I beg to move,
That when an Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Parliament Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any Question, notwithstanding that Notice of an Instruction has been given, and on the Committee stage of that Bill the Chairman shall forthwith put the Question that he do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House without putting any other Question, and the Question so put shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.
The commendation of this Motion to the House will not, I think, involve me or the House in any consideration of the manifold merits of the Parliament Bill. This Motion is concerned only with the procedure to be followed at the Committee stage and it follows the precedents set in 1913 and 1914 and, again, in connection with this Bill, in 1948, the object of the Motion being—if I may use an objectionable phrase which has been sanctified by precedents—to formalise the Committee stage of the proceedings.
As the House will be aware, the course which is open to us is very much circumscribed by the provisions of the Parliament Act itself and, after its first passage through both Houses, it is inappropriate for this House to make any substantial amendment in a Bill which it is proposed to present for the Royal Assent under the Parliament Act, notwithstanding the fact that it may not have been passed by the Upper House. The very essence of the procedure under the Parliament Act is, of course, that the Bill which is sent up to the Upper House on the second and third occasions is the same Bill as that which was originally submitted to and rejected by the Upper House. That excludes the possibility of any substantial amendment of the Bill taking place on the second or third occasions when the matter is considered in this House, so long as it is intended and contemplated that advantage may have to be taken of the machinery of the Parliament Act itself.
I said "substantial amendment" because it may be that, owing to the lapse of time, drafting Amendments—Amendments as to dates and so forth—are necessary and the insertion of these does not take the Bill outside the provisions of the Parliament Act if you, Mr. Speaker, certify not only that the time-table has been followed but that the Amendments which have been inserted in this House are only such as are necessitated by the lapse of time. I do not think any question of that kind of Amendment arises in connection with the present Bill.
It is also true that provision is made under the Parliament Act for the insertion of Amendments in another place and for their consideration—their acceptance or rejection—thereafter by this House, but this House has, perhaps not unnaturally, not thought that the present Bill is an appropriate occasion for the use of this machinery. By the Parliament Act it is provided that in an appropriate case this House, without itself inserting any Amendment into the Bill on the second or third occasions when we consider it, may make suggestions to the upper House as to the Amendments which might appropriately be inserted into the Bill in that place.
But such suggestions, if indeed any were made, would not be considered on the Committee stage of the Bill or, indeed, at any other formal stage of the Bill itself. Suggestions of that kind are put down by way of a Motion on the Paper and they may be discussed and considered by the House, I think at some stage prior to the Third Reading of the Bill but not as part of one of the ordinary stages of the Bill itself. That, again, does not arise in this case because I understand that no such suggestions with a view to Amendments in another place have, in fact, been made. Consequently, we are now concerned only with the procedure on the Committee stage itself.
If the Committee stage were taken in the ordinary course and Amendments were put down, the proceedings on them would be bound to be abortive and unrealistic. No Amendments could be carried on the Committee stage without defeating the very objects of the Parliament Act procedure, and, consequently, if any Amendments were put down and were discussed and were carried, the Government would either have to seek to move them out on Report or the Bill would cease to be the same Bill as that which had been submitted to another place on the first occasion. Consequently, the Parliament Act procedure would no longer be applicable to it.
It would, therefore, be a singularly fruitless waste of time for this House to discuss in Committee Amendments which ex hypothesi could not be adopted consistently with the desire of the House, already so clearly expressed on two occasions, that this Bill, if need be, should be passed under the provisions of the Parliament Act. Indeed, I venture to go further and to say that if any attempt were made to put down Amendments and to take up time by their discussion in Committee, that would really thwart the whole will of the House either by changing the identity of the Bill as previously submitted to the House of Lords or by upsetting the time-table which it is essential to follow in order to ensure that the Bill goes to another place at least a month before the end of the session.
So, acting within the rigid framework of the Parliament Act itself, the Government put down this Motion, in accordance with all the precedents, to ensure that the Committee stage shall be a formal one only.
I was sorry that last year when this was discussed I was unfortunately absent through illness. I therefore had to rely only upon the text of HANSARD for my knowledge of what took place. I must admit that I was rather surprised that it fell to the Attorney-General to move this Motion, and neither the Leader nor the Deputy-Leader of the House, because I did not realise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had interested himself very much in these matters. Then it came to me that the Lord President had told us that when he went away he always took Erskine May on his holidays, and I can only suppose that the Attorney-General, finding the speeches of the Russian delegates at Lake Success boring, took to studying how this House should conduct public business.
I am sure we are indebted to the Attorney-General for the way he put this Motion, with which, incidentally, my hon. Friends and I do not agree. He told us it had the authority of all the precedents. That is using a very big phrase for a very little case, because, of course, the precedents are two precedents of 40 years ago and what happened last year; so that the precedents eventually boil down to three, and with such a tremendous interval of time between them, that it is only right that the House should look at this matter with very great care before it passes this Motion.
For my own part, I am rather worried at this form of Motion, though I have no doubt that the Government have taken very good advice on it; I hope that I may be permitted, therefore, to say just one or two words about it, because it is a matter of importance, though not, obviously, a matter of tremendous importance in the case of a one-Clause Bill like the one which we are discussing, in which, it is obvious, the scale of or opportunity for Amendment at any stage is very restricted. That, of course, is clear from what was going on during the Debates on the Bill itself, where, obviously, Amendments could not very well be drafted or discussed except the two which did come before the Committee.
If we are to assume that there will be other Bills—one must make some assumption in discussing this matter—if we are to assume that other Bills will be passed by the machinery of the Parliament Act—or of this Bill when it becomes an Act—then we have to assume that they will not always be one-Clause Bills. They may very well be—as was, indeed, the case in two out of the three precedents—very long and complicated Measures which come before the House under the machinery of the Act. If that is so, during the period when the Bill which is passing through under the Parliament Act is before this House, there may very well be, in the case of a long and complicated Measure, reasons—and good reasons—why Amendments should be made if possible, and without, as the learned Attorney said, endangering—"thwarting" as he said—the wishes of the House, which wished the Bill to go forward under the Parliament Act.
This Motion has, therefore, to be discussed. The point is, how far is a Debate valuable at all when ex hypothesi the body of the Bill cannot be amended in Committee? On the other hand, we ought also to discuss at some stage—I hope now, if it is the appropriate occasion; if it is not, I hope we may find one—how we are going to debate Amendments which, may be, the Government themselves want to bring forward, if possible, if the other place agrees, to incorporate in the Bill.
As the Attorney-General has pointed out, there is provided in the Parliament Act, Section 2 (4), the method by which suggestions can be made by this House and submitted to the other place, and, if accepted there, can be incorporated in the Bill without technically altering the Bill and making it impossible for it to pass along the road of the Parliament Act procedure. That is accepted. There is a method for putting forward suggestions. In the Debate last year, when various questions were asked, there was only one authoritative statement, if I may use the word, made at all, and that was your own Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on this matter, in which you said of such suggestions that there would have to be notice of Motion,
… and that would require to be put on the Order Paper. A manuscript Amendment could not be accepted for a Motion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st September, 1948; Vol. 456, c. 713.]
Therefore, at some stage or another, if one wants to proceed with a suggestion, a Motion must be put upon the Order Paper.
I am not quite sure whether that Motion could, under our new Rules, appear before this stage—before, that is to say, the Government had produced their Procedure Motion. Had we wished to make a suggestion, could we have done it any time up to today? I am not at all sure that we could have done it until after this Procedure Motion had appeared. I think it is a matter which should be cleared up at some stage because, as I said, if we are making precedents and laying down arrangements for future Bills coming under the Parliament Act, it is just as well, when one is going through the House, that we should ascertain what the position is and ought to be.
