Government Business (Precedence)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th October 1948.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East 12:00 am, 27th October 1948

I beg to move. That until the Adjournment of the House for Christmas Government Business shall have precedence at every Sitting, and that no Bills other than Government Bills be introduced in anticipation of the ballot. The purpose of this Motion is to take the time of the House for Government Business until Christmas on the understanding that it is our intention to provide that in due course the Ballot will be taken for Private Members' Bills, and that, until then, only Government Bills shall be introduced. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in his speech yesterday that there would have to be another Motion providing for the introduction of Private Members' Bills at a later stage. The House will be informed as soon as possible of the arrangements for the consideration of Private Members' Bills which will begin to take place on Fridays after Christmas. The details of these arrangements will be settled in consultation with the authorities of the House and through the usual channels. I am very glad to move this Motion and thereby to make a change in our procedure in relation to Private Members' time, as compared with the practice hitherto pursued during the life of the present Parliament.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I think that Members in all parts of the House will welcome the measure of relaxation which the right hon. Gentleman has offered to us. While accepting it on the principle of half a loaf being better than no bread, it does, of course, remain true—and I should like to enter this caveat for Members who have not been long in the the House—that nothing has been done to re-establish time for Private Members' Motions. I remember, like many other Members in all parts of the House, the very valuable discussions which have arisen in earlier Parliaments on those occasions. They provided an opportunity for ventilating grievances very much more extensively than at Question Time and on the Adjournment.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him. That is a matter which can be discussed when the Motion is brought before the House for taking Private Members' Bills. What we are discussing now is the question of the Government taking the time of the House for Government Business until Christmas.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I will content myself then by accepting the half loaf and hoping that later 1 may get the other half.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Rugby

Since the end of the war some of us have put down Motions against the appropriation of all Parliamentary time by the Government. We have done so because in our view the House was being deprived of a valuable right without which Parliament could not be complete. Like the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), I should have been happier if the Prime Minister's statement yesterday could have gone further than it did. We recognise, however, that it makes some approach to the restoration of the old and valued Parliamentary privileges we have had in the past. We accept with gratitude what has been given, and we hope that next year we shall be able to have the rest.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I gather that this is not the occasion to discuss the proposals which the Government will make a little later about Private Members' time, but without doing so I should not like the present Motion to be accepted without making some reference to the statement that the Government have so far taken all Private Members' time. That would be unjust to the Government. It was only recently that the Government submitted to a free vote of Private Members a most important question relating to the criminal law. Those of us who remember what happened would congratulate the Government on having shown much greater devotion to the views of the Private Member, at any rate in the earlier stages of that controversy, than the Opposition, who tell the House on these occasions how much they value the opinion of a Private Member, and how important it is that the House should decide these questions without the intervention of the Whips and according to its own judgment and conscience. When they say that they mean that the opinion of the Private Member was right whenever they had a majority, but whenever the other side had a majority they could always fall back on the House of Lords to restore the time-honoured procedure whereby the Government had their way.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr District of Burghs

When the Prime Minister stated yesterday that we were to have 10 Fridays after Christmas for the presentation of Private Members' Bills he gave the impression that he was making a concession. With all due respect, that is nonsense, because it ignores the principle, which this Parliament seems to have forgotten, that all the power the Executive possesses today is derived from Parliament. When we conceded to the Government the authority to take away our rights and privileges it was only on the assumption that when the necessity which arose at the beginning of the war was over those rights and privileges would be restored.

The Prime Minister and the Lord President have said that, as a concession, we are to have 10 Fridays for Private Members' Bills after Christmas, but that does not satisfy this House. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was courteous in accepting what was offered it was far less than the House either needs or demands. It has been said by you, Mr. Speaker, that we cannot now discuss the Motion which is to be brought forward later, and some excuses were made by the Prime Minister yesterday on that point, but it seems to me that Private Members' Motions do not require that time for consideration which was the excuse advanced by the Prime Minister. Motions can be introduced at any time, for instance, at ten or eleven o'clock at night, when no one is thinking of anything in Particular. A Motion is suddenly proposed, and an unfortunate Under-Secretary or Parliamentary Secretary has to be dragged from his bath to reply to the Debate. If that sort of unhappy incident is to be avoided, it would be advisable to use the period between now and Christmas, when no carefully drawn up Bills have to be presented, for Motions on Wednesdays. We could come to Friday Bills after Christmas.

It is astonishing to recall, when one looks around the House, that probably 500 of its 640 Members have never ex perienced the exhilaration or sense of achievement which comes from producing and arguing one's own Bill through the House until, finally, it reaches the Statute Book. It is not only a stimulant to young Members who perhaps otherwise do not play a large part in Parliamentary life. but it is an encouragement to those with ambitions for office in that it teaches them something of the responsibilities which they may have to face later. Further, it provides an opportunity to rectify anomalies in existing Acts of Parliament, and satisfy the requirements of one's constituents. May I say at this point, following the entrance of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), how much we all appreciate the triumph of conscience.

