I beg to move,
That this House approves the proposals contained in the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal on 17th March, 1947, arising out of the recommendations of the Selet Committee on Procedure.
I thought it would be convenient if I were to make a general statement within that fairly considerable sphere which, I think, covers the main part of the contentious ground which may exist between the two sides of the House this afternoon, although on a number of matters I think even within that sphere there will be agreement between us. The House now has before it the third and last Report from the Select Committee on Procedure. The occasion is appropriate to review the whole of the work of the Committee, which was set up on a Motion of the Government on 24th August, 1945.
Throughout the Committee's Reports runs a single note—the ever increasing pressure of business and the ever growing need to economise time. It is commonly said that changes designed to economise time are dangerous, because they encroach upon the opportunities which the House must have for criticising the Government. That is true, up to a point. But there is another danger which is often overlooked—that the essential functions of the House may be neglected, if time is frittered away on matters of inessential detail and vain repetition. The Select Committee have steered a careful course between the danger of over-simplification of procedure on the one hand, and over-adherence to tradition on the other. No doubt, we can see here the guiding hand of their wise and experienced chairman, the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young).
The value of the Committee's work lies not only in the positive reforms which the House is now being asked to approve, but also in the analysis they have provided of the time devoted by the House to its various functions. This will remain of value to those who, in later years, come to consider yet further adaptations of procedure. Here it may be permissible—and I am sure it would be the wish of the Select Committee—to pay tribute to the help given to the Committee and the House by Mr. Speaker, and by the Clerk of the House, who not only provided the necessary detailed evidence but also offered out of his ripe experience stimulating suggestions for reform.
The Report of the Committee is best reviewed under broad headings corresponding to the main functions of the House—legislation, the control of policy and administration, and the control of finance.
On a point of Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but since he appears to have reached the end of his preface, so to speak, may I ask whether we are right in assuming, as I think the right hon. Gentleman is assuming, that we are now to debate the Report—that the Report is now the subject of Debate?
I do not quite know what the answer is. So far the Minister has been making his case. Possibly I may select some Amendments, and then we will see whether the Report is open to debate or not. If the hon. Member really wants to know, it is my intention to call an Amendment which will raise the question of the whole background of the Report.
I was thinking of the analogy, perhaps wrongly, of the Privilege Debate the other day, when we were upon the consideration of the Report, but we were told that the Debate was strictly limited not to those words but to the words which followed. Similarly here, the words which follow are:
That this House approves the proposals contained in the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal on 17th March, 1947. …
I am not in the least suggesting what is the right answer, but I wish to be sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming, as he would appear to assume in his first paragraph, that we are now entitled to debate the whole of the Report and not to debate the House's approval of the Lord Privy Seal's statement. I wish to be quite sure which we are debating.
Personally, I am still unable to appreciate the hon. Member's point, because the Lord President is entitled to make his statement in his own way. There is an Amendment down, which there was not in the case of the Privilege Debate, and the moving of that Amendment will bring the Report into Order, and we can discuss the whole Report. Meantime, surely, the Lord President is entitled to make his general case. If there were no Amendment down which would bring that Report into discussion, it might be difficult. It is not so, however, in this case: there is this definite Amendment which will bring all the discussion into Order.
It is quite all right. I intended to cover the ground covered by the statement of the Lord Privy Seal in relation to the Report of the Select Committee. I thought that was right in relation to this Motion which I am moving.
Dealing, first, with legislation, which is dealt with in the third Report of the Select Committee, paragraphs 6 to 16, the Report has comparatively little on legislation, not because it is unimportant, but because the Committee had already dealt in their first Report with such matters and had recommended certain changes, chiefly in connection with Standing Committees, to which we shall come later. Even with these changes, the pressure of legislative activity on the time of the House is still severe, and the Select Committee were, therefore, right to consider the scheme propounded by the Clerk of the House for a further devolution of responsibility to Standing Committees. They were also right, if I may say so, in the Government's view, not to accept it, attractive though it may have appeared at first sight.
Coming now to control of policy and administration in relation to Supply procedure, which is dealt with in the third Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, paragraphs 17 to 23, the Select Committee recognise that proceedings in Committee of Supply are now almost entirely given over to the consideration of Government policy, and have lost their former purely financial significance. In some ways, I am sorry about this change, this development; but it is the fact; and, this being so, the Committee considered how far the present procedure is really suitable and concluded that it was capable of improvement. That is also the view of the Government, even though we do not entirely agree with the Committee about the methods of making the improving changes.
The new Standing Orders No. 14 and No. 16 are intended to give effect to the principle of the recommendation of the Select Committee, with certain modifications of detail. Briefly, the object of the change is to enable Supply days to be spread more evenly through the Session, and to be used, on occasion, for debates of a less restricted character than is at present permissible on Supply days. At the same time, it is proposed to remove the present relative disparity between the time which may be spent on the spring Supplementary Estimates and the time available for the main Estimates. In order to give effect to this the proposal is, first, that all Supply Business should be concentrated in 26 allotted days which may be taken at any time before 5th August. This is the main object of new Standing Order No. 14.
There is a point here upon which the Government differ from the Select Committee, who proposed that the number of allotted days should be 28. They seem to have reached that figure by adding together the 20 Supply days available at present, the four days on which Mr. Speaker is moved out of the Chair, and four days for spring Supplementary Estimates. The Government consider that two days should be enough for the Supplementaries, and have, therefore, reduced the Committee's total by two. Very little more than this has been taken for Supplementary days in recent years—two and three-quarter days in 1935 to 1936 and 1936 to 1937, and two and a half days in 1937 to 1938. If, of course, more days are wanted, they may be taken; but the effect will be to reduce the number of days available for the main Estimates.
Another point is that time must be found in the future for new forms of business akin to Supply business in their nature but which for technical reasons cannot be taken on allotted days. This includes debates on the general economic situation, and on the reports of the boards of socialised industries which will have to be debated from time to time; it will not, of course, necessarily involve debating the affairs of each industry each year. If these are to be fitted in, the House must be willing, I suggest, to limit the time it spends on other business, and in the Government's view this can be done most easily by limiting the time spent on the spring Supplementary Estimates.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to ask just how we are going to handle this Debate, because the right hon. Gentleman is just now—and I am not complaining about it—explaining in very considerable detail the effect of one of the new Standing Orders in the Schedule. Does that mean that at this stage we are going to discuss the detail of every one of these Standing Orders, or is this something in the nature of a Second Reading Debate, in which the general outline is given, and in which our position is reserved to criticise in detail later on? Otherwise it seems to me we may run into the risk of mere repetition, or of becoming confused, in the later part of the Debate, when we are discussing the proposals in detail.
I am entirely in the hands of the House. What I thought the House wanted, as a result of the earlier statement made to the House by the Lord Privy Seal, was some general discussion first. My right hon. Friends and I were not proposing to explain these Standing Orders when we come to move the Motions approving them later on, but to await Debate, and to reply to the Debate in due course. It was thought convenient that a general statement should be made covering the ground dealt with by the Lord Privy Seal. But I have not the least feeling about the matter. If the House would prefer to go straight on with the Motions approving the new Standing Orders we can still move them formally, and debate the points as they arise. I have no objection at all to that, and if that is thought the most expeditious way, it is all right so far as we are concerned.
I am in the hands of the House here, but I confess I thought that the course which the Lord President has suggested seemed to me to be reasonable—that we should have now what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) called a Second Reading Debate. Then, when we come to the various Motions which are to be moved, I dare say there will be some comment, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President has said, he could move the Motions, and we could wait to see if there is any comment on them. Of course, there are some Amendments. It seemed to me, frankly, that it would shorten the proceedings in the long run if we had a general statement and Debate now, and then got down to the details later. I am in the hands of the House, however, as anybody else is in this matter.
I think we on this side entirely agree with you, Mr. Speaker, if I may say so with respect—that there should be something in the nature of a Second Reading Debate now. However, the Lord President was going into pretty considerable detail on one of the Standing Orders he is to move later today. I would hope that when the time comes to move the new Standing Orders we shall, at least, have some explanation of them then from the Minister concerned.
That would not be necessary, really. All I am doing now is briefly indicating where the Government dissent from the views of the Select Committee in the main, and why we do so, and explaining the purposes of the new Standing Orders. It seems to me it would be a waste of time if, following that explanation, it were necessary to explain the Standing Orders when the Motions to approve them come up. Amendments may be moved, of course; but I hope that the Debate can be rather shorter, having regard to this discussion we are having now. Debate can ensue, and a Minister will be available to expound to the House the reasons the Government have for supporting the Standing Orders and putting them down. With that explanation I hope I may proceed. Like you, Mr. Speaker, I am entirely in the hands of the House and have no feeling if the House would prefer to go straight to the approval of the Standing Orders. There is an Amendment down by the Opposition to approve the report of the Select Committee instead of approving the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal. I should have thought that we must have some discussion about it.
Another new provision in the proposed Standing Order No. 19 is for two Guillotines before 31st March. This is necessary so that the Government may obtain all the Supply which they require—[Interruption]. If the right hon. and gallant Member wishes to urge a change I wish he would get up instead of murmuring on the Front Bench.
Further to the point of Order, there is one matter on which I am not quite clear. There are some matters which cannot be discussed on the Schedule because they are not mentioned, but which were mentioned in the Report of the Select Committee, such as the question of delegated legislation. I assume that the correct time to refer to that matter would be when my right hon. and gallant Friend moves the Amendment to the present Motion, in line 1, to leave out from the second "the" "to the end, and to insert "Report." Should I be right in that assumption?
To ensure that sufficient allotted days are available before 31st March—it is necessary to make these explanations, because some of these Standing Orders are not clear upon the face of them—for adequate discussion, these Guillotines may not fall before the 7th or 8th allotted days. Moreover, the Supplementary Estimates must be presented seven clear days before the fall of the Guillotine, and an excess Vote for an earlier year may not be guillotined unless the Public Accounts Committee have reported allowing it. The existing arrangements for the last two allotted days are retained with one new feature. This is the reference to the Defence Department Estimates in addition to the others. This is necessary because the Government have decided to present the Estimate for the Ministry of Defence in future as a separate document—like the Army, Navy and Air Estimates—instead of including it in common with the volume of Civil Estimates, in which we do not think it would appropriately appear.
The second part of the Government's proposal is covered by the new Standing Order No. 16, which deals with debates on moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair. It is proposed that such debates may arise on any allotted day, provided that the necessary Motion is moved by a Minister of the Crown. The Government feel that they must in this way retain control of the number of these debates, since otherwise there might be too many of them and not enough time given to the actual Estimates themselves. The Select Committee were aware of this danger and suggested that the number of these debates should be limited to eight. We think that this is a somewhat arbitrary figure which might prove too great or too small in practice, and prefer that the number should be settled through the usual channels, as circumstances may require. On the four occasions when the House first goes into Committee of Supply on the Navy, Army, Air or Civil Estimates respectively, the existing procedure, by which Private Members ballot for the right to move the Amendment, will be retained. On other occasions the Amendment will be framed by the Opposition.
The other new feature of the proposal is that in all debates of this kind Mr. Speaker may modify the present practice of the House prohibiting references to legislation, as there have been some complaints about this from hon. Members; and, indeed, the matter was discussed pretty fully by the Select Committee itself in the course of evidence being taken. The extent of the modification is, I agree, limited—as I think it ought to be—by paragraph 2 of the new Standing Order No. 16, to such incidental references to legislative action as Mr. Speaker may consider relevant to any matter of administration under debate, when in cases where the enforcement of the prohibition would, in his opinion, unduly restrict the discussion of such matters.
The next subject is the control of policy and administration in relation to Statutory Instruments, in connection with which my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will be available to the House at the appropriate stage, because on this subject he is expert, having handled the Statutory Instruments Act. It is dealt with in the third Report of the Committee, paragraphs 24 to 30. There is, of course, first of all, the question whether a further inquiry into delegated legislation should be made, and there is the other provision in the new Standing Orders as to Statutory Instruments, with which latter point my hon. and learned Friend will be particularly concerned. In this part of the Report, to which I have referred, the Select Committee distinguished between criticism of broad policy and criticism of detailed matters of administration, and, regarding delegated legislation as a kind of administrative activity, recommend that there should be an inquiry into delegated legislation and the procedure in relation to it.
The Government are not opposed in principle to this suggestion. They recognise that much has happened in this field since 1932, when the matter was reported on by the Donoughmore Committee on Ministers' Powers. Briefly, there have been three main developments since that time. First, we have had the war and the emergency situation following, during which it has been necessary for the Government to exercise, subject to Parliament, wide powers of legislative authority. At the same time there has been a growing interest by Parliament in this matter; and in the light of experience many improvements have been made in the form, lay-out and drafting of subordinate legislation, and in its presentation to the public. Secondly, in 1944 the Select Committee on Statutory Rules and Orders was set up on my Motion in the last Parliament—and I think the House will agree that that Committee has done useful work for us—to consider instruments subject to Parliamentary proceedings, and to draw the attention of the House to any departure, on a number of specified points, from generally accepted practice. This Committee has done useful work, and a number of the improvements I have referred to were made as the result of its reports.
Finally, in 1946 the Statutory Instruments Act was passed. This Act will come into force on 1st January, 1948, and from that date instruments which have to be laid before Parliament after being made will have to be laid before they come into operation, and in any proceedings for an offence against a Statutory Instrument it will be a defence to prove that the instrument had not been issued by the Stationery Office at the date of the alleged offence. It will be seen that these developments are generally in the direction of improving the arrangements with regard to delegated legislation and the control of the House over it. Moreover, the latest of them, the Statutory Instruments Act, has not yet come into operation, so that there has been no experience yet of its working in practice. The Government therefore, think that the time is not yet ripe for an inquiry of the kind suggested by the Select Committee.
I now come to the control of finance in the sphere of taxation. This is dealt with in Paragraphs 32 to 35 of the third Report. The Committee sub-divided this into two—control of taxation and control of expenditure. Under the first of these headings they deal with the Government's proposal regarding procedure on Ways and Means Resolutions, the most important of which are, of course, those which are moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the occasion of the Budget. In their proposal, the Government pointed out that there was duplication, firstly, between the Committee stage of the Budget Resolutions, when a general debate takes place, and the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, when there is another general debate; and, secondly, between the Report stage of the Resolutions, when they are examined individually, and the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, which is altogether apart from what happens on the Report stage of the Bill itself, when the Clauses of the Bill are taken individually and the same points arise. It could hardly be suggested that one or other of the general debates should be formalised, and so the Government proposed the formalisation of the first of the detailed debates, that is to say, the Report stage of the Resolutions. It is recognised that this is an important proposal to which no doubt the House will give attention, but I think that, Members will feel in their recollection of Budget debates that there is a good deal of repetition, not owing to Members getting out of Order, but owing to the nature of the procedure itself.
The Select Committee rejected this proposal, arguing that the duplication is more apparent than real, since the Report stage of the Resolutions is more suited to a somewhat general discussion, while the Committee stage of the Bill is suitable for consideration of detailed points. That was the argument of the Select Committee. To this the Government replied that in fact a great deal of time had been occupied in the past with tedious repetition. The Select Committee have met this, but say that it reflects on the House rather than on the procedure. The Government think the fact that Members have in the past used these occasions, quite within the rules of Order, to repeat speeches, either their own or others, shows clearly that not all of these speeches are necessary. Therefore, the Government submit the proposal for the judgment and decision of the House. The main part of it is covered by paragraph 2 of the new Standing Order relating to Ways and Means Resolutions. Paragraph 1 is necessary, because the whole object of the proposal would be frustrated if Members refused to continue to observe the present entirely informal and voluntary custom, by which, in Committee of Ways and Means on Budget Day, the question is put, and decided, without Amendment or debate, on all except the last of the Resolutions proposed by the Chancellor, and is followed by a general debate. If this arrangement were upset, it would not only restore the opportunities for repetition, which we wish to remove, but would upset the machinery of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act.
We now pass to the expenditure side of the control of finance, dealt with in paragraphs 36–44. The Select Committee recommend that the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee should be amalgamated into a single committee, with an order of reference combining the functions of them both, and with sub-committees. The object is apparently to strengthen control of expenditure, although the Select Committee do not produce any reasons for supposing that strengthening is required. What they do say is that, although the functions of the two existing committees are distinct, their subject matter is the same and their work overlaps, since the Public Accounts Committee often look forward, while the Estimates Committee look back. They also think that, by amalgamating the committees, experience gained in the examination of accounts could be used in the examination of current expenditure, and vice versa. Finally, they think that a single committee, with sub-committees, could co-ordinate the work and eliminate overlapping and inconsistency. The Government share the Select Committee's desire that the machinery of the House for examining expenditure should be effective. I am sure that all Members share that wish. The Government have always been ready to take any steps within their power to secure this, and they will continue to do so. In their view, however, this proposal, so far from strengthening the machinery, would weaken it.
Their main reason for this view is that they hold that the difference in function between the two existing committees is fundamental, and that a committee attempting to carry out both tasks would fail to do justice to either, especially the examination of the accounts, which is a matter of the greatest constitutional importance, although perhaps not so interesting as the examination of the Estimates. Mixing up the two tasks would make it extremely difficult for the Comptroller and Auditor-General to adhere to his statutory functions, while the division of the work among sub-committees might easily lead to duplication of effort, for there axe many points arising on the accounts on which it is essential that all Departments should be treated alike, and in order to ensure this, the main committee might often have to go over again the ground covered by the sub-committees. It can hardly be said that there has been lack of co-ordination between the two committees in the past, since only one case of inconsistent reports is known; satisfactory liaison could be obtained in practice by overlapping membership and by consultation between the chairman and the clerks. For these reasons, the Government do not feel able to accept the Committee's proposal under this head.
With regard to Private Members' Time, it would be out of Order to discuss its resumption at this time, since the House settled that last week. I assume, however, that it would be in Order for the House, to discuss how to use Private Members' Time if and when it comes back as an institution of Parliament. The Committee's Report makes some observations about it.
On a point of Order. Did not the decision of this House relate only to this Session? Surely the recommendations in the Report are of a more permanent character, and would it not therefore be in Order to discuss them?
That is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said. The House has decided that no Private Members' Time is to be given this Session, and we cannot therefore discuss Private Members' Time for this Session, but only for the future, which, as the Report raises the question of Private Members' Time, is in Order.
I was going to say that while I submit that it would be in Order to discuss the use of Private Members' Time which may be given in the future, and although it would not be in Order to discuss whether it should be reinstituted this Session, I think that discussion might wait until nearer the time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is as the House likes; it is a free country. I am only making the respectful submission that I think it might perhaps be more useful at a time when we are considering the matter than on this occasion. However, the House can do as it likes.
On the question of Adjournment Motions under Standing Order No. 8, referred to in paragraphs 53–56, this is a recommendation which we think should be generally acceptable to the House—that in order to reduce the disturbance inevitably caused by Adjournment Motions under Standing Order No. 8, the time spent on them should be made up by exempting the superseded business for a corresponding amount of time. The Government accept the recommendation of the Committee, and have put down the addition to the Standing Order No. 8 that is required to give effect to it.
The next item is the proposed Business Committee, dealt with in paragraph 60. This is a Government proposal which the Select Committee dismiss, on the ground that it is substantially the same as one which they rejected in their first Report. The Government feel it necessary, however, to fill a gap in the present arrangements. The original proposal was for the establishment of an emergency Business Committee, consisting of the members of the Chairmen's Panel, with about five additional members nominated by Mr. Speaker. Where a Bill was subject to Guillotine, the function of the committee would be to allocate, between the various parts of the Bill, the time allowed by the Resolution for any particular stage. The Select Committee considered this chiefly in relation to the Committee stages of Bills sent upstairs, and suggested that a better plan would be for the Bill to be divided by a sub-committee of the Standing Committee itself.
The Government accepted this as an improvement on their own proposal, so far as concerns the Committee stages of Bills taken upstairs. The House approved it, and it has been in operation under Sessional Orders, but it does not, however, cover the Committee stages of Bills kept on the Floor of the House, nor does it cover the Report stages of any Bill. The Select Committee admitted the existence of this gap in their first Report, and suggested that in these cases, the Guillotine Resolutions should lay down the subdivision of the time allotted. The Government feel, however, that if it is agreed that these details should be kept out of Guillotine Resolutions, there is no reason to limit this to Standing Committee proceedings; and the House, we feel, should share the advantages of such an arrangement. A further advantage of the proposal is that the committee would be able to deal not only with allocations of time fixed by allocation of time orders, but also with allocations made by voluntary agreement between the various parties in the House.
In the third Report, paragraph 60, the Committee dealt with a proposal about the restriction of debate in Committee. This is another Government proposal which the Select Committee refused to consider, that in proceedings in Committee on a Bill, the Chairman should have power to disallow debate on the Question "That the Clause stand part," if he is of the opinion that the principle of the Clause and all matters arising out of it have already been adequately discussed on Amendments. When the proposal was first put to the Select Committee, they rejected it, on the ground that it would place too great an onus on the Chair, and pointed out that the Chair already has power to check repetition. But if Amendments have been offered to a Clause, and, as a result, the whole principle of the Clause has been debated, there is really no point in having further discussion. The present powers of the Chair are not really adequate, in our view, to meet this. When the situation envisaged arises, any speech at all would be either repetitive or irrelevant. The question whether the discussion on Amendments has fully covered the principle of the Clause is a matter of fact in each case, and it does not seem unfair that the Chairman should decide it.
My last reference is not to the Report itself, but to a proposal to set up a technical committee to examine the Standing Orders, not on big issues of policy, but on matters of drafting, tidiness, and so on. Having dealt with the proposals which the Government now put before the House arising out of the Report, and following the statement of the Lord Privy Seal, I proceed to the question of this committee. The changes to which I have referred, if they are approved by the House, together with the others which are to be considered later, represent a considerable alteration in the form and content of the Standing Orders—so much so, that the Government feel that it would be desirable for the whole code of Standing Orders, as amended by the result of this Debate, to be examined by a technical committee, which could make such suggestions as it thinks fit, for the general improvement of the wording and the removal of any ambiguities or obscurities. Following the precedent of 1933, it is suggested that the committee should be unofficial and informal, reporting, in the first instance, to the Government, although, of course, it will be necessary for any changes that may be suggested to be submitted to the House at a later stage. The House will be glad to know that Mr. Speaker has been good enough to say that he will be willing to preside over such a committee, and to nominate a small number of right hon. or hon. Members to assist him. I am sure that the House will be grateful for Mr. Speaker's kindness in that matter, adding, as we are, a further burden to his already heavy duties.
I thought that it might be useful to go over the ground as shortly as the numerous matters would allow. I hope that we may have a reasonable Debate, not too long, on the general issues raised, and then we can deal with the Standing Orders and the Amendments put down. I thought it right, in view of the complexities of this matter, to make this explanatory statement, and I trust that, in due course, the House will find it possible to accept the advice which I have given on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
I have put down an Amendment—to leave out from the second "the" to the end of the Motion and to add "Report"—but I am not sure now, in view of the width allowed to the right hon. Gentleman, whether it will be necessary to move it, for this reason: I thought that it would be useful, at this stage, to have a look at the Committee's Report and the alterations which were before it, and I cannot see how that can be done within the narrow compass of approving a statement made in the House by the Lord Privy Seal. I venture, from such information as I have been able to secure, to think that my view is right, and that if we adopt the Amendment, it would widen the discussion on the whole issue of procedure related to the Report which is under discussion. If that is so, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with that of the House, I will move the Amendment before I sit down. It seems to me that we shall have to discuss some of the new Standing Orders in very considerable detail. The Lord President has sketched out the effect of them generally, but, of course, we shall want to probe them a great deal more, because there is a lot to be said which, naturally, in his opening statement, he has not spoken about.
I am surprised, quite frankly, that the Government have taken this form of Motion. I do not see why they have not moved that we either approve or disapprove of the Report of the Select Committee. In view of the fact that they do not accept some of the recommendations, I should have thought that it would have been more straightforward on their part to say that "The House does not approve of the Report," and then themselves to come forward with the Amendments to Standing Orders, some of them picked out from recommendations of the Report, and some picked out from their own ideas. But the Government, apparently, would prefer that we expressed no views on the Report. I think that a very lopsided way of procedure and rather unusual, and I do not see the point of it. I hope that in future when reports come before the House, and it is necessary to adopt them, the Government will move to approve or disapprove of them. That does not prevent them from coming to such conclusions as they would like to put on the reports by their own initiative. No one would agree with every word in the Report of the Select Committee; why should they? Obviously, some of the people on the Committee could not originally have agreed with every point in it, otherwise there would have been no division.
