I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which I think is of real importance to the House. The House will know that there is a Standing Order, No. 41, which, among other things, provides that
There shall be a committee, to be designated the business committee, consisting of the members of the chairmen's panel together with not more than five other Members to be nominated by Mr. Speaker. The quorum of the committee shall be seven.
It is provided that the committee
shall, in the case of any bill in respect of which an order has been made by the House, allotting a specified number of days or portions of days to the consideration of the bill in committee of the whole House or on report, divide the bill into such parts as they may see fit. …
I submit that that contemplates that, when an allocation of time order is to be made, the business committee should be brought into it in order that both sides of the House may have a voice in deciding the allocation of time within the overall time limits of the allocation order. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on Monday put to you, Mr. Speaker, a point in this connection and you were good enough to reply that you had not seen the Motion* which is about to be moved and that you would rather wait until you had. You added,
Clearly, the Standing Order would operate unless there was a specific Motion before the House to waive it for that occasion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 47.]
I submit to you that paragraph (h), at the end of the Motion, is hardly a specific Motion to suspend the Standing Order, and, moreover, I submit that it is elementary in common sense procedure that, if a new procedure is to be adopted in conflict with an established Standing Order, then the first thing to do is to suspend the Standing Order, and to suspend it under a separate and particular Motion, because this is a Standing Order which, unlike Standing Order No. 1, does not within itself provide facilities for its own suspension, but is a real Standing Order.
Moreover, there are two questions before the House. One is whether this
* See Cols. 439–40.
Standing Order should take its normal course and the other is the allocation of time order to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman. I submit, therefore, that it is a condition precedent to the Standing Order being suspended that the question should be put as to whether it should be suspended, and should be debated; and that it should not come in at the tail end of the general Motion.
On the question of dividing Questions before the House, Erskine May says, on page 391:
As late as 1883 it was generally held that an individual Member had no right to insist upon the division of a complicated question.
I venture to interpolate that this is a complicated Question. Erskine May continues:
In 1888, however, the Speaker ruled that two propositions which were then before the House in one motion could be taken separately if any Member objected to their being taken together. Although this ruling does not appear to have been based on any previous decision, it has since remained unchallenged.
I submit that these are two separate Questions—one whether Standing Order No. 41 should be suspended; and the other whether the House should proceed to an allocation of time in the manner proposed by Her Majesty's Government. For those reasons, therefore, I submit that the two Questions should be put separately; that this question of the suspension of the Standing Order should be put first; and that proper facilities should be provided for adequately debating this very important step for suspending this most important Standing Order before we proceed to the Allocation of Time Order which the Government have put upon the Order Paper.
Further to that point of order. I think it would probably be for the convenience of the House if I were to call your attention, Mr. Speaker, and the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the precedents which deal with this matter. In my submission to you, there are three quite different propositions which are involved in what has just been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison).
The first is that any Motion not in accordance with a Standing Order requiries, first, a Motion that that Standing Order be annulled. The second, which is quite a different proposition and has nothing whatever to do with the Standing Orders of the House, is that when any Motion of any sort is before the House, and which contains two propositions about which it is possible, or about which hon. Members think it might be possible, to vote one way in regard to one and another way in regard to the other—and in that we must always take into account the Liberal Party—then in those circumstances the Motion should be divided. Thirdly, even if that were not in accordance with the existing practice of the House, I put it to you that there have recently been certain changes in the practice of the House which make it very desirable that this Motion should be divided, irrespective of the fact whether such a Motion has or has not been divided before.
Perhaps I may very shortly refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the precedents which generally are quoted in any arguments in connection with this matter. The original Ruling of Mr. Speaker on this subject is a very ancient one, given as long ago as 1842. It arose out of a Motion to deal with the number of counsel who might be heard before a Standing Committee. On this Motion being brought up, it was pointed out that there was a Standing Order of the House which prescribed the number of counsel and Mr. Speaker thought it was necessary, first, to rescind the Resolution of the House to which the right hon. Baronet had referred before the Motion of the hon. Member could be put from the Chair. There was considerable discussion about whether, in fact, the Motion did or did not affect the Standing Order, and in the end the Motion was discussed. That principle has always been cited on the basis that if, in fact, a Resolution goes against the Standing Order in its entirety, then the Standing Order must be dealt with first.
It is quite true that in other Guillotine Motions there has always been a reference to the suspension of Standing Orders. These references, which are traditional in Guillotine Motions, are conditional upon and incidental to the Motion, for the Motion itself would be out of order if the Standing Order were still in existence. Then, in that case, the Standing Order must be first dealt with, and this comes out very clearly indeed in a Ruling of Mr. Speaker in 1912. At that time the Conservative Party submitted a point of order to a degree of length which I should never think of taking, and they called a great number of speakers of far greater legal weight than I am—
—to debate the matter at very great length. Mr. Speaker ultimately was given an opportunity to rule on the matter, and he did then say, after the usual paragraph was read out which deals with Standing Orders, that he was of the opinion that the suspension of Standing Orders was an incidental matter which might or might not become necessary.
As I have said, by way of precaution it has to be put in, but if, of course, the whole purpose of the Motion is merely to substitute something in place of the Standing Order, then in my submission it is quite improper to enter on to the discussion of the matter until the Motion to rescind the Standing Order with which the Motion is incompatible is first put forward.
It is the duty of the business committee to deal with the allocation of portions of days. It is the duty of that committee to allocate all the times within which these matters are to be taken, and it is really very difficult for hon. Members to put down Amendments, because one then is in the position of having possibly to put down on the Order Paper an Amendment which may be in conflict with the Standing Order. The first Amendment of the day presumes the Standing Order is still in force. That is a very cumbersome method by which the House should approach the matter
The second point which I wanted to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, is this. Quite apart from the question of the Standing Order issue, if, in fact, the Motion raises two different questions, that Motion ought to be divided, and this is equally true of business Motions together with any other Motions.
I mention that because, I think by an oversight in Erskine May, there is a statement which says that business Motions are not usually divisible; but no authority is given for the statement; and, in fact, if one consults the precedents on the matter, one finds that in 1902 the other great Parliamentarian of the same name, Mr. Gibson Bowles, raised the question of the division of a Standing Order which said that consideration of the rules of procedure proposed by the Government, whenever set down, should have precedence on every day except Wednesday, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 shall be extended to Tuesday and Friday.
Mr. Speaker very properly indeed ordered the two Motions to be set separately. They were both, of course, contingent upon each other, because the object of the original Motion was to allow to be taken on those days, which were allotted to Supply, matters which were not matters of Supply, and, therefore, some other days had to be provided, for it was, of course, essential to provide for Supply being taken on other days; but, nevertheless, despite the fact that they were so closely connected, it was ruled by Mr. Speaker then that they should be taken separately.
There is one further point which I think the House ought to take into consideration. There has been a recent change in our procedure and Parliamentary practice. I am not going to make any comment. Indeed, it is such a change that, if I wanted to make a comment on it of either blame or censure, I should have to do it by way of direct Motion. However, it is relevant to mention that there is a change in the amount of time in which it is possible to move a Closure, and it is very relevant to any Motion of this sort, because once the Closure has been moved, then the main Question can be claimed. If the present practice is correct, it so differs from past practice that really we ought to consider whether or not to split the Motion so as to avoid the sort of situation which may otherwise arise.
Let me give an illustration. In the six years in which the late Government were in power, the Closure was accepted in those whole six years only 147 times. At no time in a whole Session was the Closure accepted more than 37 times. That figure has already been exceeded in the few days this Parliament has sat. I am not saying, of course, that that is proper or not. I am not arguing that. I am merely saying this is a change in the practice of the House. It can be further illustrated, I think, by saying that in the 1950–51 Session, in which there occurred the second greatest number of Closures, they were mostly Closures in relation to the Finance Bill or to Prayers.
But this practice has grown up now in regard to quite other matters. Only four Closures were moved in the 1950–51 Session to anything other than Prayers or Clauses of the Finance Bill. So, quite clearly, there is a new approach. It may be a proper one; it may not be. It is not for us to discuss at this stage the questioin of how often a Closure can be accepted. If the Closure is accepted, immediately the main Question can be claimed, and you, Mr. Speaker, must in those circumstances cut out a number of other Amendments. That would be a thing which, in all parts of the House, we should deplore.
So, in my respectful submission to you, Mr. Speaker, this Motion should be divided into two, possibly into three parts: the first part would relate to the suspension of Standing Order No. 41; the second part, if you saw fit to divide it further, would be down to the question of the Committee stage; and then the third part would be dealt with later on. Whether you divide it into three or not, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that you follow what was done in 1912, because the Motion in relation to the Standing Order was not a divided Motion, but was divided into two parts, even though the part which dealt with the business machinery was purely incidental to the other matter that was involved.
It is quite true that, owing to the disorderly conduct of the party opposite in those days, the House was never able to come to a decision, and that after Mr. Speaker had twice suspended the Sitting, the matter was dropped; but the principle is clear, and although it is unfortunate that HANSARD was unable to report any of the Government speeches in regard to the point of order because of the number of interruptions, the principle quite clearly appears, if I may say so, from the interruptions. It is my respectful submission that, certainly on this Motion, we should take first the suspension of the Standing Order; and then we should consider whether or not the rest of the Motion should be divided into two parts.