The Deputy-Leader of the House, the Home Secretary, on this very point, when he was asked if a Motion could be put down, said it would be too late to do it now—that was, when this Procedure Motion was before the House; it would have been too late to put down any Motion dealing with a suggestion. I assume he had been advised it would have been in Order and proper to have put it down before the Government brought forward their Procedure Motion. But then, until the Government have brought forward a Procedure Motion, how is anyone to know that is to be the method
by which Business is to be conducted? That is important. It must be clear that until we see this Motion on the Order Paper we cannot assume that the Bill to which it relates will not be treated as an ordinary Bill. It is only after this Motion appears that we know it is going to be done in this way, and then, says the Home Secretary:
… no suggestion can now be placed upon the Order Paper.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st September, 1948; Vol. 456, c. 712.]
I think that one mistake, if I may respectfully say so, is taking this Procedure Motion and the Third Reading of the Bill on the same day. I do not see any necessity for it. After all, this could have been on the Order Paper any time after the Second Reading and disposed of in a short half-hour. I am not pressing the point about this Bill, and I hope nobody will take it against me, because being a one-Clause Bill it is not particularly appropriate. But in the case of a long Bill it might be very necessary, perhaps in the Government's interests, to have something put forward as a suggestion; or, indeed, hon. Members opposing the Government might wish to bring forward something fresh.
I would give out of my own imagination the sort of thing that might have happened. It did not happen, and let no one think I am putting it in any but a fanciful way. Suppose the Bill that had been going through this House, and was going to go forward under the Parliament Act procedure, was to deal with the nationality of British subjects. That is, obviously, not a thing, in fact, where there is any great controversy. But suppose it had been bitterly opposed, and suppose that in the period during which the Bill was going through the House there were circumstances such as led to the Indian Independence Act or the Ireland Act, where obviously there were going to be some considerable changes of words owing to some outside circumstances which no one could have foreseen—in cases like that, it is obvious that there might very well be reasons for suggestions to be put forward by the Government themselves.
All I would seek to establish on that point is that it is wrong, in my view, to take the Procedure Motion at the same time as the Third Reading, and it is wrong that, at the moment, there is nothing clearly laid down anywhere—there is nothing in the authorities, and there is certainly not in all the precedents to which the Attorney-General referred—as to what is the moment when a Motion dealing with suggestions can be put down—except it must be on the Order Paper, and, according to the Home Secretary, cannot come at this stage, because it would be too late.
I hope that I am not wearying the House, but I want to safeguard the position for the future, because one knows that so often what happens is used as a precedent. The Attorney-General himself used as a precedent what happened 40 years ago, when the Parliament Act was quite new, and when probably no one had thought out any of these problems. I do not think that anyone has thought them out now. It seems to me that the matter might be pigeon-holed and stored up for some future Committee sitting on the procedure of the House. It was not a matter raised on the last occasion, but it may very well be on a future one.
The point I now come to is this: Supposing the Opposition were to bring forward suggestions in the technical term by the form of a Motion. The Home Secretary was very contradictory on the last occasion as to whether they would or would not in fact have the right or opportunity of doing that. He said:
In fact, on this occasion, no suggestions have been tabled and, therefore, the Government have not in any way precluded, and, in fact, cannot preclude any suggestions which might have been tabled from being discussed.
That sounds—although I cannot believe that he meant it—that any suggestions put down in the form of a Motion must be taken. He says that the Government cannot preclude any suggestions which may have been tabled from being discussed. According to the Home Secretary in that statement, the Government have no option. Later, he changes his mind—and this is why I think it is so important to clear up the matter. In the same speech, he says exactly the opposite:
… had suggestions appeared it would have been open to the Government to consider giving time for the consideration of suggestions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st September; Vol. 456, c. 708 and 711.]
In the first instance, he says that the Government cannot preclude suggestions
being discussed, and then goes on to say that the Government would have been open to consider giving time. It follows that by being open to consider giving time, one of the results of their consideration might be not to give time. I should like to know whether this rests entirely in the Government's hands or not, and whether there is an inherent right under this plan for anyone to put down suggestions which then must be discussed.
That is opening up a tremendous prospect if this procedure is ever to be used again. It does not agree with the normal procedure of the House. Let us take a Committee stage. One cannot expect every Amendment or Committee point to be discussed. There is the right of selection. If it is true that one cannot be precluded from making suggestions in the form of a Motion, I think that that point ought to be cleared up, and I leave it at that. If we find that the alternative is the right answer, and it rests with the Government to find time or not for any of these Motions, we are putting enormous powers in the hands of the Government to decide what is or what is not to be discussed; not as a general proposition but as something in relation to legislation going through the House. I do not think that is in conformity with the traditions and precedents for debate in this Chamber.
My own suggestion is rather different. The Attorney-General said just now, "Of course, if you had a Committee stage and proceeded with an Amendment which ex hypothesi would be abortive because the Government of the day was not intending to accept any Amendment, that would therefore be wasting the time of the House and possibly endangering the time-table which the Government had set before themselves." I see the point of that argument, but I do not see why we cannot have a Committee stage in order that points which have come out can be discussed. They would only be major points that would arise on which Members might wish to bring pressure upon the Government. I do not see why we cannot have a Committee stage even if, as a result of the Committee stage, none of the Amendments could ex hypothesi be put on the Statute Book. I will explain why I say that.
First of all, if we did it in that way, the selection of the subjects to be discussed, the Amendments, would rest with the Chair and not with the Government, as the Home Secretary suggested. There is a whole world of difference between leaving the power in the Chair to select Amendments and leaving it to the Government to say, "There is a whole list of suggestions put up by various people including ourselves, and we will decide that there is only time for one, eight and 74, or whatever it may be." The whole underlying assumption of everything that I have said is that there may be some change of a major character occurring during the time when these Bills are passing through the House. Assuming that, I am trying to find out how to deal with this matter when it arises.
Of course, we could have a Committee stage. On this Bill that would not make much difference because even on the main Committee stage of a one-Clause Bill there is practically nothing in the way of Committee points, as opposed to real points of principle on Second Reading. I think that the advantage of having a Committee stage is that one would have Amendments put down. The Chair would select them, and they would all automatically and ex hypothesi have to be defeated if the Government wanted to get the Bill through under this procedure; but if the Minister responsible was satisfied that the case put up should go forward to another place, at any rate in a form of a suggestion, we should be benefited by the previous discussion and could put forward the proposal in the proper language. There is all the difference between discussing something on the Committee stage and being told, "We accept that idea, but it is the wrong form of words." So far as I can see, there is no chance of looking at any of the words again under the suggested procedure.
The House of Lords, as I understand the position, cannot touch a suggestion on its wording; it can merely accept or not, if it accepts, that makes it, as the Attorney-General said, the same Bill as before. I would definitely prefer that it should be done that way because it has caught my eye that the Home Secretary not only put it in the first place that the Government had to find time and secondly that it was open to the
Government to find time—that I thought was an even chance—but I find that in column 716 he repeats that the Government
might find time for the discussion of a particular suggestion but not for others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st September, 1948; Vol. 456, c. 716.]
That is a theory which I do not accept. I do not think that any of us can accept the position that if there is to be discussion on a Bill, matters which have arisen after the Bill has left the House should be left entirely with the Government. I am sure that everyone on the other side who is not entirely under the thumb of the Government will look at this as a matter for the House of Commons as a whole and would agree that it would be better from all points of view for the final word to rest with the Chair. That is what I would like to have cleared up today.