Broadly speaking, this Report comes to the House as a report which has to be carefully considered. All I have to say today has nothing to do with party or Opposition. This is purely a House of Commons affair as to how we are to regulate our business, and not a Socialist view or a Conservative view as to whether this or that alteration should be made. I hope that we will all apply our minds, as best we can, out of the confusion that almost inevitably follows debates on this topic, to the various points which are raised. I think that the Government have treated the whole matter rather lightly. They told us at the beginning of this Parliament that it was exceedingly important that the new Parliament should at once proceed into an investigation of the procedure of this House, and the Committee met for many months under the most able chairmanship of the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young). All of us on this side of the House who were colleagues of his on that Committee would like to thank him for the help and guidance which he gave us from the chair. So great was the rush that we had to sit during the summer Recess, an unheard of thing for a Committee of this House as far as I know.
We produced the first and second Report, and we produced the final Report on 31st October, 1946. That was over a year ago, but in the last Session of Parliament and in the one before that inquiries were made from time to time as to what was going to happen. Eventually in March the Lord Privy Seal came down and gave the Government decision on the matter. He promised a debate on the Select Committee's Report, but nothing happened in that Session. Now the Government have given the Debate not on the Report as it was published, but on their own proposals arising out of the Report. Frankly, in view of the hard work which the Committee put in, and bearing in mind that when we are talking about the membership of the Committee the majority was on the side of the Government—though during our discussion and in the cross-examination I do not think anybody could point to anything said there from a purely party point of view—I feel somehow that they have not been treated any too kindly considering the labours which they put in on behalf of the House.
I should like with the right hon. Gentleman to express our thanks from this side of the House to all those who helped in giving evidence, including hon. Members of this House headed by you, Mr. Speaker, the Clerk of the House and the other officials of the House who at different times came to help us, and were exceedingly useful in providing for us a great deal of statistical material. The third Report is a most interesting document, and a great deal of the evidence and of the points of view which were put by different witnesses are worthy of study, particularly the most brilliant memorandum of the Clerk of the House. The Select Committee did not agree with it, but that does not detract from the amazing amount of work put by him and his Department into it, and his most interesting proposals were certainly worthy of our consideration for a very long period of time. What emerged really from the whole story is that, in spite of the enthusiasm of the Government at the beginning of our affairs away back in 1945, in spite of the fact that no doubt quite deliberately and rightly, a number of the members of the Select Committee were members who had not been in the House before and, therefore, to whom presumably the whole field was quite new, in spite of the sort of attitude that everything had got to be hurried through and we had got to make great changes, and in spite of a most careful examination of all the problems under discussion with witnesses, at the end of the day the Select Committee did not propose anything very drastic. As far as I know, no one expressed any particular disappointment at that, because as I may judge it, and as the Debate shows, the House was prepared to put it into the hands of the hon. Member for Newton and his colleagues and let them consider it and see what they had to say.
We did not come forward with anything very drastic or revolutionary, but owing to the length of time since we concluded our Report there is this to be said —some of the proposals which were originally made and tentatively tried have worked out fairly satisfactory. When I read in the Press speeches made by Ministers and their supporters in the country priding themselves on the enormous number of Bills which have become Acts of Parliament during last Session and the Session before, I cannot help thinking that they cannot have it both ways. If they are going to boast of the amount of legislation which they managed to get through they cannot turn round and say the machinery is all wrong. They have got the legislation through the machinery and they have achieved much of their objective. I think I am right in saying that no major Measure or, indeed, minor Measure on which the Lord President of the Council set his heart last year failed to pass into law.
That is what I am saying. The conclusion that I came to is that nothing revolutionary is required. As a result of our suggestions the Lord President and his supporters very largely achieved what they wanted by getting through this enormous mass of legislation. I am not saying it is a good mass of legislation. My speeches in the country are not like those of the Lord President and his supporters on that subject; but, looking at it objectively, they said they wanted to get a certain number of things through which they outlined in the various King's Speeches, and they have succeeded in doing it. They have boasted of all this mass of legislation going through and it adds point to the general line which the Select Committee took, that except for certain changes and arrangements here and there, broadly there is nothing wrong with our procedure.
Another thing I heard the Lord President in his speech say was that we would need to have a technical committee to tidy things up. I know he likes to tidy up things, but a lot of things should be left in a condition not as tidy as he desires. However, if he wishes to do that I hope anyhow that it will not get into the heads of a great number of hon. Members that questions of procedure and Standing Orders are just mumbo-jumbo, which only a lot of experts can understand. If anybody reads them they will find there is not great difficulty in under- standing them, and that they are similar to rules for running a hospital board or a pig club. A lot of the trouble arises from the fact that Members do not read these rules. They are not so difficult.
They are not so difficult, certainly not for anyone with the skilled experience of medical men such as the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan). Some of the words used in his profession are difficult. I do not think there is anything very terrible in our Standing Orders, and I hope, therefore, that there will not be too much pruning and cutting down.
At this stage I do not want to go through all the proposals which were put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure, but I think it is interesting to follow up something which the right hon. Gentleman was saying, and that is the broad divisions in which our work falls. I hope he will not object to me reminding him of a statement which he made before the Select Committee, namely, that in his view the most important function of Parliament was checking the Government and not the function of legislating. I accept that view. Therefore, it is interesting to see how the various divisions of the time of the House over a period of 30 years have gone in criticising the Government and how much has gone in legislation. Perhaps I need hardly remind hon. Members when they study these figures that some figures throw out the general average, particularly where an abnormal Bill was before Parliament, For example, when the Government of India Bill occupied the time of Parliament, it gives an entirely disproportionate figure for that period for the amount of legislation considered by the House.
If the chief part which Parliament has to play, as the right hon. Gentleman says, is checking the Government, then it seems to me that there are two checks which are necessary—the check on administration and the check on finance. The check on administration comes through the Supply procedure, and I will speak in greater detail on that when we come to the new Standing Order on that point. There are one or two things which I should like to say then, if, Mr. Speaker, I catch your eye. On the control of administration, apart from the Supply procedure, we thought the time had come to go further into this matter of delegated legislation. We did take evidence on this subject from some of the best informed persons, not Members of Parliament and not in Government circles.
The right hon. Gentleman said just now that he did not think the time had quite yet come. With the enormous amount of orders and rules a tremendous burden is placed upon our own Select Committee, whose work we all admire. It must be very tedious and boring to go through all those orders and regulations in the way that the Committee does. It is very helpful to us that they should do that work. Of course, the check on administration needs to go a great deal further than that. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this decision and, before very long, will accept the proposal which was made by the Committee that the time has come for an inquiry into that matter.
On the other side, in regard to the check on the Government, financial control comes not only through Supply days but through the financial procedure of the House. When we come to the new Standing Orders my hon. Friends and I will have something more to say about that. It was interesting to find from the statistics that between 1906 and 1937 the amount of time devoted to that part of our business was not really very great. The amount of time devoted to Ways and Means and Finance Bills averaged only 15 days per annum, somewhere about 10 per cent. of the total time of the House. That is not very much, even in normal times. In these days, when Budgets and finance assume such enormous figures which has some relevance to the problem—I do not think it is overmuch. The number of days work out on the average to 15. We have to bear in mind that 70 days were used for that purpose in 1909, so that the average would have been much less but for that very hectic period.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not think it was worth while saying anything about Private Members' time because the matter had been settled for this Session by Sessional Order and there was not going to be any. As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is here, perhaps I may be allowed to say that it was for that reason that I discussed the matter the other day, when he said it was ridiculous—I do not want necessarily to bring the hon. Member to his feet—but he used words to the effect that it was rather nonsense for me to oppose the abolition of Private Members' time, when he knew perfectly well that I did not want it to go back to the system which exists in the Standing Orders. That was by way of being a Second Reading decision—either we were to have it, or we were not to have it.
Now is the opportunity, if anybody wants to take it, to say whether they think that our proposals are better than the existing proposals. It would be very valuable if something were said about that today. I take it that we are not going to have Private Members' time abolished for ever. Now that we are dealing with this Report of a Committee which spent a great deal of time on this problem, it would be helpful for the future to have some observations. I do not see, otherwise, why the matter is raised at all. It will be helpful if hon. Members would express their views on the proposals, which I must admit were very startlingly different from the system enshrined in the present Standing Orders.
In case hon. Members are not quite aware what we proposed, I would recall that it was that Private Members' time, in the sense of Bills and motions, should be limited to Fridays to begin with, and that there should not be the mid-week break. Further, we proposed that the first 20 Fridays after the Address should be at the disposal of Private Members alternately for Bills and motions, and that the first six Bill Fridays—to use our own words—would be for Second Readings of Bills and the last four for Report stages and Third Readings. The alternate Fridays would be for motions. There should be a single ballot for the two. It would be sufficient in the case of motions if only one week's notice was given. Those are the proposals which we throw on the Table, and that is my answer to the criticism which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, no doubt quite rightly, made the other day. It would be useful if something could be said about it. After all, we have deprived ourselves, not through any wish of mine, of all that for this year, but there is next year. One must be far-seeing; at least we think so, but it is not a practice that Governments are much given to, generally speaking. We think that at this stage some discussion should take place.
There is another point in the Select Committee's report on which I would like to say one word. It has nothing to do with the other; I have finished with the Fridays. It is rather a hotch-potch. The right hon. Gentleman did not say anything about it. It is rather a delicate matter. We went in great detail by cross-examination into the use of Standing Order No. 8, of moving the Adjournment on matters which arise urgently. A very interesting statistical table is to be found on that subject in the Report showing the number of times that the Motion was moved, the number of times it was refused and the number of times it was allowed.
It is a fact that in recent years the numbers have gone down and down and that it is quite rare now for that Motion to be accepted. We put the matter in this form. Perhaps it is just as well that it should be put before the House. If hon. Members look at page xviii they will see:
While your Committee do not consider that any change in the Standing Order is needed, they think that a less narrow interpretation of Standing Order No. 8 and of the rules governing the subject matter of Adjournment Motions generally would be justified.
We point out that in our view, and from the evidence we have got:
In particular, your Committee would refer to the refusal of motions because the matters raised by them involved no more than 'the ordinary administration of the law.' This rule was originally intended to refer to the administration of justice in the courts of law, but since 1920 it has been held to cover the administrative action of Government Departments.
That is a very important sentence. It is not for us, in this matter, which rests entirely in the hands of Mr. Speaker, to discuss the value which he has to put on the three prongs of Standing Order No. 8, but it is as well to call attention to the fact that we did discuss it at very great length, and that our opinion was that if, without giving instructions to anybody in the matter, a less narrow interpretation could be achieved, it would be to the public advantage.
If the House accepts the proposal which is to come before it on this subject, in the case of there being such Adjournment Motions in the future, the Government would not automatically lose time, because the time would go forward on the same day. There would be just that disadvantage that on those nights the House would sit, later. One of the objections given in the past that such Adjournment Motions would upset the Government's timetable would not be possible in the future.
The other point upon which I think, even at this stage, I would like to say something is that the Government treated the Committee rather cavalierly in letting its Report lie on the Table for over a year. It is still more extraordinary, as is to be seen from the right hon. Gentleman's speech just now, that the Government should come forward in the new Standing Orders which we shall discuss in detail later on, asking the House to accept two Standing Orders—perhaps I should not say two—which had twice been before the Committee and were twice rejected by the Committee.
There is, first, the suggestion of a Business Committee. That was originally before us at the time of the first Report. It was then turned down, and the Government, as will be seen if anybody looks at the evidence on page 100 of the Report, asked the Select Committee to look at it again, which was done. The Committee's conclusion on that was:
Your Committee are not aware of any new point which has arisen to justify them in re-opening these questions
The first question was the Business Committee and the second one was the proposal that the Chairmen of Standing Committees should have power to disallow a debate on the Question "That the Clause stand part."
I must say that I take rather an exception to this action on the part of the Government because, after all, this was a Committee, on which there was inevitably a majority of the supporters of the Government, which took very great care in examining whatever proposal from whatever source, and which had this before it twice and the second time repeated its previous opinion that there was no reason to re-open the question. That was accepted unanimously by the Committee, and now the Government come down and propose this to the House just as if the Committee had never sat at all or was quite unnecessary. It is treating a committee of this kind in a very odd way. I hope that when the time comes the House as a whole will support any Motion that may be put from this side of the House rejecting the Government's proposals on the grounds—
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman forgive me? He is arguing that the Government ought to accept the recommendations or views of the Select Committee. Would he say on behalf of the Opposition for the future that they will accept any recommendations of any Select Committee on Procedure and not challenge any of them?
I did not say that at all. What I was saying is that here is a Committee, on which the Government have a majority, which was asked to reconsider the question. Surely it makes all the difference that the Committee was asked to reconsider the question? If one puts something to a committee and they say "No," and one says, "We would like you to look at it again for this, that or the other reason," and the committee again say "No," as this Committee did, surely in a case like that—not in every-case, for one must judge each case as it comes along—it is going rather beyond the usual rules and practice of the House to come down and use the Government majority to insist upon getting other proposals through?
I am not discussing the merits of the proposal. I hope to do that later on and perhaps I may persuade the House that on the merits it is a wrong proposal, as the Select Committee thought, but at this stage I am merely saying that it is a very odd thing for the Government to do. I do not like it because if the Government had that kind of view about the changes in procedure whatever the Committee said and whatever evidence the Committee heard to influence it, I do not see that they need have bothered to have the Committee at all because they could have carried on with their own proposals. This is a pity because up to now these matters have been amicably debated and settled by everyone in no kind of party spirit, and when we have an all-party Committee agreeing on a matter of this kind it is unfortunate, to put it at its lowest, that the Government did not let it go after the Committee had, for the second time, rejected the proposal.
I think the Debate will obviously be general in form at the start, but we have certain criticisms to make of most of the proposed Standing Orders. It is probably more convenient to do the detailed criticism at this stage. Generally speaking, I should have liked the House to accept the proposal to approve the Report because that is the better way of doing things, but the real object of my moving my Amendment is not so much that as to widen the scope of the Debate and to make sure that we can discuss all these matters. If the House shows any desire to approve the Report, I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Newton and those who served with him will be very happy that that should be the case but I think that on these occasions it is incumbent on the Government to say that they either approve or disapprove. What has happened in this case is quite clear, only they had not the courage to say so. They disapproved of the Report.
Neither. I have a great respect for the Parliamentary ability of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but there are times when he deliberately proceeds to get himself thoroughly mixed up and he becomes extraordinarily happy in doing so. That is a reminder of the good old times. We agree with some of the Report, and there are some features with which we do not agree. We have brought some proposals before the House. Surely there is no obligation on the part of the Government, the Opposition or Private Members to have a report put before them and to be faced with the issue, "You must say whether you like this report. Answer only, 'Yes' or 'No.'" That is not a fair way to put it. We must have the right to discriminate within a report between the things with which we agree and some things with which, unhappily, we do not agree.
On that point, this is the second time within a
week that we have had to deal with reports from committees and on neither of them have we had the usual Motion:
That this House agrees with the Committee in the said Report.
If we are only to discuss today particular points that the Government dig out of the Report and let all the rest go by default—and that, I fear, will be the upshot of today's Debate on present form—it seems to me that we shall do a considerable injustice to the Committee which spent over a year on this job, and of which Committee I may say I was one.
I have really come to the end of what I wanted to say. I agree with the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) that if reports are brought before the House for consideration it would be more consonant with usual practice to say whether one approves or disapproves of them. Of course one can approve or disapprove of bits of them. Everybody does that. Naturally, I would not expect 640 hon. Members all to agree with every word of everything. All experience is against that. But after all, this is a Government responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council does lead the House. At least, he is supposed to. That is his present Office, if not occupation. I, therefore, put it to him—as the hon. Member for Rugby said—that twice within a week reports have come to the House for discussion. A lead as to whether, broadly speaking, the Government approves or disapproves and wishes the House to approve or disapprove should be the Motion the Government move.
However, the Lord President has not done that, but in order to safeguard the position that the whole field is open for discussion today because Mr. Speaker was good enough to call this Amendment, I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the second "the" to the end of the Question and to insert "Report."
I endorse and emphasise what has been said by the Lord President of the Council and the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in relation to our indebtedness to all those who came to the Committee, and especially to Mr. Speaker and to the Clerk of the House for the valuable work they did for us. I must confess that I am also a little
disappointed by the terms of the Motion of the Lord President of the Council. I should have thought the best thing to do would be to take the recommendations of the Select Committee and get the decision of the House on those. The Motion of the Lord President of the Council says:
arising out of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure.
I should have preferred, if I had been asked, to see the words:
arising out of the Government's proposals to the Select Committee on Procedure
because seven questions were put to the Select Committee. Four of them have been dropped and three of them are to be proposed by the Lord President of the Council. This is not the stage at which we may criticise the various proposals; we are only making, I understand, general observations about the report as a whole. In this connection I would say that the Report as a whole was submitted after long and serious consideration by the Members of the Committee without reference to any party spirit whatever during the long term of the Committee. We approached these matters as Members of the House of Commons seeking to come to decisions that would be in the interests of the business of the House of Commons, and for the convenience not only of the Government but of hon. Members themselves. I can assure the Lord President, as I am sure he is aware, that there was seldom any necessity for going into division in relation to the third Report which is now before us. I would assure him also that before we came to our decisions, to make sure that it was as far as possible the unanimous Report of the Committee, we had a special meeting before the draft Report was submitted to the Committee, to get the views of Members in relation to what should be in the Report.
I took it as part of my responsibility as Chairman to decide that there was no use our putting anything in the Report that was not likely to meet with the approval of the Committee, and I think there was only one Division in relation to the whole Report when we came to discuss it. We selected that previous meeting for a general consensus of opinion to know exactly where the Committee—not individual Members—stood in relation to our various recommendations, and the Report gives an accurate summary of the whole thing.
One or two things have arisen in the course of this discussion which I trust will be further probed as we consider the various suggestions made. The Lord President has told us that he wishes the 28 days to be reduced to 26. The Committee was very careful about that. We were told that on the average 28.6 days were taken up. We reduced it to 28, and in the Report we put something into the 28 which was not before in the 28. The 28 days were to be made up of four days getting Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, of 20 Supply days, of two for the Public Accounts Report, and the other two to include the time that had been given to Supplementary Estimates, so that, on the whole, I thought we were saving the Government's time in proposing 28 days, not merely saving.6 of a day, but saving a considerable amount of time, because those 28 days were to include the time taken up by Supplementary Estimates. When we come to consider that later on, I hope the Lord President of the Council will give his serious attention to it.
Another point was that there should be no Debate on "the Clause stand part." As one who has been a Chairman I would not like to be saddled with that responsibility. Sometimes it might be very easy, at other times not so easy. After all, there may be a Clause with which one does not agree; it may be amended, and then one agrees with it. On the other hand, it might be a reverse process. Under those circumstances it is absolutely necessary that there should be a Debate on "the Clause stand part." Who is to decide whether—
I was only saying that the Government are not taking the line that my hon. Friend is assuming, that there should never be a Debate on "the Clause stand part," but that we want a clear discretion for the Chairman to rule that out if, in his opinion, the Clause has been discussed adequately already.
I know the Government are not taking up the extreme line but, at the same time, I say it will be very difficult for the Chairman, and that is what I am concerned about. In the mind of the Lord President it may be easy for the Chairman, but I do not think it will be so easy, and the only way the Chairman would get out of it would be simply to ignore it and let things go on.
I do not want the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) to make my speech for me, but I think there are difficulties in the way, and I think a Chairman should not be saddled with responsibilities of that kind. If he is, he may come under the suspicion of hon. Members of deciding in one way in one case and in another way in another case, and they may not agree. I trust that also will be considered when we come to deal with the Amendment.
Then there is the question of Private Members' time. I agree with the Lord President that the time for deciding that is when we come to clear away to some extent the present restriction on Private Members' time. However, I hope that when we do consider that, the other proposals we have suggested about Fridays will be seriously taken into consideration, because I think they are a great improvement on the previous practice. If they are adopted, I think they will not only be to the benefit of hon. Members in that they will have something to discuss worth discussing and carrying through, but they will also be to the benefit of the Government in many ways.
I do not desire at this stage, and I do not think it right, to recapitulate what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough has said. He has gone through many of the points in this Report, and, therefore, I would only be wasting time if I repeated what he has said. However, when we come to deal with the various Amendments I hope we shall consider them seriously from the point of view of the House as a whole, and recognise that, after all, democracy means debate and discussion, and that it means the free opinion of Members being allowed on every possible occasion, even in a House which has a large amount of business before it. If we manage to do that, it will be to the credit of the House. As the Chairman of the Select Committee I shall not now enter into any controversy, but simply say that I trust that particular points in the Report will be considered seriously, and that, if possible, the Lord President will give us an idea of why he preferred 26 days to 28. He said that if we took those two days for the Public Accounts Committee, the 26 would then count. I want him to tell the House whether that means that the 26 days he is proposing does not in any way apply to the time given to discussion of the reports of the Public Accounts Committee, if that should be required? If that is so, it makes a difference to our approach to the 26, as against the 28 days. But, if it is meant to include the two days, it is a serious reduction of time, which should be obviated if at all possible.
I wish to begin by very cordially endorsing what has been said by the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), who with great dignity and capacity presided over the sittings of this Committee. It is true that its approach to all these problems was a non-party approach; that it was extremely seldom that the dividing line on the Committee had anything to do with party; and that, in fact, the number of Divisions we took in the course of something like a year's sittings was so small as to be almost negligible. I think that is a very considerable achievement on matters, some of which were potentially controversial. I submit that it was a good committee, which did a good job. But, if the Committee had a responsibility to the House, with great respect I submit that the House has some responsibility to the Committee. After all, after a year's labour, we produced a pretty substantial volume, and we produced it for the House of Commons. We did not produce this only for the Government. We were appointed by the House to make a report to the House, and today the Report of the Committee comes before the House.
There would have been two conceivable lines of approach, neither of which has been adopted, but either of which would have permitted us adequately to discuss this Report. One line would have been a Motion that "This House doth agree with the Committee in the said Report." If there had been that kind of Motion we could have had a discussion covering all aspects of the Committee's work, enabling us to reach a conclusion whether on the whole we liked the Report or not. But the Lord President of the Council says that the position of the Government is that they regard the Report as like the curate's egg—only good in parts. If that were the view of the Government, I submit that another way of dealing with the problem would have been to allow each of the recommendations of the Committee to come before the House one by one, and if the Government objected to any of them they could oppose it, or put down an Amendment. Then, at the end of the day, we would have discussed the whole Report.
At the end of today we shall not be in that position at all. There will have been some general debate at the beginning, and then the discussion will narrow down to the Motions put down in the name of the Lord President of the Council dealing with only a few of the many issues with which we dealt; while the rest of the points will neither be discussed nor decided upon, but will go by default. I am not going to deal with what happened the other day, because I would be out of Order. But, I think I am in Order in pointing out that this is the second time in a week that reports of a substantial and major character have come to the House, and we have not had an opportunity of pronouncing a plain "yea" or "nay" on them. The other day we had a report which contained matters of grave importance and we could not pronounce judgment on them. We indeed pronounced sentence on a couple of hon. Members, but we have not pronounced judgment on the Report of the Committee of Privileges. Today we are asked by the Lord, President of the Council to pass a number of Motions; and all the rest of the Report will be left in the air. Whether it is a Report by the Committee of Privileges, which I do not like, or a Report by this Committee on which I served, and which I do like, the Committee have the right to have their recommendations considered, and determined by the House.
I agree generally with the line of criticism developed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Newton. We gave great care to all aspects of this matter, and where the Government have departed from what we say they are wrong. We took into account all they had to say upstairs. We had the Lord President of the Council up there, and what he could not achieve by authority, he sought to achieve by charm. We resisted the attack from both angles, and firmly decided that our view about this particular matter was right, and that his was wrong. Then, about a year later, he bobs up like a smiling seraph with the same proposals which he put to us twice upstairs, and which we twice rejected. If this were not so sublime, it would be impudent. It is redeemed from impudence only by its sublimity, and I think the Committee merits the justice of consideration of its Report.
None of the motions of the Lord President of the Council deals with a matter on which I feel pretty strongly, and which, unless I say something about it now, I cannot refer to later on the Standing Orders which we shall be discussing. It is Private Members' time. Unless we get in on this general Debate, we shall be precluded from discussing the matter. But the Committee want that matter discussed. We gave prolonged and careful consideration to the question of whether Private Members' time was a valuable thing or not. We gave careful consideration to the question whether the time had come to restore it, and whether it should be restored in the same form or in a different form. We gave consideration to exactly what we should say to the House, taking into account the Government's need for time, as well as the desire of Private Members. When the Lord President came before us on that matter he made his approach plain—I hope I am not doing him any injustice, he has subsequently made it plain to the House anyway—that he personally has not very much use for Private Members' time. He thought its value was grossly overrated, he thought that very little good use had been made of it in the past, and that on the whole it was time that could have been put to better use.
I am sure the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) does not desire to misrepresent my right hon. Friend, but I did not understand the Lord President as saying that. I agree that he expressed all those opinions, but I think he was speaking not of Private Members' time as such, but of Private Members' time as it was used under the present Standing Orders, and that view was unanimously shared by the Committee.