In my submission, Mr. Speaker, there are two points that arise in this point of order. First of all there is the competency of the Motion; and second, the form in which the Motion has been tabled. I respectfully submit to you, on the question of competency, that in so far as this House has laid down Standing Order No. 41 as the normal procedure governing the guillotine procedure in Committee and at other stages of Bills, no alternative procedure can be substituted before that Standing Order has been suspended. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), has indicated the reason for that, but I would respectfully submit that it is incompetent as a matter of form to include in the Motion to supersede the Standing Order a sub-division which merely asks the House to supersede that Standing Order.
I quite concede that if all that stood between us and debating the Motion was a formal difficulty arising out of a Standing Order, it might be accepted that the suspension of that Standing Order could be included in the body of the Motion. On the other hand, when the whole purpose of the Motion is to supersede the existing Standing Order, it would not be competent to include it in the body of the Motion itself.
That is my argument on the question of competency. I submit that, in effect, this Motion is out of order because the Government did not seek to suspend, in the first instance, Standing Order No. 41. If we were to take this Motion in the form in which it appears and to debate it, what we would be debating in the first instance would be the alternative procedure; we would be discussing the Amendment to the proposed alternative procedure without having first got rid of the barrier to that alternative procedure, namely, the existing Standing Order. Looking at the very form of the Motion, one sees that the Motion tabled by the Government is quite incompetent from that point of view.
The second point relates to the matter of form. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has pointed out, there are precedents for the proposition that the House will not accept as a single composite Motion a Motion which contains a number of propositions on which there might be different points of view, and on which Members might wish to divide one way on one occasion and another way on a second occasion. I submit in this connection that there are not three but four different points embodied in this Motion. First of all, there is the fundamental point, the sine qua non of any further procedure, namely, the suspension of Standing Order No. 41. Secondly, there is the time-table and collateral procedure put forward as a substitute procedure.
Thirdly, may I draw your attention to this, Mr. Speaker? Paragraph (f) says:
On an allotted day the Proceedings to be brought to a conclusion under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.
Now may I draw your attention to Standing Order No. 24? It reads:
In the case of grave disorder arising in the House Mr. Speaker may, if he thinks it necessary to do so, adjourn the House without putting any question, or suspend the Sitting for a time to be named by him.
If a situation should arise through the conduct of Members on one side or the other, or as a result of the tactics employed by the Government in forcing through this Measure which is of great public importance, when you, Mr. Speaker, would think that in the interests of the House and decorum the proceedings should either be adjourned or suspended, you would be precluded by virtue of this Motion from so doing. That, of course, would be very objectionable, and yet that would be inevitable if this Motion were carried.
We must deal with this Motion as a single entity as it stands at the present time; we must either vote for it or vote against it. Some people might be prepared to vote for the suspension of Standing Order No. 41 and other people might be prepared to vote against it. If the Motion were carried, some people would be in favour of the alternative procedure and others might not be, but I should imagine that nobody with the interests of the House of Commons at heart—apart from those who have tabled this Motion—would be prepared to vote in favour of the suspension of Standing Order No. 24, which would take from you, Mr. Speaker, the right to adjourn or suspend the proceedings if the conduct of the House became out of order. That would be binding your hands and putting you in an impossible position and, apart from any other points, I think that we would wish to safeguard you from that embarrassment.
In any event, this to quoque form of argument gets us nowhere. The theme song of the Government in relation to these procedural matters would appear to be "Anything you can do I can do better." Unfortunately for them, in the light of experience it is turning out that they are doing it much worse. But whether it was right or wrong in 1947 is not a matter we are discussing at the present moment. I might remind the hon. Gentleman, if he needs reminding, that I was not here at the time that Motion was discussed.
Well, it is a pity for the hon. Gentleman, because his education might have been a bit advanced if I had been.
Be that as it may, we are considering the question as it affects the House at the present time, and I and my hon. and right hon. Friends are exercised about this derogation of your powers, Mr. Speaker, which is embodied in this Motion, and accordingly I think we should be very careful before we pass this Motion. When we come to consider the actual Motion I am sure that, on reflection, many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not seek to withdraw that power from you by suspending Standing Order No. 24.
Then there is the fourth point, which is contained in paragraph (g), which in effect enables the Government not only to apply the Guillotine but to put down other business for the same day; to apply the Guillotine to get the National Health Service Bill rushed through, and then to have other business rushed through in the time normally allotted to the National Health Service Bill. Hon. Members might feel that that, too, was objectionable.
That is not my point, if I may say so with respect. My point is that this Motion is not in proper form, in that it contains a number of propositions, some of which might be acceptable to an hon. Member and others not acceptable. Accordingly, he would be in the very difficult position of having to vote either against the Motion as a whole or in favour of it, when he was prepared to vote one way in one respect and another way in another respect.
With respect, we are dealing with a substantive Motion which eventually has either to be carried by the House or rejected by the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "As amended."] It may or may not be amended, but at the end of the day a person who had voted for an Amendment which had been rejected would find himself perhaps in the position of being in sympathy of one part of the Motion but totally out of sympathy with another part. Accordingly, he would be in the difficult position of not knowing whether or not he could vote for the substantive Motion.
Even giving the greatest latitude to the Government, and relating the proposed new time-table, the collateral procedure, merely as part of one Motion, we have at least four separate parts to a Motion on which there may be divided opinions.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch suggested to you, Mr. Speaker, that, following the precedent of 1912, you might see your way to divide up this Motion into its composite parts. May I make another proposition to you? It seems to me that this is so offensive and objectionable that the proper thing to do is for the Government to take the Motion away and come back with it in proper form; not to ask us to make a rapid selection at this time to try to break up this Motion into its appropriate parts, because that would be difficult for you to do at short notice.
It might be found, on reflection, that a hasty judgment had been made and a proper allocation and breaking up had not occurred. In the interests of the House, in the interests of procedure, and in the interests of the further business of the House, I think that it would be much better if the Minister of Health took this Motion away, gave it a little more consideration, and came back with it in proper form, in a series of Motions, the first of which would be to suspend Standing Order No. 41, the second to set up alternative machinery which would replace Standing Order No. 41, and the third to deal with the temporary suspension of any Standing Order which might come between them and the procedure they wish to follow.
On this point of order I have pointed out what I regard to be the deficiencies of this Motion and what the proper Motion ought to have been. If they come back with that, and particularly with Motions that do not include a Motion to circumscribe your activities in the Chair as Speaker of the House, charged with the duty of maintaining order and discipline and the prestige of this House, perhaps we would get on further with this business.
I only want to intervene for a moment because I thought I saw an hon. Gentleman opposite rise to make a speech. Is not the submission made by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), already complete and entire? Has it not been over-elaborated for political purposes by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley), and ought not the House to pay to you, Mr. Speaker, the respect due to you in listening to your ruling?
I am always willing to receive enlightenment and to take part in it. If the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will excuse me, because I know he would not like to go off on a bad point, and there has been some misunderstanding about the nature and scale of Standing Order No. 41, I will, if I may, try to elucidate it for the House.
This Order was passed. I think, in 1947, and it lays down a procedure which comes into operation as stated in paragraph (1) of the Order:
… in the case of any bill in respect of which an order has been made by the House, allotting a specified number of days or portions of days to the consideration of the bill in committee of the whole House or on report. …
In that case, the Order lays down that the work of splitting up the other hours into compartments should be done by this business committee which, according to paragraph (3) of the same Standing Order, has to report back to the House, and it is ultimately the House which decides the hourly compartments of the discussion. So it is not true to think that Standing Order No. 41 affects every allocation of time order; it does not. It only affects one class of order, namely, orders allotting a specified number of days or portions of days to the consideration of the Bill.
In that case, the business committee laid down by Standing Order No. 41 must be used to conduct the further subdivisions, if the Hosue follows me, in the matter.
The Motion now before us, and which I had not the advantage of seeing the other day when I was asked about it, follows the pattern of what has been called "Guillotine Resolutions," which have been considered by the House for more than 50 years.
It not merely lays down that the Committee stage shall be completed in one day or in a number of days, but it also fixes the various times by which various items of the Bill shall be completed. That is to say, the Motion itself says what it is proposed the House should agree to not only as to the number of days to be allocated, but as to the compartments.
It is, therefore, obvious that there is no necessity for any mention of Standing Order No. 41 in the Motion. The words have been put in. There are many Standing Orders which are affected and not mentioned. Standing Order No. 1 is intimately affected by this Motion we are to discuss. Standing Order No. 7, which regulates the time for Private Business, is affected but not mentioned, and Standing Order No. 9, in the same way, is also affected; so I take the view that the mention of Standing Order No. 41 in paragraph (h) of Part 3 is only put in, as the lawyers say, ex abundante cautela, and only put in through an excess of care. That being the position, it is not necessary to move to suspend this order which does not affect this particular type of Guillotine Motion, and, therefore, there is no point of order or separate question involved.
May I say a word on the other questions which have been put with great eloquence and learning by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), that there are cases where it is proper to sub-divide the Motion? The House was told by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), that when a Motion was put in as one matter it might embarrass hon. Members who might want to vote on one part of it and others on another part. In this sort of Motion all this embarrassment could be avoided by the putting down and discussion of Amendments, and there have been a large number of Amendments put to this Motion which, I hope, at some time, we shall proceed to discuss.
Therefore, my Ruling on the point of order he made is that it is not necessary to make any formal suspension Motion for Standing Order No. 41. That is not necessary. Neither is it necessary to split up this Motion into separate Questions. The way of dealing with that is, as I say, by Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman was only able to give me short notice of the precedents he has quoted, but I have looked them up, and I find them different in my judgment on essentials from the situation with which we are confronted today. I need not go further into that. He referred in the course of his speech to an occasion when Mr. Speaker had to suspend a Sitting, and I hope that he will not take that as a precedent for the conduct of our proceedings tonight. I would consider, in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley), that my powers in that respect are not impaired in the slightest by this Motion.