While this form of procedure in this particular case of a one-Clause Bill may not be so bad as it seems, it is certainly not a procedure that ought to become a precedent in any form. Of course, one hopes that we shall not have to use the machinery of the Parliament Bill in future, and that it will lie dormant for another 40 years. But if it is used again, I trust that this form of Motion will not appear on the Order Paper to be rushed through on the same day as the Third Reading. Because we have those objections—and I dare say other hon. Members can think of other objections—I shall certainly ask my hon. Friends to support me in the Division Lobby as a protest against this way of handling this problem.
I rise to support this Motion. I do so because I think it is the only procedure which could be followed. I am also supported by what is perhaps an even better reason, namely, that this is the procedure which was followed in 1913 and 1914 on the Government of Ireland Bill and the Welsh Church (Dis-establishment) Bill by the very authors of the 1911 Act. Ordinarily and generally, one dislikes any form of procedure which shortens or limits debate, but in this case this procedure is inevitable because of an inherent weakness in the Act of 1911.
As the Attorney-General has already pointed out, in order that the Bill might become law—which is the intention of the Government, whatever be the decision of the Upper House—it has to be substantially the same as the one originally sent to the Upper House from this House on the first occasion. Any change in it would mean that it would be a new Bill. Under the Act of 1911 the same Bill has to be passed three times when, even if the Upper House rejects it, it can become law. That being so, a Committee stage in the ordinary sense becomes almost futile, because the Government, if they mean to carry the matter through, must resist any Amendment. All the Government can do is to wait perhaps for Amendments to be moved in the Upper House, or for some suggestion that might be made individually in this House for the betterment of the Bill.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) asked when was the right time to make those suggestions. Surely the procedure is now well understood. A suggestion should be made in the form of a Motion, which must be put down on the Order Paper. The right time to make it is immediately after the House has given the Bill a Second Reading. That Motion can then be considered, and time will be afforded in the usual way by what is known in this House as the procedure through the usual channels.
I am perfectly sure that that was what was in the mind of the Home Secretary when he said it would be a question of whether or not time could be found. If the suggestion were a really vital one the Government of the day would have to find time so that the matter could be discussed. Then, dependent upon the nature of the suggestion, the amount of support that it was likely to obtain, and maybe the number of suggestions, it would be the duty of the Government to see whether they would not frame the Motion they put before the House in a different way from the Motion we are now considering. It might be a Motion that there should be no Committee stage but only consideration of suggestions which had been put down on the Order Paper, or such of them as might be selected. That would be the right way to do it. Surely that opportunity has been afforded to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.
This matter was discussed in 1913 and 1914. It could have been raised last year, and if anybody had a new suggestion to make, warning could have been given. The time to make such a suggestion was immediately after this Bill had received a Second Reading for the third time. What is more, although it is right that these points should be raised, it is difficult to think what suggestion can be made upon this Bill of one Clause. One can well understand that a whole series of suggestions might have been made on two Measures such as the Government of Ireland Bill and the Welsh Church (Dis-establishment) Bill, but none was made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessors and friends in those days.
As I pointed out on the last occasion we debated this matter, everyone realised the inherent weakness of the 1911 Act. Although we know that there may be some flaw in the Parliament Bill as it left this House on the first occasion, it is impossible for us as a House to put it right. All we can do is to make the suggestion that it be adopted. That being so, we must realise that we have passed that Measure once and for all, and we must stick to it; if we change it in any form we lose the advantage of the 1911 Act. For those reasons, I support this Motion.
I strongly support my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in his protest against considering this Motion and the Third Reading of the Parliament Bill on the same day, because it means prohibiting the House of Commons from considering in any way the meaning of this Motion and at the same time hearing full and proper Third Reading speeches.
I was interested to hear of the only three precedents on which any comment can be made on this Motion. The Attorney-General referred us back to the two Acts of 1913 and 1914. Has there not been any form of advance in parliamentary thought since 1914? In debating such a Motion, cannot we deal with the matter in a rather wider way than having in mind merely the idea of passing some Bill through its various stages? I cannot see how, in adopting various methods for eliminating the Committee stage, we can avoid eliminating the power of the House of Commons, and for that reason I say that there should be a Committee stage.
The Attorney-General said that if an Amendment were made, it would sink the whole Bill. If the House of Commons, the supreme legislative assembly, decides in its wisdom, after consideration, that a Bill would be better if amended, why not allow the House to make the Amendment? Why should the House be prevented from doing so simply because of the silly notion that the procedure is upset? I should have thought that even this Government could have risen above that. It often happens that, in Committee, a Bill can be made more generally acceptable. If it were possible to have a proper Committee stage, Amendments which were accepted by the Chair could be properly discussed, and if they were agreed to by the House, the amended Bill might be acceptable to the whole House, so that both Opposition and Government would agree to accept the Bill on the new basis.
Would it not be possible in that way to use the Committee stage so as to pass the Bill without resorting at all to the Parliament Bill procedure? That is something which has been frequently done in the past—we are always having compromises on these matters. Those who opposed the 1911 Act did so because they were afraid of having a Government which would do everything in their power to eliminate discussion in the House of Commons. That is why I say it is better to have a Committee stage. Any Government that brings forward a suggestion of this kind must distrust its own supporters. The purpose of the Government is to stifle discussion in the House of Commons, which shows that they fear the Amendments which may be put down by their supporters who may take a contrary view.
This sort of Motion shows that the Government intend to use all their powers to eliminate discussion by elected Members of Parliament. It also shows that the Government fear what will happen if a Bill is allowed to take its full course. We should try to reason with each other on these great constitutional questions and get a compromise between the parties concerned, instead of using the machinery to cut out discussion. This is a Motion which I should expect from this Government. Its aim is deliberately to weaken the House of Commons. It has not been brought forward to deal with a great constitutional question in the best interests of all, but is mean in outlook and disastrous in effect. The purpose is to stifle the elected representatives in the House of Commons. Thank goodness that by this time next year, this Government will no longer be in power.
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes in order to deal with that part of the speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General which drew our attention to the proviso to Section 2 (4) of the Parliament Act, 1911. That proviso has 10 lines, and it is quite clear that those who framed that legislation meant it to have some force. I accept of course the clear Ruling that was given by Mr. Speaker on 21st September, 1948, on the method of operating these 10 lines. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) has also called attention to that Ruling, which was so much more clear, if I may say so, than any of the speeches of Ministers on that day.
The Ruling shows that to operate this proviso the procedure of putting a notice of Motion on the Order Paper must be used. In that connection, it would be very unfortunate if the idea got about that the primary duty to put such a Motion on the Order Paper necessarily rested on His Majesty's Opposition—this is very much a case where the Government might think fit to put down such a Motion themselves.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) told the House that it was very difficult to see what suggestions could be made. I will give just one example, which I think is an important one. One of the suggestions which could have been made would be to cut out what, I think, most lawyers interested in our Constitution would agree is a most monstrous feature in the Bill, namely, the retro-active provision. It would certainly be a matter worthy of consideration to leave out the words from "effect" in line 5 to "as" in line 8. Later in the week we shall hear whether there is any point in these words, although it would be wrong for me to speculate on that at this stage. It certainly strengthens what my right hon. and gallant Friend has said, that this Motion should be put down and decided some time before the Third Reading.
All I am suggesting at this stage is that we may be precluding ourselves from operating the proviso contained in Section 2 (4) of the 1911 Act, and that we may be losing our last chance to remedy what is in any event a constitutional monstrosity and what the Government may find is also unnecessary. For these reasons the House will be well advised to reject this Motion, unless the Government are prepared to take the Motion today and postpone the Third Reading.
