Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. – in the House of Commons on 5th August 1924.
It will be remembered that in the early hours of this morning, on the adjournment of the Debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, the subject under discussion was the position of the ex-ranker officer. I think I can sum up the position as it was left at two o'clock this morning in half a dozen short sentences. The Debate had established to the satisfaction of all the parties in the House that, during the discussion on 13th March last, the language used by the Prime Minister had left a very definite impression that, after the Report had been made by the Committee upon the case of the ex-ranker officer, this House should decide the issue. On the strength of that understanding in this House, namely, that the House should decide, a considerable number of members voted with the Government at the timer Last night we pressed the Government to give to the House an opportunity of deciding upon the issue. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for War met us in a very fair and friendly spirit, but there was a point beyond which he could not go. He undertook to convey to the Prime Minister this morning the clear consensus of opinion of the House on the matter. That did not meet the case of a good many of us, and therefore every effort was made to get the Government to go one step further and to provide the opportunity for which we asked. Every effort was made by telephone and, I believe, by personal message to find the, Deputy Leader of the House, or to get in touch with him. We were unsuccessful in that. I hope that since two o'clock this morning the Government, having had time to consider the situation, will now give us this opportunity, namely, that the House shall have the chance of deciding this issue.
I am not going to enter into the merits of this question, but I would remind the House that numerous opportunities have arisen during the last few weeks for raising this issue and for securing a decision of the House had it been thought proper to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. I think in fairness to the Government it should be stated that they are not the sole masters of the time of the House, and that the other two parties in it have had recurring opportunities for raising a question of this kind and reaching a decision. The Government, however, quite apart from the question whether it is a minority Government or a majority Government, should not set aside what apparently is a conviction on the part of hon. Members that the Prime Minister gave to the House a definite assurance that an opportunity should be given, not only to discuss but to decide on the Report which the Committee was to frame. I think it is true to say, however, that a far wider application has been given to the Prime Minister's statement on this question than was his intention when he spoke. At the same time, the Government are prepared to afford a suitable time in the early part of the Autumn Session in order that the House may not merely have an opportunity of discussing but of reaching a decision on the Report which has been issued. To that I would only add that it can be fairly said by those who read the Debate that, when the Prime Minister made the statement, what he had in mind was that when the Report was issued the Government would be in a position to reach a decision upon it. I agree that he used the word "House," and therefore the Government must accept the interpretation which has been given by hon. Members who have raised this question. I hope, therefore, as we give an assurance to afford time for a discussion on this question, that we may be able now to proceed to the consideration of other matters. I would only add, as to the precise form in which the matter may be presented to the House, that the Government have not had an opportunity of considering that matter, but my view is that it ought to be in a form which will enable the House to reach a definite decision.
I can only indicate my assent. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very frank statement.
I think I may thank him on behalf of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am very glad to hear that it will be in such a form that we can reach a decision. I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.