That is fair enough. The hon. Member thinks so, and he is entitled to his thought. I have given way to enable him to express that thought, and I will resume, if I may, the expression of my own thought. I will not give quotations, because the print of this volume is of inverse size to the truth it contains. I do not want to put words into the Lord President's mouth, but I think I shall be endorsed when I say that he made it pretty plain to us that he had not much use for Private Members' time. I will not bother to dig out the references now.
I hold the view that Private Members' time is very important. I disagree with the view that it has not been well used. I do not say that all of it has always been as well used as it could be. But would anyone make a claim that all Government time has always been as well used as it could be? This is a common disability, due to our common humanity, and our common failings? There are remarkable cases of the use of Private Members' time within the knowledge of all of us. One aspect of it is of supreme importance. All Governments dodge certain questions if they can, questions involving religion, morals and votes. From time to time it has been the experience of this House, over the centuries, that again and again on some great issue which no Government was prepared to tackle, it required the self-sacrificing efforts of some Private Member, using Private Members' time, ultimately to impel Governments into action upon it.
I will mention only a case or two by way of illustration. There was the slave trade. Wilberforce spent 20 years in this House carrying on an insistent campaign to stop the sending of further slaves abroad. It took him 20 years to get that done. It took him another 20 years to get freedom for the slaves who had already been sent into the Colonies. There was Plimsoll. In the days when British ships were sent to sea in the knowledge and expectation that they would probably never arrive at their destination, it required the devoted labours of Plimsoll, an Independent—most of these remarkable men were Independents—to get through an Act of Parliament which made overloading illegal, and established on the side of ships the "Plimsoll line" below which a ship must not be submerged. In our day one can recall two hon. Members of this House, one unhappily departed—the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) with his Divorce Bill, and the late Ellen Wilkinson with her Hire Purchase Bill. Those were examples in our time of the use of Private Members' time to secure some socially worthy or desirable end.
Yes. I might also refer to another departed Member, the late Miss Rathbone, who used this instrument again and again to ventilate what was, at the beginning, the unpopular idea of family allowances, but which subsequently became embodied in the legislative programme of the Government. AH these are important things, and emphasise the importance of Private Members' time.
There is another aspect, the general position of this House vis-à-vis the Government. I doubt very much whether late comers to the House realise what a tremendous inversion of the natural order of things has occurred in the last century, as regards the relation between the House of Commons and the Executive. At the beginning of the 19th century practically all time in this House was Private Members' time. Within the last century or so there has been a profound and radical change from a situation where the time of Parliament belonged to the Members of Parliament, except for two days, which by courtesy were given to the Government, until today, when the Government claims all Parliamentary time, with a new Motion at the beginning of every Session to deprive Private Members of their rights. This is not the whole picture, but it is an element in a picture, the total content of which is to reduce the House from its old status to the level of a ratifying instrument for the decisions of the Government, taken over in Whitehall—
Surely, even if what the hon. Member says is true, it has no bearing upon the present situation, because even if the Executive has increased its power at the expense of Private Members, the functions of the House as laid down in this Report, and accepted by the Members of the Committee on the advice of the Clerk, could never be carried out if Private Members had to themselves all the time which they used to have.
I doubt whether I ought to have given way for that intervention to be made. That is an argument which the hon. Member is perfectly at liberty to develop in the Debate as it goes on, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye. I am not proposing that we should go back to the year 1800. If I were proposing to go back there, and give all time to Private Members except a couple of days to the Government, that interruption would have been relevant and pertinent. As I am proposing nothing of the kind it is neither relevant nor pertinent.
We on the Committee considered the Government's case. It was represented to us by the Lord President that we lived in a time of rapidly changing circumstances, and that, with new problems continually arising, the scope of Governmental activity was bound to be widened and extended in every direction, and that, therefore, stark necessity—Governmental legislative necessity—demanded that we should not restore Private Members' time, at any rate now. The Lord President made it plain that as far as he was concerned, he did not care if it never were restored. We ought to have some statement on this, because only a few days ago the Prime Minister said that he had hoped to be able to do something about Private Members' time this Session, and that unhappily he had not been able to do so. We all know that the Lord President came along and claim all the time this Session for the Government. We on the Committee recognise that we would not get back our prewar rights all at once. We knew that a declaration that all prewar practices should be restored with the end of hostilities was confined to the trade unions, and did not extend to the rights and privileges of this House. But we hope to get back there at some time, so in our Report we recommend that Private Members' time should be restored, in a somewhat different and perhaps more efficient form, which is the point which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was making, "as soon as possible."
We said that over a year ago. It is now three years since the end of the war, and there are literally scores if not hundreds of Members of this House who have never had the opportunity of introducing either a Private Member's Motion or a Private Member's Bill. And if there is the same turnover at the next Election as occurred in the last one, we may have a House of Commons consisting predominantly of people who have never had experience of a Private Member's Motion or a Private Member's Bill. We do not ask the Government to do impossibilities. They have got their Motion for this Session taking all the time, and I am not attempting to re-argue that. But can the Government say what they think about that recommendation of the Committee? Can they give us some idea when they propose to restore to us, either in its own form or the modified form we suggest, the privileges we enjoyed before, and which have now been taken away from us for something like seven years? On that theme we are entitled to expect an answer. Finally, it ought to be an axiom of a legislative chamber that reports should come before it in a form which enables the House of Commons to pass a clear verdict upon them. That privilege is denied to us today. As I said earlier, it is the second time it has happened in the course of a week. I hope the House will not agree that the reports of its committees which it appoints itself should be treated in that rather cavalier fashion.
I hope the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) will forgive me if I do not follow in the main many of the comments he has made, because I dislike his manner and attitude as much as I dislike his views—
I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to say something abusive. That is why I did not give way. It is quite typical. I only wish to mention one point which he raised. The whole basis of his theme about Private Members' time was the fact that the Executive had ursurped most of what was previously Private Members' time. Far be it from me to oppose in any way any relaxation of the restrictions on the time allowed to Private Members. I would be in favour of giving Private Members all the time they ever had, but for the hon. Member to argue that because some time in the distant past, a past the ghost of which is always haunting him—
We are getting into rather deep water, I am afraid. The point I was going to make is that the hon. Member for Rugby talked about my interruption not being relevant or pertinent, insinuating of course, that it was impertinent. The fact remains that the Executive must new have power if they are to carry out the functions of the House. Their duties as representatives of public opinion include control of finance, formulation and control of policy—legislation. After all, Parliament must advance and evolve just as much as any other institution.
I rose for the purpose of making one point which I understand I must make now on the general discussion or not make at all. I want to make some remarks about paragraph 59. I want to ask whether it is not possible that there should be some rationing of time, some system by which the unpopular, non-parasitical Member, the Member who has not got a showy manner but who is sent here to represent popular opinion and the opinion of his constituents, can get his due, even though small, proportion of the time available in order to state a case as the occasion demands. This is a non-party matter. On many occasions, I have seen hon. Members in all parts of the House rising time and again and then sitting back dejectedly in their seats. I do not know whether they feel as I feel after six or seven hours of trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. After that time I feel like a wet rag, exhausted and frustrated and, if I were not a teetotaller, I would think that it was the morning after the night before.
I would make particular exceptions for the Government Front Bench and the Opposition Front Bench—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the Government Front Bench speakers have to state a policy and that needs time. They must have time, otherwise we cannot Debate properly. The Opposition Front Bench speakers, by virtue of their position, should also have the opportunity of stating their case. After that, surely the ordinary Member is here on equal terms. Really, it is very hurtful to an hon. Member to find after months, and sometimes after more than months, of trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, that he has great difficulty. If he goes and asks to be allowed to try to get in, he is asked, urged and warned to be short, even though he has not spoken for about six months. This Parliament is very different from previous Parliaments when a small clique of brilliant orators set the pace and the dummies behind simply did the voting. Nowadays, not only do the young Members and the old veterans, like myself, expect to have their proper share and to be entitled to make remarks to the House now and again, but our constituents also expect us to take part in debates. If we do not, they want to know why. Political feeling, experience and knowledge are rising in the country. That is why we are in power now. Because of that, our constituents expect us to have the opportunity. It is difficult to explain to constituents that by the Rules of the House one must take the chance of catching Mr. Speaker's eye.
Sometimes, even when a specialist wants to speak on a certain subject, another person who has no particular knowledge of that subject but who wants to air some trivial opinions about it, has the fortune to catch Mr. Speaker's eye and the specialist is unfortunate. I would also make special arrangements for special Members. I would give facilities to the hon. Member for Rugby and I would give special facilities to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but in the case of the ordinary Member who finds it hard to get in, I say that something should be done so that he can have a chance. They should not need to be prepared to go to the Whips' room and beg for chances either of going abroad or of being able to speak. As a Member sent here by the free vote of my constituents, I am not prepared to do things which I do not think an ordinary Member of Parliament should be prepared to do. I prefer to stand on my own legs. If I am to be frustrated, I will take it and take it willingly. Not only do I think that the ordinary Member should have opportunities of getting on committees of the House and of taking part in the proceedings upstairs—not as an exception but as part and parcel of his ordinary rights as a Member equal to other Members—but I also think some system should be devised by which the ordinary back bencher will get an opportunity of having sufficient time on occasions to state his case.
I know the answer. The answer is that such a system of rationing of time for speeches will be quite impracticable and impossible. I have been long enough in one of the most difficult professions in the world to know that what was considered impracticable and impossible at one time has been made both practicable and possible if men of goodwill put their minds together to see that it is carried out. It is on those grounds that I appeal, as a back bencher and as an old hon. Member of this House who has seen this House inside and out for ten years. I plead, not necessarily for myself, but for some back benchers who have great difficulty in being able to state a case, and who should be given an opportunity, time and again, in preference to other hon. Members. It is very hard to find an hon. Member who can state a case, and, after that, to find also a junior hon. Member making a very poor show at the Despatch Box. On these grounds, I ask that this matter should be reconsidered by any committee which may be set up to deal with it.
We must, I think, be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having saved the House from witnessing the calamitous consequences which might have resulted if the hon. Member who has just spoken had been made to wait six or seven hours before catching your eye. To see him now, as we do, a fine upstanding Member, and to think that, if he had had to wait a little longer, he would have been reduced to a wet rag, is enough to move the hearts of all hon. Members present.
I am not the first, but one of the first hon. Members, speaking in this Debate who was not a Member of the Select Committee on Procedure, and that, I think, makes it all the more easy for me to say how grateful the House should be, and I think is, for the amount of work which the Committee put into the examination of the problems with which they were presented. The Committee consisted of hon. and right hon. Members of outstanding ability, and I would like to compliment the Chairman of that Committee on the ability with which he conducted its affairs. I followed the proceedings of his Committee and I have read the three voluminous Reports which it issued. There could be no doubt in the mind of any hon. Member in this House that the Committee made a most exhaustive inquiry into the various points of our procedure, and examined witnesses in the greatest detail. They were very considerably assisted by the memorandum which was submitted for their consideration by the Clerk of the House. I think all that is to be expected of a Select Committee of this House, but what was, in the circumstances quite remarkable was the unanimity of the Report.
The Lord President of the Council, in opening the Debate this afternoon, appeared to think that the Report contained contentious matter, and he indicated that the disagreement would be on party lines. The proceedings of the Committee do not in the least bear out that assumption of the Lord President. The Committee examined with the greatest care a number of suggestions made by the Government and, again after the greatest care, made very definite recommendations, but, now, the Government are asking us—I will not say to ignore the Reports of the Committee—but to approve a statement made by the Lord Privy Seal on 17th March. It is a most remarkable procedure to ask this House to adopt, and I would like to support as strongly as I can the remarks already made that the proper procedure would have been for the Government to ask this House either to approve or disapprove the Report of the Committee. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept the Amendment which has been moved by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank).
There is one other aspect of this question with which I want to deal. I want to ask the Lord President, or whoever will reply, why it is being proposed this afternoon that we should amend Standing Orders. Why should not the proposal be that we should introduce Sessional Orders? The alteration of Standing Orders is almost tantamount to altering our constitution. Indeed, I think it will be no exaggeration to say that, in some respects, the alterations which are to be proposed later would alter our constitution. Therefore, it seems to me that the Government should have proposed to the House that we should proceed as we did last year, and, in adapting alterations to Standing Orders, should have done it for this Session only, and, particularly in cases where the proposals are new, by introducing Sessional Orders; and then by amending our Standing Orders in accordance with our experience, if that experience was satisfactory, or by introducing other proposals next year, if our experience proved unsatisfactory. I submit that we are taking a step which, at this stage, is contrary to the spirit in which the Committee were asked to conduct their inquiries, and contrary to the terms of the Government memorandum submitted to the Committee for their consideration. May I illustrate that point? The memorandum which the Government submitted for consideration contains these words:
In the period of transition from war to peace, … a heavy programme of legislation would be urgently required for the purposes of reconstruction.
I, therefore, suggest that the Lord President gave a definite intimation to the Committee that any proposals which it had to make would be of a temporary nature to get over a crisis, and that, quite naturally, their recommendations have been made with that object in view. The Government, in their memorandum, said this:
The scheme therefore suggests certain modification of Parliamentary Procedure as proposals which might be given a trial, on an experimental basis, during the first one or two Sessions.'….
That is, after the war. Surely, therefore, I am being perfectly fair when I say that the Committee was being asked to decide on proposals for emergency legislation and not permanent amendments of Standing Orders. I would remind the House further of the statement contained in the Report of the Committee. The hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) will remember this quotation, and I think he will agree with me that it does show that the Committee were making proposals which they considered would be temporary or experimental:
Your Committee desire to draw attention to the experimental character of the proposals submitted by the Government, and to emphasise that it is on this basis that they have considered them. It would follow that any alterations in the Orders governing the Procedure of the House which the adoption of these proposals may require would take the form of Sessional Orders during the experimental period.
I want the Lord. President of the Council to let the House know why, in that respect, the proposals of the Government have been completely changed, and why we are being asked this afternoon to make what must be regarded as a permanent change in our Standing Orders.
A number of points will arise during the course of the evening, and I do not want to deal now with the proposals of the Government to amend Standing Orders which will be discussed later. But I would like to say a few words on a subject which will not arise, because it is not dealt with in the proposed change to Standing Orders, namely, the inquiry into delegated legislation which was recommended by the Select Committee. I know, of course, that the Statutory Instruments Act has only very recently become an Act, but the Select Committee were, for the greater part of their deliberations, aware of the terms of what was then a Bill, and must have taken account of those terms before making their recommendations.
The recommendation of the Select Committee is perfectly straightforward. It is that an inquiry should be made into the delegation of legislative power and of the procedure of the House in relation thereto. But the Government recommendation,
contained in the Lord Privy Seal's statement on 17th March is that there should be no inquiry
so long as the scope and form of subordinate legislation is influenced by wartime powers, and until experience has been gained of the working of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 31, 32.]
I am a little worried about what the Lord President of the Council may mean by the influence of wartime powers. I hope that, during this Debate, we may get a definition of what he really means by that statement. It seems to me that peacetime legislation, influenced by wartime powers, is particularly deserving of the scrutiny of this House, and there has certainly been no diminution in the spate of orders and regulations which have been issued by one Department or another.
The Report of the Select Committee points out that, for the great majority of instruments, the governing Act provides no Parliamentary control at all, and, in point of fact, only about one quarter of the Statutory Instruments which are issued can be examined by this House; and, of Course, a much smaller proportion is, in fact, examined by this House. In the Report, the Clerk of the House drew attention to the highly unsatisfactory position in which this House finds itself today with regard to delegated legislation. I do not think that there is any supporter of the Government who would claim that the procedure in this House is satisfactory.
The House is familiar with the impossibility of amending any statutory instrument, and that Prayers are almost invariably—if it had not been for yesterday's Debate, I think I could have said "invariably"—taken at a late hour, and I see no reason at all why the Government should not grant an inquiry now. The Lord President of the Council has given us reasons which have persuaded him that an inquiry is premature. I do not think he carried very many hon. Members with him when he used that argument. On the contrary, I know that many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House desire that an inquiry should be held, and I believe that if it were left to a free vote we would get the support of a very large number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I hope that before we terminate this Debate we shall have an assurance from the Govern- ment that, in this respect anyhow, they are prepared to change their minds, and will cause an inquiry to be made into delegated legislation at the first possible opportunity.
On the question of delegated legislation to which the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) referred, I would like to express my own view that the questions arising out of delegated legislation, important as they are, are really not questions of procedure at all. Some questions of procedure may be incidentally involved, but all the great and very important constitutional controversy about legislation by delegation really involves much more fundamental constitutional points and issues than could properly be covered in a Select Committee which is asked to look purely at the procedure of the House as procedure and to make recommendations to the House on procedural matters. I am not denying for a moment either that the question is important or that procedural questions may, at some stage, be involved, but I say that, by their nature, these questions are not questions of procedure at all.
I would like to say—and this is really my main reason for troubling the House in this Debate—that I do not share the polite, but quite definite, resentment shown by my colleagues on the Committee at the way the Government have treated the Report. I do not mean that I agree with all the Government have done, or failed to do, about our recommendations. Certainly not, but I certainly would not subscribe to the view that it is the Government's duty to put down on the Order Paper a resolution either approving or disapproving the Report as a whole. I do not think that any Government could commit itself to that course, or that any Government has ever done so. It would be a quite impossible task for any Government to discharge.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment which we are now discussing and the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) both referred to the fact that this is the second occasion on which the Government have not put down a plain Motion of acceptance or rejection of the Report of a Select Committee. On the last occasion—it was the Committee of Privileges last week—no objection came from the Opposition to the Government's procedure. What the Government were doing on that occasion was to accept the view of the minority of the Committee of Privileges against the majority, that minority being two hon. Members of the Opposition. I do not know whether that was why no objection was raised on that occasion, or whether there is some other reason for it. I am bound to point out that what the Government have done on this occasion, namely, to pick out those parts of the Report with which they agree, to move Motions accordingly, and to say nothing about the matters with which they do not agree, is certainly proper, and certainly very practical.
It is perfectly true that it deprives the House of the opportunity of discussing other matters which the Committee may have recommended, but that is a thing which the House can put right for itself if it wishes to take action, either by the kind of Amendment which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite has now moved, and which we are considering, or by Amendments to the proposals, or by new proposals dealing with the matters which are left out. If the House does not wish to take action, then it might just as well leave the discussion until it does. I can see nothing wrong with it at all, and I cannot see that the House is handicapped in any way.
The fact that a Government do not accept the recommendation of a Select Committee, even when that recommendation is unanimous and even when it is repeated, is not a matter for complaint. A Government must be perfectly free, and certainly must be held to be free by right hon. and hon. Members who object to delegated legislation. The Government did not delegate their powers to the Select Committee on Procedure. They asked the Select Committee to consider evidence and to make recommendations, but they were not delegating the duty of legislating to the Select Committee on Procedure. That is reserved to the House on the Motion of the Government or on the Motion of other hon. Members.
I say—and I am talking now of the merits and not of the way in which it was done—that I am very disappointed to see that the Government should persist in their proposal about the Business Committee. I shall not discuss the merits of it, because I do not think it is proper to do so at this stage. No doubt, when the Motion is moved we will have opportunities. But I certainly think that the Committee did indeed examine the evidence for this proposal very carefully. The Committee unanimously rejected it; they looked at it a second time on new evidence offered, decided that the new evidence offered raised no new point, and remained of the same opinion. I think the Government might possibly have been satisfied after that, that there really was not much merit in the proposal. But I do not think that deprives them of their right to think otherwise, and I do not think it deprives them of their right to ask the House to think otherwise. No doubt, this Select Committee reached a careful conclusion. I think they reached a correct conclusion. Certainly they reached a unanimous one. But if the Government can convince the House otherwise, they are within their rights to try, and I do not at all think that it is a matter for complaint.
I think they should. I think matters of procedure of this kind are better left to a free vote. I do, not think that the members of the Select Committee took party views about the matter. They did not submit to any party Whip or party direction or party leading of any kind. The House of Commons might very well be left the privilege of approaching these completely non-party questions in the same way. I do not anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will share my view, but, since I am asked the question, I am stating my own view that it would be a very proper thing for the Government to do, especially in a case of this kind where the Select Committee had reached a unanimous conclusion.
I wish to say a word about Private Members' time. I cannot help feeling that there is a great deal of confusion of thought and speech about this question. People continually talk about Private Members' time, when what they really have in mind is the Private Members' right to initiate business. I ask hon. Members to observe that there is a very real difference. Particularly would I say that to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) who dealt with the same kind of question from a different point of view. Private Members' time is not inhibited in any way. All of the time of the House is Private Members' time, except that part which is occupied by speakers on the Treasury Bench.
I know. I am perfectly aware that that is not what it means, but people often talk as though that is what it does mean. They talk about Private Members not having the right to do this or that, not being independent, and the Government taking up the whole time of the House. People outside these walls misunderstand those statements.
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that people outside the House are unaware that no Private Member in the present Session or in either of the two preceding Sessions of this Parliament has had a chance of initiating legislation?
I think so. I think people resent it, and that, as far as it may be possible to avoid that state of affairs, they are right to resent it. I say that the argument, which ought to be limited to the question of the right to initiate legislation and business, is too often confused with a totally different argument about the contributions of Members in the proceedings of the House. Hon. Members are misunderstood by people outside the House to mean that the Government take up all the time of the House and that back benchers have no share in it at all.
My hon. Friend is perfectly right. I am coming to that point in a moment. The point I want to make is that Members who want to make an active and individual contribution to the House have ample opportunity of doing so on every day of the week.
I myself am not conscious of any difficulty in that respect. If Members want to make an active and independent contribution, there are ample opportunities to enable them to do so if they will look for those opportunities, and if they will come to the House and take them. Of course, if the only occasions on which a Member wants to speak are the occasions when other Members want to speak, he is likely to be crowded out. One cannot catch a bus or a train that way either. If one wishes to be an active Member one must be prepared to be here at all times and not merely on the sensational occasions—not merely on the red letter days, the Second Readings and Third Readings, but on the Committee stages, Report stages and Prayers.
Oh, yes. My hon. Friend said that a Member who complains should be here not only on the red letter days but at all times, seizing every possible opportunity May I inform my hon. Friend that I am as assiduous in my attendance in this House as he is, and perhaps more so. My hon. Friend is not dealing with the point which I made. Because he happens to be a forceful Member—
I had no intention of being unjust to my hon. Friend. I never thought that he was speaking of his own conduct. I thought that he was speaking on behalf of other Members who do not speak as often as I do.
I had not noticed that the hon. Member for Rochdale was inhibited, any more than I am. He makes frequent, active and, if I may say so without impertinence, very useful contributions to the House. I never thought that he was speaking as an inhibited Member. I never regarded him as inhibited or frustrated. I thought he was speaking of other Members—and there are such Members—who only attend this House on the great occasions, who like to speak on the great occasions, and who then feel a sense of frustration because there are other speakers and the time is not sufficient to enable them to make their speeches. I am saying that if hon. Members want to be active, they may be so on other occasions, and make quite valuable contributions when they are.
I want to ask the hon. Member if he has ever had offered to him, as many Members have had, an opportunity of being called provided he limited himself to 10 minutes or even to five minutes?
I have been limited to less than that in my time—although I am prepared to confess that it was not on the majority of occasions. I have made speeches of one minute before now, but even that is only, after all, due to an attempt by the Chair, if I may be permitted to say so, to get in a large number of speakers by having short speeches, instead of our hearing only one Member making a long speech. There is nothing wrong with that, and surely no one complains of that. It occurs only on days when there are more speakers than there is time in which they can all make long speeches.
Not every day at all. However, I do not want to be too long about this. Nothing I have said, I hope, will be interpreted as meaning that I am not in favour of the restoration as soon as possible, along the lines of the Select Committee's recommendation, of the Private Member's right to initiate business either by Motion or by legislation. I thought myself that the best job the Committee did was in the investigation of that problem. I thought myself that the recommendations we made were eminently practical and a reasonable compromise between the right of the Private Members and the ever-increasing claims of public business, and I hope that the Government will accept those proposals and implement them, as the Select Committee said, as soon as possible.
I should like to say, finally, a word about the finance debates. People have said so far that the recommendations of the Select Committee were unanimous, and that Divisions did not follow party lines. I think that, perhaps, the House ought to know that this occasion was an exception to that. It is true that the proposal to limit the number of days allotted to the Budget Resolutions was rejected by the Select Committee; but it was rejected on a vote which was determined by the casting vote of the Chairman.
The hon. Gentleman must admit that we had a meeting before that, at which this same matter was considered from the point of view of getting an expression of opinion from every individual Member of the Committee; and none of them was on that occasion supporting what happened the last time.
