MONDAY, 22ND MARCH—The proposed business will be: Supply [13th Allotted Day]: Report, which, subject to the agreement of the House, will be taken formally to allow a discussion on the Report of the Committee on Housing in Greater London under the chairmanship of Sir Milner Holland (Command No. 2605).
Yes, Sir. Following upon the decision of the House on Friday of last week, when it decided that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House—and the Government, of course, accept the decision of Friday last—it is proposed that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House at the same time as it would normally have taken place upstairs, that is, from 10.30 a.m. until 1 p.m., after which the House would be suspended until 2.30 p.m.
This is a proposal, of course, of which I have only just heard—not very long ago. At first sight I have no particular enthusiasm for this proposal and I would be rather surprised if right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen who are members of the Government—and there are about 100 of them—will have much enthusiasm for it either. Apart altogether from the merits or demerits of the Bill, it is a marked departure from the usual procedure and would seem at first sight to prejudge the findings of the Select Committee on Procedure which is sitting on this very matter.
Therefore, I must consider with my right hon. and hon. Friends what our attitude to this may be. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too late."] I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he considers this to be a precedent. I take it that his answer would be "No", but there is no denying that something which has happened and may happen several weeks running will be regarded as a precedent and must be so regarded. In this matter it seems to me that we are in danger of prejudging the procedure of the House, which is a matter for the Select Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the sittings of the House have not been the same throughout the ages, nor are they likely to be in future. The Select Committee on Procedure is looking at the question at the moment and the Motion on the sittings of the House which I shall propose next Thursday does not anticipate in any way any recommendation that may come from that Committee. It is purely with the object of dealing with this Bill, at the request of the House to take it on the Floor of the House, and it is not unreasonable to take it at the same hours. Whatever happens to the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, the Government must at some point take a decision, but that it not yet.
In connection with the Highland Development (Scotland) Bill, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that four out of the six constituencies concerned are represented by my colleagues and myself? When it comes to the Committee stage will he, therefore, look at this matter so that in all fairness we have a greater opportunity than is normally vouchsafed to us to take part in that stage of a Bill?
In connection with the procedure Motion next Thursday, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that to many of us his proposal would seem to be the only practical way of giving effect to the majority opinions of the House of Commons while, at the same time, accepting the decision of the House last Friday that the Committee stage should be on the Floor of the House? To many of us this seems to be the only practical way of reconciling those two things. I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend whether the procedure Motion will be accompanied by an instruction that on the Committee stage the Committee of the whole House may proceed with the Committee stage of the Bill at the point which Standing Committee C has reached?
On a totally different question, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has considered Motion No. 131 on the Order Paper, which, he will remember, is a Motion put down by all members of Mr. Speaker's Advisory Committee on the House of Commons Library and certain other hon. Members?
[That this House is of the opinion that a reference and research library of the highest quality is essential to Members in the performance of their Parliamenary duties; that the functions of the Library should be redefined, with particular reference to the provision of research and statistical services, the qualifications and experience of the specialist staff required and to the means of assuring to the staff a career which will attract and retain highly qualified men and women; that the method of ensuring that the Library under the direction of Mr. Speaker is responsive to the needs and wishes of the House might also usefully be re-examined and that for these reasons it is desirable that the House should appoint at an early date a Select Committee to inquire into these and all other related considerations and to report to the House the measures necessary to secure such changes as may be thought desirable.]
On the first point, I told the House on Friday that, if the Bill is brought to the Floor of the House, the Committee stage will start afresh. That is the position. The Committee stage starts afresh when it comes down here, on whatever Wednesday it begins.
On the second point, I have read the Motion on the Library with interest, and I agree with a great deal of its content. Nevertheless, I think that the House will agree with me when I say that there has been a great deal of improvement in the Library service over the last five or 15 years, and we hope that this will progress. At the moment, I cannot agree to the setting up of a Select Committee to look into this particular problem of the Library because I think that, in the very near future, it will be necessary for the House to set up a Select Committee to look at a number of other problems in connection with the House of Commons.
Reverting to the subject of the procedure Motion on Thursday, why have the Government felt obliged to treat differently from any other Government the further stages of a Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was the shabby conduct at the time of the Second Reading of the Bill which gave rise to a great deal of resentment at the Government's handling of this business?
Has my right hon. Friend noticed Motion No. 1, about railway superannuitants, which has now been signed by more than 100 hon. Members on both sides? Does not he agree that this merits discussion?
With regard to the question of privilege, the subject of the first Motion on Thursday, how does the Leader of the House propose to secure that this business will finish at seven o'clock, should there still be hon. Members desiring to take part, as a Motion for closure at that time might put the Chair in considerable difficulty?
I fully appreciate that point. I was asked to provide time. I said that I would provide a small amount a' time. Three hours is not unreasonable. However, if I thought that it was the wish of the House to proceed beyond seven o'clock, I should have to reconsider whether to make this the second and not the first Order of the Day. I was asked by the Opposition to make it the first Order. I have endeavoured to meet them, and I hope that the House will meet me and bring it to a conclusion at seven o'clock.
