely the same position as was the House in August, 1956. I remember that in the debate on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House hon. Members on this side of the House were concerned about what was likely to happen over Suez. We tried to get certain assurances, but we were unable to get them. As you will recall, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, while this House was in recess decisions were made committing British troops to the most foolish, costly and senseless escapade of the present century. Many of us feel that there may be a similar decision made while this House is in recess over Easter. We feel that the Cabinet may decide to commit British troops to fighting in Laos without the House having any opportunity to discuss the matter.

The Leader of the House will appreciate the position, because we know that in 1956 he was the only wise man in the Cabinet. We know that he resisted the decision which was made then, and that he paid a heavy price for doing so. We hope that in the present situation the right hon. Gentleman will take precisely the same line that he took over Suez. We should like to have that assurance from him this afternoon and to know that so far as he is concerned no British troops will be committed to fighting in South-East Asia at least before the House of Commons has had an opportunity of discussing the position.

It is very easy to get into a struggle of that kind, but it is not always easy to get out of it. The consequences are not always weighed up as seriously as they should be. Therefore, we are entitled to ask the Leader of the House for an assurance that no decision to commit British troops in Laos will be made until such time as this House has had an opportunity of discussing it. We know what the consequences could be. If the consequences of intervention there were as serious and tragic as in the case of Suez, it might mean irretrievable disaster to this country. The reasons we are advancing why the Leader of the House should give us these assurances are serious and we are entitled to have them because of past experience when a Motion of this kind has been discussed.

Another matter I wish to raise is the question of private Members who have taken the trouble to bring Bills before this House, to which the House has accorded its good wishes. What chance have private Members who have gone to all the trouble of preparing Bills of ever seeing those Bills become law if recesses like this are to be undertaken at a time when the legislative programme is chock-a-block? Yesterday, in the Guardian, we read that the rumour is going round that the Leader of the House might have to curtail the Whitsun Recess and, instead of having the normal two weeks, this year we may have only one week because the programme of legislation is so heavy.

In the same newspaper there was talk of the Government having to drop the new Road Traffic Bill because there would not be time for it this Session. It seems an appalling situation that, while the Government's legislative programme is chock-a-block, and there are Bills which are urgent, vital and necessary for the safety and protection of our citizens which cannot go through because there is no time, the Leader of the House is recommending ten days' Recess.

There is another reason why we should not adjourn. As one of my hon. Friends has said, we spent some weary nights discussing the National Health Service Bill and a Bill to increase contributions for the Service. If the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) were in the Chamber now, I would refer to what he said. He said that people outside the House thought that we were foolish. They must think that we are foolish when we spend night after night discussing the Bill and then have ten days' holiday. How much better it would be to arrange the business so that we have more days to discuss legislation and a shorter holiday on this occasion.

The hon. Member for Louth went on to say that there was no result from our all-night sittings. That was not a reflection on the Opposition, but a reflection on the Government. It meant that the Government paid no heed to the arguments we advanced They were prepared to make no concession to our point of view, no matter how valid and strong were the arguments we advanced. Bills had to be pushed through during the long, weary hours of the night. We might as well be a Reichstag for all the improvements the Opposition were able to bring about.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Does my hon. Friend also agree that not only are the Government not prepared to listen to our arguments, but in the Bill in question they put in a Clause giving the Minister power to alter present legislation by regulations later?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that that arises on this procedural Motion.

Mr. Fernyhough

I quite agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but that emphasises the argument I am putting, that the House becomes less and less a legislative council and Orders in Council become more and more important, with all the powers which they give to the Executive.

Another matter I would like to raise is the graduated pension scheme which will come into operation while the House is in recess. Millions of workers will get a great shock. At the beginning of April they will find how much they have to pay.

Mr. Lipton

They do not know yet.

Mr. Fernyhough

They will find how little they will get and compare it with how much they have to pay. They will be very cross because they will believe they have been swindled and sold a pup. When that reaction takes place, hon. Members should be in the House to voice the reactions of their constituents to this latest Government swindle.