I will defer the rest of my remarks until the Motion about this matter is placed on the Order Paper, later, but I do assert that Private Members in this House have a great responsibility to their constituents which I do not think they have yet appreciated. The trouble with this Government is that they have become swollen headed. They think they have almighty power, instead of realising that their power is derived from Parliament, and from Parliament alone. If Members made their position quite clear, and were not so abjectly subservient to the Executive, they would demand that not only should we get Fridays after Christmas for Private Bills but Wednesdays between now and Christmas for Private Members' Motions.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

I should like to ask the Government if they would agree to a modification of the Lord President's Motion in this respect: whether, between now and Christmas, they might allow the Ten Minutes Rule to come into force once again, under which Private Members were allowed to introduce a Bill? I do not think the Government could say that that would be taking very much of their time between now and Christmas. All those who have sat in previous Parliaments will realise that that Rule provided a useful opportunity to introduce Measures which, I believe, were of great interest both to the House and the country. I remember that on one occasion the Lord President himself took advantage of that Rule to introduce a Bill. It was rejected, but, nevertheless, he did have the opportunity of putting forward his views. I believe that my suggestion is reasonable, and that it will he a test as to whether the Government will go as far as they possibly can in trying to protect the rights of Members and ensure that this House is as democratic as it can possibly be.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

Perhaps I might say a word or two in general support of the point which has just been raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). The introduction of Bills by Private Members under the Ten Minutes Rule was, for a long time, a regular custom of the House. I am not aware that it was abused in any way, or made in any way a weapon of obstruction because a number of such Bills were introduced to take up time. The Rule gave an opportunity to Private Members without entrenching on the general work of the House. I remember introducing, myself, in 1903 or 1904, a Private Member's Bill to establish a limit of five years instead of seven for the duration of Parliament. That Bill was not carried in that Parliament, but eventually it found its way on to the Statute Book. It seems to me that the re-introduction of this Rule would cost nothing to the Government in the course of their public business and would allow a little further latitude to Private Members at a time when, under the Government's new proposals, it must be recognised that great inroads are still being made on Private Members' time.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

The only point that really arises is the one about Ten Minutes Rule Bills. When we considered that point, we did not think, having regard to the history of the matter and the distance such Bills reached, that there was really very much value in it. We thought it far better that some Fridays should be available, when Bills would have a fair opportunity of getting into Committee and being properly considered. Presumably we shall be able to discuss that point when the further Motion comes up.

My own recollection on the matter of the Ten Minutes Rule procedure is that, apart from its providing an opportunity for hon. Members to make speeches which they valued making—I quite understand that—the Bills really did not get far. We thought that it was not a very good way of getting Bills through. It is true, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) said, that I did once introduce a Bill myself. It was on the subject of the rating of land values in the County of London. The Bill having been ruled out of Order by Mr. Speaker as a Private Bill, I had a go at it as a Public Bill. It was promptly rejected on that occasion, so my own experience is not very fruitful in this direction. We did not think, on balance, that it was a very profitable proposal to be used. The matter can, however, be raised when the Motion comes forward for providing further facilities for Private Members' business.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

I hope that in the short interval the right hon. Gentleman will give some consideration to the matter. On the point of view that the public need requires the time and that so little can be given to Private Members, I would say that this proposal would not affect the time of the House and would be a restoration of a former practice.

Photo of Mr Harry Morris Mr Harry Morris , Sheffield Central

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give further consideration to this matter. It may be true enough that Bills introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule do not go very far, but a Bill so introduced usually relates to something in which the public are vitally interested at the moment. It draws not only public attention but the attention of the Government and of a Department to the matter. If it does not go far as legislation it usually has a public effect as a deterrent to modify the evils of which the Bill complains. I remember on more than one occasion asking leave to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule to deal with a point connected with coroners' inquests. It is true that the Government of the day took no further steps in regard to it, but the discussion which took place in this House affected the practice in coroners' inquests. This matter of the Ten Minutes Rule must not be judged entirely by how far a Bill gets. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give further consideration to the point.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

When the Lord President of the Council gives further consideration to this matter between now and introducing the Motion after Christmas, I hope that he will bear in mind the point that the Select Committee on Procedure, upon whose report the proposals of the Government are to be based, did recommend—I think nearly two years ago now—that this particular aspect of Private Members' time should be restored forthwith. If reliance has been placed upon that report, perhaps this particular aspect of the report might be remembered.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

Frankly, I was very disappointed at the reception given to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) to restore the Ten Minutes Rule. We are getting back absolutely none of our privileges. That one proposal has been made for getting back the Ten Minutes Rule procedure; are we really in the position today that we need to wait to get it until some future date? We are being offered a carrot after Christmas, but nothing before. Would it not be possible at the present time to allow a trial of the Ten Minutes Rule until Christmas, to give us an opportunity of using it during that time? It would not seriously affect our Business and it would undoubtedly give Private Members a chance to air grievances which otherwise they would have little or no opportunity of airing.

The Leader of the House, having taken every opportunity in the past to avail himself of Private Members' time—or anything else that offered—now is proving himself quite the hardest taskmaster the House has ever had. Undoubtedly, he will be only too glad if he can come back after Christmas and say that something has happened and that he is really not going to give us any time at all.

Photo of Mr Henry Strauss Mr Henry Strauss , Combined English Universities

I am sure that the Leader of the House will give full consideration to the points which have been raised by the Leader of the Opposition and other speakers. My own reason for intervening is that I think the memory of the Lord President was at fault when he said that Bills introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule never, or very seldom, reached the Statute Book. I think he will find that a Measure dealing with infanticide introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule, reached the Statute Book. Although my own memory may be at fault, I think that a Measure introduced in the last Parliament by the late Sir Arnold Wilson under the Ten Minutes Rule also reached the Statute Book. It is true that if anything controversial is introduced under that Rule it is unlikely to reach the Statute Book, but it is certainly possible on occasions to find something which will be acceptable to the whole House, and thus useful legislation can be passed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That until the Adjournment of the House for Christmas Government Business shall have precedence at every Sitting, and that no Bills other than Government Bills be introduced in anticipation of the ballot.