I remember the occasion very well. I think that some of us were—certainly I was—guilty of a quite unforgivable inadvertence on the occasion to which my hon. Friend has just referred. I do not recollect now—I accept this statement to the contrary—I do not recollect now that this proposal ever came before that preliminary meeting. I myself and, I think, many of my colleagues, were persuaded that the Government's case for this had been overwhelmingly demonstrated by the evidence given—overwhelmingly. If that matter came up at the preliminary meeting referred to, it could only be a question of my own inadvertence, but inadvertence it was, because when the Report was, in fact, before us, and we were considering the draft report and going through it page by page, I noticed what was said in the draft report, and which now appears in the Report. I disagreed with every word of it, and I said so at once, and moved an Amendment to delete it, which was, I thought, the proper step to take in order to put in its place the contrary recommendation. That Motion to delete this part of the Report had the support of all my colleagues belonging to this party who were present on that occasion, and the opposition of all Members of the Select Committee belonging to the Opposition. Their numbers were equal, and the Chairman, as was quite understandable and right in the particular circumstances, gave his casting vote in favour of his own report that he had already drafted. I do not blame him for that. But it was carried in that way.
I think that was the only occasion on which the votes of the Select Committee followed party lines. I think even on this occasion, although the votes turned out to follow party lines, they were not reached by party principles at all. I think that if hon. Members will look back over the actual words of the Report and look at the evidence on this point they will come to the conclusion that on this occasion Homer nodded, and that the Select Committee came by the casting vote of the chairman to the wrong and not the right conclusion.
I was indeed attracted by the observation of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that matters of this kind should be left to the free vote of the House. I feel that these matters might well be considered on a entirely non-party basis. This House would then feel that it was working under a method of procedure and under Standing Orders which were derived, not from the point of view of the Government of the day, which changes from time to time—and last Saturday's events give some evidence of that—but from the point of view of the Members of the House, having discussed the matters, and, on their own judgment in the light of their experience in the House, come to decisions on them. I rose not so much to say that as to express with the utmost gratitude my colleagues' appreciation of the work performed by this Select Committee. Indeed, I do not know whether it was a labour of love, but certainly anyone who has taken the trouble to go through the recommendations and to read the evidence cannot but feel that they have given most careful and painstaking thought to the matters referred to them, and placed the House under a deep debt.
I am sure that under the Chairmanship of the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) any committee would be a committee of harmony. I think we might have given these recommendations more attention than we have done. I think the Government have selected the more dubious ones to recommend to the House, whereas those which should command the attention of all Members of the House have been left in some kind of receptacle from which it is doubtful they will ever emerge. I have some reservations about this new idea of having a Business Committee. It might be worth trying for one Session, but I think if it were tried for one Session, it would not be tried for a second. Here we are to try this new scheme of Standing Orders, and run the risk of making ourselves really ridiculous if, after a period of 12 months, we find it is unworkable, so that Standing Orders will again have to be revised.
As there are other matters to be discussed later on I do not want on this occasion to speak at length, but I should like to deal with the matter of time raised in the observations by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan). He has been in the House longer, I believe, than I have, but for the 10ears I have been here I have always heard the plea from the Chair for shorter speeches. Shorter speeches throughout the House make it easier for the Chair to bring in more speakers, and I have always heard pleas from the back benches for shorter speeches from the Front Benches. I think that the back benches might reiterate that plea on every conceivable occasion, not only to the Opposition Front Bench, where one of my fellow Members for Lincolnshire the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) modestly hangs his head, but also to the Government Front Bench. At least, time would be saved if the Government were to amplify the explanatory memoranda which accompany Bills in many cases.
Finally, I should like to reiterate the plea which has come from all quarters of the House for the restoration of the Private Members' right to introduce Bills under the Ten-minute Rule. Some of us saw this scheme in operation for two years before the war. It may be quite true to say that there were some very stupid Bills introduced; but there were some very useful ones as well. There were some Bills about which hon. Members, after hearing the two sides under the Ten-minute Rule, could not decide whether they were useful or otherwise. There were the two cases, put by Private Members usually, and decided by the House. Whatever happened, whether the Bill secured advancement or whether it did not, it brought the attention of this House and of the public outside to that matter, with the result that at a subsequent introduction the Bill may have had better success, or, alternatively, may very well have been consigned to oblivion.
The Select Committee have earned the thanks and deep gratitude of the House for their care and their recommendations, and I regret extremely that the Government have not thought fit to bring forward a proposal to restore Private Members' time. It is typical that this Government do not desire Private Members of this House to have the right of initiating business. This Government are working, as we saw last night, on the basis of the gag and the large majority. But their time is coming; the writing is on the wall—on the municipal wall; and the time will come when it will be on the Parliamentary wall as well.
I cannot end the Debate, and I cannot closure the Debate; nor am I moving the closure in this Debate. I am making neither a promise nor a threat in reply to the interruption from the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), but I think, that a sufficient expression of views has been given to make it at any rate advisable that there should be an intervention by a Member of the Government, out of courtesy to the views that have been expressed by hon. and right hon. Members.
I understand there is some feeling on the other side of the House that the Debate might have been better conducted had the Government put down on the Order Paper a Motion either to approve or to disapprove the Report. The difficulty that confronts us on that is that we neither approve nor disapprove of the whole of the Report. Therefore, we have taken the course which is open to us of placing on the Order Paper a series of Motions which can be discussed in the light of the Committee's Report. Since our Motions appeared on the Order Paper it has been open to any hon. Member to put down an Amendment, either to bring our Motions into line with the Report of the Committee where it differs from that Report, or to substitute a definite recommendation of the Committee for the Motions which we placed on the Order Paper. I do not think the House is really inconvenienced by the course which we have taken, and when we leave the general Debate to come to the Motions we shall then, of course, have the advantage that the Government's views are set out quite clearly, instead of there being merely a Motion to approve a recommendation of the Report with certain Amendments.
I share the view that has been generally expressed in the House, that the Committee have done a very good job of work in canalising the views of hon. Members on the subjects raised in their Report. They have given a great deal of time to the consideration of the matter, and as a result we are today able to discuss all the issues raised in the Government's Motions with knowledge of what the Committee's prolonged consideration of the matter has led them to report. But that cannot commit the Government to the acceptance of the exact wording of what the Committee have put before us. I regret that some hon. Members should have suggested that in following the course we have done we have in some way slighted the Committee. There is no such intention on our part at all, and on behalf of the Government I want to express their thanks to the members of the Committee, irrespective of party, for the great amount of time and thought they have given to this matter. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves unable to agree with them on some matters; it is equally unfortunate that they find themselves unable to agree with us; and I do not intend to say which of the two is the greater misfortune.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said that he wanted a further Committee to consider the whole problem of delegated legislation. Well, of course, delegated legislation is a matter which, in the present circumstances of the House, is bound to be one of very considerable controversy. I have no doubt myself that from time to time, as it develops—it may in future be more restricted, when the urgency of matters is not so great—the Select Committee on Procedure will have to take into their consideration—
I did not say I wanted a committee. What I was referring to was the recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be an inquiry, with which I agreed. I was not putting forward my own idea that there should be a special Committee. I was agreeing with the recommendation of the Select Committee for an inquiry.
Let me put it this way. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman accepted the view of the Select Committee that it was desirable that such a committee should be set up. I do not think I am doing either him or the Select Committee any injustice when I put it that way. My answer is that, from time to time, this matter will have to be considered, but I do not think that just as the moment the time is ripe for a further Committee on the matter.
Most hon. Members who have spoken have raised the issue of the restoration, in some form or other, of Private Members' time. Without accepting the whole of the history as unfolded by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), it is, of course, notorious that for a century the situation has been completely reversed; and I do not think that today anyone could claim that we should go back to the kind of system which he described as operating 150 years ago. After all, the extension of services provided by the Government would make it necessary that there should be a very substantial amount of the time of the House given to checking the activities of the Government and of its various Departments. It has to be borne in mind—as was pointed out the other day; I merely state it, and then I shall pass from it—that the selection of matters to be discussed when those subjects come under review is left to the Opposition; and they, no matter whether they sit on the Front Bench or on the back benches, rank as Private Members as far as the House is concerned. There is no doubt it would be desirable, when opportunity affords, to give Private Members a greater chance of initiative in bringing matters before the House. While I am not to be taken as giving any promise as to time, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the statement he made in the Debate on the Gracious Speech, did indicate that he desired that there should be some restoration. I suggest that the appropriate time to debate the exact form in which the restoration of Private Members' time should take place will be at the moment when it is found possible to make some fresh arrangement in the matter.
I am not going to say in this Parliament, or when the Greek Kalends arrive. I am not going to be drawn into the realm of exact prophecy in this matter. I hope that if I have been noncommittal, I have at least shown reasonable sympathy, having regard to the present situation. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman then dealt with Standing Order No. 8. I gather he does not object to the proposal that if Government time is lost by a Debate under Standing Order No. 8, the Sitting should be prolonged so that that lost time can be recovered. I cannot accept the view, which I understood him to advance, that it might be possible that the Ruling of Mr. Speaker might be less stringent in future than it appears to have been in recent years. I think that Members who merely rely on statistical tables, without having regard to the circumstances of the years to which the various lines in the tables relate, forget that the use of Standing Order No. 8 was one of the great weapons of obstruction in the hands of the Irish Nationalist Members in the 8o's and 90's of the last century. [Interruption.] I purposely chose those two dates, because they were before the noble Lord arrived in this House.
If hon. Members will look at the tables, they will see that the great years when these Motions were accepted were years in which the troubles of Ireland were continually being brought to the House. It is interesting to observe that 1893–4 is given as one of the Sessions in which there was considerable use made of this Order; it was not the Irish Nationalists, but another brand of Irish Members who were not particularly favourable to the Government of the day.
I think it is only fair to point out that Standing Order No. 8 has been amended since then, in April, 1906, and December, 1927, and that the Order in those days was quite different.
Standing Orders of this type have generally been amended in the past to prevent them from being abused. The fact that there was an amendment in the first of the years mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member does not disprove what I have said. It may be presumptuous of the Government to suggest, or indeed for any Member to suggest, that Mr. Speaker should be more, or less, stringent. This is the wording of the Standing Order, and while it remains, the occupant of the Chair has to construe it in the light of the circumstances which arise on each occasion when a Member demands to raise a matter under it. In my experience, there is probably some feeling by the Government on occasions that it was given a little too easily, and by the Opposition that it was refused a little too harshly. However, taking one occasion with another, the Standing Order has, I think, worked out very well, and has enabled the type of questions it is supposed to let through to be raised when a sufficient case has been made out.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also said that two proposals we had put down have been twice rejected by the Select Committee. That is quite true, and we ask the House, therefore, to express its opinion on the issues which we regard as being of considerable importance. We shall, when the appropriate Motions are moved, be prepared to defend the proposals we have made, and in view of the discussion which must obviously take place on these particular proposals, I do not think it would be reasonable to make an extended defence of our attitude at this stage. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) said, namely, that Members of the Select Committee acted as Members of the House of Commons, and not as partisans. As far as I can find out, there was only one occasion in the history of the Committee, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) alluded, when they appear to have divided themselves on party lines—we do not see the discussion, but merely have the record of the Division.
I do not share the view that it is a difficult matter for the Chairman of Committees to have to decide when ample discussion on the principle of a Clause has taken place on the various Amendments. I have sometimes heard Chairmen, both in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House, say to hon. Members that if a wide discussion takes place on this or that Amendment, it will lessen the amount of discussion which can take place on the Question that the Clause stand part. It seems to me that this is really only giving the Chairman a more effective weapon with which to enforce the hint he has undoubtedly conveyed to hon. Members when making such a statement.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is no more invidious to ask the Chairman of a Committee to decide that than to ask him to decide whether he will or will not accept a Motion for the Closure?
I was going to suggest, in my next sentence or two, that that was the case. My hon. Friend also said that democracy means debate and discussion. That is quite true, but it also means decision; it must be debate and discussion leading up to a decision. I hope that will not be lost sight of when we are considering such points as the one with which I dealt last. The hon. Member for Rugby reinforced the arguments used by previous Members on most of the points with which I have been dealing. He said that the Committee was appointed by the House, it reports to the House, and, after all, if there is any Member of the Committee who feels that a particular recommendation of which he is in favour has hot been adequately brought before the House, he can put down his Amendment to our proposals or put down a Motion of his own on consideration of the Report, and if Mr. Speaker chooses to select it, the matter can be debated.
We have not prevented the House from reaching a decision on the various issues raised, and I suggest that we have made it rather easier for the subsequent Debate on the detailed Motions to be conducted without confusion by the course we have adopted. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) regretted that we had not dealt with the problem of a time-limit for speeches. In times gone by, I have shared the views which he expressed today. I also share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.
No, I have not. I do not think that the two speeches are really contradictory. There are 640 Members in this House, and I do not imagine that anyone would propose that rationing should be carried to such an extent that everybody should be entitled to one-640th part of the time of the Session, because that might lead to a black market in coupons.
I am trying to come to the hon. Member's point. There was a time, when I sat in the seat now occupied for the moment by the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), when, in two successive Sessions, I spoke more often than any other private Member on the Opposition side, without taking part in a single big Debate. If people expect to be called in big Debates, I think they have to prove that they can make a substantial contribution to the subject under discussion; but I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that if Members attend on the House, when subjects in which they are interested are under discussion, and have a contribution of reasonable length to make, even in these days there are many opportunities for a Member to intervene.
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Members in-the House who, in big and small Debates, are perhaps called once every five or six months, for whatever reason that may be, and may we have his views on that?
The Chair decides who is to be called; but, having sat in this House under three Speakers, I am bound to say that I have noticed that where Members attend regularly, and are known to be able to compress their views into a reasonable space of time, there are ample opportunities for them to be called.
Mr. Speaker, may I ask you to ask the hon. Member for Rugby to withdraw that? He has made a definite charge against me that I only attend here on rare occasions, and that when I attend on those rare occasions I make a speech. That is a totally inaccurate statement, and I ask you to protect me by asking him to withdraw it.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) has made his statement, and he has made it quite clear that he is not here just on rare occasions, and, therefore, that goes down on the record.
If the hon. Member does not wish to withdraw, I imagine that he need not. The hon. Member for Rochdale has made it perfectly plain, and I think I have made it perfectly plain, that I accept his statement that he was here not only occasionally but as duty called.
The subject of a time-limit on speeches is one that has been discussed almost from time immemorial in this House. It is astonishing to find that even centuries ago the complaint was that speeches were too long, and when one tries to read some of them, one feels that if they were not long, they must have seemed long to the people listening to them. I have no doubt that at some time or another the House may be willing to make an alteration on those lines, but I suggest that it would have to be on a Motion that would command very general assent in the House, before any steps could be taken to implement it.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, while giving general support to the propositions we have put in front of the House, did, I understand, while I was out, dissent from the view about the Business Committee. He will have opportunities for advancing that, if he so desires, when we come to that particular Motion, and as it is one of those on which we differ from the views of the Select Committee, I think that any further Government views on that matter might be held over until that time. Several hon. Members have given us their views on the matter. I suggest that at an early stage of the proceedings, it may be helpful to all concerned if we can get to the definite Motions which are before the House. I hope that hon. Members will feel that they can soon go to that part of the proceedings where quite definite Motions are on the Order Paper, and where the proposals of the Government can be examined in detail.
My rising does not mean that the Opposition can agree to the last proposition advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. We regard this general debate as really important. The only reason for my rising is because I want to deal with one or two points which the right. hon. Gentleman has made, not in any unduly controversial spirit. There is much with which I agree. I want to correct his memory in one or two regards, and to dispute one particular proposition which he put. He is perfectly entitled as the responsible Minister in this matter to suggest that we should now come to a conclusion. I hope that the House will not be in a hurry to come to a conclusion, and I would remind the House, through you, Mr. Speaker, that we were told by the Government that we were to have a full day's Debate on the Report.
If I am wrong, I will withdraw that statement. The right hon. Gentleman need not get up in a state of great excitement, because, if I am wrong, I will withdraw it. My impression is we were told on the occasion when the Report was presented—indeed I think I asked the question myself—that the Government would give consideration to having a day's Debate. At any rate, I do not want to stress the point. I am now saying I hope we shall have a full Second Reading discussion on the particular point.
I only wanted to say that I did not recollect the promise, but if the noble Lord can put his finger on the evidence I would be glad to see it. I cannot fully follow the new line of argument, because the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in his speech seemed to be stupefied that there was to be any general Debate at all.
Since the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has asked for the exact words spoken, here they are. On 17th March the Lord Privy Seal said:
It is the Government's intention to afford time for a Debate on the Select Committee's Report before the end of this Session, so that those changes in procedure which are accepted by the House may be brought into operation at the beginning of next Session."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 30.]
That is a clear statement that there was to be a Debate on the Report.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is in the habit of accusing me of being controversial. May I suggest that he was being rather unnecessarily controversial at the beginning of his speech on which I am going to make one or two comments. Whether he promised a whole day or not, he promised a full Debate on the Report. I would rather speak not in the language of great controversy, but in the language of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—and this is the second occasion on which I have praised the hon. Member and I hope he is not embarrassed.
Before I come to the two points I want to make I would like to deal with a subsidiary point. This is a House of Commons matter, and for that very reason I agreed with the concluding observations of the Home Secretary in regard to this question of limiting time. Here I can usefully bring in a long experience. I have heard again and again in this House Debates in which the back benchers asserted—and no doubt I have said it myself as has the Home Secretary—that the Front Benchers take up the time and the back benchers never get a chance. On those occasions there have been suggestions of a limitation of time or some such system. The answer to that in my opinion—I say this with the greatest care and delicacy—is that the charge that back benchers do not get fairly called absolutely falls to the ground. I am going to state this in my honourable position of the Member with the longest record of service and it is a statement which nobody can controvert—by long standing agreement in this House Mr. Speaker calls those Members whom the House wants to hear, and those who, in private or public, claim that they are never called are generally the people whom no one wants to hear. It is not even true that they do not get called. In the past, but not in the present, if I were going to make that complaint it would be on other lines.
I do not want to interfere in the quarrel that has taken place between the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan), but I must say that my recollection was rather the same as that of the hon. Member for Rugby. The hon. Member for Rochdale has completely re-established what is the most important thing in the House and for him and that is, his Parliamentary honour. I am sure the House is most grateful to him for his effort and delighted at seeing it fully refurbished.
I should like to refer to what is a much more important matter, namely, the line which the Home Secretary took at the beginning of his speech and I will deal with it in a non-controversial way. I think the Home Secretary has the wrong idea on the subject of what were the functions of the Select Committee and what were intended to be its purposes. As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, this was a Committee in which there was really the very minimum of Party controversy. I ventured to say in a friendly interjection to an hon. Friend of mine that that was very largely due to the very wise leadership—because it was wise leadership—of the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young). It was composed of experienced Members of the House, a number of whom had held office and at least one or two of whom were subsequently to hold office. Therefore, it might be regarded as a committee to whom attention should be paid.
The right hon. Gentleman made some extremely dubitable statements at the beginning of his speech. He said it was not the duty of the Government either to approve or disapprove of the whole of the Report. The point is not whether it is the duty of the Government to approve or disapprove of the whole of the Report, but whether the Government should not give an opportunity to this House to approve or disapprove of the whole of the Report. It may be that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) took a different line, but we are not here speaking as party politicians. I am thinking of the point of view of the House, and I think it was a very dubitable proposition for the right hon. Gentleman to advance that it was not the duty of the Government to approve or disapprove of the whole of the Report for the real point is that the House should have the opportunity of doing so. He used most extraordinary words with which I hope no one in the Committee would agree that the object of this Committee was to canalise the views of the Government. It was nothing of the sort.
Those were the words, but I entirely accept the right hon. Gentleman's correction for I am glad to have it. Then he said that the Committee could not commit the Government. Nobody suggested it should commit the Government, but the point which was being made was that the House should consider the Report as a whole. He went on to say that it was unfortunate that the Government had not agreed with the Committee's Report and equally unfortunate that the Committee had not agreed with the Government's view. I think that that is a very doubtful proposition. When we appoint a committee of this kind—I have not the reference by me, but I think I have historical reasons for stating it—the Government when they take a different line, must give very strong reasons for not agreeing with a committee on procedure.
I come now to my last point and I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friends who were on the Committee for raising this matter, but, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will agree, I have what is called an idée fixe on this subject. I refer to Standing Order No. 8, which is a very delicate matter. I hope I shall deal with it in a way which will not cause any offence to your predecessors or to yourself, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in his statement. It was not abuse of the Order that led to the alteration in what I might call the attitude of the Chair. The Order itself was brought in many years ago in order to deal with the obstruction of the Irish Members, who could move the Adjournment of the House on any day. There was one famous week in which no Government business was done at all, because every day the Nationalists moved the Adjournment of the Debate.
This Standing Order was then brought in, and looking over HANSARD it is easy to see that there have seldom been more angry Debates than the Debates on the Standing Order. The Government were accused by the father of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), Lord Randolph Churchill, of introducing foreign methods and repress- ing the House. Throughout the Debate he repeatedly used the term clôture, and said that this was something unknown to our English system. There was even some opposition from the Liberals and the House was then assured by the Leader of the House, who I think was Mr. Gladstone—I speak from recollection—that on the contrary this particular Standing Order was intended to give Members a reasonable chance of moving the Adjournment of the House in place of the existing Standing Order which had been abused. On that, the Standing Order was passed. That Standing Order was passed. I was in the House and I say that it was far from being true that abuse by the Irish Nationalists caused the alteration in the attitude of the Chair. I do not wish to comment upon that matter, because at least one distinguished occupant of the Chair is still alive and comment might be taken as a reflection upon him. Moreover, I do not know whether it would be in Order to reflect even upon former occupants of the Chair.
For some reason which I cannot explain, occupants of the Chair became much more rigid in their attitude from 1920 onwards than was the case before. I can show that from figures in the Report. If hon. Members will forgive me for a moment I will find the page. Unfortunately, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough having borrowed my book, I am now unable at the moment to find the place I want, [HON. MEMBERS: "It is on pages 45 and 54."] At any rate, the figures can be seen—Oh, I now have the table of figures for which I was looking. It shows that from the period 1902–1920 the average number of Motions—this table is on pages liv and lv, as I believe some hon. Members were good enough to try to tell me—was 8.6. Those refused by the then Speaker were 2.5, and those allowed by the Speaker were 6.1. That was in the days of the so-called wicked Irish Nationalist Members. They went out in 1922. From 1920–1922 they were so much under the weather that they did not often try to move the Adjournment of the House.
Let us see, after the wicked Irish Nationalist Members, whom the right hon. Gentleman attacked so strongly, had been removed from the House, what happened. From 1921 to 1939 the Motion for the Adjournment of the House was offered on 6.0 occasions. It was refused upon 4.5 occasions and was allowed on 1.5 occasions. It is, therefore, obvious from that—this is not a reflection upon the Chair but is a statement of fact—that the right to move this Adjournment of the House has gradually, until quite recently—here I am on very delicate ground and I do not want to say more than "quite recently"—has fallen into desuetude. It is right that we should call attention to these matters when we are discussing procedure. The reference to this matter was carefully and admirably worded by the Committee, and that was all we meant to say on the subject. It is not for us to say any more, but if our recommendation is not accepted in the next 20 or 30 years we shall be back in the same position in which we were before. There is no question about it.
Let me put the matter in a much more objective form. I will make an assertion which nobody can controvert. They can look it up in HANSARD. I have seen a Speaker between 1906 and 1920 allow Motions for the Adjournment on the very ground on which subsequent occupants of the Chair between 1920 and 1930 have refused them. I will assert that as a statement of fact. The subsequent occupants of the Chair have said that such a Motion was not urgent or important or that the House would have an opportunity of doing this or that. I attach very much importance to this matter and I thank the House for listening to this very involved argument on a matter about which I feel very strongly. This is one of the most important rights we have; it is far more important than Private Members' time. It is a right which was given to this House as an institution in return for the taking away of the rights of being able to move the Adjournment on every occasion. It is the right of being able to move the Adjournment upon a matter of definite and urgent public importance.
This House wishes to keep abreast of public opinion, but if there is a matter which is obviously in the public mind and upon which the public obviously want a statement by the Government, and if such a statement is not available because of the rules of the House or the interpretation given to the rules of the House, then we must expect people outside to say, "What an extraordinary place. What an extraordinary ruling Mr. Speaker X has given. He says that this matter is not urgent. Why, good gracious it affects me in my life. He says that it is not definite, but this very matter is hitting me very hard." I assure the House—and I do not think this will be regarded as a reflection upon anybody—that people come to me and say, "What an extraordinary ruling has been given. Here is a matter which everybody is talking about, and yet Mr. Speaker has refused to allow the matter to be dealt with as one of definite and urgent public importance.
The Home Secretary dismissed the recommendation for inquiry into delegated legislation as premature. I cannot help thinking that the motive, actuating a number of Members of the Government in taking that course is a fear that there might be some interference with their dictatorial powers. Statutory orders are coming to our notice at the present time in a crescendo, and I assert that the grounds given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) are very important. The Select Committee said in paragraph 29 of its Report:
It will be seen that the opportunities for discussing legislation in the House are extremely limited and not altogether satisfactory.
I regard that as, if anything, an understatement.