Finally, may I remind the House that I represent a constituency which has tragic memories of what happened in the inter-war years, when the shipbuilding industry was allowed to decline. For years after the war, people believed that those anxieties and apprehensions would never have to be borne again, but now, on Tyneside, Clydeside and Merseyside and in Northern Ireland, the same fears are once again becoming manifest because of the decline in this industry. Although Thursday after Thursday, when the Leader of the House announces the business for the next week, those of us who represent shipbuilding and ship-repairing constituencies have pleaded with the Government to find time to discuss the industry, the Leader of the House has not been able to meet our request.

Before hon. Members go away for the Easter Recess we ought to have a statement from the Government about what they intend to do for this basic industry. Is it to be allowed to go into a gradual decline and to wither away, or have the Government some plans for stabilising the position? Can they give some hope to the people who are now fearful about the future?

These are serious questions. We are entitled to a proper and serious answer from the Leader of the House. Until he can give us the assurances which my hon. Friends and I are seeking, he has no right to expect the Motion to go through without a Division.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), when opening the debate, quite properly expressed in dignified form the reasons why we feel that the Government ought to be criticised at this stage for the bungle they are making of the legislative programme. Doubts have been expressed by a number of hon. Members. Two hon. Members opposite, who, I am sorry to say, have now left the Chamber, expressed doubt as to the propriety of this kind of debate.

The Leader of the House, with all his wealth of experience behind him, knows full well that it is quite legitimate for Her Majesty's Opposition on an occasion such as this to take the opportunity of drawing public attention to the pile-up of Government business due to the policy pursued. I want to add a number of other reasons to those already advanced by my right hon. and hon. Friends as to why I think we are entitled today to raise the strongest objection to the Motion, in a form which has ample precedent in the House.

My right hon. Friend submitted to the House a most formidable list of legislation which is held up for one reason or another. We are on the eve of a short Recess of ten or eleven days. We all enjoy the Recess and look forward to it. We are already faced with a pile-up of legislation, there being seven or eight Bills listed on today's Order Paper for discussion today. What will be the state of affairs after Easter? The Leader of the House knows perfectly well that he is having some anxious moments when he looks at the time available between Easter and the rising of the House for the long Summer Recess, with Whitsuntide intervening for a week or ten days.

Immediately after Easter we shall have the Budget which, for all we know, may be a lucky bag for some of the rich financiers and speculators in the City of London. The Budget may be the occasion for distributing some of the £49 million which is to be raised spuriously and bogusly by increasing the National Health Service charges.

I am not entitled to discuss the merits of the Budget. That would be anticipating what the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have to tell us. What I am entitled to say on this occasion is that we shall discuss the Budget for a full week. There will be the Budget Resolutions and the general debate on the Budget, to be followed later by the time-honoured procedure of introducing the Finance Bill and taking all its stages on the Floor of the House, including the Committee stage. Does that mean that, faced with the programme which has now to be dealt with within the timetable of this Parliament, the Committee stage of the Finance Bill will escape in- evitably from what we all anticipate will happen—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I find it very difficult to relate the hon. Member's remarks to the procedure Motion now before the House about the Easter Recess.

Mr. Price

I thought that I was being extremely correct by following, as near as I could, the precedent set by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. I am not dealing with legislation in retrospect. I am dealing with prospective legislation and the programme we shall be faced with immediately after Easter.

I will call the attention of the House to a few of the major Measures which we have to fit into the few months ahead of us, in addition to the Budget and the Finance Bill. First, there is the Rating and Valuation Bill. I have had the pleasure of sitting in Committee on that Bill. I say "pleasure" advisedly, because I have taken some pleasure in it, although I have experienced some pain as well. I sat with hon. Members on both sides since before Christmas considering the Bill. We sat for week after week, month after month, and a fortnight ago we concluded the Committee stage, after examining in great detail all the complex and highly technical devices which are being put forward by the Minister of Housing to avoid the possible consequences of the next General Election.

Mr. Lipton

Were there any Closures?

Mr. Price

No. We did not have any Closures. I am not complaining about Closures.

We discussed the Bill in a perfectly rational, civilised and cultivated way. That is the way in which the British public expects the House of Commons to do its business. We took rather a long time over the Bill. There are all the complexities of this one Measure and the prospect which faces the British public of finding out very shortly that the valuation of ordinary houses is likely to rise by 200 or 300 per cent. in a couple of years' time. We shall need a lot of time in the House to discuss the later stages of the Bill. I will not pass any further comment on that, because if I did I should be out of order.