May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that presumably the Government in providing in paragraph (h) that Standing Order No. 41 should be suspended were convinced that it was necessary in order to proceed with these other Motions? I submit, with great respect, that they were right in contemplating the point, though they did it in the wrong way.
It is the case that Standing Order No. 41 clearly contemplated a new procedure in relation to Guillotine Motions, that is to say that there should be an all-party committee which should seek to reach agreement as to the compartmentation, so to speak, within the overall limit. Even on this Motion there is a case for it going to a business committee, because it may be that the division of time which the Government has put down is not acceptable to the Opposition.
I have always taken the view that, if a Guillotine is to be operated, the views of the Opposition matter more than those of the Government side. I took that view when I was in the Government, and I take it now. Therefore, Sir, I submit that if Standing Order No. 41 means anything, it means that we were contemplating this procedure, and that the first thing for the House to do is to decide whether or not this Standing Order should be suspended.
May I make a submission to you, Mr. Speaker, in respect of this matter? It is always an extremely difficult question when the House has to consider its own authority for Standing Orders. This is a curious kind of assembly because it is its own master. There is no written constitution and, therefore, there is no one who can arbitrate about our conduct. We arbitrate about it ourselves. That creates a difficult and sometimes dangerous situation because, unless the Standing Orders of our proceedings are revered both by the Opposition and by the Government, the constitutional situation can quite easily give rise to anarchy and disorder.
It has always been considered by students of the British constitution, particularly by Redlitch and others, that the formlessness of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons is essential to protect its proceedings against disorders that might arise from its own sovereign powers. If it were possible for a court outside to construe our powers, that construction itself would maintain a degree of order in our proceedings. If, however, at any moment when it seems convenient to the majority of the House a certain Standing Order can be set on one side, not because that Standing Order is inconvenient or obstructive to the general conduct of the House, but because it is inconvenient for a specific piece of legislation. I am bound to say with all respect that such a precedent would be more disorderly than a local rugby football game.
If at any given time a majority can come along and say, "This Standing Order is inconvenient for us at this Sitting or for this purpose, therefore we will abolish it"—if that is where we are getting, then I suggest, not in a party sense at all, that we are getting into a most serious situation. There are many other Standing Orders in addition to this one, and in my opinion a Standing Order ought not to be set on one side in respect of the urgency of a certain Measure but in respect of its position in the whole of the Standing Orders in relation to the general business of the House.
That is precisely where we have got to on Standing Order No. 41. I am sorry I could not follow your Latin, Mr. Speaker—it is a disability which perhaps many of us share—nevertheless I am trying to follow the anglicised portion of your Ruling. I understood you to say that it does not apply here because, under Standing Order 41 (3) the matter still comes before the House. But the whole purpose of this was to enable an all-party committee to pre-digest the timetable in order to guide the House of Commons in the matter. The reason was the following. Everybody knows that, owing to the nature of our constitution, it is possible for a determined Opposition to hold up public business almost indefinitely. That is why the power of the Guillotine was taken. However, everybody always recognised that this power carried with it great dangers. They were mentioned in a leader in "The Times" the other day.
The Guillotine contains all the dangers of tyrannical majority rule and, therefore, to the extent that the Guillotine was being progressively used to curtail the rights of Private Members, remedial measures had to be taken to prevent it from becoming too tyrannical. That was why Standing Order No. 41 was evolved. This is one of the most cruel Guillotine Motions I have ever seen. If we look at the time given by the Guillotine Motion in the previous House—
The right hon. Member must excuse me, but he is now getting on to the matter of the subsequent debate, as to whether this is a good Motion or not. The only point with which I am concerned is the point of order which was put to me. It was put to me that we ought first to decide whether or not to approve the suspension, as it is called, of Standing Order No. 41. I have Ruled, I believe correctly, that it does not matter for the purposes of this Motion whether we do or do not. This is not the sort of Motion contemplated by Standing Order No. 41, and it is not affected by it. The question as to whether the Motion might have been drawn in such a way that Standing Order No. 41 applied, or would be forced to apply, is not one for me. I have to deal with the Motion as it stands. Therefore, on those grounds, I hope the right hon. Member will accept my Ruling.
With the utmost respect, Mr. Speaker, I was on a point of order originally. I do not want to collide with you in this matter, and the House must respect your Ruling, but there are grave consequences involved. Our respectful submission was that these two things should be taken separately. This is not merely a consequence of looking at the Guillotine Motion, because some of us raised this with you on Monday last and, on first looking at it, you seemed to react in the sense that the Motions ought to be taken separately.
Neither had I, but it seemed to us to be self-evident, and on examination even clearer, that the Motion should be divided and that we should not be asked to come to a decision on the whole Motion quite independently of whether Standing Order No. 41 is in or out. I seriously suggest that if it is to be taken as a precedent that the annulment or suspension of any inconvenient Standing Order is to be allowed, and included in a general Motion of the Government, it is a recipe for anarchy. No one will have any guarantee beforehand as to what the Executive is likely to do.
I do not wish to continue this matter further, but I am certain that when this has been examined further by students of our constitutional practices, it will be regarded as a gross departure, and I warn the Members of the Government that if this goes on they will be setting a most dangerous precedent. Therefore, I seriously suggest that even now, Sir, you should give us an opportunity of discussing Standing Order No. 41 separately on a separate Motion.
—in permitting your Ruling to be argued, indeed, criticised. The question I wish to ask you is, is it not quite contrary to the best precedents of this House that the Rulings of Mr. Speaker should be subsequently criticised by hon. Member after hon. Member in complaint?
In this case, Mr. Speaker, you are in the position of a judge and we, of course, accept your judgment It might be for convenience, and judges have often said that to have a case properly argued before them is of the greatest assistance to them. If the Government had done their job in producing the opposite argument it might have prevented argument going on; but without in any sense challenging anything you have said I would ask you to consider this argument and also one particular precedent to which I desire to draw your attention. For that I am most grateful to the Table Office. It has only just been found and that is why I must apologise to you for not having given you notice of it.
The Motion before the House today is in the old form. Before Standing Order No. 41 existed the old form was in order;
but, in my submission, the whole point of Standing Order No. 41 was to provide that a committee appointed by you should consider how the hours should be allocated within the days which the Government allocated, and if you compare the words of this Motion, in line 5—
The remaining Proceedings in Committee shall be completed in one allotted day, and shall be brought to a conclusion at the time shown in the following table"—
with Standing Order No. 41, paragraph I, that paragraph provides a procedure which shall apply. This is what it says:
… in the case of any bill in respect of which an order has been made by the House, allotting a specified number of days.
Here is an Order allotting a specific number of days, although it does more than that, and what it does more is precisely—if I may use that word—inconsistent with Standing Order No. 41, which says that where a Bill allots a specific number of days (a) shall happen; but this Motion says that (b) shall happen, and that is why, in my submission, it does not fall within the class of case within which Standing Order No. 26 might fall—subsidiary or incidental matters that may or may not become necessary—because it sets down a procedure which is precisely the opposite and which is precisely the procedure which Standing Order No. 41 was introduced to abolish.
There is a direct conflict between the Motion and the Order. When that happens, in my submission—although I would regard it as regrettable to do so and I should want to say so—one must first get away from the Standing Order No. 41 procedure before one can consider an alternative procedure. The precedent to which I wish to draw your attention is the procedure which was instituted when great urgency was required owing to the action of international exchanges at the time of the abolition of the gold standard.
I should like to refer to the Notices of Motions of 4th June, 1931. A special and urgent procedure had there to be introduced. First, the Prime Minister moved that the necessary Rules and Orders should be suspended and he then proceeded to set down a Motion in terms very similar to those of the Motion today. He provided
That the Committee stage, the Report stage and Third Reading of the Finance Bill
(including any Financial Resolutions relating thereto) shall be proceeded with …
and he set down the hours because everything had to go through in one day. He set down the Report stage, and that is how the matter was set out; but before he came to that he pursued the correct procedure of moving a Motion that the inconsistent Standing Orders should be suspended.
It was not then necessary to suspend Standing Order No. 41 because it did not exist. We have already had the suspension of Standing Order No. 1. We have just voted on that in order to hear this debate. Surely we should now have the suspension of Standing Order No. 41 so that the existing procedure for a Motion where a specific number of days is allotted should come into operation.
With regard to the problem of Amendments, when we come to the end of the Amendments—and it is the former conduct of the Government, who have rejected every Amendment on this Health Bill so far, which has really brought about this situation—what is the position when one comes to paragraph (h) of Part 3, which is the suspension of Standing Order No. 41? I should have thought there were many people who might, on the one hand, consider that it was necessary to confine the number of days for this debate but who, on the other, believed that the procedure under Standing Order No. 41, whereby an independent committee appointed by you should allocate the time, was the correct way of allocating the time.
I should have thought that our friends in the Liberal Party might come to that conclusion. When these Amendments are rejected and the Motion is put there is a real conflict between the Motion, which sets down this time-table, and the suspension of Standing Order No. 41 which provides a proper and independent machinery for the allocation of time. Therefore, upon the second point, that this is a complicated Motion, with different parts, upon which perfectly honest- minded people might wish to vote differently, I would humbly submit that upon both these grounds paragraph (h) should come first. In the event, there is an Amendment at the end to omit paragraph (h). Is it so very inconvenient for the House that we should have the omission of paragraph (h) at the beginning instead of at the end, in order that we cease to discuss the contentious Motion as to what has actually been decided.