It would be tempting to answer the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) and to explain to him once again that there is no constitutional monstrosity in this Bill, but that would be out of Order in discussing this Motion. I do not think there is any answer to the contention put forward by the Attorney-General that the House must pass a Motion of this sort for the elimination of the Committee stage.
It was quite obvious that the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was dealing with a purely hypothetical situation which might or might not arise, and was not addressing any serious argument in relation to this Bill. He is not proposing to make any Amendment to the Bill. If he had wanted to put down an Amendment for consideration in Committee it was open to him to do so at any time since the House gave a Second Reading to the Bill on 30th October. But he has not done so. It was also open to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to put down a Motion under the procedure which Mr. Speaker outlined in 1948, but no notice of Motion has been put down, although the Opposition have had every opportunity of doing so for over a fortnight.
Therefore, in the absence of any Motion for suggesting an alteration to the Bill and of any notice of Amendments for consideration in Committee, it is natural that the House should be invited to dispense with the Committee stage. What the House wants to do is not to amend the Bill—I think there is common ground with us on this point; we are in conflict with another place—but, by passing it for the Third time, to record its determination and reiterate what is the wish of the elected Chamber in the conflict which has arisen with the non-elected Chamber. As the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said, there is no necessity for a Committee stage. To have a Committee stage would be fatuous and completely nugatory, and I think the House should unanimously adopt the Motion.
I was not very impressed with the three precedents which the Attorney-General brought to our notice. The precedent of 1948 was brought forward by the same right hon. and learned Gentleman, and to quote it is only saying that "During the last year we have not gained in wisdom"—to put the least charitable construction upon it—or, alternatively, to say "During the last year we have seen no reason to alter our minds." I therefore dismiss that precedent and address myself to the precedents of 1913 and 1914, which are rather different. Both of those Bills, in respect of which Motions were passed, were not single-Clause Bills.
At a time when democracy throughout the world is on the defensive, we are deliberately making a formality of one of our accepted procedures for the fourth time in the history of this Parliament. The Attorney-General said there was strife over this Bill between the elected and the non-elected Chambers, and that the Government desired the House to pass the Bill for the Third time so that it could become law. I do not disagree, but if that is the real desire of this legislative democracy, it is disastrous, when emphasising a determination that the will of the people shall prevail, to make one of the rights inherent in that democratic assembly a matter of pure formality.
I was surprised that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who leads in this House the smaller section of the Liberal Party, should put forward the astounding doctrine that because the Government would refuse Amendments there should be no Committee stage. It is a little difficult to follow the tergiversations and orations of that section of the party, but I should have thought that the one thing in which they did believe was free democratic discussion. It was a little startling, and I must say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could not have appreciated the implications of what he said in putting forward that doctrine.
The implications are clear. They are that on any Measure on which the Government announced, in advance, that they will not pay attention to any Amendments, there should not be a Committee stage. That is carrying the stultification of this House to a degree further than the Guillotine Motions which have disfigured some of our previous Bills. I am astonished that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is much respected personally on both sides of the House, and who leads a section of a party the very name of which suggests freedom, should have lent the weight of his authority to that appalling proposition.
After all, a Committee stage does not merely exist in order to incorporate Amendments to Bills. It also exists to permit the detailed discussion and analysis of Bills. Again and again one has heard right hon. Gentlemen opposite dismiss an awkward point on a Second Reading when they did not know the answer, by saying that it was a Committee point. It is all very well for the Attorney-General to say that no Committee points are involved on this Bill; that may be his opinion and the Government's opinion, but it does not inevitably follow that it is also the opinion of all sections of the House. Before the Attorney-General is entitled to come here and take away some of the rights of discussion of the House on this Bill, he should be satisfied that his view that no useful purpose is to be served by having a Committee stage is accepted by everybody.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) pointed out, there is one highly intricate provision in the Bill—the proviso to Clause 1, which would well repay detailed analysis on the Committee stage. It would repay some interrogation of the Government as to which Measure it is designed to cover, since in its terms it must refer to one Measure which has been rejected in another place.
My hon. Friend made a slight slip in calling it a proviso to the Bill. The words are in lines 5 to 8 of the Bill itself. I used the word "proviso" in connection with the Act of 1911.
I am much obliged, but I am in the habit of saying that anything that begins with the word "provided" is a proviso, a practice which even my profound deference to my hon. and learned Friend will not lightly lead me to abandon, although I know he is trying to assist me.
The truth of the matter, I think, slipped out in the Attorney-General's speech—that a Committee stage in which anything happened to the Bill would upset the Government's time-table. Quite clearly, that is the motive behind this Motion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said the Government had to get the Bill to another place a month before the end of this Session, and that it would upset any plans the Government may have for winding up the Session in the middle of next month if it did not get there in time. The truth is not that a Committee stage is not necessary; the truth is not that we cannot be usefully employed, even though the Government stonewalled in their resistance to Amendments; the truth is that it is the Government's plan to put this Bill on the Statute Book and dissolve Parliament before the economic ground crumbles completely under their feet.
I listened with considerable interest to the last two speeches, and in order to test their validity it occurred to me to ask what the Opposition would do if it had its way? Hon. Members opposite are presenting arguments to the House against the proposal of the Government, and presumably when the time comes they will vote against it. Suppose they carried it, would there then be a Committee stage? It seems to me there would not. This is a one-Clause Bill. There are no Amendments on the Order Paper, and I am wondering how the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was proposing to have his detailed examination point by point if he had his way.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows better than he pretends that if there is a discussion on the Motion that the Clause stand part, all that can be done at the end is to vote for or against the Clause as it stands. What he wants to do, therefore, is to defeat a proposal in order to discuss point by point items in a Clause which he does not propose to alter. Is he saying seriously—
It is the inherent right of Parliament to do anything Parliament chooses. It is the inherent right of Parliament to reject the proposal, and it is equally the inherent right of Parliament to pass it. It is no more an inherent right of Parliament to have a Committee stage than to decide to do without it if it wanted so to decide. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that we are very wrong in doing some incalculable and permanent harm to the Constitution by avoiding a Committee stage, which he does not want. There is not a single thing—and I speak with due deference to the Chair, though I feel sure I am right—which hon. Gentlemen opposite can say on the Motion for the Clause to stand part in the Committee stage that they will not be perfectly entitled to say on the Third Reading of the Bill. They are not losing anything except the right to say it twice.
The whole point is that this is not a sincere argument which is being advanced to the Committee. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were seriously complaining that they were being deprived of the opportunity of registering some change of mind that had been come to in the 12 months since we last discussed this matter, then we would have expected to see on the Order Paper the formalities of those changes of mind, and one could clearly have understood the argument that the Government were running away from these proposals to amend the Bill, or the complaint, "We are being deprived of our opportunity to test the opinion of the House of Commons on this, that, or the other point on which we have had opportunity for further consideration in the last 12 months."
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot have it both ways. Either they have such a proposal to make or they have not. If they have not, then the whole of their argument this afternoon is to no purpose. If, on the other hand, they have proposals for amendment which they wish to make, they have been neglecting their duties as a loyal, constitutional, and constructive Opposition in failing to put them down on the Order Paper to let us know what they are thinking. It is too much to expect at this stage of this Parliament that the Opposition should begin to show that it understands what its job in Parliament is. This is the worst Opposition the House has known in a couple of centuries. It is entirely ineffective, and whenever there is an opportunity of doing anything, it has not done anything about it. When it had something to propose, it has refrained from doing so, and has blamed the Government for not doing something.