Then there is the Land Drainage Bill, which is still held up. My right hon. Friend referred to this Bill. It has been held up for some weeks. We begin to wonder whether the Land Drainage Bill has not "gone down the drain" for good, because there seems little prospect that there will be time to deal with it, according to the Leader of the House's statements to the House. He says the same things every Thursday afternoon. The Bill is in abeyance. It is in a state of suspended animation.

Then there is the precious Measure which was given a Second Reading yesterday, namely, the Housing Bill. What will be the fate of that in the coming months? I sat in the House yesterday discharging my duty in a humble way. I sat here listening to others, because I did not want to talk. The Minister of Housing and Local Government, at one period, sat in a lonely state, with not a single Tory Member supporting him.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This is far from the procedure Motion.

Mr. Price

I do not want to pursue that further, except to say that the Housing Bill will take us some time, when hon. Members become interested and see what is involved in it. The general public will write hundreds, perhaps thousands, of letters to hon. Members who are sent here to represent their views.

Then there is the other Achilles heel of the right hon. Gentleman in his capacity as Home Secretary. He is almost a Pooh-Bah in his various offices. We give him a good deal of consideration, because we realise how hard pressed he is in discharging his functions. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I say that with great sincerity. Nevertheless, he has the Licensing Bill on his plate. That is one of the most explosive pieces of social legislation which the country has been faced with for many years. It will require much consideration in the House when it returns from Committee.

Then there is the Criminal Justice Bill, again under the prerogative of the Home Secretary. When I sat upstairs for several months last year considering the Betting and Gaming Bill I heard the Home Secretary heavily criticised for not attending Standing Committees. The right hon. Gentleman is always being criticised for not attending Standing Committees in person, but sending the Minister of State or the Joint Under-Secretary to represent him. The Home Secretary ought to be present on major Measures. He is correct in saying that he has not the time to be present. However, if he has not time to be present in Committee, when major pieces of legislation are being discussed in great detail, how can we expect him to have the time to come to the House and explain the Measures to us with the authority and knowledge which he should command?

Then there is the Weights and Measures Bill. This is a most important Bill which seeks to iron out, remove or mitigate many of the malpractices and sharp practices which are being conducted in giving short weight and short measure to the British public in all the consumer goods which are sold over the counter.

I do not pretend that my list is exhaustive. If I sought to make it so, this debate would go on for a long time. I could place before the House a further list of massive, important, domestic legislation that I fear will not get the attention to which it is entitled.

Speaking of prospective legislation, we have yet to deal with the Road Traffic Bill. What has happened to that? Many of these things may be desirable, but they may be contentious and give rise to all kinds of arguments on matters of deep principle about which we respect each other's point of view. My fear is that they will not get the attention that they should if the public are to be kept informed of these principles.

The hon. Members for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) and for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) protested rather miserably that to debate this Motion now was an abuse of the House—

Mr. Lipton

If my hon. Friend looks across the Chamber, he will find that those two hon. Members have not the time to be here to listen to his very wise remarks.

Mr. Price

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I do not know whether my remarks are wise or not—I leave that to the House—but they are factual, and one of the first things I learned when I came to the House was to be right about the facts before expressing opinions on them. We try to get the Government to show some respects for facts.

Facts apart, there are procedural matters. You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will recollect many occasions when you, or Mr. Speaker himself, have occupied that Chair for many hours of tortuous debate that must have tried your patience very much. There have bean occasions when, at 3.30 a Whip has moved, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair"—and six or seven hours later he has still been there—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but, of course, that is not the Motion now before the House.

Mr. Price

I was trying to illuminate my argument in that way because we have been criticised for using this occasion, when a simple Motion is before the House, to raise grievances that should be raised.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), in a very interesting and good-humoured speech, presented in his own inimitable fashion, suggested that if some hon. Members took objection to going away next week to have ten days' holiday they should be allowed to be a sort of franc tireurs—freelances who could enjoy themselves here whilst those who wanted to go away could be given their penny and their bun and go on holiday.

I have always had a more serious regard for the work of the House. To most of us, there is no satisfaction in merely talking; merely listening to the sweet music of our own voices. I may say that I do not speak a great deal—even now, I am speaking at greater length than I had intended. There is no good in people regarding this House merely as a forum of debate in order to get more publicity for certain matters. There is no point in a debate unless it leads to some action, or positive suggestion that can he resisted, if necessary, in Parliamentary fashion, or about which we can get our own way if we are sufficiently zealous in putting our case.

