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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?