So far as its policy is concerned, it has been the policy of the uneducated mother, who told her eldest son, "Go and see what Tommy is doing, and tell him he must not." The only common thread that runs through the whole of the activities of the Opposition during the past four years is for it to sit back and wait to see what the Government propose and then say it is wrong. That, of course, would be a competent thing to do if hon. Members opposite would suggest what the Government ought to do. The Opposition never do that. It would be a competent thing to tell us in advance what ought to be done, but that is altogether too risky for this Opposition, because it might find that the Government have already done it. I come now to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher), who spoke for what is now called the National Liberal Party.
My only doubt is which of the numerous sections constitute the smallest section of the Conservative Party. I no longer know. What is the doctrine? The hon. Gentleman was arguing that there was some offence to democracy in doing without a Committee stage. He said that this proposal was the wrong action to take at a time—and this was the important point which he made—when democracy was on trial throughout the world. The hon. Gentleman, like his party, has long forgotten what democracy means. It is too much to suppose that democracy is only a matter of unlimited repetitive discussion on points Ion since decided. If the hon. Gentleman wants to strike a blow for democracy at this time when democracy is in such danger all over the world, he will vote for the Government's Motion, because the real democratic issue, which is involved in this Motion, is whether it is the will of the House of Commons which is to prevail or the will of the House of Lords. There can be no doubt whatever of the democratic answer to that question.
I would suggest that the reason why hon. Gentlemen opposite have refrained from putting any Amendment down on the Order Paper is that they agree with us that there is only one substantial issue today about this Parliament Bill. They think it ought not to pass; we think that it ought to pass, and that is the only issue between us. That is why they did not bother with a lot of pettifogging Amendments on small points.
Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest that there is nothing between us on the question of whether this Bill should retain the retro-active provision which the Government propose?
A number of points were between us. One was whether any amendment of the law on this matter was necessary, and another whether this Bill should contain this, that or the other point. What I am saying is that all these are now decided issues, and that it is common ground between both sides of the House that they are now decided issues. The real question between us now is whether the Bill, in the form to which the House of Commons has twice given overwhelming approval, should now become the law of the land. I do not complain if hon. Members opposite think that we are wrong about this, and if they vote against this Motion and the Third Reading. That is their view, and no doubt they will defend it in the country when the time comes.
I think, however, the House and I are entitled to complain that a real and very live issue between the two sides of the House should be confused by all these arguments, which are not seriously meant, as to the enormity of not having a Committee stage to amend Clauses when no desire is shown to amend them at all.
I am rather surprised at the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I have always thought that in this House he has been rather a champion for free opportunity of Parliamentary discussion. He has certainly appeared to stand for that, upon principle. It has been on that principle that we have so frequently and so long suffered him in his contributions—I will not say gladly but certainly generously. Therefore I am sorry that I differ from him on this occasion. This is a time when the House ought to take its stand upon principle and insist upon our having the normal opportunities for Parliamentary discussion.
I cannot understand what the Government are afraid of in having a Committee stage. If it is fear of getting their time-table dislocated, that is their fault. They should so arrange their time-table that we have the normal opportunities for discussion. If it is right, as has been said several times on that side of the House, that there would be nothing to discuss in Committee, then, again, why cannot we have a Committee stage? If it was sought on this side of the House to raise matters which would not be in Order in Committee, we should be stopped by the Chair. There are great advantages in having a Committee stage to a Bill. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that a Committee stage would merely involve a repetition of the Second Reading, which again—
I did not say that at all. What I said was that, since there are no Amendments down, hon. Members could make speeches in the Committee stage only on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and that speeches with the same effect and the same content might equally well be made on the Third Reading.
I think that that is not altogether correct. The position will not be quite the same in Committee; in fact, it is very different. I have always felt that there has been great advantage in our discussions in Committee. We have a much freer exchange of views across the Floor, and the very fact that hon. Members can speak more than once shortens their speeches because they know if they do not get an answer they can return to the attack. In Committee we get much more quickly to grips with the point at issue than we do in the more formal stages of our proceedings. That is not only true when Amendments have been moved. On the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and particularly on the Question, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill," we get, on most Committee stages, a pretty wide discussion.
This proposal, which I hope the House will resist, to eliminate the Committee stage from the Bill, ought to be defeated. We have had too much muzzling during this Parliament, and it is time, although it is rather late in the day, for the House to stand up for its rights.
Two main points have been raised against the Motion. The first was that raised by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). He pointed out that there had been no interval between this Motion and the Third Reading for what I might call Amendments under the proviso to the Parliament Act. If this Motion goes through and no Committee stage is taken, it will not be possible, according to Mr. Speaker's Ruling, to put down any Amendments. I call them Amendments purposely, because that is what they are called in the Parliament Act, 1911. I refer to Amendments put down before the Third Reading. One could have expected that if the Government were going to abolish the Committee stage, they would have allowed an interval between taking the Motion to abolish it, and the Third Reading.
The other main point advanced against this Motion may be dealt with by taking up an argument used by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). He advanced a lot of arguments which, in my respectful submission, rested upon a misunderstanding of a point of Parliamentary discussion. One argument was that there was a big majority on the other side, and it was known that the points which might be raised would be rejected, and that therefore there was not to be any discussion.
The hon. Member is doing much more misunderstanding than I did. I never advanced the proposition, and I never would, that a man is not justified in putting down Amendments, talking upon them and dividing upon them, merely because he knows that they will be defeated. I said that it was quite wrong to complain about the absence of a Committee stage, when hon. Members have not indicated any desire to have a Committee stage.
Before the Committee stage is announced it is not the practice to put down Amendments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No. If the Committee stage is to be in a week's time, we put down our Amendments later. There is no duty to put down Amendments now.
Why should it be done? I might take exception to what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne says. What reason is there for the Opposition to put down Amendments before it is decided to have a Committee stage? The hon. Member says that Amendments would be rejected, and that we all know what is going to happen. We are taking this opportunity to protest against it.
The hon. Member surely misunderstands. It was known as long ago as last Thursday, and perhaps before that, that the next stage of the Bill would be taken this afternoon. But for the present Motion from the Government, that next stage would be the Committee stage. It is only reasonable that people who want to move Amendments should give reasonable notice of those Amendments. That is what the Order Paper is for. Since there are no Amendments on the Order Paper, one is entitled to draw the deduction that nobody wants to move any Amendments.
If the hon. Member asks me why I am speaking, I say that it is in order to protest and to carry out that education of the Government which is one of the functions of the Opposition. I would remind the House that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that this was the most disgraceful Opposition in the history of England, and so on, and—
I can understand the hon. Member's attitude towards the Opposition. On many occasions we have had to help the Government against the hon. Gentleman. No wonder he is resentful against us. When the Opposition have been co-operative and helpful to the Government on issues like conscription, and the hon. Gentleman has gone into the Lobby against the Government, no wonder he thinks that the Opposition is not efficient. I do not think that other people will agree with him. The Opposition have been opposing him and not always the Government, and for that reason he says it has not been an efficient Opposition. In that direction we can find out why the hon. Gentleman is so condemnatory of the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman's philosophy of Parliament seems altogether misconceived.
Parliament exists in order that there should be discussion. If everything depended upon a vast majority, obviously there would be no discussion after the first day. The Government would pass a Bill saying: "There shall be no more discussion. We have more supporters than you, and there's an end of it." The whole issue of the Parliament Act, 1911, is to provide that a Measure in question shall go through once, twice and a third time. From the way it is drafted it was envisaged that there would be discussion again and again on the same point. It was envisaged that it would be the same Bill but that it would go through for the second time and be discussed again and it would go through a third time and also be discussed again.