I strongly disapprove of anybody giving the slightest credence to the idea that Parliament should be merely a plat- form on which people talk and listen to each other and, at the end of the day, nothing is done. That is not what Parliament is for. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will forgive me when I say that he was probably only "pulling our legs".

The Leader of the House is under an obligation to tell us more clearly why this Motion should be passed. If this bungling by the Administration goes on—this cluttering up of the legislative machinery as it has been cluttered up in recent months—I think that we can look forward, after Easter and in the months ahead, to a long succession of Guillotine Motions. I would not be surprised if the Government allowed their business to pile up in this way and then, when they found it impossible to dispose of their programme, came forward with Guillotine Motions in respect of Measures that should be discussed at greater length.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to tell us clearly what the Government's plans are for disposing of the present programme and whether the House will have sufficient time adequately to consider the important Measures to which I have referred.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

The most serious reason for rejecting this Motion, unless proper assurances are given by the Government, is the situation in Laos, which was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and strongly pressed by two others of my hon. Friends. I want to return to that aspect in a few minutes.

There are other reasons why this Motion should be debated. I do not think that the House would agree with the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) that because this debate was in some sense good-humoured—because we are not exactly tearing each others' eyes out—it was not a serious debate. That view could not be held at all. The hon. Gentleman's implication that every Parliamentary day should be tidily cut and dried, that business should go through on the dot, and that everybody should be able to know in advance what the timetable was, gives a false idea of the House of Commons.

If Governments are to be kept in order it is necessary that they should always be subject to having their timetables upset. That is necessary when Governments misbehave themselves, and it became particularly necessary when the present Government introduced at the beginning of this year a whole series of Measures which, if they had any political sense at all, they must have known would rouse deep hostility in the House and in the country.

We are discussing this Motion mainly because the Government have got themselves into great difficulties with their timetable. They were apparently unaware of what would be the response in this House and outside it to the introduction of a series of Measures about the National Health Service. They must have thought that those Measures would go through fairly swiftly and that they could get the rest of their fairly lengthy Measures through as well.

The Government had to be shown that they were miscalculating the mood of both House and country in making that assumption. That was a perfectly legitimate thing for the House to do, and it was absolutely necessary, but part of the result of the Government's introduction of that series of highly-objectionable Measures about the National Health Service is that they have disrupted their timetable. They have therefore had to say, "Because we wrecked our previous plan for getting our business through by introducing such unpopular Measures as those associated with the National Health Service, discussion of other Measures is to be affected as a result of our miscalculation."

Coming to this Motion today, the Government had certain remedies open to them. Leaving aside the Easter holiday itself, they could have three or four days extra next week in order to discuss either the matters which have been referred to by my right hon. and hon. Friends or other matters not yet mentioned. For my part, I think that we could have had many exchanges with the Leader of the House in his office as Home Secretary on the subject of the Timothy Evans case. The Home Secretary has said either that there is no time to discuss it or that Parliament can find the time to discuss it. We could find the time next week. That is another example of how the time could profitably be used.

There is also the Report of the Committee of Privileges. I do not say that it is always the practice to discuss at once a report of the Committee of Privileges. I dare say that there are many examples of reports being discussed in the House after some delay. However, I think it is customary, at any rate, or it frequently happens, that a report of the Committee of Privileges, particularly when it deals with a vital constitutional principle, is discussed at a fairly early date. According to the newspapers, there is to be a debate in the Palace of Westminster about the Report of the Committee of Privileges, but it will not take place in the House of Commons. It will be in the 1922 Committee. Perhaps one of the reasons why we have not had time and why we should have it next week to discuss the Report of the Committee of Privileges on Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case is that the Government have to sort things out on their own side first.

There is even the most monstrous suggestion going about that the Government intend to put the Whips on the Report. I hope there is no truth in that. In any case, it would be much better for the House of Commons, and fairer, I should think, to the gentleman who was my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East—and perhaps still is—that the matter should be debated in the House at once. A recommendation of the Committee of Privileges is not a decision of the House of Commons, and I should have thought that, in fairness to Mr. Benn, he should have the opportunity of having the subject discussed in the House of Commons as early as possible so that the principle could be established and we could have a decision reached here with the Whips off. It does not matter to me, as it happens, but I am sure that the Whips will not be on on this side of the House when we consider the Report of the Committee of Privileges. I hope, therefore, that the Leader of the House, quite apart from his attitude to any Opposition Motion, will give us an undertaking that, when we do debate the Report of the Committee of Privileges, it will be a proper debate without the Whips on on the benches opposite.