I sympathise with those members of the Government who will have to spend all Wednesday mornings in the House as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's decision, but will he consider suspending the ten o'clock rule on Thursday as there is likely to be a considerable discussion about the Motion? May I suggest that it would be only fair to suspend for two hours?
Will my right hon. Friend consider providing early time for discussion of the Motion standing in the names of several of my hon. Friends and myself on the subject of appointments to watch committees, particularly in view of the strong feeling in the country on this matter?
[That this House, taking note of and sharing the profound concern and misgivings of the borough police authorities in England and Wales as to the provision made in section 2 of the Police Act, 1964, for the appointment of magistrates to police authorities, calls upon the Secretary of State, pending the introduction of amending legislation, to amend the Police Act, 1964 (Commencement No. 1) Order, 1964, so that the provisions whereby the borough magistrates appoint one-third of the watch committee shall not, as thereby provided, come into effect on 1st June, 1965.]
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Motion No. 136, in the names of a number of Home Counties Members, which deplores not only the refusal of the Minister of Transport to use his statutory powers to stop rail fare increases, but also his refusal to see hon. Members whose constituencies are affected? In view of the urgency of this matter, which affects hundreds of thousands of commuters, and the unreasonable attitude of the Minister, could the Leader of the House find time for a short debate next week?
[That this House deplores the refusal of the Minister of Transport to use his statutory powers to stop the recent increases in rail fares which have placed an unfair burden on commuters resident outside the London fares area and which in many instances are in excess of the published 5 per cent. announced by the British Railways Board; and further regrets his refusal to discuss, with hon. Members representing constituencies affected, both this matter and the question of safeguards against similar unfair and inequitable treatment in the future.]
I cannot find any time for a debate. The matter was discussed on the Adjournment, and my right hon. Friend is engaged in considerable correspondence with hon. Members about it.
I cannot promise anything at the moment. I should like to have fitted in a short debate between now and the Easter Recess. I shall see what can be done, but I cannot promise anything firmly.
Has the Leader of the House noticed that there are so many Labour Party Motions down on Vietnam that the Order Paper will soon look like a telephone directory? Does not he agree that we ought to have a debate fairly soon, after pressing for three weeks, so that we may find out what the Government's policy is on this?
I treat the importance of a debate on foreign affairs seriously. In view of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday, the possible discussions with Mr. Gromyko next week and the visit of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to Washington, perhaps when all these things have taken place we ought to have a debate. I shall look at the possibility of something before Easter.
I, too, read the long and rather inaccurate report in the newspaper at the weekend. The right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates the difficulties, or, to put it in this way, the niceties of this problem. We shall make a statement as soon as possible.
Reverting to the question of a Select Committee on the Library Service, does my right hon. Friend recall that there are two or three matters regarded by the Library Committee as of extreme urgency and that, so far, dealing with them has been postponed or delayed because it was thought advisable that they should be dealt with in association with the wider matters covered by Motion No. 131? If he cannot find time soon to discuss Motion No. 131, or appoint a Select Committee, will he at least find time to enable these exceptionally urgent matters to be dealt with in advance of the other Motion?
It would be very difficult at the moment, in view of the discussions which are taking place on a rather wider field. I should much prefer to leave it for a little while and look at the matter as a whole.
[That this House supports the view, taken by successive Governments, that the Postmaster-General should not use his reserve powers to interfere in the planning and content of television programmes, and urges members of Her Majesty's Government, when speaking in their official capacity, to refrain from comments on individual programmes that might imply some departure from this policy or the desirability of detailed Ministerial censorship of programmes;notes that the British Broadcasting Corporation television programme, "Not so much a programme, more a way of life", has contained items ridiculing various Christian denominations and their ministers, political parties and right hon. and hon. Members of Parliament, business men and trade unionists, and other worthy and important persons and institutions, at least as offensive as the recent item objected to by some Roman Catholics, but that these persons and institutions have not generally thought it wise or useful to retort with public displays of intemperate anger; considers it essential that worthy and important persons and institutions should constantly be exposed to satirical treatment which may seem to them unfair, and should seek to discern the grain of truth in the caricature; observes that the recent protests were, in any case, unnecessary, since the offending sketch was immediately and forcefully condemned, in the same programme, by the hon. Member for Chelmsford, himself a Roman Catholic; regrets the embarrassment caused by such incidents to those liberal-minded prelates who, in the Vatican Council, are endeavouring, by internal reform and modernisation, to free the Roman Catholic Church from its reputation for rigidity and intolerance, especially since the subject of the offending sketch is now under discussion at the highest level in Rome, and it is possible that traditional teaching on the subject will shortly be modified; congratulates the Director-General of the Corporation on the generally high standard of the more serious British Broadcasting Corporation programmes, on television and sound radio, and urges him to continue to extend the producers' freedom of experiment, and, while allowing reasonable time to minority interests and opinions, to ignore organised attacks by minority pressure-groups; believes that as a general rule, television programmes which shock and offend nobody are artistically and educationally worthless, and that the uncontroversial pap which forms the greater part of television entertainment is spiritually more debilitating titan any programme, however coarse, which may provoke viewers to thought and argument; and reminds hon. Members and the public that watchingtelevision is not compulsory and that it is possible to switch it off.]