There is one particular aspect of this matter on which we should have a full inquiry. Things have changed very much because of the increasing number and importance of statutory orders. What happens is this: in the case of an order which is subject to the affirmative procedure, as soon as the order has received the assent of this House its subsequent course is entirely beyond our control. In the case of an order which is subject to the negative procedure and is laid before Parliament for 40 days, after the 40 days have expired the order is entirely beyond the effective control of this House. There is no opportunity for snatching it back and having a further examination into such questions as whether it is still appropriate and whether or not it has outlasted its usefulness.
The control which this House has over delegated legislation very often comes at the wrong time in one sense. It comes when we have had no experience of the working of the orders and no time to learn whether the assurances given by Ministers when making the orders are being carried out. I know that this House must have power to refuse assent under affirmative procedure as soon as the order is before the House. In the same way it is vitally necessary that there should be the power to annul as soon as the order is laid before Parliament. At the same time even when the assent has been given under the affirmative procedure or the 40 days have expired under the negative procedure, the order should not pass entirely beyond the reach and control of Parliament. I am fortified in my contention by a further passage in paragraph 29 in the Report of the Select Committee. There the Committee refer to the suggestion made by the Clerk of the House:
that the existing Select Committee on Statutory Rules and Orders might be empowered to consider and report on any statutory instrument in force. …
The point is that there should be given, according to that suggestion, an opportunity to a Committee of this House to examine statutory orders not merely at their inception but during the time they are in force. I do not propose to express any view as to how we should carry out the suggestion of the Clerk of the House, and, indeed, the Committee itself did not express approval or disapproval of that suggestion, but they did say that there should be a committee of inquiry to examine this and a number of other suggestions. One thing which it is vital should
be examined by a committee is the control which this House should have over orders after they have passed through the initial phase.
Another point—in practice we all suffer from this so much—is the hour at which orders subject to affirmative or negative procedure come before the House. It is at a time when hon. Members are tired, and very often the matters are of extreme importance. We know as a matter of practice that discussion is curtailed to some extent. I am not necessarily referring to the application of the Closure, though in practice it must be recognised that a Prayer is more vulnerable to the Closure than business taken earlier in the day. There was the exception yesterday, as mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, when time was given for a Prayer to be taken before the Orders of the Day. That is the only occasion which has occurred in my experience. On most occasions where affirmative or negative procedure has been employed the subject has not come on until some time after ten o'clock at night.
The only other point I wish to stress is that an inquiry into the procedure for dealing with statutory rules and orders should embrace the question whether or not this House should have power to amend these orders. Very often orders which are good to the extent of 90 per cent. perhaps are brought before us but, there may be one small though highly objectionable feature with which hon. Members would wish to deal. A Motion to annul seems a rather clumsy way to deal with it and in practice does not work. An inquiry which would consider enabling this House to amend as well as to annul statutory orders would be very valuable. I deplore the way in which the Government have simply dismissed as premature this recommendation of the Select Committee for an inquiry. The Home Secretary said that the time is not ripe. I do not believe the Government will ever admit that the time is ripe because they do not want this inquiry. I believe they are particularly anxious to preserve and, if possible, increase their powers to legislate in a way which shall not be within the control of this House. I shall be very interested to see how soon, if ever, the Government will agree to this inquiry. If they will indicate in the near future that they consider that the time is nearer being ripe I shall perhaps be prepared to withdraw the remarks I am now making, but quite honestly I do not believe they mean to have an inquiry at all.
I wish to ask for the forbearance of the Government and yourself, Mr. Speaker, for prolonging our proceedings when I know that it is wished to come to a conclusion on the matter, but there is a fundamental point which touches the rights of every back bencher and the freedom of back benchers to ventilate their point of view, to which I wish to draw attention. It is on a subject arising out of paragraph 59 of the Report, the "Time limit for Speeches." I am aghast at the treatment which has been accorded to this matter by both Front Benches today. The Home Secretary in his reference to the matter as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) referred to the fact that most hon. Members can get in from time to time and that they do not have to wait very long. Without any reflection on the Chair, may I say, purely as an example and speaking for myself alone, that I was called last week and given six minutes only by the Chair in the winding-up Debate on the Address. That was the first time I was called, apart from an Adjournment Debate, although I have been an assidious attender at the House since the Debate on the Navy Estimates in March.
My contention is that the plight in which back benchers find themselves would be alleviated to some considerable degree if we had an agreed time limit for back bench speeches, perhaps of 15 minutes I am not referring to Front Bench speeches on either side, although I must say frankly that they often bore the House to an inordinate degree though the respective back benchers are too polite to say so. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said quite rightly that the Chair has the right to call on speakers who can make a valid and substantial contribution to the Debate. I do not disagree in any respect whatever. It is within the prerogative of the Chair to call whichever Member the Chair desires, but we have not all got the eloquence and the oratory of a Demosthenes or a Donald Duck. To which category the noble Lord belongs I am not quite certain in any case. It is fundamental that back benchers should be allowed from time to time to ventilate their views, and it is because I think that a time limit would be a means of attaining this desirable object that I wish to put this forward.
Back benchers in this House vary in the light of their party, their views and their talents, and naturally hon. Members who are independent, such as the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) are perhaps called more than hon. Members on these benches, the Communist Party perhaps get called more than some other hon. Members, and the Liberals and the Opposition, by virtue of their fewer numbers, are allowed to speak more often than back benchers on the Government Benches. I quite appreciate that from time immemorial, back benchers on the Government side, by virtue of their numbers, have not been called as frequently as other hon. Members, but the point must be considered that many back benchers suffer a great deal of frustration. Many back benchers who have not got secretaries, sometimes sit in this House four or five hours on end bobbing up and down in an endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, who have to neglect their correspondence and their meals and a host of other duties at committees and meetings elsewhere. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and I know it is a feeling you will appreciate, that it is something not to be envied to feel frustrated in an endeavour to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
The hon. Gentleman made a friendly, although slightly sarcastic, reference to me. I would like to convince him that his views and mine are not so separate. Does he realise that, with the exception of my right hon. Leader, Mr. F. E. Smith, later Lord Birkenhead, and some others who were so supreme that they rose practically at once to the Front Bench, every Member who has made his mark in this House has had to do all the dull things the hon. Gentleman has said? I will make this assertion, that there is hardly an hon. Member who at some period in the course of his career did not feel that he had been rather harshly treated and that he ought to have been called. It is part of the rules of the game.
I cannot dissent from the noble Lord. The only case to my mind of an hon. Member who was not a back bencher is that of the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps he would be a much better Member of Parliament had he gone through the apprenticeship of a back bencher. About 18 months ago, Mr. Speaker, I asked your views as to a time limit and you gave a favourable reply. If I may say so without breach of confidence, I raised this matter together with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Chamberlain) with my party at a party meeting. I suggested there that there ought to be discussion between the usual channels as to the imposition of a time limit on back benchers. Unfortunately, that was rejected by my party. I feel the time has come in a Parliament such as this, which is virile and alive and differs in many regards from previous Parliaments, when some attention ought to be paid to the recommendations of Sir Gilbert Campion. I want to read them out because they are most relevant and important. Paragraph 59 says:
Sir Gilbert Campion suggested that Your Committee might inquire into the question of a time limit on speeches. The idea found no support among Your Committee's witnesses. In view of this and in view of the practical difficulty to which Sir Gilbert Campion refers, of devising a tariff which is adapted to the nature of the business and the place of the speaker in the Debate, Your Committee did not pursue this inquiry further. While Your Committee consider that speeches should be as short as possible, they concur in the view expressed by Mr. Speaker that the influence of the Chair with the general support of the House is the only effective and practical check.'
I cannot deny the effectiveness of the concluding remarks that,
'the influence of the Chair with the general support of the House is the only effective and practical check.'
All I can submit to you and to the House is that when a Select Committee on Procedure meets again, it should take into consideration the frustration and heartburning, caused through nobody's fault, suffered by all back benchers on both sides of the House. It is a fundamental issue of great importance and I thank you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity to raise it.
I am sorry about this, Mr. Speaker, I did not know my soul-force was so great that I was able to express myself even in silence.
I was reminded by the last speech of a joke in a comic paper when I was young, a drawing of a young man and a young women sitting on a bench in a park, with the caption underneath, "'Arriet, do you 'ave 'eart burn after 'ash?" The answer was, "I do, 'orrid." Of course, we all, like the hon. Member from Stretford, have heartburn while the other chaps are hashing their stuff, but I hope the House will not consider limitation of speeches, except possibly of the speech of whoever speaks immediately before me. I feel sure that the Select Committee was right in dismissing, as technically too difficult, that suggestion.
I do not want to talk about all the parts of the Select Committee's report which are not in the Government's Motions. This is the only chance of talking about them, but I do not wish to detain the House with them. Nor do I wish to detain the House by talking about what is in their separate Motions which I hope we shall be able to discuss quickly when we come to them. However, I hope it is not too arrogant to think that there is still a word to be said about the general constitutional disquiet felt by some of us about this way of proceeding, both the object and the manner of proceeding.
I think there has been some misunderstanding, both above the Gangway and from one or two of the speakers below the Gangway on the other side, about the relation between procedural and constitutional. People have spoken of this or that as "merely procedural." Somebody said the matter of delegated legislation was not properly a matter for the Select Committee on Procedure because it was constitutional. Surely the Committee did quite rightly—I have no doubt the Chairman was right in his interpretation of the terms of reference—to discuss that matter, and the truth is that our Constitution is built up out of the procedure rather than there being a Constitution first built up and then the procedure hanging from it. Therefore we make a great mistake if we do not carefully watch that point, just as we make a great mistake—and I think this is a fair illustration and in order—if we try to distinguish too widely between the economic and the political. The Leader of the House has too often said, "That is a matter of great economic importance but not of enough political importance to be constitutional." In fact, economic matters above a certain level of importance or generality become matters of constitutional importance. We have a striking example of that in the Prayer which we spent almost all of yesterday debating.
Therefore I suggest that it is a matter of great constitutional importance what we are doing today, and particularly for this reason: I thought the Home Secretary, though no doubt he meant to be fair, and I think I quite followed his argument, was less than fair when he talked about the procedure which we are using today. I think he himself used, and certainly several of his supporters have used, the word "legislation" about what we are doing today. Of course it is not public legislation, but it is domestic legislation so to speak; it is legislation for the purposes of the House about the behaviour of this House; in that sense we are proceeding to legislate and to make rules.
When it comes to other sorts of legislation, when we are legislating for outside, passing Bills that become Statutes, there is elaborate procedure—Second Readings, Committee stages, Report stages, all sorts of ways of making sure that we all get the opportunity of understanding exactly what it is we are doing and that the final vote of the House is a real expression of the House's general understanding of the matter. When it comes to Standing Orders we have not that kind of elaborate machinery; what we have instead of that kind of elaborate machinery is the reference to a Select Committee. I entirely agree of course that neither the Government nor any other hon. Member of the House is bound to accept the recommendations of the Select Committee. Of course not. The House does not abdicate when it appoints a Select Committee. But I think there has been some misunderstanding today when people have talked as if Members of the Select Committee were resentful, or had some sort of pun d'onor, or some sense of wounded dignity in the matter because they had taken the trouble to produce three fat Reports which had not been accepted or even, on the initiative of the Government, discussed.
That is to misconceive any disquiet which we feel. I do not think any of the Members of the Committee, certainly none on this side of the House, feel any point of honour or wounded dignity about it at all. What we feel is this: that here was a Select Committee, of ordinary Members of Parliament no doubt, but at least presumably of Members of Parliament on the average not less competent than the rest to deal with these matters, which took a great deal of trouble, which was as near as could be unanimous in such a matter—very remarkably near to unanimity upon such a matter. The Government now proposes to alter Standing Orders in a way which it implicitly admits to be considerable enough to be constitutionally important, when the Leader of the House says that of course it will necessitate a technical Committee. There can be no doubt of that, I think. And the Government do that without any direct reference of its proposals to the Committee's Report.
If I may go back to what I said before, changes of bits of procedure add up to changed bits of the Constitution. When the Executive does not observe that truth in a generous frame of mind then the Executive is becoming despotic and overriding the real will of the House. It is not really very much use talking as the Lord President talked about the Government having the right to convince the House that it is right and the Select Committee are wrong. What proportion of Members of the House have listened to the Debate? I have counted about every ten minutes and find that rarely were more than one tenth of the Members present, and this on a subject very difficult to follow quickly unless one has the documents on one's knee and has read them two or three times. What the Government are doing is not to convince the House that their view is right and that the Select Committee are wrong. That is just Parliamentary claptrap. Even if the Government purported to take the Whips off, they know that that is not what they are doing by putting the thing down in this form of governmental Motions, and taking no steps to get the Report discussed.
It is quite true that the Opposition have allowed hon. Members opposite to make speeches such as the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford, but they could not have done so if the Government had their way. Almost none of the speeches from the other side of the House could have been made if the Government had had their way.
The hon. Gentleman has missed my point. Perhaps I was not clear. My point was not that I could not have made my speech if the Government had moved the Closure. That would have exactly proved my case that here is the Executive using an already excessive power to make its power greater by a merely nominal agreement. I was not complaining that I had not been closured but that the hon. Member's speech would not have been in Order if the Opposition had not put down an Amendment so as to alter the whole method of discussing our business today. For the Government to purport to make permanent changes in Standing Orders which it explicitly and implicitly admits to be of first rate importance, and to purport to do that on procedure which as far as the Government controlled it, gave no scope for Debate at all and narrowed Debate as far as possible, for that to be done at this stage in this Government's life—and of this Parliament's procedural life—is wrong. Because, remember, this Committee was appointed immediately after we met two and a half years ago and was directed to sit in the long vacation, and we sat more assiduously, I think, than any other committee and answered and reanswered points put to us by the Government. No attempt of any sort whatever was made to confuse issues or delay discussions.
All that we did as quickly as we could because they wanted to facilitate what we regarded as a disastrous change in the framework of our whole country. They let a year go past and then propose without any proper discussion in the House to alter the Rules of Procedure in a permanent and considerable way. These things may seem small things but it is monstrous behaviour for such a Government at such a stage of its miserable life.
I hope I shall not be considered impertinent if as a new Member I enter on a Debate to which older hon. Members can contribute much more, but there are one or two points emerging from the Report to which I would like to draw the attention of the Front Bench. I refer in particular to paragraph 44 of the Report in which the learned Clerk of the House makes a suggestion:
that provision should be made for securing discussion in the House of the Reports of the proposed Public Expenditure Committee by giving them precedence on not more than two of the days allotted to Supply.
We have heard from the Lord President today that the recommendation which was made by the Select Committee to merge the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee was not accepted. I have had some short experience of the Estimates Committee, and I believe it to be doing very valuable work. I think that is generally accepted in the House and in the country, but I am not sufficiently acquainted with the work of the Public Accounts Committee to give any considered view. I gather the Government think that the functions of the committee are sufficiently distinct to warrant their attention in their present form. Certainly, we overlap in some of our work. On consideration I think the Government are wise, but it seems that much of the excellent work which is, done in the Estimates Committee, at least, is not fully appreciated by the House, and that little opportunity is given for considering its reports.
If the Government are unwilling to accept the proposals to merge the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, I hope they will give some attention to the derivative proposals made by the learned Clerk, because during the past few months many excellent reports have been produced, and, so far as I know, no time has been earmarked for their consideration. For example, we have had very detailed inquiries into the whole establishment of civil aviation in this country, a matter of great public interest, in which many millions of pounds are involved. That blows up from time to time, and there is much difference in points of view about it. Similarly, the Civil Service comes in for a great deal of criticism from time to time. Some people say there are too many civil servants, and so on. The point I am making about that is that during the last few months the Estimates Committee has conducted a detailed inquiry into the matter and published the Organisation and Methods Report. It would seem that this was a matter which ought to have been provided for, it possible. Similarly, derequisitioning of premises covered the question of land used by the War Department and requisitioned premises, and I do not think any opportunity was given by the Government for the discussion of that matter.
These are merely illustrations which lend point to the suggestion made by the learned Clerk of the House in paragraph 44. I hope that although the Government are not accepting the proposal of the Select Committee to merge the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee, they will not overlook what seems to me to be a very cogent suggestion, as are all suggestions coming from so eminent a quarter. I take it that we are considering how best to make the machine such as will enable us to do our work here and how best to utilise our time; and whether we call it by the name of procedure, or constitutional reform, matters little in practice, effect, or application. As one wise philosopher said many years ago, the unexamined life is not worth while, and so a constitution or procedure is not worth while unless it is examined from time to time. Although we have much respect for many practices and customs of the House, it is very salutary and necessary that we should have this kind of investigation from time to time, and for that reason I welcome the Report, and, as a new Member, express indebtedness for the education it has given me.
I would like to add a word or two on the question of limiting the time of speeches. As a very silent back bench Member, who rarely speaks and hardly ever interrupts, perhaps I may be allowed to give only 14 years' impression of what happens in this House. My own feeling is that when ultimately we leave this place, we shall find that the road to our final destination is paved with our good intentions in the shape of torn-up speeches. But unless we have many speeches torn up because we are unable to deliver them, we shall never be able to make speeches which mean anything at all when we get the chance of making them. Inability to catch Mr. Speaker's eye is, I think, probably the best training for being able to make a good speech when called upon from the Chair.
May I add my plea to what has been said on the question of a free vote on this matter? I agree that the Government cannot possibly delegate their authority to any Select Committee, but I think we are in a very peculiar position tonight in considering this Report and the Government's action upon it. I cannot help feeling that when a Government deny the recommendations—in many cases unanimous—of a Select Committee on such questions as those which have been raised today it would be very much wiser on their part if they took down the barriers and took off the Whips. As has been stressed, over and over again, this is no party matter. We should, I think, be discouraged from any introduction of party matter into our very serious deliberations if we could get some undertaking from the Government Front Bench that the Whips would not be put on tonight. After all, the vote we shall take tonight on this Report will be very different from that which generally follows the consideration of a Select Committee's Report in this House. In view of the attitude which the Government have taken on the recommendations of this Select Committee I ask them seriously to reconsider the whole question of a free vote. I think it would leave a nicer taste in the mouths of practically all Members if they took that line.
There are three points which arise largely out of the Lord President's speech, and which, I thought, were rather alarming. I could not help feeling that when he was speaking he showed a tendency merely to consider this House as a gearbox, on the lever of which the hand of the Government must always rest; and that the transmission of power and action must always reside in the hands of the Government and of their supporters, thereby showing an inherent desire on the part of the Executive always to impose their will on the House.
May I give three examples? First, there is the question of Private Members' time. Deplorable though it is, I agree that the re-introduction of Private Members' time is obviously impracticable at the moment, although highly desirable. At the same time, it ought to have been possible for the Government to put something on paper to show what their intentions were, that they mean to see that the Private Member has fair play and that Parliament is allowed to work as it should. That would have been a guarantee of their intentions, but it is the absence of any declaration of good intention which is bound to make one suspicious, in however kindly a way this problem is approached.
Secondly, we were told that there was to be modification on the consideration on Report stages of the Budget Resolutions, the reason given being that by this arrangement a great deal of repetition could be avoided. I do not consider that debate and discussion on those stages of what is surely the most important Measure passing through Parliament are a waste of time. What is meant by saying that there is a waste of time, and that there may be repetition? It means that if we are to have this sort of approach to this problem those outside this House, who may not have appreciated fully the intentions and meanings of the declaration of policy of the Government, will be debarred additional time to consider the Government's proposals. Here again, there arises the danger that the Government are considering this place as a closed gearbox, which works the Parliamentary machine with little reaction and little relation to what goes on outside this House. Parliament should always be in the closest possible contact, and should retain that contact, with the people outside. I believe that there is, here, an attempt to segregate the House of Commons from those outside. Anything which whittles down the opportunity for those outside fairly to consider the proposals of the Executive is, to my mind, extremely dangerous to this place.
Thirdly, there is a proposal to arm the Chairman of Committees with the right to debar discussion on the Motion that the Clause stand part of the Bill. I believe that any Chairman in future, if that power is given to him, will find himself in a very embarrassing position on many occasions. I do not think that it will be at all easy to find Members of this House ready and willing to come forward to serve on the Chairman's Panel if this sort of proposal is carried into effect. The reactions of a Committee to Amendments, either made or rejected, and the effect on the Clause after debate, cannot possibly be fairly expressed unless debate is allowed on the Motion that the Clause stand part of the Bill. It is not merely that one Amendment has been put into the Clause, that it has been fully debated, and that the principle of the Clause has been fully debated. How can the principle be fully debated until the Amendment is in the Clause itself? Here, again, there is exactly the same danger of the gearbox mind, that the lever must be used to select what the Executive wish to be selected in order that powers shall be transmitted as the Executive desire. I have quoted only three examples, which may not appear to be serious ones, but which I believe, point to the tendency of the Government first of all to segregate Parliament from the life of the people, and, second, to take—although perhaps, in many cases, unwittingly—greater power to the Executive simply for the purpose of getting business through. That is the most unhealthy power that could possibly be granted.
One other point. I am very disappointed that neither the Select Committee nor the Lord President, or anybody else, has fully considered the problem we are up
against when we have to look at, examine, "vet," and filter all the reports which are bound to come before this House relating to nationalised industries and groups of industries. With the greatest respect I say that Parliament has rather shirked that problem. The present machinery of Parliament, as we know it, will, I think, find the greatest difficulty in finding time properly to examine the results of the years of trading of these nationalised industries in a full and proper manner. There is vagueness even on the question as to how these reports shall be submitted to Parliament at all. That is another issue. However they may be submitted they will be a matter of very great national importance, affecting the lives of everyone in this country. I do not see why either in the Select Committee's Report or in the Government's reaction to it, full allowance has not been made for that problem. Again, we get this extraordinary mentality, that it is something outside this place, that we have handed over these industries to these boards and executive authorities, and that we do not need to bother very much about them here. There again the same danger lies, and unless something is done to stop this general drift, sooner or later, if this Government last long enough—thank Heaven we know they will not—we shall find this place segregated from the people, not representing the people, not being able to speak with the voice of the people at all. That will be the death of Parliament.
|Division No. 12.]||AYES.||[7.51 p.m|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Bing, G. H. C||Chamberlain, R A|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Binns, J.||Chater, D.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Blenkinsop, A.||Chetwynd, G R.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Blyton, W. R||Cluse, W. S.|
|Attewell, H. C||Boardman, H||Cobb, F A.|
|Austin, H Lewis||Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Cocks, F. S.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Coldrick, W.|
|Ayles, W H.||Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Collick, P.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Colman, Miss G. M.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Bramall, E A||Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G|
|Balfour, A.||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N W.)|
|Barstow, P. G||Brooks, T J (Rothwell)||Corlett, Dr J.|
|Barton, C.||Brown, George (Beiper)||Corvedale, Viscount|
|Battley, J. R.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Crawley, A.|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Daggar, G|
|Benson, G.||Buchanan, G.||Daines, P.|
|Berry, H.||Burden, T W.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)|
|Beswick, F.||Callaghan, James||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Castle, Mrs B. A.||Deer, G.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Shackleton, E. A. A|
|Diamond, J.||Leslie, J. R.||Sharp, Granville|
|Dobbie, W.||Levy, B. W.||Shurmer, P.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Donovan, T.||Lindgren, G. S.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Dye, S.||Logan, D. G.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Longden, F.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Lyne, A W||Smith, C (Colchester)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McAdam, W.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||McAllister, G.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||McEntee, V. La T||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Evans, [...]. (Islington, W.)||McGhee, H. G.||Snow, J. W.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Mack, J. D.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)||Soskice, Maj. Sir F|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||McKinlay, A. S.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Ewart, R.||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Stamford, W.|
|Fairhurst, F.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Steele, T.|
|Farthing, W. J.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Stokes, R. R|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Mann, Mrs. J.||Stross, Dr. B|
|Follick, M.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Stubbs, A. E|
|Foot, M. M.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Swingler, S.|
|Foster, W. (Wigan)||Medland, H. M.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Messer, F.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Gallacher, W.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Gibbins, J.||Mitchison, G. R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Gibson, C. W||Monslow, W.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Gilzean, A.||Moody, A. S.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Glanville, J. E (Consett)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Morley, R.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Mort, D. L.||Tiffany, S.|
|Grey, C. F.||Moyle, A.||Timmons, J.|
|Grierson, E.||Murray, J. D.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Griffiths, D (Rother Valley)||Nally, W.||Tolley, L.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Naylor, T. E.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Guy, W. H||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon Glenvil||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Viant, S. P.|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Walker, G. H.|
|Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||O'Brien, T.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Oldfield, W. H.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Haworth, J.||Oliver, G. H.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Orbach, M.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Watson, W. M.|
|Hobson, C. R||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Holman, P.||Parkin, B. T.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Pearson, A.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Hoy, J.||Perrins, W.||West, D. G|
|Hubbard, T.||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Popplewell, E.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Wilkes, L.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool, Edge Hill)||Pritt, D. N.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Proct[...]r, W. T.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Janner, B.||Randall, H. E.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Ranger, J.||Williamson, T.|
|Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Rankin, J.||Willis, E.|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Reeves, J.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Wise, Major F J|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Richards, R.||Woodburn, A|
|Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Woods, G. S|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Robens, A.||Wyatt, W.|
|Keenan, W.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Kenyon, C.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Zilliacus, K|
|Key, C. W.||Royle, C.|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Sargood, R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kinley, J.||Scollan, T.||Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Wilkins|
|Kirkwood, D.||Scott-Elliot, W.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Bowen, R.||Bullock, Capt. M.|
|Astor, Hon M||Bower, N.||Butcher, H. W.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Byers, Frank|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Carson, E.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Challen, C.|
|Channon, H.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E A. H.||Ropner, Col. L|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Lipson, D L||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lloyd, Maj Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Shepherd, W. S (Buck)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Low, A. R. W.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H||Smith, E. P (Ashford)|
|De la Bère, R||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Digby, S. W.||McCallum, Maj D||Snadden, W. M.|
|Donner, P. W.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Strauss, H. G (English Universities)|
|Dower, E. L G. (Caithness)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (B'mley)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Drewe, C.||Manningham-Buller, R E.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Duthie, W S.||Marples, A. E.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Thomas, J. P L. (Hereford)|
|Erroll, F J||Marshall, S. H (Sutton)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N|
|Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||Medlicott, F.||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A F|
|Fyfe, Rt Hon Sir D. P M||Mellor, Sir J||Touche, G. C.|
|Gage, C.||Morrison, Maj J G. (Salisbury)||Turton, R. H.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T D||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'nc'ster)||Vane, W M. F.|
|George, Lady M Lloyd (Anglesey)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nicholson, G.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Gruffydd, Prof. W. J.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Whealley, Colonel M. J.|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Headlam, Lieut.-. Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Osborne, C.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Hogg, Hon. Q||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Holmes, Sir J Stanley (Harwich)||Peto, Brig, C. H. M.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Howard, Hon. A.||Pickthorn, K.||Winterton, Rt Hon. Earl|
|Hurd, A.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||York, C.|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. C. (E'b'rgh W.)||Raikes, H. V||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Jarvis, Sir J.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Jennings, R.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Mr. Studholme and|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Renton, D.||Major Conant|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Any proceeding which has been postponed under this order shall be exempted from the provisions of the standing order 'Sittings of the House' for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon a motion under this order, and may be resumed and proceeded with at or after ten of the clock.
