Business of the House.

– in the House of Commons on 20th May 1942.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

May I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the course of the Debate yesterday, it will be possible for the Prime Minister to attend to-day?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

It will not be possible for the Prime Minister to attend to-day. I will explain to the House the reason if I have the good fortune to catch Mr. Speaker's eye at a later time.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

If your indulgence permitted, Sir, I think it would be to the advantage of the House to know the reason now. This is not a personal point, but in the course of the Debate yesterday many statements were made by hon. Members in all quarters of the House, and I submitted to the Leader of the House yesterday that it would be advisable for the Prime Minister to appear to-day. One does not wish to impose greater burdens upon him, but I think it might ease the course of the Debate if you would permit a reply to my Question as to why the Prime Minister cannot be here.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I think it would be more convenient if I were to give a more detailed statement later, in the course of my address to the House, but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to know broadly why the Prime Minister cannot attend to-day, the Prime Minister, when the Government was rearranged last March, stated to the House then that he wished to relieve himself of the burden of attending to Parliamentary business in order that he might devote himself to other pressing and urgent business, and for that purpose he appointed a Leader of the House of Commons, who was to take his part in Debate in the ordinary course. From time to time the Prime Minister has come to the House to make important statements on the War Situation. He recently made such a statement, and he feels that there is nothing he can add at the present time to the statement which he then made. Therefore, in his opinion, and in the opinion of the Government, this Debate should be conducted in the ordinary way, in which event the Leader of the House takes the position of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

In the course of the Debate yesterday there was debated almost exclusively the constitutional position of the Minister of Defence, Would it not be in accordance with the customs of the House if the Minister of Defence appeared in order to answer criticisms made in the organisation of that Department?

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

Without quarrelling with, or controverting, the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, may I ask whether he will once again make clear that, however humble we may be in this House, we have the right to make representations to the Prime Minister to request his presence on certain occasions?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Certainty the House have always the right to make that request to the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that the House is not here only to receive statements from the Prime Minister but that the House desires to make its views known to the Prime Minister at first hand, and that there is a feeling in the House that the Prime Minister occasionally comes down to make statements but does not apprise himself of the views of the vast majority [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—of the views of a certain number of hon. Members; and is he aware that this feeling in no way casts any reflection upon his own position, which is very much appreciated by the House as a whole?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I was not thinking that it did in any way, but the method which has been adopted and which is being tried out at the present time is for the Prime Minister not to attend the House and for the Leader of the House to report to him, as he does, the feelings of the House and statements that are made in the House, as regards important matters.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

Is it not the case that the whole issue of the reconstruction of the Government and the changes that have taken place was the subject of discussion and Debate in this House, when the Government view now being put by the Leader of the House was carried by a majority of something like 464 to one? Is it not early in the day, in view of that decision of the House, to start trying to upset it now?

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

On the occasion in question the House of Commons gave these facilities and this exemption to the Prime Minister, but, as far as my recollection serves me, we gave no such facilities and no such exemption to the Minister of Defence.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Is the House making unusual and unreasonable demands on the Prime Minister in asking for his presence once in three months to discuss in Public Session his own position? The House desires to discuss in public what it is that the Prime Minister is now doing in private. A good many people criticised him yesterday. Surely we are not making such an unusual demand?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

If the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister feels that he cannot come, would it not be better to get on without him?

Photo of Miss Eleanor Rathbone Miss Eleanor Rathbone , Combined English Universities

So long as the Prime Minister is Minister of Defence, must not he be the judge of whether he can spare time or whether he is needed for the work of his office?

Photo of Sir Ian Fraser Sir Ian Fraser , Lonsdale

Is it not the case that the Prime Minister was only too willing to remain Leader of the House, and that it was owing to pressure from all sides that he devolved that work? Is it not reasonable, particularly having regard to his devotion to the House and to his very recent statement here, to allow the Prime Minister to be the judge of the urgency of his duties?

Photo of Mr William Leach Mr William Leach , Bradford Central

Was any valid reason given yesterday why the Prime Minister should intervene?