However, much the most serious reason for this debate today is the situation in Laos. All of us are extremely pleased that, during the last twenty-four hours or so, there has been a great improvement, or what appears to be a great improvement, in the situation. There seems to be a real possibility of a conference being called, although, if one looks at the details of the discussions between the great Powers, it is still not apparent that the proposal for a cease-fire has been accepted yet on all sides.

There could be a very swift worsening of the situation in a matter of hours. Bearing in mind what has happened in Laos on previous occasions, I think we should take warning about what could happen next week. On at least two occasions in the past, there have been scare headlines and statements in the newspapers about large-scale invasions of Laos by Communist troops from outside. For periods lasting two or three days, there has been the appearance of a major crisis blowing up in Laos and then, at the end, we have discovered that most of the reports were completely false, that in fact the invasions alleged to be taking place were not taking place, and that a great deal of the news which set the whole world on its ears had been cooked up by certain people in Laos who had an interest in doing so, people who wanted, by creating a scare, either to increase the amount of military aid they were receiving from the United States, or for other reasons.

Indeed, in regard to the latest reports which we have had about what is happening in Laos, the article which appeared in the Daily Mail of today or yesterday, reporting on the spot what is happening out there, gave an account very different from the general story which is being told not from first-hand reports but from what is being dished out in Washington, Moscow or elsewhere.

The situation is extremely confused, and it is one in which it is only right that, before any action which might involve the use of this country's troops is taken, the House of Commons should have the fullest opportunity to discuss it. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has already referred to the report in The Times today from its Bangkok correspondent which states that a decision in principle has already been made by the British Govern- ment about committing armed forces in the area. I hope that the Home Secretary will reply to my hon. Friend and give a categorical assurance that there has been no such decision by the Government. If there had been such a decision by the Government, it should have been reported to the House. It would be quite improper for any commitment in the terms suggested by The Times correspondent not to be reported to the House of Commons, particularly when both last Friday and again yesterday questions were put to the Government about the matter.

Mr. S. Silverman

My hon. Friend will no doubt appreciate that if that commitment has already been made the assurances from the Leader of the House for which I ask would no longer be of any value and the House ought not to adjourn at all.

Mr. Foot

I hope that the solution of the problem will be that the Home Secretary will tell us that The Times correspondent has been misinformed. That is the first possibility, the only possibility affording a proper position for the Government to be in.

If, however, there can be any colour of suspicion that what The Times reported is correct, then the House of Commons confronts a very serious situation. Indeed, if that report is right, we ought to have a full debate on the matter now. We really must ask the Leader of the House to give a very clear statement on the subject. These are not trivial or secondary matters.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) pointed out, at the time of the Korean crisis, whatever one may have thought about the merits or demerits of becoming involved in Korea at all, the decision was taken in a few hours, and even in that case, as I recell it, there was a full debate in the House of Commons before the decision was taken on whether Britain herself would be committed.

Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, said yesterday that war or peace in Laos depends upon what happens in the next few days. No doubt he made that statement before we had the indication yesterday of the Soviet response to the proposals which have been put forward by the British and American Governments. Since the Soviet statement the situation has somewhat eased. I must say that I think that the British and American Governments are very fortunate that the Soviet Union is prepared to make that response, having regard to everything that has happened in Laos during the past two years. It cannot be forgotten that the situation in Laos arises very largely because the American Government took action to overthrow, or assisted in overthrowing, the legitimate Government in that country and poured weapons in on a huge scale. About £100 million worth were sent in in a very short space of time. I congratulate the British Government on one aspect of the matter. As I understand the situation, the British Government for some time have been pressing the American Government to abandon their hopeless policy in regard to Laos and, in recent weeks, since the change of Administration in the United States, they have had a little more success. But now we can by no means be certain that we have escaped altogether from the Laos crisis. Although there is a move on both sides to try to reach accommodation, there is no firm settlement about this.