I really cannot allow this argument to go on too long. I have listened to everything that has been said and the answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is that there is nothing in the Standing Orders or the practice of the House which compels a Government to frame a resolution for the allocation of time to which Standing Order No. 41 must apply. Two courses are open to them. Either they can invoke Standing Order No. 41 by proposing to allocate certain days for the discussion of the Committee stage, or they can take out of the hands of the Committee, as they have done here, the further sub-division of the time.
If they do that, there is no power left in Standing Order No. 41 and I would point out, with all respect, that although we have all been talking about the suspension of Standing Order No. 41 paragraph (h) actually says:
Standing Order No. 41 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to this Order.
It does not say it should be suspended; in my judgment it is merely declaratory of the fact that as the work of Standing Order No. 41 is being done in the Motion, it does not apply. I think the matter is crystal clear and I think I should be failing in my duty if I allowed too much discussion on the matter. I hope the House will take my view of the matter. I have given it great thought.
I beg to move:
|That in the case of the National Health Service Bill the following provisions shall apply to the remaining Proceedings in Committee and to the Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading:—|
|5||The remaining Proceedings in Committee shall be completed in one allotted day, and shall be brought to a conclusion at the times shown in the following Table:—|
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of Proceedings|
|10||Clauses 3 to 8, new Clauses, new Schedules and any other Proceedings necessary to bring the Proceedings in Committee to a conclusion.||10.0|
|15||2. Consideration and Third Reading|
|The Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed in a second allotted day, and shall be brought to a conclusion at half-past Nine o'clock on that day.|
|20||(a) After the day on which this Order is made, any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill shall be the first Government Order of the day shall be considered an allotted day for the purposes of this Order.|
|25||(b) Any Private Business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock, and any Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) on an allotted day shall on that day, instead of being considered as provided by the Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill or under this Order for that day, and any Private Business or Motion for the Adjournment of the House so considered may be proceeded with, though opposed, notwithstanding any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.|
|30||(c) In this Order any reference to the Proceedings on Consideration of Third Reading of the Bill shall include any Proceedings at that stage for, on or in consequence of re-committal; and in any Committee on the Bill, including a Committee to which the Bill has been re-committed (whether as a whole or otherwise), the Question that the Chairman do report the Bill to the House shall not be put, but the Chairman shall so report the Bill on the completion of the other Proceedings in the Committee.|
|40||(d) On an allotted day no dilatory Motion with respect to Proceedings on the Bill or under this Order, nor Motion to postpone a Clause or Schedule (including a new Clause or new Schedule), nor Motion to re-commit the Bill cither as a whole or otherwise shall be made unless made by a Minister of the Crown, and the Question on any such Motion, if made by a Minister of the Crown, shall be put forthwith without any debate.|
|45||(e) For the purposes of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order, and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall, at the time so appointed, put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair and any Question necessary to dispose of an Amendment already proposed, and in the case of a new Clause which has been read a second time also the Question that the Clause be added to the Bill, and subject thereto shall proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules moved by a Minister of the Crown of which notice has been given (but no other Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules), and any Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded, and, in the case of Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules moved by a Minister of the Crown, he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made or that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill, as the case may be.|
|55||(f) On an allotted day the Proceedings to be brought to a conclusion under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.|
|(g) Nothing in this Order shall—|
|(i) prevent any Proceedings to which this Order applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by this Order; or|
|60||(ii) prevent any business from being proceeded with on any day, in accordance with the Standing Orders, if the Proceedings which under this Order are to be completed on that day have already been completed.|
|(h) Standing Order No. 41 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to this Order.|
I have protested against Motions of this kind in the past, and it may very well be that I shall have to do so again—[HON. MEMBERS: "Very soon."]—but we have reached a point in the Bill at which the Government would be failing to do their duty to the country if they were to shrink from the unpopularity of moving a time-table Motion.
Let me, first, very briefly remind the House of the history of the Bill. We introduced it because we believed that one of the most important ways in which we could help to make this country solvent was by reducing Government expenditure. I will not elaborate again—
On a point of order. Shall we be allowed, in reply, to say whether the Bill is relevant to the solvency of the country? The right hon. Gentleman has given the reasons for introducing the National Health Service Bill. Will it be competent for us to reply to those reasons?
That is what the whole debate is about. I gather. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps I have been misunderstood. I gathered that there was a Motion allotting time for the passing of the Committee and remaining stages of the National Health Service Bill, and I understood that that was why the Motion was being moved and that that is why the debate is taking place. Did I misunderstand?
I accept your Ruling in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman started his speech by describing what he considers to be the relevance of the National Health Service Bill to the financial condition of the country. Shall we be entitled, therefore, to consider that?
I do not see how we can discuss the Bill. What I understand we are discussing is the Motion before the House. [Interruption.] Do give me an opportunity to finish what I am going to say. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was giving his reasons why the Motion was necessary, and, no doubt, other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will give their reasons why they think that it is not necessary.
I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman was taking the view that the merits and the reasons of the Bill and its alleged urgency were relevant factors to the Motion, and that you have supported him in that view. May I say that, so far as I am concerned, I accept that Ruling?
I did not support, and am not supporting, any view. I am stating the case as I understand it. There is a Motion before the House and, no doubt, Members on either side will give their reasons why it should be supported and why it should not be supported.
I am not proposing to discuss the Bill in any shape or form. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I was only saying that it was introduced as part of our economic measures and that that was one of the reasons for its urgency. We can discuss the Bill some other day. I am merely repeating the reasons which were previously adduced for the Bill. It received a Second Reading, on 27th March, by a majority of 25, so that its principles have, indeed, been accepted by the House.
As the Bill contains only eight Clauses, the Government had a right to expect that the acceptance of the principles went quite a long way, but it became clear during our discussions in the Committee stage before the Easter Recess that the Opposition were determined to delay the passage of the Bill as long as possible. I make no complaint about that. It is the Opposition's business to oppose and to do what they like to try to hold up Measures of which they disapprove. But they really must not be surprised if the Government take what measures are open to them to overcome those tactics, because the Government have a right and a duty to govern.
We began by allocating two days to the Committee stage of the Bill, and in view of the fact that a similar Measure introduced by the Labour Government in 1951 was only one day in Committee—
—two days was thought not unreasonable. But we recognised that a third day might be necessary and were ready to provide it, and we did so. After the first day in Committee, I offered two more days. I later suggested completing the Committee stage after Easter by allowing a further day. That would have made four days in all in Committee, which, by any reasonable standard, might have been thought to suffice for a Bill of this nature and length.
However, by the time we adjourned for the Easter Recess, after 21½ hours of debate in Committee, only five lines had been disposed of—[An HON. MEMBER: "Too many."]—and this on a Clause which merely extends to a very small minority—that is to say, hospital out-patients—a power to make charges which had already been conferred in respect of the vast majority of the people by an Act of Parliament introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Some 21½ hours were consumed on five lines of the Bill, compared with 22 hours for all stages of the 1951 Bill, so the Government did not consider that this rate of progress was good enough.
Not only do the Government think it important to pass the Bill—and I have briefly said why—but they have other legislation which they also regard as important and intend to get through. The hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) made a contribution to this affair when he worked out the other day that at the present rate of progress it would take the House until 27th February next year, without rising at all, to get through the business which the Government wish to obtain. What was his remedy? His remedy was to move an Amendment to the Easter Adjournment Motion to bring us back one day later than the Government suggested. We doubted whether that suggestion or remedy was either adequate or helpful, and as far as this Bill is concerned we decided that there was no alternative to asking the House to pass a time-table.
There are many precedents, as the right hon. Member for Lewisham (Mr. H. Morrison) pointed out in moving a similar Motion in respect of the Iron and Steel Bill in 1948, when he said:
There is plenty of precedent and eminently respectable precedent … for a Motion of this kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1438.]
And then the right hon. Gentleman regaled us on that occasion with a list of time-table Motions which had been moved by Conservative and Liberal Governments. Perhaps I can return the compliment and mention one or two moved by Labour Governments. Apart from the Motions in respect of the Town and Country Planning, Transport and Iron and Steel Bills, passed in the 1945–50 Parliament, there were also two such Motions—in respect of the Representation of the People Bill and the Finance Bill—moved by the Labour Government of 1929–31. Those two last are of special interest in view of the argument which has been advanced by a number of hon. Members opposite recently against this Motion and this Bill when they said that a Government without a large majority—60 has been suggested as a minimum by the hon. and learned Members whom we are now coming to regard as leaders of the Opposition in this matter—at one time they reminded us of Laurel and Hardy—should not introduce controversial legislation.
In the 1929–1931 Parliament, to which I have just referred, a time-table was moved for the Finance Bill as well as the Representation of the People Bill, although, so far from having the magic majority of 60, the Labour Government of that time were, in truth, a minority Government—
As a matter of fact the argument these hon. and learned Members tried to put out, as pointed out by the comments of "The Times' on the subject, really means that unless a Government has a large majority it should not govern at all, but defer permanently to the wishes of the Opposition. That, of course, makes absolute nonsense of parliamentary government. They pointed in their letter—it is relevant to the arguments about precedents—to the splendid record of nullity achieved by the Labour Government of 1950–51 who dropped everything they intended to introduce. In view of the economic morass into which that policy of nullity has landed the country, I am surprised that it should be even suggested that the present Government should follow the example of their predecessors and deliberately do nothing.