It depends upon what we mean by "unaltered." The proviso in the 1911 Act says that there can be Amendments suggested by the House of Commons on the third occasion, and therefore the Bill can go to another place altered in that sense, accompanied by the "Amendments," as the Parliament Act calls them, "suggested by the House of Commons."
That is the point I am making. It is not right to abolish the Committee stage and not give the Opposition the opportunity of making Amendments for rejection on the Committee stage and on Third Reading, a point which was made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough. The Opposition would by that means be able to make suggestions which might or might not be carried. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) pointed out, one of the most important subjects which could be discussed on that kind of Amendment would be the retroactive provision of the Parliament Bill. The Government in this Parliament have been far too prone to introduce retroactive provisions, and that is a subject of great interest which should be discussed on the suggestions to be proposed by the Opposition to accompany the Bill when it goes to another place, if carried again in this House.
I want to allude to a point made by the Attorney-General about the timetable. Will he tell us what the timetable is, on what it depends, and what is in the time-table which would be upset? Will he also tell us why this Session must end this year? What would be the objection to the Session going on a little longer in order to give an opportunity for these matters to be discussed? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind a time-table he ought at least to tell us what is in the time-table and what it matters if it is upset, and if he will tell us that, perhaps we shall understand why he is so frightened about the timetable being upset.
At the moment I can see no reason why we should not discuss the Bill even more fully. Some of it might be repetitive, but that does not matter, for we educate the Government and we see them alter their opinions after we have repeated a thing to them. It is necessary to do that sometimes, and Parliament is none the worse for it. Had we another opportunity of educating them on the Committee stage, on Report and on the Third Reading, we might find that it was an advantage to the country that the time-able had been upset.
I am very glad that the Opposition are going to vote against what I consider to be an iniquitous proposal. If I had wanted any additional spur to make me go with even more alacrity into the Lobby, it was the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has left the Chamber, but I am sure that his solitary colleague on the Liberal bench will not object to the remarks I am about to make. I can well imagine that this must have been a day which gladdened the heart of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery because he no doubt regards it as one step forward in making more perfect the legislation enacted in this House in 1911.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman as a lawyer is no doubt entitled when he seeks to interpret statutes to be heard with the greatest interest and attention by the House as a whole, but we on this side could not be expected to agree with him when he sought to state an argument on the precedent of the 1911 Parliament Act and on this identical Motion which we are asked to pass this afternoon, which was brought in because of the Act of 1911 with regard to the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church (Dis-establishment) Bill in 1913 and 1914 respectively.
I remember as a boy the passage of those Acts and the public feeling among Conservatives which was aroused at that time. I can truthfully say with respect to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that much the same kind of feeling was entertained by those who sat on these benches then and their supporters towards the Radical Government of that day as is entertained towards the Socialist Government some 35 or 37 years after. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not be surprised when we think that that was a very bad precedent indeed upon which to base his claim this afternoon. As Conservatives thought then, we think this afternoon—this has been plain in every speech from this side of the House—that it is an attempt to manipulate or manoeuvre in the interests of one particular political party.
Wait and see. In a most ingenious speech, the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) gave the Government the benefit of his advice—he is well entitled to do so as one who formerly occupied a position of great authority in this House—as to how they might get round the formula and give us or another place an opportunity of doing something further by way of amendment of the Bill. I do not propose to deal with the points of his speech but I absolutely agree with him, as I do with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), that if the House passes this proposal, it will be dealing, as I said to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), a blow at the inherent rights of the Parliamentary system.
The hon. Member has not been here very long and perhaps he will not be here after the next General Election. I should advise him to study Parliamentary procedure a little more fully and carefully than he has apparently done before. He seeks to interrupt me with a rather incoherent interruption without even rising to his feet. If he will allow me to proceed, I was about to say that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne sought to make much play with the argument that if we were true democrats we should be only too glad to go into the Lobby in support of this proposal. He really was overstraining it. The hon. Gentleman is a great student of Parliamentary procedure and he must agree that it is preposterous to say that if there are no Amendments down, the Committee stage is of no value.
I repeat that just as the Radical Government did long years ago with regard to the Welsh Church (Dis-establishment) Bill and the Home Rule Bill for Ireland, the Government this afternoon are inviting us to take away a valuable privilege of the House of Commons. Had there been a Committee stage to the Bill and had it been taken on the Floor of the House, it would have been a very valuable concession by this Government, which has not hesitated on many occasions to remove the Committee stage of very important legislation to the Committee rooms upstairs. We are thus forgoing another right which the Government would have been bound to give us but for this formula.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne must know well that even though there are no Amendments, a Committee stage is not merely a dead letter. By no means, even though—I am as well aware of it as he is—under the Parliament Act a Bill has to go for the second and third times in precisely the same form as originally presented to the House. Surely the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne does not suggest that between the various presentations of the measure to Parliament hon. Members have not been thinking over the Bill? We on this side of the House are not ashamed to say from time to time that we like to change our minds, let alone the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and there might have been valuable suggestions made in the Committee of the whole House this afternoon if we had had the advantage of the two Clauses being put to us in the traditional manner, namely, that the two Clauses stand part of the Bill.
I regret this Motion. I see in it something which fills me with foreboding for the future, especially when I reflect on the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery in which he praised the first introduction of such a proposal by a Radical Government of long ago with regard to the Welsh Church Bill and the Home Rule Bill. Whatever the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne may say about this being a small Measure—
—small in content, so far as it is only a two-Clause Bill—when the right hon. and learned Gentleman reminds us of those two far-reaching and evil Measures of long ago, we on this side of the House would be guilty of dereliction of our duty if we were not to make a protest in view of what may happen in the future if we have another Socialist Government presiding over us. For those reasons it will give me considerable pleasure—I do not think I shall ever have had more pleasure in my life—to vote against this proposal.
I thought that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on this point was overwhelming, and I am surprised that after his contribution, anyone thought it worth while continuing a discussion which seems to me to have no value. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to talk so loudly about the limited rights of free discussion, but this House must have a little co-operative self-discipline on this matter.
Obviously we have not an unlimited right to discuss everything under the sun—[An HON. MEMBER: "Of course we have."]—because there are only 24 hours in the day and it is physically impossible for us to sit here and debate during all of them. There are only 365 days in the year and for obvious reasons this House cannot meet and debate on all of them. And there is an almost unlimited number of topics which we want to debate, as can be seen on Thursday each week when Business is given out. Therefore it is important not to go on repeating, over and over again, discussions which have already taken place.
Today there is a special reason which, perhaps, explains why hon. Members opposite are prolonging this discussion after the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne had said every last word that could be said about it. I perceive that on the Adjournment the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) is to raise the subject of Income Tax evasion, so that every repetitious speech on this subject limits the time which the House can give to that-important subject.
I intervene because so many Conservative Members were aghast at the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I have turned up the report of the Debate on 23rd June, 1913, and I am fortified by the remarks of no less a person than the First Lord of the Admiralty of those days, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who now leads the Conservative Party. If I commend this suggested procedure to the House, the House will find support for it in the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman.
It is tempting to deal with the sneers of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) at the so-called smaller section of the Liberal Party. It is a theme which was intertwined throughout his speech, and he tried to repeat in this House the tactics which Lord Woolton employs outside, thereby trying to create in the country the impression that the larger section of the Liberal Party is bound up with the Conservative Party. This Liberal Party does not attend the Conservative Party Conference and this section of the Liberal Party is in the House at the present time.