Insert new Standing Order No. 14:
Insert new Standing Order No. 106:
After Standing Order No. 34, insert new Standing Order (Committee of the whole House on bill):
Whenever an order of the day is read for the House to resolve itself into committee on a bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the chair without putting any question, and the House shall thereupon resolve itself into such committee, unless notice of an instruction to such committee has been given, when such instruction shall be first disposed of.
Insert new Standing Order (Ways and Means resolutions):
Insert new Standing Order (Business Committee):
There shall be a committee, to be designated "the Business Committee" consisting of the members of the chairmen's panel together with not more than five other members to be nominated by Mr. Speaker, which committee
Insert new Standing Order (Restriction of debate on question for clause to stand part):
If, during the consideration of a bill in committee of the whole House or in a standing committee, the chairman is of opinion that the principle of a clause and any matters arising thereon have been adequately discussed in the course of debate on
the amendments proposed thereto, he may, after the last amendment to be selected has been disposed of, so state his opinion and shall then forthwith put the question "That the clause (or, the clause as amended) stand part of the bill."—[Mr. H. Morrison.]
I beg to move, in line 9, to leave out "ten," and to insert "eleven."
This addition to Standing Order No. 8 is one with which I personally am in entire agreement. The effect of it is that if there is a successful Motion for the Adjournment then the time which, so to speak, has been lost to the House, by being occupied by that Debate, can be extended, as it now says:
… at or after ten of the clock.
That raises the question of the time for which the House is to sit. I think this is an important point. In Standing Order No. 1 which directs the time of sittings, we have had no Amendment since 1933. The normal time for the House to rise is, therefore, eleven o'clock. Naturally, during the war that was inconsistent with what was possible, and we have had various times. We had the daytime sittings during the hours of daylight on very few days of the week and sometimes not at all. In November, 1943, the hours were 11 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. and then, when the longer days came in February, 1944, that was extended to 6.30 p.m. I take the figures from Erskine May. The time remained so until March, 1945, when we resumed afternoon sittings from 2.15 to 9.45 and that has now been changed and exists at 2.30 to 10 o'clock.
That is the case for this Session what ever we say tonight because, though possibly hon. Members may not have realised it, that was passed on the first day of the new Session. Therefore, it makes no difference for this Session what decision we take now. I put if to the Government that this is not a wholly appropriate occasion on which to change the Standing Order permanently. The reasons why there were the alterations during and since the war, were the difficulties of the war, the traffic difficulties then and those which still persist. I do not know whether the Government want it to go forth that in no circumstances after this year is traffic ever going to be good enough after 10 o'clock for Members to return home, because if that is their thesis, it is a very poor advertisement for the national- ised transport system. It is a logical deduction. It is the effect of the war on transport which has kept the hours where they are now by Sessional Order. If that is to be permanent, it follows logically that it is because transport is permanently going to be as bad as or worse than it is today. I am a little more optimistic about the future than are some hon. Members if that is the view they take because, of course, there may be changes later on.
But for the moment I want to put it to the Lord President that it will be just as well to let the Standing Order remain as it is. It has not been altered during the war or postwar years and the House has thought it more convenient to be flexible about the times of sitting because all sorts of considerations may come up and we do not want to keep changing the Standing Order. The permanent 11 o'clock arrangement seems to us to be the right answer. As I say, nothing we do tonight makes any difference for this year because we have decided that already. It is only a question of whether this time next year there will be a Sessional Order or that Parliament will find that, there has been a change in Standing Orders as a result of tonight's Debate. This has nothing to do with the Select Committee on Procedure. This was not a matter which we had under discussion in any way. I do not know whether or not we ought to have considered it but, in fact, we did not. Of course, the first part is relevant because we did hope that some such alteration would be made to Standing Order No. 8 in case the Adjournment was secured, but the actual time was no part of our recommendation.
The Government may have a defence for this, I do not know. Unfortunately, under the procedure tonight, except for the preliminary explanations made by the right hon. Gentleman earlier, each case as it comes up must be argued on an Amendment to omit. I may say that it is a most inconvenient way. I hope that in future if there are any changes in Standing Orders we will not do it in this way. It would be much simpler to do it with each Standing Order separately. If that had happened we may not have had to have a Debate at all. It would have been very much simpler to have done it in the normal way. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not propose to repeat my arguments on all the other Amendments, but we have had to pepper the Order Paper with this change from 10 to 11 o'clock in order to make quite sure that the Amendment was completely in Order and would be called.
I invite the right hon. Gentleman to accept the view that the Sessional Order having been passed, this is academic for this year and it is unnecessary to make a permanent change because we are still not able to foresee the future and to decide whether 10 o'clock is the right time for the end of the Parliamentary day. I dare say some of my hon. Friends will have other points to make but there is one further point which I wish to raise. There were three speeches in the general Debate about Members' speeches, shortened speeches and all the rest of it. Let the House remember before it takes a decision that the present sitting of from 2.30 to 10 o'clock, as compared with the prewar sitting of from 2.45 to 11 o'clock, makes a difference of three-quarters of an hour every day in the length of time the House sits. That means, probably, on the average, that either three or four fewer speeches in the Debate are made every single day. Now, if hon. Members are pressing for more opportunities to speak in the House, as they were, this is one of the ways in which it can be done. It cannot be done this Session, because we have decided otherwise, but there is the possibility of it being done in future, which we ought not entirely to exclude.
Those of us who have to listen can always leave the Chamber, if that is not too Irish a way of putting it. That was not the argument put from the benches behind the hon. Member earlier on. I suppose they assumed that their colleagues would know just what to do when whoever it was got on to his feet—stay or depart, as they pleased. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that this is not the time permanently to change the Standing Order, and will, therefore, accept the Amendment.
I did not intend to speak on this proposal, but the Lord President of the Council, who was present during the Debate which we have just concluded, evidently did not pass on to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a question which I addressed to the Government and to which I have received no reply. Therefore, I intend to ask that question in this Debate and in all subsequent Debates until I get a reply. Perhaps it is particularly appropriate in connection with this change of time. The question which I asked the Government is why, in introducing these changes in our procedure, they are not content to deal with the matter by asking the House to agree to Sessional Orders? It is really a very serious matter to alter Standing Orders to the extent which the Government are proposing this evening. It is even more serious when the Government give themselves no opportunity of experimenting by introducing Sessional Orders and do not take advantage of that expedient. Now there must be some reason which has persuaded the Government to alter our Standing Orders before their proposals—
On a point of Order. This particular proposed Standing Order was previously a Sessional Order. Therefore, I presume we are confined to talking on this Standing Order. I submit that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is arguing the general issue.
It is true that this was a Sessional Order, but now the Government are proposing to alter our Standing Orders. I am prepared to ask why they make that change on every proposal for making such an alteration in our Standing Orders. I should have thought it would be now convenient to the Government to give a reply showing by its terms what persuaded them to deal with their proposals by altering our Standing Orders rather than by introducing Sessional Orders.
On the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member, the only question before us is the Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) to this particular Standing Order—to leave out "ten" and substitute the word "eleven." I think I would be out of Order if I were to answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman on a general point, but in this case it is a Sessional Order, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. It was, I am sure, a Sessional Order in the last Session, and it was a Sessional Order—not quite the same, but something very much like it—in the Session before. In this case, we have proceeded in the Conservative tradition, so to speak, by experimenting with this as a Sessional Order for some time, apart from which there was some limitation on the hours of sitting in the war days, more serious than now, so that that point fails. We have in this case proceeded on the basis of Sessional Orders by way of an experiment, first of all, and then by way of Amendment to Standing Orders.
The question which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman asks is why convert a Sessional Order into a Standing Order at this point? Why not wait a bit longer and see how we get on over a somewhat longer period? That is a perfectly fair argument, and, of course, it will be a possible course. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, nothing would happen this Session, but we should go on as we are going, and as we propose to go, under the Sessional Orders. But we have had this long experience of a somewhat earlier finish of the sitting of the House, and a slightly earlier commencement. The Government made every effort they could, through the usual channels, to sound the various parties in the House as to how the general convenience would be met. In fact, the only party which complained that they were not adequately consulted at the time when I dealt with the matter last year, were hon. Members on this side of the House. Indeed, they had a bit of a grievance, which I took steps to put right thereafter. But I feel sure that the—
I am talking on the merits of the timing. That was so at that time, and, as a matter of fact—I hate this business of quoting the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, because it is becoming a little bit
boring, but, somehow or other, one just cannot help it on the issues that come up—when I made a statement on 4th April, 1946, to the effect that after consultation with the Opposition, agreement had been reached that the hour of interruption should be 10 o'clock, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said:
So far as His Majesty's Government's Opposition are concerned, we think that the changes proposed are very sensible and will add much to our general convenience."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1946; Vol. 421, c. 1401.]
The proposal was debated on 12th April, 1946, when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said:
I am very glad that an agreement has been confirmed between the Government and the Opposition parties on this matter. The discussions which take place through the usual channels are of very great importance to the smooth working of the House, and it would be a great pity if such discussions took place and afterwards the conclusions reached had to be thrown over."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1946; Vol. 421, c. 2225, 2226.]
I admit here that I am only speaking on the merits of the proposal when it was a Sessional Order proposition, but when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is himself quite clear, on the merits, that this meets the general convenience of the House, and when, more or less, we have had this time of sitting in three Sessions, I think it is legitimate to consider the conversion of a Sessional Order into a Standing Order as, otherwise, it would have to be moved again next Session, and it is a Motion which is debatable.
I remember the good old days—and they are not so very long ago—when the hours of sitting were from 2.45 p.m. to 11 p.m., and let me say, as some of my hon. Friends know, that, on this matter, I am a bit of a Conservative myself. I rather liked those hours. [An HON. MEMBER: "We finished at 11 p.m."] No, we did not; there were a fair number of suspensions, and it must not be assumed that this would avoid suspensions. I liked those times; indeed, in a way, the later the winding up, the more lively the atmosphere. They were quite lively and pleasant occasions. Winding up a Debate at 11 o'clock, with a full House and plenty of feeling after hon. Members had had their evening meal, was a happy time. I look back on it with some sentimental Conservative glow. But there is no doubt about it that the war experience led the majority of hon. Members to prefer the earlier termination when they got it. I have no doubt at all that the great majority of opinion on this side of the House would resist a reversion to 11 o'clock. My impression is—of course, I cannot talk about "great majority" in respect of the party opposite, because I do not know them so well—that the majority would not wish to go back to 11 o'clock, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will know more about that than I do. Therefore, I think it reasonable, after three Sessions of experience, together with our war experience, to convert this from a Sessional to a Standing Order.
Well, we have, because this is the third Session. I think it is a reasonable thing to do. I do not think anybody can accuse me of having been a revolutionary for having taken this course after this fairly substantial period of experience. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that we may as well take this Amendment as the test of a series of Amendments dealing with the Hours of Sitting of the House, but I think it is reasonable for the House now to make this a Standing Order. If next Session there should be any change in the general opinion' of the House, or of any one part of the House, I would be quite prepared to listen to representations, and if the feeling was sufficiently strong we could still amend the Standing Order. But it is a little untidy for this little volume to appear year after year with these times carefully set out, when the times are not operative and there does not appear to be any sign of them being operative, and I hope the House will be good enough to concur with the Government view.
I am curious to know why the Lord President of the Council proposes to change this Standing Order to 10 o'clock, in view of the fact that we have not altered Standing Order No. 1. If there is any substance in the argument he has put forward in favour of the House rising at 10 o'clock, the alteration should start at the beginning of these Standing Orders. Reference has been made to the question of transport. Transport is bad enough at any time, and I would not like us to be inconvenienced as we have been in the past. But I do not think it is so much a matter of transport. I am in favour of this Motion because I want the workers to have reduced hours of labour, and I do not want them to work for my particular benefit until midnight, or 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. I would not like to ask them to do it, and, on the other hand, as I do not own a car, I do not want to walk home. I am in favour of 10 o'clock, but I do not know why Standing Order No. 1 was not amended at the same time.
I hope the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) will not mind if I do not follow his speech, in which he expressed a point of view with which most of us have some sympathy. I rose because of the speech of the Lord President of the Council. When I saw this Amendment on the Order Paper and I saw that the right hon. Gentleman was going to speak, I wondered what excuse he would make for not reverting to 11 o'clock. I thought that if he had been one of the other Ministers it would have been a case of sheer laziness, but I would not accuse the Lord President of sheer laziness.
The Lord President's speech amazed and interested me. There was a little hint at the end, which he often gives, to the effect that he likes to get things tidy. I have no objection to that. Neither have I any objection to the real reason which he gave why we should sit until 10 o'clock. It is a reason which, I am sure, must commend itself, to a limited extent, to almost every Member of the House. He quoted the Leader of the Opposition, and said that as my right hon. Friend had stated that 10 o'clock was the right time, therefore, it must be right. That is, roughly, the gist of the Lord President's argument, and I think it is a matter which ought to be emphasised. The Lord President, the Leader of the House, seems to think that if the Leader of the Opposi- tion has said a thing, it must be right. I will not controvert him on that subject.
Although that was his best reason, he could have given two other reasons, one of which would have been stronger and the other more accurate. The real reason he wants the time to be 10 o'clock is that he wants to get the House to bed and shut up as quickly as he possibly can. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear cheers from hon. Members opposite, because they apparently agree that the House should be shut up, and the sooner we have an Election the better. Really, why should we always follow in this House the line that we ought to get our business done as quickly as possible, that we should cut out as many Members from speaking as we can, and that we should shut up at the earliest possible moment simply because we have what is called a Labour Government, which is a Government that does not believe in work? It is really going rather far for the Government to take this point of view. I am not going to amplify now, all the main reasons for they have already been given; but the Government are always saying they cannot find time for this or that, and here are the Opposition ready to help them, urging them to take a little extra time. Why do they not seize this offer, and then, in their turn, tell the Opposition to do a little more work?
I do not know how I can explain that within the rules of Order. What the Tory Opposition, outside and inside the House, complains of is that Parliament is overworked, not so much because of the amount of time spent in discussion, as because of the rushing through of Bills without their being properly discussed. That is what the complaint is, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman knows is the trouble at the present time. I think that is the answer to his question. If he wishes me to develop it further within the rules of Order—I would not dream of going outside them—or if he wants to ask me another question, I shall try to answer. I am not as practised in answering questions as a Minister should be, although I can always have a shot.
Putting aside all the advantages that have so far been mentioned for stopping at 10 o'clock—the problem of transport, and many other things—there is one point which, I think, the Lord President might have used, a point of which I will make him a present on this occasion. We now have after 10 o'clock on many nights a very serious bit of Business which we used not to have. It arises fairly often. It consists of Prayers. It is undoubtedly an advantage to have Prayers coming on at 10 rather than at 11 o'clock. I am glad to see I have the agreement of the Lord President on that. So now he is agreed with me that he is not very lazy, and he is agreed with me that it is an advantage to get to Prayers at 10 o'clock rather than at 11 o'clock. He is coming on. I should like to ask, by way of suggesting an Amendment to the Amendment, how it would be if we had Prayers two days a week after 10 o'clock, and if two days a week after 10 o'clock we worked a bit longer. I put that suggestion to the Government without any hope that they will accept it, because I am completely and utterly certain that the main object of the Lord President and the main object of the Government in cutting us down to 10 o'clock is to deprive back bench Members of as many speeches as they can.
I should like to say a word or two because I do find it surprising that the right hon. Gentleman advocates this as a Standing Order, seeing that the whole of the complaint which emanated from him, which started the Committee on their duties, and which runs through the evidence and the memoranda, is that there is not enough time for this House to perform all its functions, and that we must curtail some of them. What better way could there be of getting extra time than sitting an extra three quarters of an hour? Not only should we get a great deal of extra time, but it would give opportunities for a great number of back benchers—at least three every day—who are at present cut out, to get in speeches, which seems to me to be a proper, democratic way of approaching the due performance of our duties in this House.
What are the reasons against? There appear to me to be only two. One is that conditions of transport will be so bad for many years that it is not reasonable that this House should sit on as late as it used to. Well, we know that in a number of nationalised industries shorter hours have cut off essential services, such as late connections in the Post Office, and so on. But, surely, when we come to the vital and essential functions of this House we can look forward to something better than that? Is it really the case that the right hon. Gentleman—who knows a great deal about transport—is determined that we shall not have as good transport facilities in this capital city three, four or five years hence as we had before the war? If that is his determination, if he is determined that in the interests of the transport workers the interests of the rest of the community are to be sacrificed, and that transport is to be curtailed far below what it used to be, and as a permanency, then, of course, I understand this Motion. But if, as we hope, the present conditions of crisis and disturbance are not to be very lengthy, and if we are to see an end of them, then the proper thing would be to have a Sessional Order this year, and probably next year, and then we would hope that the year after next we could get back to something like civilised conditions.
If the right hon. Gentleman tells the House that he does not see any chance of getting back to civilised conditions for two, three, four, even five years, then I understand this Motion. I cannot understand it on any other basis. I do not think the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) was really suggesting—at least I hope I misunderstood his words, otherwise I do not think he was doing himself justice—that this House must reduce the hours of work of its Members because so many peoples' hours of work are being reduced outside. I do not think he was suggesting that.
No, I was not suggesting that. What I was suggesting was that as the trade unionists in the transport industry settle their hours, as far as they possibly can, and as they wanted shorter hours, I did not want to be among those who would suffer because of those shorter hours by being kept here for an unreasonable length of time.
Then the hon. Member is taking the point that I made a minute ago; he is looking forward to a permanent curtailment of public facilities in this capital city of the Empire so that a few people can benefit, but as a consequence of which a great many are to suffer. If it is the view of right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the public must always suffer by reason of shorter hours, and that it is more important that a few workers should benefit than that a great many of the public should be prevented suffering, then, of course, I understand it as a logical basis for this Motion. But let us get it quite clear that that is the reason, and that what we are being asked to do in this Motion is to agree to the proposition that for as long as we can see reasonable transport facilities are not to be restored in London.
I rarely find myself in agreement with the Lord President, but when I do find myself in that happy position I feel that I must get up and say so. After all, we should bear in mind that it is not only Members of this House who are in attendance in this Palace of Westminster. There are large numbers of other people—police, messengers and others—who perhaps have not the same facilities as we have for returning "to their homes. Therefore, I support the argument of the Lord President that 10 o'clock is a more suitable and satisfactory hour for this House to terminate its business than 11 o'clock. It is, of course, subject to one proviso, namely, that the 10 o'clock Rule is not going to be made complete nonsense by frequently moving the suspension. The thing that matters is not the time printed in Standing Orders or Sessional Orders, but what time Members are free from their duties to return to their families, as well as the servants of this House. Therefore, I believe that we have seen some signs of repentance on the part of the Lord President of the Council. I believe that he has seen the errors of his ways in the past, and the inconvenience he has imposed on Members in keeping the House so late, that he has decided that 10 o'clock is to be made the normal rising, plus the half-hour's Adjournment, and that the Motion for suspension will be moved only on very rare occasions. I congratulate him on his conversion.
I had no intention of joining in this Debate until the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) referred to the Opposition desiring to return to the ideas of civilisation. Personally, I do not regard staying at one's job until 11 o'clock at night as being a permanent sign of civilisation. I consider that civilisation requires, among other things, a certain amount of sleep. If the need to carry out the business of this House requires that we should sit here until 11 o'clock, midnight, or from one to four o'clock in the morning, as we have had to do on many occasions, I am as willing as any Member to do it. To suggest that there is some advantage in making 11 o'clock instead of 10 o'clock the regular hour seems to me to be perverse.
If we have to sit this length of time, let us do it with a good grace and get our job done, but let us not say that we will stay on as a matter of course merely for the sake of talking. I am one of those back benchers who have reason to believe that the occupant of the Chair does not consider that I have much contribution to offer, because it is not very often that I take part in debates. I would much rather maintain that position and not be able to raise my voice quite so often, than that this House should be kept here merely in order that two or three Members like myself should make a few more speeches. I think that in the past we have had to sit late at night all too often. Let us, therefore, be thankful for the comparatively rare occasions when we can get away at 10 o'clock, and let us not make it a regular rule that we should sit longer.
I apologise to the House for not having been at the beginning of the Debate, but this is the only 20 minutes I have spent out of the Chamber since three o'clock this afternoon. I hope that the House is not going to' accept the argument from the Treasury Bench. I think that the argument about the other persons who have to attend upon this House, the clerks, messengers and so on, is, with respect, really a false argument. It sometimes wavers on the edge of claptrap, and sometimes dips right down into the really irrational. Arthur Roberts used to say: "Whatever you do for a living, it spoils something: if you are an actor, it cuts into your evenings." If there are some disadvantages, there are some advantages in being in the service of this House; and if there is not, there certainly ought to be, ample remuneration to meet any over-plus of disadvantage over advantage. I am certain that if the House thinks its Debates are best conducted by going on to the hour of 11 o'clock, it should not hesitate on any grounds of kindheartedness to those whose attendance is objective and not substantive.