Certainly, we have no such intention. We accepted office from His late Majesty with the firm intention of governing. We intend to clear up the mess which we have found and in that determination we have been strengthened and not weakened—[An HON. MEMBER: "By county council elections?"] We regard it as our duty to introduce whatever Measures are necessary, unpleasant although some may be, like this one, to restore economic health to the nation and we are not going to be deflected from that purpose by the windy threats which have been made largely from the back benches opposite.
A Government's need to introduce a Motion of this kind does not depend upon its political complexion at all, but upon its necessity to carry out its duty. Indeed, I find when I look back to 1914 that, giving evidence before the Select Committee when in opposition, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald opposed the Guillotine procedure, whereas in 1930–31, he introduced it as Prime Minister. I do not know what line the party below the Gangway will take on this matter today, but perhaps I might remind them of what Mr. Asquith said about the Guillotine on the Home Rule Bill in 1912:
Whether we like it or not the Guillotine has become a necessary instrument—I may say an almost elementary and normal instrument—in our Parliamentary proceedings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1912; Vol. 42, c. 556.]
I do not go quite so far as that, but perhaps hon. Members of the Liberal Party
do and, if they do, they will no doubt support us today. Those are the precedents I cite and the general reasons I give for asking the House to pass this Motion in order that we may get on with the Bill.
As to the Motion itself, it is in very simple language and completely self-explanatory. Practically all of it is in accordance with precedent. There has been some criticism—we have had it for about an hour this afternoon—directed to Mr. Speaker on points of order as to the inclusion in the Motion of the provision that Standing Order No. 41 shall not apply. Mr. Speaker has given his Ruling about that and, of course, there is no precedent because the Standing Order itself is very recent in origin. But the Government's reason for not adopting Standing Order No. 41 procedure in this case—Mr. Speaker made it quite clear that there were two procedures open to us—was because we thought it was inappropriate to apply this very cumbersome procedure to a small Bill such as this on which we have made some, although I admit not very much, progress.
As Standing Order No. 41 has been discussed already in such detail, perhaps some hon. Members who are new to the House might be interested to be reminded of the history of the Standing Order. The late Government, in the early days of 1945, set up a Select Committee on Procedure where, of course, there was a majority of Labour Members and a Labour Chairman. The Government brought before that Committee the idea of having a business committee, but the Select Committee on Procedure unanimously turned it down as being an unnecessary and cumbersome way of going about the business.
But that did not satisfy the right hon. Gentleman, and the next year, while we were still sitting, he brought the proposal before the Committee again and for the second time—as I say it had a Labour majority and a Labour Chairman—it unanimously turned down the proposal. Yet, in spite of that, a year later the Government moved and got adopted in this House this new Standing Order, contrary to the views of the Committee they had themselves set up. Even at that stage, two Labour Members of the Committee, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) being one, voted against their Government on this issue.
So it is not surprising that there should be a view that the business committee, which is so dear to the right hon. Gentleman, is not likely automatically to be of use, although possibly it might at times be required and used. We have thought that it should not automatically be employed and this is a case in which, in our view, it is unnecessary to bring it into being. To suggest that the proposal not to apply Standing Order No. 41 is, as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said on Monday, gerrymandering the constitution for my convenience, is, clearly, absolute nonsense.
Surely it would be a very novel doctrine to try to make out that once the House had ordered something to be done, as, for example, in a Standing Order, the House cannot itself order something else to be done on another occasion. The House does not work in that way; we frequently suspend Standing Orders. We suspended one this afternoon before we entered upon this debate and in this Motion we suspend at least three Standing Orders in exactly the same way as has been done in past Motions, including those fathered by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
As for the rest of the Motion, we have allotted what seems to us, in view of the previous lengthy debates on the Bill—which, I repeat, secured us five lines after 21½ hours and three days in Committee—a not unreasonable time for disposal of the Committee stage and we have a whole day for Report stage, which enables points to be raised again, and Third Reading. As I said, it is no pleasure for us to have to come before the House with a Motion of this kind and, in doing so, I remember what the Leader of the Opposition said in the debate on the Address on 6th November last:
The Opposition will be vigilant but not factious. We shall not oppose merely for the sake of opposition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 67.]
We feel that they have fallen away from that high ideal and instead of those fine words of six months ago his hon. Friends, possibly without his approval for all I know, have done just what he said his party would not do. This Motion will at least enable them to get back on to the path their Leader indicated they would travel.
It was not an accusation. It was a statement of fact. I was merely quoting what the Leader of the Opposition had said on 6th November. I said that I felt that hon. Gentlemen had fallen away from that high ideal. This Motion will at least enable them to get back on to the path which their leader said they would travel.
On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that my right hon. Friend's promise that there would be no factious opposition was completely broken in the House by the conduct of the Opposition. May I put it to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you or Mr. Speaker must, during that time, have taken part with the Opposition in the pursuit of factious opposition as the conduct of proceedings of the House is ultimately in your hands, and that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman certainly intended to be a reflection upon the Opposition is, in reality, a reflection upon you?
If I hear anything which I consider to be a reflection on myself I shall deal with it. I deprecate this raising of points of order which are certainly nowhere near being points of order.
As I said before, the Leader of the Opposition announced that the Opposition would be vigilant and not factious, and I am putting it to hon. Gentlemen in this House and elsewhere that to spend 21½ hours—three days—in Committee in dealing with five lines of a Bill is not living up to the high ideals with which they started, but is a falling away from them.
These Motions are, of course, undesirable if they can possibly be avoided, we are all agreed on that. They are very unpleasant to have to introduce. They always generate a great deal of heat. We seem to be generating heat at the moment with every word we use. On the other hand, I should like hon. Gentlemen opposite to reflect on some very wise words which were used by the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting in the corner seat on the Opposition Front Bench, when he sat on this side of the House. Yes, it is you.
I refer to what the right hon. Gentleman said—this was in 1948, on a similar occasion:
If there is anything to learn from the history of the past few years, it is that where, owing to one cause or another, excessive discussion has brought Parliament into disrepute, Parliamentary democracy has suffered its most severe defeats."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1538.]
We want to see no such defeats in our democracy here.
One thing that the right hon. Gentleman has not done has been to defend perhaps the most important single feature of this Motion, namely, the actual allocation of time. He has not gone through the provisions of the allocation of time. He has in no way sought to show that the time proposed to be allocated is reasonable or adequate for the work that remains to be done on the Bill.
What he has argued, when he has approached anywhere near that point, has been that because a certain amount of time has so far been taken on the Committee stage he is going to punish the Opposition—that is what it means—by deliberately giving them inadequate time for the rest of the Committee stage and the Report stage of the Bill. That is to say, the time he has lost on the Committee proceedings so far he is going to make up on the allocation of time order which is now before the House. I submit that that is an utterly wrong interpretation of such an order.
The allocation of time order should have regard to what has yet to be done on the further stages of the Bill; and to say that because three days of Committee time have gone two of those days, perhaps the whole of them, have to be deducted from the time for the remaining stages of the Bill is, in my judgment, utterly unreasonable, spiteful and cantankerous, and is an indication that the right hon. Gentleman is not fit to be the Leader of the House of Commons.
I take the view, and have always done so, that any Leader of the House of Commons, to whichever side he may belong, is not merely a representative of the Government. He has a duty to both sides of the House; he has a duty to minorities in all parts of the House, including minorities in his own party, and some are here who know that I was not unconscious of my obligation to the minorities of my own party when I was Leader of the House.
The office of Leader of the House is a very high and responsible one, and if its holder is not conscious of his great duty to protect the essential liberties and rights of the House and to have a sense of obligation to the whole House, Opposition as well as Government, he is failing in his duty. It is known among my colleagues that more than once, in the time of the Labour Government, I intervened to protect the rights of the Opposition when Departmental Ministers, not unnaturally, in their enthusiasm to get their business through, might now and again be inclined to forget those rights.
The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon has in no way functioned as a Leader of the House of Commons as a whole. He has functioned as a narrow, spiteful party instrument. He says, in effect, three days having been taken on the Committee stage, so, "Gentlemen of the Opposition, I shall take it out of you by this spiteful and bitter allocation of time order." That is what it comes to. Therefore his expression of reluctance and regret at the beginning of his speech was utterly hypocritical and utter humbug. There is no reluctance and regret in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. There is a sense of spiteful and vindictive pleasure at having brought in this Motion.
The answer to that is perfectly simple. That was essentially a restricted Bill. It was specific in its provisions, whereas this Bill is bigger and wider. And despite the traditional opposition of the Conservative Party to delegated legislation, it proceeds by way of delegated legislation, because the essence of the Bill is to be implemented by Regulation. Therefore, it is peculiarly natural and inevitable that a considerable number of Amendments should be put down in order to control what can and cannot be done within the Regulations. That is an easy question and simple to answer. I hope I shall get no more difficult questions in the course of this discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman says, presumably in answer to my hon. Friends in earlier discussions, that the Government, notwithstanding its small majority, has a perfect right to do everything it likes, and carry out its policy and programme in full. That is not very sensible from the point of view of a proper conception of political science. Governments have to take account of the nature of their majority and the voting in the country. We had to in 1951. We had to do so owing to our smaller majority for one reason, and we did for another, for the reason of a response to an expression of democratic view. But who is this Tory Government to use language of that sort?
How often did we listen to the flaming language of the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, who used to add up all the Conservative votes and then add on top all the Liberal votes as if they were his private possession? I admit he has got to the point now when the five Liberal Members are nearly his private possession. We hope they will be all right today, as they have, in general, opposed this Bill. But time and again the right hon. Gentleman, who was then and is still, the Member for Woodford, used to argue, "We had so many votes, you got so many, the Liberals got so many." Then he collected the Liberal votes and added them to the Tory votes and said, "You have no right to do this, that and the other"—as if the country were governed by a referendum.