[That, in view of the complete inability of Sir Hugh Greene, the present Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation, to control his programme managers from transmitting "sick" humour and thereby grossly offensive broadcasts, this House demands his immediate replacement by someone in tune with the high standards demanded by the British public.]
Successive Governments have always taken the view that there should be no interference whatever with the B.B.C. programmes. With regard to the Motion about the Director-General of the B.B.C., his appointment is a matter for the Board of Governors of the Corporation, not for this House. I think that we should be well advised to follow precedent here and not seek to interfere with the programme content of the B.B.C. or the I.T.A.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's view, but there has been a good deal of opinion in favour of an annual debate on the annual reports of both the broadcasting organisations. Will he bear that in mind, as it is just as important to debate the annual reports of these agencies as it is those of the nationalised industries?
I said a fortnight or three weeks ago that I thought it would be worth while having a general debate on the activities of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., but I cannot promise it yet.
Has the Leader of the House had time during the last two weeks to carry out his undertaking to try to persuade the Minister of Transport to receive a deputation from the Devon County Council and Teignmouth, or, if his representations have been unsuccessful, will he now find time for the Motion on the subject to be debated in the House?
[That this House, being aware that, despite the statement of the Leader of the House on Thursday 11th February, no Minister has received any delegation from Devon County Council and Teignmouth Urban Council to receive representations concerning the redevelopmentof the war-damaged centre of Teignmouth, calls upon the Minister of Transport to receive such a delegation.]
The decision to hold the Committee stage of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill on Wednesday mornings on the Floor of the House represents a very startling change in procedure, not for Government business but for a Private Members' Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore consider making this change for other Private Members' Bills which are being blocked by members of the Government?
The move to bring the Bill on to the Floor frees Standing Committee C for other Private Members' Bills. I believe that four such Bills have now had their Second Readings. They will now proceed in the normal way in Standing Committee C. I cannot comment on Private Members' Bills which have not had a Second Reading.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt have observed the Motion standing in the names of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and a number of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, reflecting upon my personal conduct.
[That this House deplores the conduct of the hon. Member for Buckingham, in that, after Mr. Speaker had declared that examination of the records proved to be unfounded an allegation by the hon. Member that the right hon. Member for Harrogate had misled the House by altering HANSARD, the hon. Member for Buckingham failed to apologise or withdraw.]
[That this House approves of the lion. Member for Buckingham in writing to the right hon. Member for Harrogate stating that if he would make a personalstatement explaining the circumstances in which the alteration to HANSARD of 26th February, 1964, was made, the matter could be regarded as closed, and that the hon. Member for Buckingham correctly interpreted his duty as a Member of this House by then approaching Mr. Speaker with a view to ascertaining the facts about the alteration when the right hon. Member for Harrogate refused to make a personal statement explaining his actions in connection with the matter.]
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard your Ruling the other day that a group of hon. Members were not defamed by statements that they had "cooked the books". But the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) has just said that "right hon. Members opposite"—meaning right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—had "cooked the books". May I have your Ruling on that?
This is just the same in principle. I can cite to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) instances where a Front Bencher had been condemned in dreadfully scurrilous terms. I am sorry but I cannot get out of the practice of the House.
I doubt whether there is anything in this exchange for me. It appears that both sides have accused each other at times of "cooking books", so honours are even.
Could the right hon. Gentleman give further consideration to his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) about rail fares in outer London? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this matter concerns not only my hon. Friend's constituency and others in that sort of area, but also those in the inner London suburbs? Many young people, when they get married, move out to such districts only to find that the fares that bring them back into work mean that, in total, they are paying just as much in fares and mortgage as they would have had to pay for a mortgage in central areas. This affects millions of people and should be debated.
I hope that I did not appear to be unsympathetic in my earlier reply. I appreciate the difficulties and how difficult it is for many regular commuters. But I cannot at the moment promise time for a debate. Between now and Easter there is very little time at all.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his reply on this subject is very unsatisfactory? Could not he promise that, even if he cannot provide time next week or in the near future to debate the Motion on railway fares, he will at least use his good offices to get the Minister of Transport to receive the deputation of about 15 hon. Members who wish to see him about this matter of extreme urgency to their constituents?
In view of the grave discourtesy to a distinguished group of Essex Members, headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), will the right hon. Gentleman make the strongest representations to the Minister of Transport? Will he also reconsider the question of a debate in view of the grave dissatisfaction that exists throughout Essex on the question of fares, particularly in the Chelmsford area?
Before the right hon. Gentleman made his announcement about changing the procedure to allow the House to meet on Wednesday mornings, did he consult the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), who is Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, to make sure that the proposal will not mean imposing an intolerable burden on the staff of the Refreshment Department?
May I revert to the question of the railway fares which are imposed upon Essex commuters? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that it will not be necessary for him to keep on saying that he has no time to allocate to debate this matter if, at least, he will arrange for the Minister of Transport to be a little more sympathetic, a little less arrogant and listen to hon. Members representing their constituents affected? This seems to be something fundamental to the function of the House of Commons and of hon. Members. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will put that point strongly to the Minister of Transport.