I want to say a word about the Private Members' point. I do not want to "come the old soldier," but it is fair for those of us who have tried both plans to testify about our experience. There are many Members who have never sat when the House is normally here until eleven; some of us have done both. I have never over-called the argument for what is called Private Members' time in the technical sense—the old Wednesdays and Fridays. I never thought it the most important thing from a back bench point of view. Much the most important thing is that ordinary Private Members, and particularly Private Members who may not be on the best of terms with their party authorities, should have a reasonable chance, every now and then, of taking part in full-dress debates. I sat in this House six years, I think, before I took part in a full-dress debate except when I made my maiden speech. If you cut the hour of stopping from 11 to 10, it cuts out about half the time available for those sort of attempts. The chance a Private Member has of getting in in the middle of a full-dress debate, even when, it may be, his own leaders are not particularly anxious for him to get in, is much cut down through moving the hour back from 11 to 10. I ask hon. Members who have not sat in the House under those conditions to think it possible that they may be mistaken in underestimating this point There is one other thing which I wanted to say but I have forgotten what it is. I do not think I ought to stay on my feet vamping till it comes back to me. I hope these two points, however, may both of them be carefully considered, as I believe them to be extremely serious.
|Division No. 13.]||AYES.||[8.42 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Foster, W. (Wigan)||Monslow, W.|
|Allan, A C (Bosworth)||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Moody, A. S|
|Alpass, J H||Gallacher, W||Morgan, Dr. H B|
|Anderson, F (Whitehaven)||Ganley, Mrs C. S||Morley, R|
|Attewell, H C||Gibbins, J.||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Gibson, C. W||Morrison, Rt Hon H (Lewisham, E.)|
|Awbery, S S||Gilzean A||Mort, D L.|
|Ayles, W H||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Moyle, A.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs B||Gooch, E. G.||Murray, J D|
|Bacon, Miss A||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Nally, W|
|Baird, J||Greenwood, A. W. J (Heywood)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Balfour, A||Grenfell, D R||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Barstow, P G||Grey, C. F.||Nichol, Mrs. M E. (Bradford, N)|
|Barton, C||Grierson, E.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Battley, J. R.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Bechervaise, A E||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon P J (Derby)|
|Benson, G||Griffiths, W. D (Moss Side)||Oldfield, W H|
|Berry, H||Gunter, R J.||Oliver, G. H|
|Beswick, F||Guy, W. H||Orbach, M|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon A (Ebbw Vale)||Hall, Rt. Hon Glenvil||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Binns, J||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Blackburn, A R||Hannan, W (Maryhill)||Parkin, B. T|
|Blenkinsop, A||Hardy, E. A.||Pearson, A|
|Blyton, W R||Hastings, Dr Somerville||Perrins, W.|
|Boardman, H||Haworth, J||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr H. W||Harbison, Miss M||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Bowles, F G (Nuneaton)||Hewitson, Capt M||Popplewell, E.|
|Braddock, Mrs E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Hicks, G.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Braddock, T (Mitcham)||Hobson, C. R||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Bramall, E A||Holman, P||Pritt, D. N.|
|Brook, D (Halifax)||Holmes, H E (Hemsworth)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Brooks, T J (Rothwell)||Hoy, J||Pryde, D. J.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hubbard, T||Pursey, Cmdr. H|
|Brown, T J (Ince)||Hudson, J H (Ealing, W)||Randall, H. E.|
|Bruce, Maj D W T||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Ranger, J.|
|Buchanan, G||Hutchinson, H L (Rusholme)||Rankin, J.|
|Burden, T W||Irvine, A. J (Liverpool, Edge Hill)||Reeves, J.|
|Butcher, H W||Irving, W. J (Tottenham, N.)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Callaghan, James||Isaacs, Rt Hon G. A||Richards, R.|
|Castle, Mrs B A||Janner, B.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Chamberlain, R A||Jay, D P. T.||Robens, A.|
|Chater, D||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Chetwynd, G R||Jeger, Dr S W (St. Pancras, S E)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Cluse, W S||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Cobb, F A||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Royle, C.|
|Cocks, F S.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Sargood, R.|
|Coldrick, W||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitch)||Scollan, T.|
|Collick, P||Keenan, W||Scott-Elliot, W.|
|Collindridge, F||Kenyan, C||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Colman, Miss G M||Key, C. W||Shackleton, E. A. A|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr G||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr E||Sharp, Granville|
|Corlett, Dr J||Kinley, J.||Shurmer, P.|
|Corvedale, Viscount||Kirkwood, D.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Crawley, A.||Lawson, Rt. Hon J J||Silverman, S. S (Nelson)|
|Daggar, G||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Daines, P||Leslie, J R||Skeffington, A. M|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Levy, B. W||Skeffington-Lodge, T C|
|Davies, S O. (Merthyr)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Skinnard, F W|
|Deer, G||Lindgren, G. S.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lipton, Lt -Col. M||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Delargy, H. J||Logan, D G||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Diamond, J||Longden, F||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dobbie, W||Lyne, A W||Soskice, Maj. Sir F|
|Dodds, N. N||McAdam, W||Sparks, J. A|
|Donovan, T||McAllister, G||Stamford, W|
|Dumpleton, C W||McEntee, V La T||Steele, T.|
|Dye, S||McGhee, H G||Stress, Dr B|
|Ede, Rt. Hon J C||Mack, J D.||Stubbs, A E|
|Edwards, A (Middlesbrough, E.)||Mackay, R. W. G (Hull, N W.)||Swingler, S.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McKinlay, A S.||Sylvester, G. O|
|Edwards, N (Caerphilly)||Maclean, N (Govan)||Symonds, A. L|
|Edwards, W J. (Whitechapel)||MacMillan, M K (Western Isles)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Evans, A. (Islington, W.)||Macpherson, T (Romford)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Mainwaring, W. H||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Evans, S N (Wednesbury)||Mann, Mrs J.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Ewart, R||Manning, C (Camberwell, N)||Thomas, I O (Wrekin)|
|Fairhurst, F||Manning, Mrs L (Epping)||Thomas, John R (Dover)|
|Farthing, W J||Medland, H. M.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Fernyhough, E||Messer, F||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Fletcher, E G M (Islington, E.)||Middleton, Mrs L||Tiffany, S.|
|Follick, M.||Millington, Wing-Comdr E R||Timmons, J|
|Foot, M M||Mitchison, G R||Titterington, M F|
|Tolley, L.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)||Willis, E.|
|Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Turner-Samuels, M.||West, D. G.||Wise, Major F J|
|Ungoed-Thomas, L.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)||Woodburn, A|
|Vernon, Maj. W. F||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.||Woods, G. S|
|Viant, S. P.||Wigg, George||Wyatt, W|
|Walker, G H||Wilcock, Group-Cant. C. A. B||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Wallace, G. D. (Chirslehurst)||Wilkes, L.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Warbey, W. N.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Watkins, T. E.||Williams, J. L (Kelvingrove)||TEDLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Watson, W. M.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)||Mr. Snow and Mr. Wilkins.|
|Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Williamson, T.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Ramsey, Maj. S.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Howard, Hon. A.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland|
|Bowen, R.||Hurd, A||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Bower, N.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. C. (E'b'rgh W.)||Ross, Sir R D. (Londonderry)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Jarvis, Sir J.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Jennings, R.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Byers, Frank||Lambert, Hon. G.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Carson, E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Snadden, W. M.|
|Challen, C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Strauss, H G. (English Universities)|
|Channon, H.||Lloyd, Maj Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Studholme, H G.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C||Sutcliffe, H|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||McCallum, Maj D||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F C||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Marples, A. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|De la Bère, R.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Turton, R. H.|
|Digby, S. W.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Donner, P. W||Medlicott, F.||Wakefield, Sir W W.|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Mellor, Sir J.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Drewe, C.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Duthie, W. S||Nicholson, G.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Erroll, F. J||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Fox, Sir G.||Osborne, C.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon Sir D. P. M||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gage, C.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||York, C|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D||Pickthorn, K.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gruffydd, Prof. W. J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O||Lieut.-Colonel Thorp and|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V||Raikes, H. V.||Major Conant.|
The Motion to insert a new Standing Order No. 14 under which there are to be 26 days allotted to the business of Supply each Session appears at first sight to be generous. We all know that at the moment there are 20 Supply days, so-called. When we look into the matter, we find that the proposal is anything but generous. The days which are to be allotted to the business of Supply under the new Standing Order No. 14 are to cover a variety of topics which have time at present on days other than any of the 20 Supply days.
I do not think there is really any controversy about this matter. There are four days on which Mr. Speaker is moved out of the Chair on going into Committee on the Navy, Army, Air or Civil Estimates. Those four days are additional to the 20, but they are to be included in the 26. There are a number of days, varying from Session to Session, devoted to Supplementary Estimates. The House will be aware that Supplementary Estimates are at present debatable outside the 20 Supply days. If anyone cares to look at the table to be found on page 1, he will find that, on the average, some five days per Session have been devoted to consideration of Supplementary Estimates and that in some years the number of days has gone into double figures. Accordingly, there will be at least 29 days under those three headings now to be compressed into 26.
There is another fact which I brought out in the course of certain questions which anybody who is interested will find on pages 42 and 131 of the evidence. I put questions both to the learned Clerk and to the Lord President. I do not want to read the passages, but they both agreed that the Government would insist, under the new scheme which will come into operation under this Standing Order, on the Opposition taking a Supply day for certain topics where they are not in a position to insist on that at present. The reason given was that the Supply day season, if I may so term it, only begins in the spring whereas, under the proposals for these changes, the season goes on throughout the year.
Accordingly, if a question arises in the autumn which requires debate, which is a question arising out of the administration, the Government at present have to give a day out of Government time. But if we have a Supply day season throughout the year, it was admitted by the Lord President that Governments would probably say, "Well, Supply days are available now; you had better take one." I put it to the learned Clerk and the Lord President that it was not only 28 or 29 days that were being compressed into 26, but something more like 32 days. But if that is excessive, there is no doubt at all that several days are being cut off the time at present available for the consideration of administration and criticism of policy. The excuse given by the Lord President was so thin as to show that there was no other reason at all, except a desire to curtail legitimate opportunity for discussion in order to increase legislative output.
The right hon. Gentleman—and I do not wish to quote the passage; it is to be found in his evidence on page 128–said that because the Committee's proposal for a new committee to supervise public expenditure was being turned down, and because it had been suggested that two of the 28 days might properly be devoted to consideration of their reports, these two days could be saved. The right hon. Gentleman, however, completely failed to observe that precisely the same questions will arise now as would arise if the proposal for a new Committee on Public Expenditure had been adopted. The necessity for criticism of Government expenditure would arise. We have had some very valuable reports from the Committee on Estimates. If the new proposals had been adopted these would have been reports of the Committee on Public Expenditure. But in either case they ought to be debated in the House. The same applies to the Reports of the Public Accounts Committee. Therefore, all that would have happened, if the proposals of the Committee had been accepted, would have been to change the name on the outside of these reports. The reports would have been there just the same; the necessity for criticism would have been there just the same. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman takes advantage of this purely nominal change to curtail the 28 days to 26, and gives no reason whatever. If that is so, this is a deliberate attempt to curtail the existing facilities of this House for the consideration of Government policy and the expenditure of public money.
Memorandum by His Majesty's Government
… The Government inevitably approach this matter from a point of view different from that of the Clerk of the House. He is concerned with 'the general improvement of the machinery and forms of proceedings of the House so as to provide suitable instruments for the discharge of its various functions'; the Government, on the other hand, must be constantly mindful of their legislative requirements. …
Let us for a moment accept the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite that when they first came into power there were a lot of arrears to be overtaken, and that there had to be a rather swollen legislative programme for a year or two until those arrears were overtaken. Of course, I would not agree with them, but that would be a fair statement of the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Will that not come to an end some day? Will they not overtake those arrears some day? I should have thought that this wonderful programme would some day reach a stage when a spate of legislation was no longer necessary to sustain it and I should have thought that when that day comes, however much it might be necessary to curtail proper discussion while the spate of legislation is going through, we might return to a full discharge of the proper functions of this House. If the Government had said—I go back to the same point that has been made so often today—that last year the facilities for the discussion of finance and policy ought to have been curtailed, from their point of view there would have been a good deal to say for it, but they did not say that. In the peak year of legislative output they allowed the old system to continue, and it is only now, when I would assume that we are beginning the lessening of legislative output, that we have to start curtailing proper opportunities for discussion. Is it really to be said that next year and the year after there is still to be such a spate of legislative enactments that we cannot properly discharge our ancient functions of criticism? That is the meaning of this proposal, and that is confessed to be the meaning of this proposal in the Government's own Memorandum.
Let me examine for a moment what the effect of this curtailment will be. It sounds a small thing, curtailing from 28, 30 or 32 to 26 days. The party opposite take the view that the Government ought to interfere in more and more aspects of our life. It may be a good view or a bad one, but that is the view they take, and accordingly, the more they interfere, according to their theory, the more there is to criticise and the wider is the scope of Government activity which ought to be subject to criticism in this House. Therefore, as Government activity expands under Socialist theory, so ought the opportunity for raising questions about it if time were available.
Let me give one example—Scottish affairs. In the past it has been usual that two of the 20 Supply days should be devoted to Scottish affairs, and that was not wholly inadequate in the past, although now it would not be reasonable to suppose that more than two days out of these 26 should be devoted to Scottish affairs because there is the whole of Imperial affairs, Defence affairs, United Kingdom Departments, and so on, in addition to those Departments which operate solely in England and solely in Scotland. Therefore, it would not be reasonable, except in some special circumstances, for more than two days to be devoted to Scottish affairs. We offered the Government an alternative, seeing this coming and seeing the growth of administration in Scotland. We said, "If you are determined to cut down facilities for discussion of Scottish business, or restrict the facilities on the Floor of the House, what about giving us some more facilities upstairs where they will not interfere with the Government programme on the Floor of the House?" Last Thursday I thought the Lord President was at least going to give us an opportunity of discussing that proposal, but apparently not. I am surprised that the Government take this view. Not only must opportunities for legitimate discussion be restricted on the Floor of the House, but no alternative is to be allowed anywhere else.
What is the object of this? It is not to save time. Is it to prevent the legitimate ventilation of perfectly proper points? Very often, I should think in the majority of cases, when a Supply day is put down by the Opposition, there is no Division; the object is to get an explanation to let the public understand what is going on. It is not a search for opportunities to beat the Government; the search is for opportunities to inform the public, as they ought to be informed if this is a democratic country. Here the Government are deliberately curtailing opportunity on the Floor of the House, preventing an outlet upstairs, and thereby making it quite certain that Scottish affairs at Least cannot be discussed adequately by 'Scottish Members of Parliament. I have no doubt that if one went into other Departments, the same would follow.
If we cut down these days, it is not the contentious Departments that will suffer. We shall not find that the Minister of Health gets off without a Supply day; we shall not find that some of his other colleagues get off either. It is the more humdrum Departments that are inclined to be lost sight of, where a Supply day is extremely valuable, which will not perhaps have a Supply day at all in the future, whereas in the past they would have had one, not every year, but most years. That is not where there will be any attack on the Government but where there is an opportunity of forming public opinion. That is the kind of opportunity which these proposals will cut off. The Government will not save themselves from any attacks—the Opposition will see to that—by cutting down the number of days. They will prevent the country from learning about a number of extremely important and interesting matters and having public opinions formed on these matters.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again about this. Is he really going to tell us that so great will be the spate of legislation this year, next year, the year after, and the year after that, if he is still in power, that he cannot afford even then to give us 28 Supply days? I wonder if he really will say that? That is the only excuse that has yet been put forward. He cannot say, because nobody has said upstairs or anywhere else as yet, that 28 days is in any way excessive for the proper discharge of its functions by this side. It is impossible for him to say that. If he cannot say that, he must find some other and. more essential use to which the House must put the time. I ask him, does he really think that we are going on legislating for ever at the rate at which we have been legislating last year and this year? If not, what is the reason for depriving the House and the country of proper opportunities for formulating public opinion?
The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) has delivered himself of a detailed and,—I am making no complaint—fairly long speech. The speech was designed to show that the Government were apparently deliberately trying to prevent hon. Members having an adequate opportunity of discussing matters of interest to them. If the Government have not that intention, his speech is quite beside the point. The issue is really much narrower. There is no question of attempting to deprive anyone. The issue between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government on this point is whether the figure should be 28, or 26. That is a very narrow issue, and could be resolved by a very simple consideration of the basis upon which the Committee arrived at the figure of 28.
To judge by the terms of the Report, they took the 20 Supply days allotted at present, and added to them the four days on which Mr. Speaker is moved out of the Chair, and in addition to that they estimated that the figure for Supplementary Estimates should be another four days. Those numbers added together come to 28. The whole point on which we differ from that estimate is as to the proper time for Supplementary Estimates. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted a figure of five days but, in giving evidence, the Clerk of the House gave figures which showed that on a true analysis the figure should be somewhat less. For many Sessions before the war something like two days were taken. In 1935 and 1936 the figure was 2¾ days, and in 1937 and 1938 it was 2½ days—
I am accepting the 20 Supply days, and the four days on which Mr. Speaker is moved out of the Chair. How much more should be allotted for the purpose of Supplementary Estimates in view of that analysis? That analysis is between two and three days. The further consideration the Committee seem to have had in mind is that there should be two days' precedence given to the reports of the Public Accounts Committee which they recommended. As the House knows, that recommendation is not being accepted, and business which can be taken in Supply under the new Standing Order would permit of the reports of the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee to be taken on those days. Therefore, we feel that that consideration should not influence the figure finally arrived at as being the token figure.
It is really such a small issue, the issue being that 20, plus four days, being accepted as proper, how much further should one go than that, bearing in mind that the object of the Committee in investigating the Procedure of the House was to see how far it could be expedited, and how far unnecessary discussion could be cut off. We feel that adding to the 24 days another two to cover the period of time which experience has shown in recent years is necessary for Supplementary Estimates is quite enough. It is upon that basis that we have arrived at the figure of 26 days.
I quoted from the actual figures given in the evidence. I will endeavour to give the figures for the last two Sessions. I know that they were quite small.
With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, it seems to me that the discussion on this particular small point—I do not mean small in importance but in scope—really does not justify wandering over the very large field which he covered in the course of his remarks. I would ask the House to say that it is a question of 26 or 28 days, and whether there is any reason for the extra two days, and that if there is not in order to achieve the best effect from the work of the Committee, namely, to prevent any unnecessary waste of time in the proceedings of the House, obviously the two days should come off. I would ask the House to say that we have hit on the right figure, and that the figure of 26 days is the proper one; that it is unnecessary and, being unnecessary, it is unjustifiable to allow further time.
The Solicitor-General has sought to justify the 26 days by his contention that only two days will be required for Supplementary Estimates. In justifying that contention, he has quoted the prewar figures of the number of days spent on Supplementary Estimates. It will be within the recollection of most hon. Members that during the past Session we spent very much more than two days upon Supplementary Estimates. The matter very largely rests with the Government. If they do not have to produce Supplementary Estimates, if they have managed to look ahead sufficiently at the time the Estimates are produced, clearly it will not be necessary to produce Supplementary Estimates. In fact, last Session, when the Supplementary Estimates were put forward, they gave rise to certain matters which called for further inquiry. In regard to the Army Estimates at least, that further inquiry required one evening a further three or four hours of consideration of the Supplementary Estimate all over again. That was the occasion when it was revealed that £50 million were being asked for on a Supplementary Estimate in order to cover the misdealings in German marks and N.A.A.F.I. cigarettes in occupied Germany.
The real importance of the matter seems to me to be that when the Supplementary Estimates come forward, both the Government and the House have an opportunity of considering in some detail matters of important current interest, and if we are to be curtailed at this stage to the very short period of two days for the consideration of these matters, they will not receive the attention which they have received in the past, at all events during the past Session. The Solicitor-General has promised us that, before this Debate comes to an end, he will give us for the past two Sessions, the figures of the time spent on Supplementary Estimates. That is of great importance, bearing in mind that the Clerk of the House, when giving evidence before the Committee, said that the average time spent was four days. Presumably the amount of time spent on Supplementary Estimates has increased considerably since the prewar days which the Solicitor-General quoted. In conclusion, I would like to ask the House to look ahead in this matter. It would be a very great pity indeed by our vote this evening to curtail important discussion of matters which at this moment, cannot be foreseen but which may arise at some distant time.
If I may interrupt, I have now got the figures for which the hon. Gentleman asked. I was wrong on the last figure. The figures and the summary show that over the last 17 years the average is two and one-seventh of a day, or just over two days; in 1946 it was one and one-seventh; and in 1947 it was five and two-sevenths. I was wrong about the last year, but for the previous year I gave an over-estimate. The over-all average for 17 years is two and one-seventh.
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but surely the figure of five and two-sevenths for 1947 is an indication of the fact that, owing partly, no doubt, to the times in which we live, these unexpected matters arise. These are times in which the Government themselves are always claiming that they are having to provide suddenly for the unexpected. I should have thought that, from their own point of view, it would be most unwise to curtail this. It seems to me that it is only by the use of the Closure in future that they can rush through in two days anything approaching the volume of Supplementary Estimates which they have ever put before us in five days during the past Session. In my submission, there is an overwhelming case in support of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid).
I have no doubt that the hon. and learned Solicitor-General's arithmetic is right but it is slightly surprising if one looks at the run of the figures beforehand. It is very striking, if one looks at the run of the figures, that, going back, when there was a Socialist Government more days were required for Supplementary Estimates. There is no doubt about that; that is a statistical fact. There are various ways of explaining it. Men with one set of prejudices might say it is because Socialist Ministers are incompetent administrators; men with another set of prejudices might say it is because a Socialist Government naturally plans more and plans better, and the more planning there is the more, every now and then, it requires to be dug up and looked at.
Whatever the reason, the figures are certainly very striking. Three and three-quarters, seven and as much as up to eight and a quarter days have been needed; so that the Solicitor-General's argument that we need not reckon on there ever really being any need for more than two days on Supplementary Estimates does not really seem to be very strong, looking at the statistics of the last 20 years. Nor can I pay very much attention to his argument that, after all, the Committee was honestly looking for ways of saving time for the Government. That is true. The hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), I am sure, would bear evidence that the whole Committee—there were no personal or party differences—was honestly trying to look for ways of saving time. I cannot understand why the Solicitor-General thinks that is an argument for his view. The fact that the Committee, doing its best to save the Government time, could not get the figure below 28–why that is an argument to persuade us to believe that it now ought to be brought down to 26. I cannot understand at all.
The Solicitor-General's only other argument was that this is a very small thing—that the scope is very small. The scope is not so very small. Two out of 28 is one-fourteenth—as a percentage I cannot work it out so quickly—something like 14 per cent. None of us would think that a small charge on our income or a small charge on most of the other things we care about. I suggest that the House ought to be extremely slow to think that cutting down by one-fourteenth the amount of time that the House can insist upon having—not that the Government chooses but that the House can insist upon having devoted to Supplementary Estimates—I cannot believe that the House ought to accept the argument that cutting that down by so much as one-fourteenth is a matter of very small scope.
I am sure that the hon. Member who has just spoken did not want to mislead the House, but the figures he quoted certainly do not bear out the charge he made that Supplementary Estimates tend to occupy a longer period of time in the House when there is a Labour Government than when there is not.
The hon. Member made the statement, and said the figures quoted in the Report showed that as a fact, and he also went on to say that it was the period of time taken on Supplementary Estimates which was the only argument adduced by the learned Solicitor-General in support of his case for reducing the number of Supply days from 28 to 26. What I want to say, in order that the House may not be misled, is that the figures do not show that at all. What they do show, if hon. Members would like to look at pages lxii and lxiii, is that there has been a steady decline in the length of time occupied in the House in considering Supplementary Estimates. For example, in. 1926, when there was a Conservative Government—
Starting with 1920, the figure is 12¼ days; in 1921, under a Coalition Government, 11½; in 1922, still a Coalition Government, 12. When there was a Labour Government in 1924, it fell to seven. In 1923, it was even smaller; it was three and a quarter. In 1924, it was seven, in 1924–25, it was six and a half, and, in 1926, under a Conservative Government, it was 11½ again. These figures certainly do not bear out the statement made by the hon. Member. On the contrary, what the figures show is that there has been a tendency in recent years for less time to be spent on Supplementary Estimates than in the days from 1920 to 1930. I only mention that in order that the House should appreciate the facts.
I hesitate before giving any further figures in connection with this dispute as to whether the number of days to be devoted to Supply should be 28 or 26, but, somewhere in one of these three voluminous Reports, I have found that if, in the Business of Supply, we include the Supplementary or additional Estimates, Excess Votes, Votes on Account and the four days devoted to moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, as well as those devoted to the main Estimates—in other words, when we include all the business which the Government now proposes should be taken on Supply days—the actual annual average from 1906 to 1938 was 28.6 days. It therefore seems to me that when the Select Committee, which had a great deal more time than we are prepared to devote tonight to the examination of these figures, recommended that the number of Supply days should be 28, they had that particular figure in view, and were endeavouring to save the Government, on the average,.6 of a day a year.
The learned Solicitor-General said we were accusing the Government of deliberately trying to stifle Debate on Supply days. I do not think that we, on this side of the House have ever accused the Government in such strong language as that, but my hon. Friend who preceded me was, of course, right when he said that the difference between 28 days and 26 is a very real difference. The extra two days, as recommended by the Select Committee, would be very valuable additions to the time which this House devotes to the control of administrative policy. As we all know, Supply days are, more and more, devoted to criticism of administrative policy. They are of real value to this House, and, moreover, speaking on behalf of hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House, we are glad to have these occasions of suggesting the subject for debate—some of the not too frequent occasions when the Opposition has still a say in the business which shall come before the House. For the reasons which I have given, and for the reasons which other hon. Members from this side of the House have given, I hope that the Government will reconsider this matter, and will accept the recommendation of the Select Committee to allow 28 days instead of 26.
Having listened to this brief discussion, it seems to me that one aspect of this matter has been quite inadequately considered, if not wholly overlooked. It is that we are certainly not discussing the time which the Government must give to the consideration of Supplementary Estimates, but the time which the House can use for the purpose of discussing such Estimates if, at any time, it becomes important or essential that it should do so. If that is the case, I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government should wish to deprive this House of Commons of an opportunity to discuss matters, which may well be unforeseen, when time need not, in fact, be used up for that purpose should it not be necessary. If I am right in thinking that that is the crux of the matter, it seems to me that the speech of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General falls to the ground, and that the Government have no case at all.