Now the right hon. Gentleman advances the opposite doctrine. He says they are entitled to carry out almost a Tory revolution, because they have a small majority. Not only are they in an electoral minority in the country, but they got fewer votes than we did alone. I make no claim about the Liberal vote at all. I have given up trying to explain exactly what it means, and I am not going to claim or guess about it. In any case, I am not as impudent, as is the Prime Minister, in trying to add other votes to our vote.
Our vote was bigger than the Government vote, and therefore the argument that they are particularly entitled to do anything they like in the way of a counter-revolution, or reactionary Tory policy, because they have a small majority, is another indication that the Leader of the House of Commons has no sense of the constitutional proprieties and ought to get out of the job as quickly as he can, because he is incapable of doing it—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is Minister of Health as well."] I know that he is Minister of Health as well, but at the moment I am referring to him in his other capacity.
The right hon. Gentleman says they are clearing up the mess they found. I wish they would devote a little more time to clearing up the mess they are making, because they are making a shocking mess, economically, politically and otherwise. Heaven knows, they ought to know that they are creating a dreadful mess—they have just gone through the county council elections. If that is not a mess, I do not know what is, and they ought to be very worried about it. They have gone through that experience partly—not wholly, because most of those victories are the consequence of the excellence of Labour local government administration—because of the incompetence of the Government and the mess into which they are getting.
This particular Guillotine, or allocation of time order, to give it its more civilised title, is, I think, the most brutal Guillotine Motion I have ever seen. I agree that Guillotines are not nice. I said so when I was the Leader of the House. Every Leader of the House or Prime Minister, when he moves a Guillotine Motion, says how sorry he is about it—only I was genuine, I really meant it. I did not say to the then Opposition, "We are going to be spiteful and take it out of you." I was not vindictive. I was genuinely sorry about it, and we really tried to give an allocation of time which was reasonable in all the circumstances.
This is a brutal Motion which is deliberately calculated to make utterly impossible any reason in the Committee or Report stages on the Bill. Let us see what time is allocated, and let us see what has to be done. Clause 1 is to be terminated on the first allotted day at 5 o'clock. Now Clause 1 is, I suppose, the principal operative Clause of the Bill, which is not unusual in legislative structure, and there are about 50 Opposition Amendments to that Clause still existing.
It may be argued by hon. Gentlemen opposite that these 50 Amendments are unnecessary; that they are put down for the purpose of obstruction; that they are frivolous and vexatious. They are nothing of the kind. They all raise issues of substance and real points of public policy, and there are 50 of them. No doubt they vary in importance and would vary in the amount of time required to deal with them. But the 50 are down on the Order Paper and there is much yet to do on this important Clause of the Bill.
How much time have the Government given us under this allocation of time order? Ninety minutes. One-and-a-half hours—[HON. MEMBERS: "Three days."] That is not a fair argument. To say that because three days have gone on the proceedings so far we will deduct three days from the remaining proceedings on the Bill is a preposterous argument more worthy of Hitler than of the right hon. Gentleman. We have 90 minutes left to deal with 50 Amendments, or such of them as would have been selected by the Chair.
That is an hour-and-a-half, if there are no Ministerial statements; if there are no business questions and no supplementary questions arising out of the business statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or points of order"]—certainly, and if there are no points of order. After all points of order do arise, they have arisen absolutely legitimately this afternoon, and time has to be taken about them. Consequently, it is even possible and in an extreme case—[Interruption.] I do not wish to interrupt either of the hon. Gentlemen. I can wait.
The hon. Gentleman should not get up in that threatening manner and point so aggressively. It is not gentlemanly conduct.
It is quite possible that there may be statements at the end of Questions, possibly a Division on the suspension of the Rule, though that is not likely, because the allocation of time order has taken care of that Standing Order as well. Various things often arise at 3.30 p.m., and there may be Private Notice Questions as well. It may be half an hour, it may be an hour, and it is quite conceivable that even the whole hour and a half may have gone. I submit that that hour and a half is utterly, ridiculously and preposterously inadequate, and a sheer mockery of Parliamentary Government and democracy.
On Clause 2, they are somewhat more generous, though, heaven knows, not generous. They allow three hours for the whole of the proceedings on Clause 2. It cannot be argued by hon. Gentlemen opposite that three days have been taken on Clause 2, because Clause 2 has not yet been reached. Therefore, it is no good saying to us that, because we have already had three days on Clause 2, the Government are going to take it out of us. Clause 2 has not yet been reached, and to this Clause, which is of great importance to this Bill in the daily lives of the people and to their health, three hours is to be devoted to dealing with the whole of it.
What is it that we have to face on Clause 2? We have to face 40 Opposition Amendments, and, in our judgment, all these are legitimate Amendments and raise various points of substance on public policy, and, in so far as they are called by the Chair, they ought to be heard.
I would point out that in the latest list of Amendments there are three Amendments from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and they, of course, have a right to put down Amendments. These Amendments will be called before the first of the Opposition Amendments on Clause 2 will be reached, as far as I can see, and there are some other cases in which Government Amendments come before ours, so that it is possible that our Amendments on Clause 2 may not be reached at all. In any case, it is perfectly clear that the time given to the whole Clause—three hours—with 40 Amendments of ours on the Order Paper and three from the Government side, is another sheer mockery of Parliamentary decency.
The real truth is that the Government are so rushing things with this Bill that they are in a muddle and a mess. It is doubtful whether Ministers understand the Bill themselves, judging by their performances at that Box, and that, indeed, is one of the reasons why hon. Members on this side have had to speak with some frequency in order to help the Government to understand their own Bill.
My hon. and right hon. Friends who have been in charge for the Opposition and have spoken from this bench have had to teach the Government the facts of life about this Bill, and it is no good their complaining, because we have been helpful in trying to explain things to Ministers so that they could better understand their own Bill. All the thanks we get for this is the allegation that we are wasting time and this allocation of time order, and I think it is unreasonable.
It is said that we have only reached line 9 of Clause 1, and that is true, but there have been useful and valuable debates. I deny that there has been organised filibustering on this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Filibustering is a humiliating practice which I would never recommend to my hon. Friends and those associated with me in this House, and I would not recommend it to the other side either.
The arguments have been serious. There have been contributions by a number of medical hon. Members on this side—[An HON. MEMBER: "And some pathological ones."] Doctors on this side of the House have advanced serious arguments, and the last time we parted with the Bill on the Committee stage, when we were considering the Amendment to line 9 of Clause 1, there was an Amendment moved in relation to Part III of the National Assistance Act by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), whom I have known for many years.
That was not filibustering. Anybody who knows my hon. Friend the Member for Barking would certainly not accuse him of filibustering. He was serious in moving the Amendment, as other medical hon. Members on this side of the House have been, but the additional point is this. The Minister in charge of the Bill showed some sympathy on this matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking. He did show some sympathy with the point raised, but part of his defence for resisting that Amendment was that he had not had time to consult the local authorities.
This is one of the troubles about this Bill. It has been rushed, and people who are concerned about it, including the local authorities, have not been properly consulted. Therefore, the Government find themselves in difficulties. There is a similar problem about the collection of the shilling fees in the rural areas. The doctors were expected to collect the shilling, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summer-skill), tells me that, through the British Medical Association, the rural doctors have indicated that they are not willing to collect the shilling, and I gather that the doctors have not been properly consulted on this aspect of the Bill.
So the Government have got themselves into a shocking muddle through rush and incompetence. There are a large number of important policy and technical Amendments on the Order Paper, and they ought not to be rushed. It is to be noted that the right hon. Gentleman has not received much assistance from Conservative hon. Members who are medical men. The pharmacists have to collect the shilling in respect of certain things, and have to give receipts. They will want more money, I expect. I do not know whether they ought to have it or not, but has the Minister consulted them about that?
Indeed, on a highly technical and detailed Bill of this sort, there was a good deal to be said for it going upstairs instead of being taken on the Floor of the House. With a limited number of hon. Members, probably more expeditious progress could have been made, and more sense put into the Bill from both sides of a Committee upstairs. Therefore, the Government are rushing a highly technical Bill without due consideration.
This Motion is, indeed, making our legislative process a sausage machine, which used to be referred to by the present Prime Minister. It is an insult to Parliament, it is a grave Parliamentary and constitutional abuse by a small Governmental majority, and the Government ought to think of the precedents which they are creating.
They are in Government today; they will be in Opposition at no distant date. All the signs are that they are in for a fall at the next election. They should think what precedents they are making, because in this Motion they are really making a terrible, vindictive and brutal precedent, and they are proceeding in this way in that spirit in defiance of sound constitutional principles. It is an act of dictatorship, of spite and of tyranny against the Opposition. It makes a farce, and is intended to make a farce, of our legislative processes, and I am very sorry that it has been brought forward.
I now want to say a word about Standing Order No. 41. We have had the arguments about the point of order, and let me say that I am grateful, as we all are, to Mr. Speaker for his patience in listening to the argument. I know there were differences of opinion about it in the last Parliament. Certainly then the Opposition did not agree with it, and some of my hon. Friends did not agree with it, but there is a lot to be said for it, and it was carried.