Therefore, I conclude by again repeating our demands to the right hon. Gentleman. We ask for a complete denial of this statement made by The Times that the British Government have already made some commitment about our British armed forces being employed in this area. We ask for the most categorical statement from the right hon. Gentleman on that. Assuming that his answer is that The Times report is completely mistaken, we ask, further, for the absolute assurance that there will be no decision to this effect to use British armed forces in this area without the House of Commons being summoned and being able to debate the proposition whether we should become involved.

There are many of us who think that it would be disastrous for this country to become involved in such a situation. We think, particularly in view of history over the past few years, that it would be absolutely improper for the Government, particularly when the matter has been brought so strongly to our attention as it has been in a series of speeches today, to allow the House of Commons to depart without being given that clear assurance.

There is another reason why we should be concerned about it. I must say that the speech of the Foreign Secretary yesterday in Bangkok was quite out of keeping with the statements which apparently were being made in Washington or in this House. I think that he was extremely ill-advised that at a time of such delicate negotiations, when, as I say, if we look back over the past years it is certainly not the Western Powers which have all the right on their side—I put it no higher than that—our Foreign Secretary should go to the S.E.A.T.O. Conference and make a very bellicose speech. Dean Rusk spoke in much more temperate and sensible terms than did the British Foreign Secretary.

We have to take into account previous speeches made by the British Foreign Secretary since his appointment. We have had a number of speeches by him in which he has sought to show how strong he is and to shake his fist in the the face of the Soviet Government and the Chinese and Communist Powers. It is not very effective, particularly when it is done by the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. S. Silverman

It frightens me.

Mr. Foot

It frightens us, but it does not frighten them; therefore it certainly appears that the mood in Washington was a bit different from the mood at the S.E.A.T.O. Conference. Many of us—there are only a few of us here—had believed that the whole way in which the S.E.A.T.O. organisation were organised was wrong from the start.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. He is going a little further than the procedure Motion. We can discuss the seriousness of the situation in Laos, but we cannot go into it in detail.

Mr. Foot

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was only underlining the fact that partly because some of us do not think that this organisation was a good one in the first place, and partly because we are so concerned about the way in which the Foreign Secretary is behaving at this time, and partly because we do not think that the policy which he has been stating at Bangkok altogether fits in with the policy we would hope the British Government would pursue at this time—it is partly for all these reasons that before we allow the House of Commons to Adjourn we should have the clearest possible series of assurances from the Government.

5.44 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

It may help the House, which has had a long debate, to come to a decision on this matter if I say a few words. First, I should like to deal with the speech of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who used the expression that we were adjourning for a long period.

If we look up the records, going back to 1945 and 1946 and every since, it will be found that the number of clear days of Recess is exactly the same in each year, with the one exception of 1951, when the days were ten. Otherwise, the House has always adjourned for eleven days. We are not doing anything out of the ordinary. We are following a precedent respectably set by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, and we are proposing to ask the House to go into Recess as the result of the passing of this Motion. That is the normal thing to do. As several of my predecessors who have come from the opposite side of the House will remember, they themselves said that it was not a bad thing occasionally for the House to have a Recess.

Mr. J. T. Price

It is not eleven Parliamentary days.

Mr. Butler

It is eleven calendar days.

The second point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was in relation to the Guillotine. He seemed to infer, though he did not state it categorically, that it was peculiar to ask the House to pass a Motion like this when the Guillotine has been used. I should simply like to remind the House that in 1947, at the time of rising for Easter—this is one of the decisions that I have mentioned here in the past—the Labour Government were involved in guillotining the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill. There is nothing unusual in the length of the Recess, or in the fact that there has been the Guillotine.

Mr. G. Brown

Was the Motion for the Adjournment in that year opposed by the then Opposition?

Mr. Butler

I do not remember. I only know that the Guillotine point, which was the one that I was dealing with, was the one raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to make one or two other points. He referred to the Business on the Order Paper for today. He will realise that the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill is a Measure which is wanted by the industry. I think that was realised by him and by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), who took part in our debate. Therefore, I do not think there is anything very remarkable in our asking that we should obtain that business and as much of the rest of the business as we can reasonably obtain.

I should like to make clear that all that we can do is to make the best possible progress, and I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of his own words when he said that we are anxious to see that these Bills should be properly put on the Statute Book.