There will be more of us after the General Election. It was no part of the theme of my right hon. and learned Friend that the Committee stage of a Bill serves no useful purpose. He was devoting his argument purely to the procedure under the Parliament Bill, and he pointed out that no suggestion had been put out by the Opposition. In fact, during what the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) called those evil days of long ago, it was Mr. F. E. Smith, a distinguished Member of the Conservative Party, who said:
I indicated that the Suggestion stage has no value of any kind whatever,
referring to procedure under the Parliament Act. And the right hon. Member for Woodford was able to cap that with this:
The Suggestion stage has no value of any kind whatever to persons who are unable or unwilling to make any suggestions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd June, 1913; Vol. 54, c. 842]
The right hon. Gentleman had a very good day then, and I felt he was much happier in atttacking the Conservative Party than he is in defending them. In
dealing with this point about the degradation of Parliament, he said, in talking of the speech of Mr. Austen Chamberlain:
The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to talk about the degradation of the House of Commons. I am not at all inclined to disagree with him in his very proper and becoming opinion that there were much greater men in former times than exist today. … My Parliamentary experience has been short, but I remember that we spent the greater part of three Sessions walking through the Lobbies, debating night after night the details and provisions of measures which had for their support the largest majorities which in our lifetime ever assembled within these walls, and that after all these immense proceedings had reached their conclusion in the House of Commons the whole of these measures were cast out and ruined by the partisan vote of the House of Lords. Is not that the degradation of the House of Commons? Would not that be a blow at their immemorial liberties and their elementary rights? The right hon. Gentleman felt in no way humiliated by that spectacle.
Finally—the agony will be over shortly—I will quote what the right hon. Gentleman said about the argument that this kind of procedure limited discussion in the House. This is what he said about Mr. Austen Chamberlain:
This procedure, which they deem a hard-ship is a privilege which they alone enjoy. What chance should we have, if we were to occupy their seats"—
There was some foresight in that remark but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman knew it at the time—
of debating over again, even in a limited-form, and even under a restricted procedure, measures which had already been disposed of by the House of Lords? Every facility, every power which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends enjoy in respect to these measures under the Parliament Act today is a pure advantage to them and a pure windfall to them which would not under the existing Constitution be enjoyed by any other body of Members in the House, and every burden which we must support in carrying these measures over and over again, or every risk we must run in their passage through this. House, every labour we must exact from those who support us, every one of these is a risk and a burden and a labour which, were the Conservative Party in office tomorrow, they would find themselves wholly immune from."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd June, 1913; Vol. 54, C. 837.]
I commend to the Conservative Party not only the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but the whole proceedings of the Debates in 1913 and 1914. They will then find how much better the Conservative Party of those days were able to conduct an Opposition.
If I may, with the leave of the House, I should like to take up certain of the points which have been raised in the Debate today. First, I make this general comment: that I cannot help thinking that our discussion has proceeded, so far as many of the speeches from hon. Members opposite are concerned, with a characteristic detachment from the real purpose of Parliamentary debate. The speech of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), for instance, was, I venture to suggest, just another characteristic exhibition by him of partisan peevishness at the fact that he and his hon. Friends have not so far been able to wreck the policy of the Government in regard to the Bill we are now discussing.
My hon. Friend, if I may call him so, the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), who after having delivered a charming and characteristic exercise in dilettantism immediately left the House, and whose speech conveyed a proposition with part of which, at least, I should be willing to agree, said that Parliament exists in order that there should be discussion. No doubt that is one of its purposes, but that does not mean that Parliament must stultify itself by permitting a minority of Members to discuss for a second and third time that which has already been fully discussed and decided in the first instance, and that in regard to which no change whatever in circumstances has taken place. Democracy no doubt involves discussion, but it does not involve the repetitious waste of time in order to delay the implementation of decisions which have been taken by a majority of the legislature.
Although I would agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) that certain matters—not, I think, those which are germaine to our present discussion—have been rather in the air under the Parliament Act, it can hardly be said by anybody who listened to the extracts from the Debate in 1913 or 1914, which were cited by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), or who read the whole of the speeches made at that time by that very great Prime Minister and Parliamentarian, Mr. Asquith, or by the present right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill); nobody who has read those speeches can doubt that this particular problem of the amendment of Bills in connection with which the Parliament Act procedure was to be invoked has not previously been given a great deal of thought by this House. We are following the precedents closely applicable to the present case that were laid down in 1913 and 1914 after a great deal of Parliamentary discussion and after the view of acknowledged authorities had been expressed in regard to the matter.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that we are following exactly the precedents, so no doubt he has informed himself and can tell us of what I do not know: did they on that occasion take this Motion and the Third Reading in immediate succession to each other on a single Parliamentary day?
I do not know. I am afraid I am not in a position to say. I am dealing with the Motion at present before the House. On that Motion we are following mutatis mutandis the exact precedent that was set at that time. I was a little surprised, therefore, that so many hon. Members opposite—not, I am glad to think, the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn)—felt called upon to express their views when they had themselves no concrete proposals whatever, either for an Amendment of the Bill in this House or for any suggestion to another place as to Amendments which might appropriately be made in the Bill in that place.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that no suggestions have been made. One has been made by at least two hon. Members, and perhaps more, on this side of the House, namely, that the proviso to Section 2 (4) of the Parliament Act, 1911, might be used to strike out the retrospective provisions of the Bill. The Lords might agree to that suggestion, without endangering the remainder of the Bill.
I fail to follow the hon. and learned Member. That is an idea—I am using a neutral phrase, because I shall come to the more formal and technical term "suggestion"—which might have been appropriate for discussion on Second Reading or Third Reading, but which the hon. and learned Member has not thought sufficiently useful or cogent to make the subject of an Amendment or of a suggestion on the Order Paper and, consequently, is one which we could not usefully have discussed on Committee stage had we had any Committee stage of the Bill.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough asked me whether it would be possible to put down Motions involving suggestions as to Amendments in another place before the Procedure Motion had been discussed in this House. That appears to be clearly a matter for Mr. Speaker and I should hesitate to make any comment—indeed, I obviously could not lay down any rule in regard to it—but I would have thought that such Motions could have been put down—not necessarily discussed—before any Procedure Motion had appeared on the Paper and before the Committee stage with a view, perhaps, to their being discussed after the Committee stage, if there were a Committee stage, or after a Procedure Motion had been considered.
After all, the fact that a Bill is one in which the Parliament Act may be invoked is not as a rule a matter which is shrouded in complete secrecy. After the rejection of the present Bill in another place in the first instance, and its Second Reading on the second occasion in this House, even hon. Members opposite, who wilfully shut their eyes sometimes to the obvious, can hardly be unaware of the fact that it is probable that the procedure of the 1911 Act may be invoked in regard to it, and that, whether or not the House occupies its time in discussing Amendments in Committee, no Amendment is very likely to be adopted for the Bill itself.
In those circumstances, no doubt hon. Members opposite who wished would take the earliest opportunity they had of putting down suggestion Motions and would do so immediately after the Second Reading stage, having, perhaps, canvassed their suggestions in the course of Second Reading Debate. When, and indeed whether, such suggestion Motions should be debated is, of course, quite another matter. The Government cannot abdicate its control of such time as the House sees right to allocate to Government business, and obviously I could not bind this or any other Government to find time for any suggestion Motion, no matter how frivolous the suggestion might be. On the other hand—
The speech must be read as a whole, and I venture to think that I am summarising the effect of the speech of my right hon. Friend. I add only this: that if the Government did not give time to a suggestion Motion where one had been put on the Paper, and if time could not be found to deal with it in the time that was allocated for Private Members' business, then no doubt the Opposition would seek such opportunity as they had either of opposing the Procedure Motion or opposing the matter on Third Reading.