It is this. If an overall time limit is to be put on a Bill by the Guillotine—which is a bad thing—the best way is to have an overall time limit and then to have a business committee to settle the compartments within the Guillotine regarding when it shall fall on particular Clauses and parts of the Bill. I said before the Select Committee, I think—I certainly said it in the House—that in my judgment on that part of the business the Opposition should be the major factor—I said that when I was a Minister and Leader of the House of Commons—because it is the Opposition which is having its head cut off. The Opposition are the victims of the Guillotine, and they are the critics. Therefore, they have the most right to have a big say as to the allocation of time within the overall limit.
I was a Member of the Select Committee, and I understand that I have been referred to by the Leader of the House in this connection. It is as well to bear in mind that although it is perfectly true that that was said, the Select Committee on procedure was against this idea and continued to be against it even when pressed. But it was against it on quite different grounds from those now being discussed, and no one was against the business committee or against the procedure because he was in favour of such a Guillotine Motion as is now being proposed.
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend, and I fully agree with him that that was the case, but I am putting a series of arguments to the House as to my own beliefs. I think that the Guillotine should be confined to the overall limit and that then both sides should be represented on a business committee, and that the allocation within the overall limit should be settled by that committee. I indicated to my own hon. Friends that if that came off, and if there were such a committee, we should always try to give the Opposition the benefit of the doubt. They are the victims, so to speak; they are the minority, and they should be given the benefit of the doubt.
I suggest that is the right spirit in which to approach this problem. It is certainly the best House of Commons spirit. I always regret Guillotines anyway, but, if they are to be used, let them be used in a way which makes the procedure as smooth as possible. As a matter of fact, we offered that to the then Opposition in relation to a Bill upstairs, but for reasons of their own they declined to co-operate in the matter.
I submit that this is a thoroughly bad time-table. It is an impossible time-table, and nobody on the Government Front Bench can get up and say that it is a time-table which is seriously meant to get anything like reasonable and proper consideration of the Bill. The Government must admit that it is a time-table deliberately fashioned and calculated to make it impossible for any adequate proceedings to take place on the rest of the Bill. I say that the Government are wrong in so proceeding, that this is an abuse of their small Parliamentary majority, and that the Leader of the House of Commons, if he is remembered in history, will be remembered as a man who broke faith with the great trust that ought to rest in him.
I believe that the immediate reaction of every hon. Member in this House, irrespective of party, to a notice of Motion relating to the allocation of time should be to remind himself that this assembly is essentially a great deliberative assembly, that we in Britain believe in Government by discussion, and that any action on the part of any Government, whatever its complexion, which is a threat to that tradition and to the acceptance of that principle should be looked upon with the greatest possible suspicion.
One aspect of our belief in Government by discussion is our conception of the rights of minorities, not only the rights of a minority, in so far as it is the official Opposition in this House, but the rights of a minority even if it is a group within that Opposition, or, indeed if, as it may be, it is a group within the Government party of the day. Most important of all is the right of a minority when it happens to be an individual Member. On occasions of this kind we should never forget the virtue of representation.
We are here, quite apart from being Members of particular parties, representing constituencies and individual beliefs which we hold. Anything which is in any way a challenge to our rights according to the traditions of this House to express those views is something which we should regard, as I say, with the greatest possible suspicion. The right of minorities to invade Parliamentary time is something which if restricted is a denial of our whole conception of liberty.
I concede, of course, that, while we have to recognise to the full the principles which I have attempted to enunciate there is another side to the picture. It is that if the rights of minorities are to be preserved in this respect, they must be accompanied by recognition of responsibilities on the part of those minorities. One responsibility of a minority is to recognise the right of the majority to govern within the framework of a constitutional Government of the country.
The Leader of the House reminded us of what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had to say with regard to that when he quoted a statement to the effect that excessive discussion can bring Parliament into disrepute. On the other hand, it is a very easy thing for a Government introducing a Guillotine Motion to say that there has been obstruction and filibustering, and that that is their genuine alibi for introducing an allocation of time order.
The suggestion that there is abuse of constitutional rights by a minority is one which can easily be made by the Government of the day. Of course, in so far as they command a majority in this House, they are, so to speak, judges in their own court. Therefore, it is particularly important that we should approach our attitude to any particular Motion by reference to our own conceptions of the traditions of the House rather than by any particular party allegiance.
As the Leader of the House has indicated, no one can argue for one moment that the introduction of an allocation of time order is in any way novel. Since 1887 it has been repeatedly introduced on particular occasions by each party in turn, and on almost each occasion it has led to strong language being used by the party in opposition.
I read a short time ago the debate which took place in 1947 and 1948 on the Town and Country Planning Act and the Transport Act. We had references on both occasions to the Reichstag and Gestapo and Fascists, and so on. But we have to look at the circumstances which have given rise to the Motion and try to see whether, bearing in mind the high test which has to be applied, the Government can justify the introduction of a Motion of this kind.
After all, it is one thing to move the Closure and to say, "I believe now we have had a full and adequate discussion of this matter." It is quite a different thing to say beforehand, before it is known how the debate will develop, "The time we shall give you to debate these Clauses of the Bill is so much, no more and no less, whatever the eventualities and whatever the developments that may take during the debate."
I want to draw attention to two matters relating to the attitude of the Opposition which indicate that the genuineness to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) referred might be suspect. In 1947 the Government of the day introduced a similar Motion but—I believe for the first time in our history—that Motion referred to the application of the Guillotine to the Committee stage of a Bill when that Committee stage was being taken upstairs and not on the Floor of the House. In that respect, of course, it was a much more serious development.
The other surprising feature is that both the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South, respectively, last Monday and today, both advocated as a remedy for the present situation the committal of Bills of this kind from the Floor of the House to a Committee upstairs. I believe that to be an even greater travesty of the rights of minorities and of the rights of individual Members than the Guillotine itself. Certainly, the committal of a Bill of general interest which affects the country as a whole from the Floor of the House to a Committee upstairs combined with the Guillotine is something even more drastic than that which is contemplated by the Government today. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] For the reason which I hoped I had made quite clear.
One of the inherent objections to the Guillotine is that it limits discussion. The committing of a Bill upstairs must limit very considerably the number of hon. Members who can take part in a discussion. I do not say it cannot be avoided, but it means that many points of view would have no representation at all if this Bill were committed to a Committee upstairs. The combination of the Guillotine and committal upstairs which was introduced by the Labour Government in 1947 was particularly vicious.
As for the introduction of the Guillotine at the present juncture, I accept the argument advanced from the Opposition Front Bench that what has already happened to this Bill is not strictly relevant. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that considerable time has been wasted, though my view is that, in the main, the discussions have been helpful and constructive. However, I would be prepared to concede that some hon. Members, in dealing with certain aspects of the Bill, have wasted time. But that is no argument why Clause 2 of the Bill, which goes to its very roots, should not be given proper time for discussion and debate. The fact that the Opposition may have misbehaved and may have been obstructionist during discussion of an earlier part of the Bill is no argument for depriving the House as a whole of adequate time to discuss, in particular, Clause 2, upon which we have not yet started.
It has been suggested that one reason for the introduction of the Guillotine is that the Government have some other important Measures to introduce and that the debate on this Bill was holding up the Government programme. I concede that there are many Bills which the Government have in mind in relation to which in given circumstances they might be justified in introducing the Guillotine. That might be the case in connection with the Finance Bill or the denationalisation of iron and steel. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I do not object to the Guillotine in any circumstances. I thought I had made that perfectly clear; but I am not accepting the Guillotine in the case of this Bill.
I have done no such thing. Let me make my position quite clear. I can well imagine circumstances in which I would feel it perfectly right and proper to vote for the Guillotine, and I think the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has done so before today. All I say is that the Government cannot introduce the argument that this is a matter of great urgency Nobody could possibly suggest that it is of real urgency that the National Health Service Bill should go through.
If the Government have other business which they regard as vital and urgent they have a remedy in their own hands—to abandon the present Bill. Naturally, one's attitude to that aspect of the problem is governed by one's attitude to the particular Bill. But I do not believe for one moment that the Government could suggest that this Bill is such an essential element of their economic programme and so vital to the nation that it should not be jettisoned if there is an important and essential matter which this Bill is holding up. I do not propose to detain the House much longer—
It is quite true that I voted against the suspension of the Rule, but the hon. and learned Member is now talking sensibly and we want to hear things like that. What we did not want to hear was a lot of nonsense.
I am grateful for compliments at all times, but I sometimes suspect the source from which they come.
I believe that the time-table now allocated will not give fair play to the matters which remain to be discussed on the National Health Bill. We are in a position where even Government Amendments may be put through without any discussion at all, and certainly where Amendments of substance, whatever one's point of view with regard to them, moved by Members of the Opposition on different aspects of this Bill, cannot hope to receive adequate consideration by the House as a whole.
I shall not follow in great detail what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). I do not propose to keep the House long, but I should like to refer for one moment to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). He is, of course, a past-master of that type of speech, and I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. We have heard that type of speech, with different nouns, a good many times.
It may not be to your knowledge, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but in my young days I was very keen on amateur theatricals, and one of the things which we were taught in the early stages was how to assume rage. I think the right hon. Gentleman has certainly at some time or other learned that lesson very well. Of course, it is the Opposition's job to oppose, and they must turn on rage whether it is real or "phoney." It is usually "phoney," but that does not make it any less entertaining. The right hon. Gentleman is certainly a past-master at putting on ersatz rage. I forget how many times "spiteful," "appalling" and other adjectives were used, and how many times the Box was thumped, but it reminded me of my early amateur theatrical days.
