On Tuesday and Wednesday, a Debate will take place on the Crimea Conference. The Debate will arise upon a Government Motion which will be in the following terms:
That this House approves the declaration of joint policy agreed to by the three Great Powers at the Crimea Conference and, in particular, welcomes their determination to maintain unity of action not only in achieving the final defeat of the common enemy, but, thereafter, in peace as in war.
As regards the hours of sitting, I informed the House at the beginning of the Session that the heavy legislative programme would make it necessary some time in the New Year to set up Standing Committees, and, in consequence, to alter the present hours of sitting of the House. We have already referred three Bills to Standing Committees, and two Committees have now been constituted.
In order that hon. Members, and those whose duty it is to attend upon Parliament, can make their arrangements, it may be convenient if I warn the House now that we shall bring forward a Motion to provide that the House should meet at 2.30 p.m. and sit until 9.30 or 10 p.m. I should add that we had contemplated originally making this change on Tuesday, 6th March, but for certain reasons which have since arisen, I would now propose that the change of hours should operate as from Tuesday, 13th March. This Motion, of course, will be for discussion at some later time; I am only giving the House advance information.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the statement he has just made indicates that it is a considered decision of the Government, that the hours should be from 2.30? I was given to understand that the Government would propose 2 o'clock. If the Government are proposing 2.30, will the alternative proposal of 2 o'clock be left to a free vote of the House?
The proposal I have made as Leader of the House, not on, behalf of the Government. It will be for the House of Commons to decide its hours. The Government have considered the matter, and, on the whole, we thought that 2.30 would be more convenient for a number of reasons, not by any means exclusively concerned with Members' luncheon hours. There is also the question of the gap, I might mention, between the time when the sittings of the Committees—whose work has to be reported—will come to an end and when the sitting of the House itself begins, but these matters can, of course, be discussed.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great number of people want to take part in the Debate next week on Foreign Affairs; and in view of the importance of the issues and the desire of Members to express their views in that Debate, would he consider giving another day?
I have had no notice that there was this desire. It is obviously a matter that requires consideration. I cannot say that there will be another day but I am prepared to consider, in any event, giving extra time.
Whilst the Government are, obviously, entitled to ask for a Vote of Confidence on this matter, and any other matter when they see fit, will they take into consideration that one part of the declaration of the Crimea Conference referred to certain private decisions, arrived at, necessarily, secretly; does the language of the Motion commit us to support matters which are hidden from our gaze?
May I reinforce the plea made by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) that there should be a third day for this great Debate, possibly the biggest Debate we have had since the war? It raises issues far bigger than the issue of Poland because, from the terms of the Motion which my right hon. Friend has read out, this would seem to be the basis of a series of future conferences and a series of world agreements. I hope, therefore, that he will give very sympathetic consideration to granting an extra day.
The last thing the Government desire is to restrict this discussion in any way. We would like, naturally, the fullest discussion possible. As I say, I have not had notice of this proposal and perhaps I may be allowed to make a statement at the beginning of Business tomorrow.
I want to ask a question on another matter. There are two Motions on the Order Paper, each signed by approximately 100 Members, the first dealing with the question of the age-barred officers:
[That the case of the age-barred officers should be met, and that superannuation practice in the Civil Service should be so amended as to preclude such cases arising in the future.]
the other with the counting of temporary service for pension in the Civil Service:
[That the whole question of the counting of temporary service for Civil Service pensions should be referred to a Select Committee of the House.]
Can the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope that we shall have time to discuss this question in the early future?
Could my right hon. Friend give any assurance that this House will be given an opportunity of discussing the question of double summer-time before any attempt is made to re-impose it?
Perhaps this question is not quite fair because the Motion was only put down yesterday, but may I ask if the right hon. Gentleman is aware of a Motion signed by most of the Scottish Members raising a question on civil aviation affecting the future of Scotland?
[That, in the opinion of this House, it is in the interests of civil aviation that Prestwick airport, which has throughout the war become Britain's main trans- oceanic airport, should continue as the principal international airport for the United Kingdom until a new airport has been completed in the London area, and should thereafter be maintained as second only in importance to the new London airport; and that immediate encouragement should be given to the conversion, production, assembly and operation of aircraft in Scotland.]
It is terribly important. If the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to reply today, I will ask next week whether he will give us a day to discuss this.
I am aware of the point my hon. Friend has mentioned, and I hope it may be possible to make some arrangement. I cannot say now, but if the hon. Member will be good enough to repeat his question next week I will see what can be done.
May I ask my right hon. Friend, on another matter, if he will not close his mind to the possibility of a Debate on the Motion to which reference has already been made this morning?
We were promised that we would have the Scottish Education Bill by the end of February; can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication of when we shall get this Bill, as we are now nearing the end of February?
Reverting to the question of the Debate next week, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if it is not found possible to have a third day, an extension for a limited period will not suffice, and that there should be a considerable extension of time?
I have already stated that I have listened to what has been said in the House, and the object of the Government is to give the House the fullest facilities possible.