It is difficult to think that in any matter of the importance which any Bill involving the machinery of the Parliament Act must obviously have, the Government would not in fact find time for the discussion of any suggestion Motion which contained any really serious suggestion. I have no doubt that in such cases they would follow some such procedure as was suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) in his speech. Beyond that I would hesitate to agree that it would be useful on the Committee stage of a Bill which, if its eventual passage is to be ensured at all, must go through Committee unamended, to discuss Amendments which, on that hypothesis, could never be adopted into the Bill at all. Whether they were selected by the Chair, or whether they were selected in some other way, their discussion would at the best be a time absorbing exercise in academics. I cannot see that it would either assist or prevent hon. Members opposite putting down in a concrete and formal way any suggestions they really wanted to get adopted into the Bill in another place.
I only add this in regard to it and it arises out of something which was said by an hon. Member opposite—there is really no question at all here of denying the House its normal opportunity for discussion. I think the point was put try the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor). The normal opportunity for detailed discussion is when a Bill is first committed on its first passage through the House. The procedure under the Parliament Act is not normal procedure, but the procedure which is being followed now is in fact that which has been followed on the previous occasions when the extraordinary procedure of the Parliament Act has been adopted at all and I am told we are now following the 1948 precedent as far as the actual order and timing of the different parts of the Bill are concerned. The procedure Motion was at once followed by the Third Reading. Hon. Members must blame themselves if they did not anticipate the same course in 1949.
For the rest, I venture to suggest to the House that the discussion really is in the highest degree unrealistic. Nothing we are doing now will bind the House on any future occasion when it may be thought desirable that there should be a Committee stage, not to amend the Bill, but to discuss in detail the provisions of particular Clauses. I can see that that might be a proper course where we had a long Bill with many Clauses and with detailed provisions, but even in such a case I would have doubted whether that discussion would ordinarily be useful. I must say that, personally, I am not in favour of the practice of having a number of bites at the same cherry.
We are dealing now with the passage of a Bill fully discussed on its Committee stage, which could have been even more fully discussed if hon. Members had desired it, when it was first before the House. It was fully debated then. It is difficult to think in any normal case where the circumstances have not changed at all in the meantime that any useful pur-
The fact is that hon. Members opposite are seeking, not for the first time, simply to absorb the time of the House which the House, having fully debated this particular Bill, could devote to other important and fruitful matters which it has not yet had an opportunity of discussing. It may well be the inherent right of Parliament to discuss for a second and third time matters they have already discussed and decided. It may be right for the House to do that if it wants to do it but, if the Government have correctly appreciated the sense of the House in regard to this Bill, it is not their wish to discuss these matters now for a third time. I therefore commend this Motion with confidence to the House.
That when an Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Parliament Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any Question, notwithstanding that Notice of an Instruction has been given, and on the Committee stage of that Bill the Chairman shall forthwith put the Question that he do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House without putting any other Question, and the Question so put shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.
|Division No. 281.]||AYES||[5.48 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Albu, A. H.||Bramall, E. A.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Brown, George (Belper)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Deer, G.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Burke, W. A.||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Delargy, H. J.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Byers, Frank||Dodds, N. N.|
|Baird, J.||Callaghan, James||Donovan, T.|
|Balfour, A.||Chamberlain, R. A.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Barton, C.||Champion, A. J.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)|
|Battley, J. R.||Chater, D.||Dumpleton, C. W.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Berry, H.||Cluse, W. S.||Edelman, M.|
|Beswick, F.||Cobb, F. A.||Edwards, John (Blackburn)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale)||Cocks, F. S.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)|
|Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.)||Collindridge, F.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Colman, Miss G. M.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)|
|Binns, J.||Corlett, Dr. J.||Ewart, R.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Cove, W. G.||Fairhurst, F.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Crawley, A.||Farthing, J.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Daines, P.||Field, Capt. W. J.|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||McAllister, G.||Sharp, Granville|
|Follick, M.||McEntee, V. La T.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Foot, M. M.||McGhee, H. G.||Shurmer, P.|
|Forman, J. C.||McGovern, J.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McLeavy, F.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Gibson, C. W.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Snow, J. W.|
|Goodrich, H. E.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Solley, L. J.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Grey, C. F.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Steele, T.|
|Grierson, E.||Mayhew, C. P.||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Medland, H. M.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Mellish, R. J.||Swingler, S.|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Messer, F.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Guy, W. H.||Mikardo, Ian||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Hale, Leslie||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mitchison, G. R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Monslow, W.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Hardman, D. R.||Moody, A. S.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Harrison, J.||Morley, R.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Haworth, J.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Tiffany, S.|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Timmons, J.|
|Hicks, G.||Moyle, A.||Tolley, L.|
|Holman, P.||Murray, J. D.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Nally, W.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Houghton, Douglas||Naylor, T. E.||Usborne, Henry|
|Hoy, J.||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Hubbard, T.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Warbey, W. N.|
|Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Oliver, G. H.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Orbach, M.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Pannell, T. C.||Weitzman, D.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Parker, J.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Parkin, B. T.||West, D. G.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Janner, B.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Pearson, A.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Jager, G. (Winchester)||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jenkins, R. H.||Popplewell, E.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Johnston, Douglas||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Proctor, W. T.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Keenan, W.||Pryde, D. J.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Kenyon, C.||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Randall, H. E.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Ranger, J.||Willis, E.|
|Kinley, J.||Reeves, J.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Lang, G.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Lavers, S.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Leonard, W.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Woods, G. S.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Wyatt, W.|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Rogers, G. H. R.||Yates, V. F.|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Royle, C.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Sargood, R.|
|Logan, D. G.||Scollan, T.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Longden, F.||Scott-Elliot, W.||Mr. Hannan and|
|Lyne, A. W.||Segal, Dr. S.||Mr. Richard Adams|
|McAdam, W.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Carson, E.||Digby, S. Wingfield|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Challen, C.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Clarke, Col. R. S.||Drayson, G. B.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Cole, T. L.||Drewe, C.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Eccles, D. M.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Crowder, Capt. John E.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Cuthbert, W. N.||Elliot, Lieut.-Col Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Butler, Rt. Hn R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||De la Bèe, R.||Erroll, F. J.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Low, A. R. W.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Fox, Sir G.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||McFarlane, C. S.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Spence, H. R.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre A. V.||Mellor, Sir J.||Teeling, William|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mullan, Lt. C. H.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Hogg, Hon. Q.||Neill, W. F. (Belfast, N.)||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Hollis, M. C.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Touche, G. C.|
|Hope, Lord J.||Nicholson, G.||Turton, R. H.|
|Hurd, A.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset. E.)|
|Jennings, R.||Pickthorn, K.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Pitman, I. J.||York, C.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Prescott, Stanley|
|Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Price-White, D.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Linstead, H. N.||Prior-Palmer, Brig, O.||Major Conant and|
|Lipson, D. L.||Ramsay, Maj. S.||Brigadier Mackeson.|
That when an Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Parliament Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any Question, notwithstanding that Notice of an
Instruction has been given, and on the Committee stage of that Bill the Chairman shall forthwith put the Question that he do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House without putting any other Question, and the Question so put shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.