May I put a question, Mr. Speaker, about the conduct of Debate which arises out of the fact that we have not any formal Opposition in this House? I propose to base what I have to say on Tuesday's experience, an occasion when I was not seeking to speak myself. It appears that certain private Members have privileges which are denied to other private Members. "The Times" newspaper on Tuesday announced that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) were going to speak, and they did speak. My observation is that this kind of privilege is not extended to the generality of Members. I observe that on that occasion those two hon. Members—and I have no objection to their exploiting all the privileges they can get—occupied 20 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT; Ministers took 22 columns; Liberals, who are not a very large party, 12 columns; and other Members of the Labour party took 15 columns, while the Conservative party, which consists of nearly two-thirds of the House, took only 19 columns out of 87, largely owing to the fact that Conservative Members spoke briefly instead of at very great length. But this position of certain Members having the privilege of being called does seem to involve an injustice to others.
The hon. Member must realise that it is not one of my duties to tell hon. Members what they can tell to the newspapers, and it is not part of my duty to consider whether the names of hon. Members are put into the newspapers or whether they are not. It is a coincidence.
I can understand that it is necessary for the Government to designate their speakers in a forthcoming Debate and that, naturally, you, Sir, will call those speakers; but do I understand that anybody else in the House has the right to designate speakers and that those speakers are then automatically called by the Chair?
Nobody has a right of that kind. It rests with me who happens to catch my eye. I may add that I had the idea at the back of my mind that, for the time being at any rate, party politics were in abeyance. The composition of the Government led me to believe that that was the case. If, in fact, it is intended to return to them, then I should be informed.
This matter raises the question of the rights and Privileges of private Members, which are in your particular charge, Mr. Speaker. May I, therefore, put this point? I understand from your reply that there are no channels peculiar to one side of the House and not to the other. Therefore, it is just a matter of equal chance at your discretion to decide from which side of the House private Members should be called. Does that mean, therefore, that on the law of averages if there has been a peculiarly long run, say, of Red, that Black will turn up in equal numbers in due course?
May I put this to you, Mr. Speaker? Does your answer mean that if the Labour party does not exercise its right——[HON. MEMBERS: "What right? "]—its undoubted right, if it so desires, to form an Opposition—that it will be denied the privilege previously possessed of selecting its speakers to take part in debate, precisely as the Government when there was an Opposition exercised their right, and as they do now exercise their right to put up certain speakers?
I will put it again. Before the Labour party associated itself with the Government, it was the formal Opposition in this House. Being the Opposition, it frequently selected Front Bench speakers to follow Ministers and to wind up Debates, and that was accepted by the House, and by you, Sir, as the ordinary procedure. Since it ceased to be the Opposition, are we to understand that that privilege which it formerly possessed is now to be denied it?
The hon. Member is making a mistake. There never was a privilege. There is no right. It was a matter of practice and for convenience. That was really the only reason. The hon. Member does not quite understand what an Opposition is. An official Opposition is a party which can form an alternative Government.
The position before the Labour party joined the Government was that it could have formed and was in fact an alternative Government. It had been a Government before and was regarded as a possible alternative Government. That being the position, the practice, as you, Sir, rightly and fitly describe it, was that we selected our speakers to follow Government speakers and to wind up Debates. Is that practice now to be discontinued?
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you will elucidate a little further what you said about party politics being at the present time in abeyance? It was the custom of your predecessors during the days of party politics first of all to call a representative of the Treasury Bench, then from the Front Opposition Bench and then representatives of other political parties. It has generally been your custom, Mr. Speaker, to call representatives of, for instance, the Independent Liberal Party and the National Liberal Party. Are we to understand that because party politics are in abeyance it is now entirely a matter of coincidence that representatives of these different parties in the House are still called to speak in the order that used to be followed before party politics went into abeyance?
Is it not understood that Members leave the leadership of Debate to the leaders of their parties and that on different occasions, and for different subjects, the leaders of the various parties lead the Debates, with one exception, namely, the Communist party, which never gets an opportunity to lead a Debate, no matter what the subject is, and which has to fight on every occasion event to get in on an ordinary Debate?