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Business of the House.

– in the House of Commons on 24th April 1941.

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Photo of Mr Hastings Lees-Smith Mr Hastings Lees-Smith , Keighley

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make on the future Business of the House?

On the first Sitting Day—Motions to approve the Determination of Needs Regulations, and the Timber (Charges) (No. 3) Order.

The second Sitting Day will be the fifth Allotted Supply Day, when a Debate will take place on Food Distribution on the Ministry of Food Vote.

On the third Sitting Day—Second Reading of the Public and other Schools (War Conditions) Bill (Lords)

I am aware that the House expects a Debate on the war situation at an early date, and consequently the Business which I have announced may have to be altered. The House will realise, however, that any question of a Debate must depend upon the situation prevailing at the time. I venture to suggest that the precise moment is one for the Government to decide, and I am confident that the House will be willing to leave the matter in our hands. Members may rest assured that they will be given full information as soon as I am in a position to give it, but a serious responsibility rests upon His Majesty's Government not to take any course, or make any statement, which will prejudice the safety and success of the British, Australian, New Zealand and Greek soldiers who at this time are in close contact with the enemy.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

The House, of course, appreciates the conditions upon which a Debate would be possible. While entirely accepting what has been laid down by my right hon. Friend, and the understanding that a Debate is to take place as early as possible, may I ask whether, with regard to a statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister can say whether the material has now been assembled? It would be normal to expect a statement from my right hon. Friend on his recent tour so that we may have the basis for a proper judgment upon these matters. If my right hon. Friend thought it was undesirable for the Foreign Secretary to make such a statement in open Session, I am sure the House would be ready to hear it in Secret Session. I am not asking for a Debate but merely to hear a statement from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary as soon as that is possible.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I think that the circumstances connected with the tour of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary are intimately interwoven with the main matters which the House wishes to discuss, and which I shall see they have the fullest opportunity of discussing, either in public or private, as may be thought best, on an occasion which is found, at the earliest moment, to be compatible with the public interests and which, at the earliest moment, enables the Government to give a full and reasonable account of what has taken place.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

May I ask one question which arises in this connection? Will my right hon. Friend see that His Majesty's Government in Great Britain, so far as is possible, concert with His Majesty's Government in Australia, so that any Debate which takes place shall take place, as far as is possible, simultaneously in this House and in the Australian House of Representatives? It would be most unfortunate if information was given in another country which was not available in this country.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

Of course, it would be an innovation for us to adopt the position that if a Debate took place in Australia, we must necessarily have a Debate on the same day here. It would in a sense be an intrusion on their perfectly separate and independent rights of government under the Statute of Westminster. At the same time there would be obvious inconveniences in Debates on these matters taking place piecemeal. We are in the very closest touch with the Dominion Ministers and Governments, not only in Australia, but in New Zealand, and also in Canada and South Africa. Certainly an effort will be made, as far as possible, without the slightest prejudice to independent and separate action, to arrange these Debates. I asked when the Australian Parliament was likely to meet, and, according to information I received just before I came into the House, it is unlikely to assemble before the first week in May, and, of course, the Debate would not take place until the end of that week. I give that information under all reserve.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

In view of the statement of the Australian Prime Minister two days ago, is there any reason, as people in this country also have a great interest in that theatre of war, why a similar statement should not be made here?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I have been considering whether I might not make some statement of a general character, but I have been anxious to make sure, if I were to do so, that I should not be treating the House with disrespect if I suggested that a Debate on the matter should be postponed to a later occasion. If I could say anything helpful on the matter in the interval, not, of course, going into the controversial aspect, I feel that perhaps the House would give me that latitude.

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, in view of the gravity of recent events, the public would prefer that a Debate should take place in Public rather than in Secret Session?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

Yes, but do not let us lose our sense of proportion about the gravity of recent events.