It seems to me that the Government are treating the House a little cavalierly in this matter. After all, it is the fundamental right of this House to stress grievances on Supply days; it is the foundation on which this House is built. This is not a matter on which the Government are opposed to the Opposition; it is a matter on which the Executive is opposed to the House as a whole. It is as much in the interest of hon. Members on the Government side as in the interest of hon. Members on this side. There is nothing, in any way, that the private Member on the Opposition side gains more than the private Member on the Government side. Indeed, in many cases the private Member on the Government side is more interested in an adequate discussion on Supply than the Opposition, because the Opposition have opportunities of putting down business which must be considered, such as Motions of Censure, and so on. But it is on Supply day that the ordinary back bencher on the Government side has an opportunity of bringing forward his grievances for consideration.
The Lord President deplored—and I also deplore—the fact that Supply days tend to pass more and more into the ambit of general discussions, and that the actual close, meticulous consideration of administration, which used to be one of the main features of Supply day, is tending to pass rather into oblivion. But, in so far as Supply days are cut down, that tendency will increase, and, in so far as more Supply days are made available, that tendency will decrease. The case of Scottish business is very much to the point here. It is true that Scottish Members desire—as the Lord President will have noticed, if on any occasion he strode into the House during the discussion of Scottish business, and could understand the language in which we conduct our affairs on those days—by the stringent limitation of speeches, to reduce our consideration of supply proposals to actual factual criticism. But we do desire, and have frequently desired, that more time should be available for that purpose. We have brought forward proposals whereby more time should be available for that purpose—more time which could only be devoted to that exact, meticulous scrutiny of administration which is desired by both the right hon. Gentleman and myself—and to reverse this tendency of general policy discussions and focus the light of the criticism of the ordinary Member on the day-to-day actions of the administration.
The Lord President of the Council finds himself unable to consider that proposal or even attempt to discuss it. It is a little hard that he also, through the mouth of the Solicitor-General, desires to hold down, to curb and drastically to limit the number of days on which Supply may be discussed. I altogether reject the argument that, taking an average over a long period of years, one can say that so many days were required each year, and, therefore, the number of days can be limited by a strict Resolution of the House to no more than that average. The figures in respect of the period immediately after the last war were figures of very large numbers of days for Supplementary Estimates. It is not enough to say that after the war period these figures came down to numbers which would enable us to average out as a maximum a period no more than the period which is suggested here. Those were days when the country was straightening itself out after a great war, as it is doing now. A margin of days in administration is just as important as a certain amount of play in the smooth working of machinery.
If I may say so, the Solicitor-General does not remember those days. But the Lord President of the Council remembers. His memory stretches over a long period of Parliamentary time. He remembers years when a very considerable number of days was required, and when under his vigorous impulse, the Opposition required, demanded and used to the utmost every opportunity of a Supply, day which it could seize. It is a little ungenerous of him to deny to those who are now in Opposition the opportunities which he used to the full in his own day.
I wish to emphasise with every means at my disposal that Supply is the means by which the Member of Parliament exercises a certain amount of control on the Executive. Once the House has voted Supply its power has gone. It can express its disapproval of the Executive in various ways, but it cannot enforce that disapproval. When the Executive has got its Supply voted, the Executive is safe in the saddle and can snap its fingers at the ordinary Member. On more than one occasion a revolt over Supply has taken place on the Government side, both when right hon. and hon. Members on this side were sitting on the opposite benches, and when they were not. Many of us have seen such a revolt brewing up. That is the moment when the Whips say to the Minister in charge, "We have got to pay attention to the House because the House is getting fractious about Supply." If the House once gets fractious about Supply, the Government know that their progress is really endangered, and at that point the Government begin to pay attention to the ordinary Members who may be discussing the matter.
I know very well that on more than one occasion in the Scottish administration, for instance, I have seen such a movement among the Scottish Members—not from one side only, but from more than one side—who have expressed themselves as being very hostile to the Government and have succeeded in obtaining reforms of considerable advantage. The MacBrayne contract, the whole question of Highland transport, is a case in point. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President may not think that very important, but it was very important from the point of view of those concerned, and from the point of view of the House asserting its ancient and traditional right in the redress of grievances. On that occasion the House insisted on the redress of grievances, and obtained it before granting the Government of the day their Supply.
We have offered alternatives on that particular line of Scottish Business. There is not, I think, a Scottish Minister, not even the humblest, anywhere on the Government Front Bench, not a Scottish Member opposite, not even the humblest, who has dared to raise his voice during this discussion; and I suppose none will. I think they are abdicating their position, and abdicating rights which are not theirs to give away. It is not within the discretion of the Private Members of today to give away the rights which have been won for them by Private Members in generations past. More opportunities rather than fewer will be required for Supply. I think it was in the time of Mr. Gladstone that this allotment of 20 Supply days was made. How vast the extension of the power of Governments since that day! How enormous the sweep of their operations, the impact of their work upon our everyday life! I was surprised at the moderation of the Committee when examining this. It seems to me that a case might well have been made out for a considerable extension of the Supply days on which the administration of the Government is reviewed and revised. But for the Government not merely not to add to, but actually to shorten, the period which is proposed by the Committee, which examined this in far greater detail than we are able to today, seems to me indefensible. To put up one Member of the Government to defend this proposal and one only, and not a senior Member, or one with the greatest experience of administration and of the working of this House is, indeed, treating the House a little cavalierly, and the purposes and traditions by which we came into existence as one of the greatest Parliaments in the world.
I should not have intervened but for the enlivening speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I am bound to say that I agree with every word that he said. I speak on this matter, as he does, from the point of view of a Scottish Member, although the whole question before us now goes far beyond the purview of a Scottish Member, and far beyond the province of a Member of the Opposition or a supporter of the Government in this House, for it is a matter which concerns every hon. Member of the House, this question of the granting of supplies. As my right hon. and gallant Friend has asked, what does the granting of Supply exist for but the redress of grievances?
My right hon. and gallant Friend very rightly called attention to the fact that we on this side of the House—or, indeed, all Scottish Members, no matter in what part of the House they may sit—have for long years felt that, as far as the granting of Supply has been accorded, we have suffered somewhat unfairly in having merely two days in a Session. Now, by this proposal—and I have no doubt that the proposal will go through merely by the automatic ringing of the bells on the Government side—even the modest request suggested by the Select Committee on Procedure, that the days accorded to supply should, be 28, will be reduced.
I approach this matter from the point of view of a Scottish Member, not merely as an Opposition Member, not merely as a Private Member of the House; and I ask myself, if we are to be accorded only 26 days instead of the 28 suggested by the Select Committee on Procedure, how will Scottish interests in the future come to be dealt with? We shall have even fewer opportunities in the future than we have had in the past of putting forward the question of Scottish rights and Scottish grievances. That is a matter which hon. Members opposite certainly cannot overlook. Who have been loudest in the past regarding Scottish grievances? Even though I do not notice one right hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench at the present time who represents those interests, who have been loudest in declaiming against the way Scottish interests have been overlooked in this House than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Now they calmly come down here and, by their silence, give tacit consent to this curtailment, and when the Division bell rings they will go into the Government Lobby in support of this Motion.
I should like to enter my most emphatic protest against the cavalier way in which the Solicitor-General attempted to reply—as far as he replied at all—to this quite modest Amendment which, after all, is only a request that the wishes of the Select Committee on Procedure should be complied with. As my right hon. and gallant Friend very properly pointed out, the granting of Supply is one of the oldest prerogatives—if I may so express it—which the Private Member on either side of the House has in his or her jurisdiction and control.
Outside, when hon. Members opposite go into the Lobby, they will see two pictures—[Laughter.] From the hilarity with which my remarks are greeted by hon. Members opposite I can only plead for them that they are yet too new to the ways of this House to appreciate what I am attempting to express. Outside there are two pictures, one in St. Stephen's Hall and one in the Lobby which leads from here to the Central Lobby. They illustrate—and illustrate well—what my right hon. and gallant Friend was outlining to the House a few moments ago. One is a picture of Speaker Lenthall kneeling before a former monarch and saying that he had neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, but as this House, whose servant he was, was pleased to direct him. That was on the legal granting of Supply. Go into St. Stephen's Hall and there is the other picture—now unveiled again after the ravages of war—of Sir Thomas More refusing the imperious demands of Cardinal Wolsey on behalf of King Henry VIII to the granting of Supply without due debate.
I respectfully submit that this present House will be in danger if the Home Secretary, the Lord President or the Solicitor-General in their wisdom, or unwisdom, refuse to grant us this very modest Amendment. There are many hon. Members opposite who will never be in this House again, and I should have thought that my remarks would appeal to them, and especially to the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock), whose majority is a very slight one. I should have thought she especially would have been glad to agree to our modest request that the number of Supply days should be increased from 26 to 28. By her manner she seems to suggest that any modest caveat of mine which she might endeavour—
I was merely suggesting, Mr. Speaker, that there were some hon. Members on the Government Benches who would do well to consider this modest Amendment sympathetically; and I was pointing out that the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division in particular should have been prepared to agree to this quite modest Amendment. However, she seems not to be prepared to do so, thus my words apparently fell upon deaf ears. I hope that even now the Home Secretary—who seems by his manner to be in a yielding mood—will be prepared to get up and say that after due consideration, and the many pleas which have been addressed to him from this side, and having listened to the persuasive arguments which have been put forward in no partisan spirit, but simply that the business of Supply and the redress of grievances shall be carried on in the same efficient manner, that he will increase the number of days from 26 to 28.
|Division No. 14.]||AYES.||[9.51 p.m.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Grey, C. F.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Grierson, E.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Gunter, R. J.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Guy, W. H||Orbach, M.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Hall, Rt. Hun. Glenvil||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Baird, J.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Parker, J.|
|Balfour, A.||Hardy, E. A.||Parkin, B. T|
|Barstow, P. G.||Hastings, Dr Somerville||Pearson, A|
|Barton, C.||Haworth, J||Perrins, W.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Herbison, Miss M.||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.|
|Benson, G.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Berry, H.||Hobson, C. R.||Popplewell, E.|
|Beswick, F.||Holman, P.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Binns, J||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hoy, J.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hubbard, T.||Proctor, W T.|
|Boardman, H.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Pryde, D. J|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pursey, Cmdr. H|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Hutchinson, H L (Rusholme)||Randall, H. E.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Hynd, H (Hackney, C.)||Ranger, J.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool, Edge Hill)||Rankin, J.|
|Bramall, E A.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Reeves, J.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon G. A.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Brooks, T J. (Rothwell)||Janner, B.||Richards, R.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Jay, D. P. T.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Bruce, Maj. D W. T.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Robens, A.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Callaghan, James||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Castle, Mrs B. A.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Chamberlain, R A||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Royle, C.|
|Chater, D.||Jones, P Asterley (Hitchin)||Sargood, R.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Keenan, W.||Scollan, T.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Kenyon, C.||Scott-Elliot, W.|
|Coldrick, W||Key, C. W.||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Collick, P.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Collindridge, F.||Kinley, J.||Sharp, Granville|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Kirkwood, D.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Shurmer, P.|
|Corlett, Dr J||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Corvedale, Viscount||Leslie, J. R.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Crawley, A.||Levy, B. W.||Skeffington, A M.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Daggar, G||Lindgren, G. S.||Skinnard, F W|
|Daines, P||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Logan, D G||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Deer, G.||Longden, F.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Delargy, H. J||Lyne, A. W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Diamond, J.||McAdam, W.||Soskice, Maj. Sir F.|
|Dobbie, W.||McAllister, G.||Sparks, J. A|
|Dodds, N. N||McEntee, V La T||Stamford, W.|
|Donovan, T||McGhee, H. G.||Steele, T.|
|Dumpleton, C W||Mack, J D.||Stross, Dr. B|
|Dye, S.||McKinlay, A. S.||Stubbs, A. E|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Maclean, N (Govan)||Swingler, S.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||MacMillan, M K (Western Isles)||Sylvester, G. O|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Evans, A (Islington, W.)||Mann, Mrs J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Manning, C (Camberwell, N.)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Evans, S N (Wednesbury)||Manning, Mrs L. (Epping)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Ewart, R||Marquand, H. A.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Fairhurst, F||Medland, H. M.||Thomas, I O. (Wrekin)|
|Farthing, W J||Messer, F||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Middleton, Mrs. L||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Follick, M.||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E R||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Foster, W. (Wigan)||Mitchison, G. R.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Monslow, W.||Tiffany, S.|
|Gallacher, W||Moody, A. S||Timmons, J.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Gibbins, J||Morley, R.||Tolley, L.|
|Gibson, C. W||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Gilzean, A||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mort, D L||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Gooch, E. G.||Murray, J D||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Nally, W.||Viant, S. P|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Walker, G. H|
|Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)||Whiteley, Rt Hon. W||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)||Wigg, George||Wise, Major F J|
|Warbey, W. N.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A B||Woods, G. S|
|Watkins, T. E.||Wilkes, L||Wyatt, W.|
|Watson, W. M.||Wilkins, W. A.||Younger, Hon Kenneth|
|Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Williams, D. J (Neath)||Zilliacus, K|
|Wells, P. L. (Faversham)||Williams, J L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Wells, W T. (Walsall)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|West, D. G.||Williamson, T.||Mr. Snow and|
|White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)||Willis, E.||Mr. Richard Adams|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Howard, Hon. A.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ)||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Barlow, Sir J||Hurd, A||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Birch, Nigel||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. C. (E'b'rgh W.)||Raid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Jarvis, Sir J.||Renton, D.|
|Bossom, A. C||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Bowen, R.||Jennings, R.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland|
|Bower, N.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Ropner, Col. L|
|Boyd Carpenter, J. A.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J G.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Sanderson, Sir F|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Smiles, Lt.-Col Sir W.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P G. T||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Byers, Frank||Lloyd, Maj Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Snadden, W. M.|
|Carson, E.||Low, A. R. W.||Strauss, H G. (English Universities)|
|Channon, H.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C||Studholme, H. G.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G||McCallum, Maj D.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon H F. C||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (B'mley)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Thorp. Lt.-Col. R A F|
|De la Bère, R.||Marples, A. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Digby, S. W.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Turton, R. H.|
|Donner, P. W.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Vane, W. M. F|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Medlicott, F.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Mellor, Sir J||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Morrison, Maj J G. (Salisbury)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J|
|Erroll, F J||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Fox, Sir G||Nicholson, G.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon Sir D. P M||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Gage, C.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D||Osborne, C.||Winterton, Rt. Hon Earl|
|George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||York, C.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon Sir C.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.||Mr. Drewe and|
|Hogg, Hon. Q.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Major Conant.|
|Holmes, Sir J Stanley (Harwich)||Raikes, H. V|
I had some hesitation in selecting it. To start with I thought I would not select it because it was covered, but it just shows how difficult it is at short notice to discover the actual meaning of an Amendment. I believe there is something behind this which I had not discovered, although I did my best this morning to look at all the Amendments. That must mean, therefore, that I really cannot consider manuscript Amendments which I have not had the opportunity of considering, and I will not do so.
I beg to move in line 74, to leave out from "day," to "That," and to insert "a motion is moved."
The Select Committee did not recommend any increase in the four days which have customarily been devoted for moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair when first going into Committee of Supply, but the Government, when they announced their decision on 17th March, said:
There should be no limitation on the number of occasions when debate may arise on the Motion: 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 31.]
Taken on its face value hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House
would welcome that pronouncement. We thought it would be all to the good that on Supply days the scope of our Debates should be enlarged—and they can be enlarged on the Motion: "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair"—and that there should be the possibility of moving Amendments on more occasions than there have been in the past and for making, at least, oblique reference on Supply days to legislation.
I am afraid that the Government have not implemented the proposal of 17th March, for when we read the new Standing Order No. 16 which the Government propose to ask this House to accept we find these words:
Whenever an order of the day is read for the House to resolve itself into committee other than a committee on a bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any question, and the House shall thereupon resolve itself into such committee. …."—
these are the important words—
unless on a day on which the committee of supply stands as the first order of the day a Minister of the Crown moves, 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair,' for the purpose of enabling a motion on going into committee of supply to be moved as an amendment to that question.
We on this side of the House think that it is a very different thing to say that opportunity will be given to range over a rather wide debate on the Motion: "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" only when moved by a Minister of the Crown. That is quite different from the statement of the Lord President of the Council which the House has approved this evening, that there shall be no limitation on the number of occasions when Debate may arise on the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." In order to give the Government this opportunity of accepting fully the statement—I think I can say the assurances—which the Lord President gave on 17th March, I move this Amendment.
I did not know until just now—I am making no complaint whatever about it—that this Amendment was to be moved. The issue is quite clear and simple, and has been stated by the hon. and gallant Member. We propose that this change, which I will describe, should be conditional upon the Motion being moved by a Minister of the Crown. There would, of course, be discussion through the usual channels, and we should not wish to be unreasonable in discussing such a matter with the Opposition. We feel that it is right that the last word should rest with the Government of the day.
It must be remembered that the real, early reasons for Supply was to control expenditure, as well as for the expression of grievances. I remember in my young days, when I was not a Member of this House and never expected to be, there were very considerable figures in Parliament who really did make speeches on Supply, and who really did deal with expenditure. Many a Minister suffered from the stinging rebuke and analysis of Sir Thomas Gibson Bowles, as a result of what that gentleman regarded as bad and lax administration. As time has gone on, nearly all that has gone. Practically every discussion about Supply is now about policy, and criticises the Government for doing this or not doing something else, whichever Government it may be. I see the point. Grievances have taken the place of financial analysis, so to speak. I am bound to say that in some respects I regret the change. I wish the House were examining expenditure in greater detail on the Floor of the House than it does at the present time.
We propose to go a step further than was at first suggested, in response to various requests which we thought were not unreasonable. Apart from the four days when the motion to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair is taken upon going into Committee of Supply on the Navy, Army, Air or Civil Estimates, we propose that there should be other days with the assent of the Government, after discussion through the usual channels, upon which a Minister can move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." In that case there would not be a ballot as there would on the other four days, and the subject would be chosen by the Opposition, as they do now on Supply days, which I think is quite right.
If the thing gets out of hand and there are too many of these days when Mr. Speaker is moved out of the Chair, we get still further away from what I think is the normal function of Supply, the fundamental one and the biggest single element of Supply, namely, control and criticism of expenditure. On those days when the Government assent to a Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," apart from the four days, it will be agreeable and within the limits of paragraph 2 of the Standing Order, that, within those limits, Mr. Speaker do permit incidental references to legislation. That is likely to take us still further away from the sheer financial issues of the Debate.
The Committee recommended, I think, that there should be eight days. We thought that that was reasonable, but if there is to be elasticity, we thought that the Motion should be moved by a Minister of the Crown. It may be said that this is a shocking innovation, but there are many Motions, including procedural Motions, which can only be moved by a Minister of the Crown. We shall try to discuss, as reasonable men, through the usual channels, with the Opposition, the use of this facility. We shall try not to be unreasonable, and I hope and believe that the Opposition, too, will try not to be unreasonable. While I see the hon. and gallant Member's point, I think it is best to leave the matter in this way so that we may have proper and responsible consideration as to the extent to which this new facility should be used. In all the circumstances, I should be glad if the House would be good enough to agree with the Government on this point.
This is a rather complicated and novel point, and I would like to explain to the House—as, no doubt, the Lord President did not have time to do it—how this proposal came to be made. At present, there are four occasions when you are moved out of the Chair, Mr. Speaker—on the three Service Estimates and the Civil Estimates. If Members will look at the Report of the Committee they will see that what we tried to do was to find some way in which we could get over the age long complaint—perhaps "age long" is going a little too far—that it has been impossible to make even the slightest allusion to legislation in a Debate on a Supply day. In a Debate dealing, say, with the administration of housing an incidental reference to a difficulty or something that could be put right only by action involving legislation was ruled out of Order on the ground that it involved legislation. That was the prob- lem which we were trying to meet. The device was put up that it might be possible to deal with it by a Motion arising as an Amendment to the proposal that you should leave the Chair, Mr. Speaker, on certain other occasions during the Supply season.
But the Select Committee recognised that this would be experimental; they could not tell whether it could be done, and the words which appear in the new Standing Order give some guidance as to how far one might go in referring to legislation. They state that there may be such incidental reference to legislation as the Chair may consider relevant to any matter of administration. That is relevant to the point made by the Lord President. We suggested that there should be four days as an experiment. For some reason the right hon. Gentleman proposed that this Motion should be moved on any of the days and, therefore, carried to the extreme on any one of the days, or none. The right hon. Gentleman says, "That will not do. We cannot run that risk, because if we have this Motion to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on too many days we shall get further away from the real business of Supply." With due deference, I do not think that is so. It was merely intended to deal with the case of allusions to legislation, and with the other case mentioned in paragraph 22 of the Report, that it is desirable to take together a whole group of Votes in order to deal with one subject.
Under present Standing Orders that is very difficult. Nowadays, if one wants to deal with the provision of baths for new housing estates in rural areas one has to bring in probably the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Works, the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland on the corresponding Scottish Estimates. Seven or eight Estimates have to be put down before one can deal with one specific matter. It was to get over that difficulty, as well as the legislation difficulty, that this Amendment was put down. I do not think there is any risk of its going to the length the right hon. Gentleman fears. If he fears that, why does he not stick to the experimental period of four times a year to see how that works? It is unfair of him to extend the scope over the whole 20 days—for which we did not ask—and say that it is a risk.
The second point which is important in view of this Amendment is that it should be not within the sole power of a Minister to move that the Speaker leave the Chair. For that reason, the Committee admitted that there should be consultation between the Government and the Opposition on the occasions on which this should take place. It was also suggested—there is no doubt about this—that the right to frame the Amendment should be exercised by the Opposition, so that this device is by no means a plan to take away any of the rights and prerogatives of the Opposition to select and suggest subjects for Supply days.
If that is so, and if the rights of the Opposition are to be safeguarded, it is not right for the Government to be in a position to say when the Opposition have selected a certain subject and want the Motion down, that they will not accept a particular debate because they have had too many of the Motions in a particular Session and that the Opposition can have an ordinary Supply day but not the kind of Supply day for which they have applied. That is taking away from existing rights of the Opposition which, subject to drafting advice, would not have happened if the Amendment were accepted. That is the gist of what the right hon. Gentleman has said and it is what the Government said on page 98 of the Report:
they consider that debates should take place on this motion only if the Government agreed and not at the sole option of the Opposition.
That was the Government's considered view at that time and apparently it still is. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman with all seriousness, that if there has to be a decision by the Government as to whether or not this form of Motion is to be debated or whether it is to be an ordinary Supply day as we know it, to that extent they are taking away something of the prerogative of choice which now rests with the Opposition. I am not talking about this Opposition, but any Opposition. For all I know, the right hon. Gentleman may be here where I am next year, and when the Session opens next year Standing Orders may again be looked at. If he reflects he will agree that his proposal takes away—
The right hon. Gentleman is not adding because the proposal is that there should be a new form of Motion, but he retains the right of deciding whether on any occasion that Motion should be moved.
It is quite immaterial who wants to get the Speaker out of the Chair; the point is that it is a new form of Debate in order to make it possible either to discuss group subjects or to make allusions to legislation, and I do not think the Government should in any way come in on the business which is to be selected or how it is to be handled, whether in one way or another on a Supply day, because that has been a time-honoured prerogative of the Opposition.
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting, does he not see that when these Amendments are moved they are bound to define, and somewhat to limit, the scope of the Debate? Somebody has to look after the interests not only of the Opposition, but of the whole of the back bench Members; and if the Opposition Front Bench is to have the complete right to have these days when it likes, and thereby perhaps to limit the debating field of the hon. Members on the back benches on both sides without any check by this Front Bench, I think it is wrong. Therefore, I think this is a reasonable proposal.
Really the right hon. Gentleman enlarges the subject very much because that is not an issue at all at present. What is to be the subject for Debate on a Supply day is decided by the Opposition—whether by Front Bench or back bench Members of the Opposition is a mystery wrapped in the arrangements of any party which happens to be in Opposition at the time. It is no good saying it is the Front Bench and trying to make that point. That is not in play. The point is that it rests with the Opposition what subject will be debated on a Supply day, and I say it follows logically that, if you give an alternative possibility of Debate, still the choice of subject will rest with the Opposition. It is merely whether it will do it on a Supply day, when it has to be on a narrow front, when it cannot make any allusion to legislation, or when it cannot properly group the subjects—those are all internal matters for the Opposition to represent to the Government as their wishes for the Debate on that day. It has nothing more to do, with all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, with the back benches behind the Government of the day than it has in fact now. The back benches on the Government side of the House have nothing in the world to do with the choice of subjects on Supply days now.
Excuse me, does not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really see that if you have an ordinary Supply day, in which everybody is free to say anything they like about the administrative work of the Department or Departments concerned, any Member is free to debate the whole sphere—except on those days when there is agreement that a certain phase will be taken—but that ordinarily any Member can touch on any of the administrative work of the Department at any rate within the ambit of Vote? I agree with this new facility within proper limits, but directly you get an Amendment to the Motion that "Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," it must tend to circumscribe the field of the Debate as compared with an ordinary, open Supply day, and I think the rights of back bench Members have to be looked after in that respect.