Mr. Brown

And properly discussed.

Mr. Butler

That is exactly the view of Her Majesty's Government.

I should say in answer to the many observations of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), who has an unrivalled knowledge, so far as I can see, of the Parliamentary programme, that we are anxious to see that these Bills are properly put on the Statute Book, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman. If we then approach all the different Bills which he has mentioned and the Bills which had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Westhoughton and other hon. Members in that spirit, I think we shall be able to fulfil our programme. I should like to make absolutely clear that, in my opinion, having been present during the debates that the Guillotine has not operated against the general advantage of the House. There has been ample opportunity to discuss the Contributions Bill, and there will be ample opportunity tomorrow to discuss the Charges Bill. In fact, those of us who watched the first Schedule of the Contributions Bill going through the House found that it went through with as much discussion as anybody ever hoped that it would have whether there had been the Guillotine or not.

I claim that although it is not a good thing perpetually to rely on the Guillotine—and no Leader of the House has ever said that it is; and it would be wrong to claim that it is—in fact these Measures have been properly and decently discussed at a decent time of night and hon. Members have been able to put their points of view. I do not think, therefore, although the right hon. Gentleman put forward many Measures which he said should be discussed and many Measures which he would like to see discussed, we have any reason not to take our usual Easter Recess as a House and profit by it.

I think that the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that we should come back and have a sort of general debating society for a few days next week should be undertaken as an individual private enterprise. He should take the hall, find his own chairman and his own leader, and everything should be satisfactory to him. I suggest that with a little private enterprise he should give the good old House of Commons and its officers and staff a bit of a rest and organise a debating society during the holidays. If he asks me along, I shall be only too glad to attend.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has had any discussion with the Home Secretary about my proposal last year to the Home Secretary to introduce early in the Session a social survey indicating the Government's general attitude to the Welfare State and social services? Is he not aware that, if such a method had been adopted, the debates in bits and pieces which we have had on different aspects of the social services could have been more tidily conducted and completed in a shorter period?

Mr. Butler

I have considered what the hon. Gentleman said in the course of a previous debate on an occasion like this, but what he suggests is a difficult thing to do. Perhaps, if we could continue our consultations together, we may be able to make some progress and thereby facilitate the future of the Welfare State.

In answer to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), I should like to say that, with the permission of Mr. Speaker, he made a great deal of the future of the Welfare State. If, however, he cannot go away for Easter because he is frightened about whether the Tories will destroy the Welfare State, I can tell him categorically one thing. It is not Government policy to impose charges on education, whoever may say that it is. I say that not only as a former Minister of Education but as a responsible Member of the Government. Nor is it the Government's proposal to dismantle the Welfare State during the Easter Recess. I think the hon. Member will find when he comes back after Easter that further commitments have been undertaken and that the social services have been developed over Easter, as they should. I hope that his great anxiety on this score will be removed, at any rate by the assurances that I am giving.

One or two other serious matters have been raised in the debate, particularly by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), who echoed what the right hon. Member for Belper said about shipping and shipbuilding. This remains a constant anxiety of the Government and of myself, since, as Home Secretary, I have a particular responsibility to Northern Ireland. I am aware of this matter. It links up with the matter of the Cunarder in one respect, which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. None of these issues will suffer by the fact that we have an Easter Recess. In fact, it may well be that further consideration will be able to be given to them.

I should like to assure the hon. Member for Jarrow that I do not represent a constituency which has been through so much suffering as his constituency. Having been there during my days when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and in the old days when Jarrow was really suffering, I can say that there is no intention simply of having an Easter Recess and forgetting the interests and needs of the shipping and shipbuilding industry.

Mr. Shinwell

Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman will not give us a debate after Easter?

Mr. Butler

In view of the marshalled array of legislation and the points made by the right hon. Member for Belper and by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, it would be unwise of me to promise any further openings. I say in reply to the right hon. Member for Belper and to the hon. Member for Westhoughton that the fact that it is so difficult on a Thursday to give more Parliamentary time has been largely due to the classical reason, namely, that this is the period of Supply. Supply takes up the greater part of our time at this period of the year. I am afraid that I cannot alter that because it is the classical period of the British Parliamentary year. It is not a time when it is possible to have many extra debates.

In general, I say as Leader of the House that the more chances we have for general debate—whether it be on the Albemarle Report, on the Wolfenden Report on Sport, on decimal coinage, on the training and employment of young people in Scotland, on people living on small fixed incomes, on the charges under the National Health Service Bill or on leasehold reform and other matters—the happier I would be. But I cannot give undertakings which I am unable to carry out.

The major issue on the subject of the Easter Recess was raised by the right hon. Member for Belper. He said that I should give a pledge that if the situation in Laos deteriorated the House would be recalled. I remind the House that, under Standing Order No. 112, "Earlier Meeting of the House", it is possible to recall the House. I wish to make it clear that I am not going to make a statement on Laos today as if I were Foreign Secretary or informing the House about the situation. My duty in replying to this debate is to give an assurance, and that assurance is to this effect.

In answering a Question on Monday, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said: Under the terms of Article IV in the Manilla Treaty we have an obligation to consult with our partners in the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation if any party or designated State is threatened in any way other than by armed attack. I cannot foretell what action might result from such consultation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1961; Vol. 637, c. 937.] The undertaking which I ought to give to the House before we adjourn for Easter is that if any such action involved, in the words of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), British soldiers or any risk taken of British blood being spilt, or, in the words of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr M. Foot), that there was any worsening which resulted in action of a military character—that is, any action arising out of the Treaty which has that effect—or if there were any deterioration, which was the word used by the right hon. Member for Belper, in the situation, I think that it would be right for the Government to recall the House. I think that I must give that assurance. I cannot go into further detail.

Mr. S. Silverman

I am sure that we are all grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said and appreciates what he has done in saying it. However, will he reply specifically to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot)? Will he make it perfectly clear, in view of what The Times correspondent said, that we are not committed already and perhaps at the same time persuade the Foreign Secretary not to make swashbuckling mock heroic speeches in the meantime?

Mr. Butler

I cannot accept that description of the speeches of my noble Friend, but I can say that no decision has been taken by the Government of the character evidently described. Neither have I read that report. I will make it my duty to discuss the report with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he returns and consult my colleagues in the Government about it.

I would simply like to say this on the subject of Laos, about which I am not making a statement but simply referring to it on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the right hon. Member for Belper said, it is our desire to see a peaceful solution of this matter. There are certain indications which are certainly better and I do not think that the diagnosis made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is in any essential wrong. The situation is more hopeful than it has been. The hon. Member is perfectly right in saying that this is a confused situation. I cannot tell how things will develop, but I think that the House ought to leave the situation, in letting us adjourn for the Easter Recess, in the terms that I mentioned with the hope that the situation will continue to improve.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. G. Brown

I realise that I can speak again only by leave. In view of what the Home Secretary has said, perhaps the House will give me leave to speak again.

Two things of considerable importance have emerged from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and they make absolute nonsense of the attack made on us by the hon. Members for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) and Southend, East (Mr. McAdden). The first thing of considerable importance which the right hon. Gentleman said was his assurance on the situation in Laos. I do not think that any of us would wish to be less than generous to him or not to match the generosity of his own announcement which was very full and which was welcomed by the House.

The second thing was the carefully tossed-in assurance which everyone has up to now avoided giving, namely, that the Government do not propose to introduce charges for education under any circumstances. We have never had this assurance from the Minister of Education. There was no comment when the Bow Group produced this in a recent pamphlet. It was allowed to receive wide publicity. It would have been worth having the debate if only to get that on the record by the Leader of the House so that his colleagues are tied.

Apart from those two things, which I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, for the rest it did not seem that he was meeting the case. Indeed, some of his answers at the beginning made it even worse. On the question of the various important issues which we ought to find time to discuss, the right hon. Gentleman was, I thought, erecting an unbreachable wall. He said that for the reasons which, he thought, I had given—incidentally, his various references to what I had said were ingenious and selective in the pieces which he chose to remember and the qualifications he chose to forget—there were no further openings for these important debates because of the pile-up of legislation. If we are being sent away for the Recess with an assurance not only that we cannot have a debate before we go but that we cannot have one soon after we come back on any of these serious subjects, that makes an overwhelming case for the proposal that we on our side are putting.

The right hon. Gentleman quoted from me that Acts of legislation should be properly put upon the Statute Book. By "properly put upon the Statute Book" we mean properly discussed and properly reached at a proper time of the day.

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