If it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose—and I say this with great respect to the Opposition, of whatever party it may consist—I say it is their duty to consider the circumstances in which the country finds itself when they are making their opposition. We are today in the middle of the greatest crisis in our country's history, and there is no doubt that the Opposition ought to have considered that matter when arranging this long-drawn-out Committee stage on this Bill. In ordinary circumstances, if times were normal, that type of thing might have been justifiable, but I do not think it is justifiable today—and here I differ from the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan—when this Bill is so important in the economies which must be enforced if this country is to survive. It is most important that the Opposition should bear that in mind.
After all, three or four days on the Committee stage of a Bill of this size is ample if the time is used properly. Far too many Members in this House—I say it with great respect, and if I myself fail in this respect, I apologise—say in 50 minutes what could be said in 10 minutes. That is one way in which valuable Parliamentary time is lost.
The right hon. Gentleman said that before long we on these benches would be the Opposition. How earnestly he prays every night that that will not happen. When the present Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister and ran away from what he saw coming and went to the country—
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will immediately return to the Motion. It is essential that we should realise that Parliamentary time is a very precious thing in a time of crisis. That is the reason and the justification for the imposition of a measure like the Guillotine, which we all heartily dislike. I do not think we can say that to take this Bill on the time-table laid down for it, though it may be harsh in appearance, in any way justifies the statement that enough time was not in the first place allocated for the proper consideration of the Bill. The fact is that that time was not properly used by those concerned.
I do not want to go into details about the time-table, and I do not want to go into the details of the Bill, because that would be out of order, but I would say very sincerely—and if I am going beyond what a back bench Member should say, I hope that I shall be forgiven—that there is a very serious lessening of the high reputation of this House of Commons in the country today. The reasons are not far to seek. One of the principal reasons is factious opposition. All-night sittings are regarded by the public as crazy. We may have our own views on all-night sittings; I think they are crazy, too.
I cannot give way, because I want my remarks to be very short. I want to make it clear that, in my humble opinion, having spoken to a large number of people in all walks of life, Parliamentary Government, and Parliament itself, is losing its reputation because of our misbehaviour in this House. [Interruption.] I did not say in this Parliament or in the last Parliament, I said "in this House," and I mean on both sides. I said "our behaviour," and I was not referring to any particular side. There is no doubt that a considerable number of people in the Gallery of this House come for entertainment value and not to study politics.
I do not require hon. Members opposite to tell me to withdraw something which is out of order. Of course, I withdraw. But I do repeat that this House of Commons, by its behaviour, is lessening its own reputation in the country, and that is a desperately serious thing in a democracy. All over the world today Parliaments are disappearing, and it is sincerely to be hoped that this Parliament will never follow. If Parliament loses its reputation among the people of this country through the action of its Members on either side, it will do irreparable harm to our Parliamentary institution.
On these grounds, I hope that all of us will exercise a sense of responsibility in our debates and in our method of conducting them. I hope also that this Guillotine Motion will be passed, much as I regret it, purely in order to get a sense of reality in view of the dangerous situation in which our country is today.
I was rather astonished by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), because I take entirely the opposite view. Never was the reputation of Parliament higher than it is now in the minds of the mass of the British people. To suggest that what we have been witnessing in the last few months are scenes that undermine the respect for Parliament and the affection in which Parliament is held by the people of Great Britain is to lack any historical perspective whatsoever. Nothing at all has happened in this House comparable with the disorderely scenes which occurred when it was full almost entirely of Conservative Members. I have not yet seen any books or inkwells thrown, or scuffles on the Floor of the House—
No pennies have been thrown as was done by the party opposite. The fact is that, looking back over the history of Parliament, Parliamentary Government has risen in the estimation of people to the extent that Labour people have come to the House of Commons and have disciplined the misbehaviour of Conservative opposition.
I do not want to press this point too far, but as the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire has raised it I should say that it was only to the extent that the products of the board schools came in to mitigate the misbehaviour of public schools that the level of Parliamentary debate has been raised. As an old board school man myself, I take pleasure in that fact; but to suggest for a single moment that Parliamentary government is now held less in esteem by the people of this country and therefore we should have a Guillotine implies that the esteem in which Parliament is held by the population is in direct ratio to their failure to hear their grievances articulated on the Floor of the House.
I should have thought that the first duty of a public man was advocacy and, that it is just to the extent that the people of the country can hear their grievances expressed on the Floor of the House of Commons, just to the extent that they can read in the newspapers and hear on the radio, amongst the many millions of inarticulate people in the country, that the sufferings that they feel can be expressed here, that Parliament unites itself with the affections of the population.
What would certainly undermine Parliament would be the fact that these sufferings were going unredressed. I do not know what other hon. Members have been getting in the last two months, but I have been receiving more letters from cripples and from others who have to use the National Health Service than I have done for years past. That is because they are all apprehensive lest what is now intended to be carried out should increase their difficulties. I do hope we shall not have that hoary old argument that Parliament ought to be silent for fear that it will lose the respect of the population and that the more silent we are the more we grow in their esteem. On the contrary, I believe it is our duty all the time to preserve Parliamentary institutions by making them express the people's will.
Reasons for the introduction of this Bill have been given by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and Minister of Health. May I say that these offices are a most unfortunate conjunction? I understood some months ago that the right hon. Gentleman was going to be relieved of his office as Minister of Health. There were strong rumours to that effect, and we all hoped they were going to be correct, not because we have any lack of respect for the qualities of the right hon. Gentleman, but because everybody has realised, since the discussion on the National Health Service Bill in Committee, that he is singularly ill-fitted to be Minister of Health.
It is rather a grim prospect when the departmental Minister is the Leader of the House of Commons itself and moves a Guillotine Motion on his own Measure. This is an extraordinary precedent. I suppose that now, whenever a Minister finds himself with an embarrassing Bill, the Prime Minister will make him Leader of the House in order that he may be able to constrict discussion on his own Measure and save himself embarrassment. I should have thought that anybody ought to have moved this Motion except the Minister of Health.
Why have we got this Motion? We have got it—and I challenge hon. Members in all parts of the House to deny it—because the discussion on the Amendments of the National Health Service Bill in Committee have been highly embarrassing to Members of the Government. I have taken part in the discussion on most of them and it has been apparent that the Government have found it extremely repugnant to oppose many of the Amendments we have moved. I think that does them credit. They would rather do cruelty in ignorance than have it brought to their notice. It does an injury to their feelings. They would rather wound people and not have the wounds brought to their attention.
When the discussions in the Committee stage revealed—as was apparent the other day—that even old people in the new institutions are to be harried and bullied and plagued without any relief at all from Parliament, many hon. Members opposite got up and told the right hon. Gentleman that he was beginning to be known as "hard-hearted Harry." What has the right hon. Gentleman done? He has said, "I cannot stand that." He could stand being hard-hearted, but not being called hard-hearted; so he said "For Heaven's sake let us have a Guillotine as quickly as possible, otherwise I might either myself be moved from office"—not moved emotionally—"or my hon. Friends may be too much moved and I shall have trouble." So he moves the Guillotine Motion.
The extraordinary thing about this proposal is the estimate the Government have formed of legislative priorities. That has been pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), and it has just been emphasised by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire. This Guillotine is introduced because the Government require the National Health Service Bill in order to make a contribution towards solving the country's economic and financial crisis. That was the explanation which was given. I must say that we really are in a parlous state when the first people to make a contribution towards solving the crisis are the cripples. What a reputation the Conservative Party are giving Great Britain abroad when they say that the solution of our financial crisis can be achieved only by putting burdens on the cripples first, and that England can only be held together by making charges on abdominal belts. This is where the Conservative Party have got us.
What is the contribution that will be made? Let us have a look at it. One of the advantages of having a Guillotine in prospect is that we no longer need to read the Bills. All we need to do is walk through the Division Lobbies. I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire and the right hon. Gentleman to look at their own Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the National Health Service Bill. Our Budget runs now at about £4,700 million and our overseas deficit is from £300 million to £400 million, and the cripples and the wearers of trusses and abdominal belts, and those who have to repair to dentists, must make a contribution of the order of between £6.75 million and £10.75 million to get Great Britain out of its dreadful financial difficulties.
That is the reason for the Bill. What they have done is to take hold of a small section of the population—the weakest, the most helpless, those who either have been born with physical deformity or infirmity or have suffered it in some of our industries, such as mining and steel and agriculture—and inflicted upon them charges amounting to a little over £10 million a year, in order to force them to make their contribution to the solution of the financial crisis. May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether that is his conception of legislative priorities?
If the right hon. Gentleman is to take just this one item by itself, without all the rest, then perhaps he has got something, but he is just taking one thing out of its context.
I could imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite have a case, in their judgment, for saying that the amendment of the transport system or even the de-nationalisation of steel could be held to make some contribution to a change in the economic situation. I should not agree with them, but, nevertheless, those measures would be of an order of magnitude which might appear to have some relevance to it. But surely not £10.75 million from the cripples. Surely right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have got the whole thing wrong. They should have their order of priorities put right again.
The only explanation they have given is that we started some of it. But that is not good enough at all. We put a term to it; and, indeed, if the Government are always to do what we did as a precedent, then they can take the power to make the Regulations but not make them. It is not the first time that powers have been taken to make punitive Regulations and the Regulations themselves have never afterwards been made. There are very many Acts on the Statute Book giving power to make Regulations which, in fact, are not made. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will follow our example faithfully in this respect.
I come back to the point that there is something seriously wrong with the morals of a party which, despite all the other pieces of present legislation which they are anxious to bring to the Floor of the House of Commons, invoke the authority of the Guillotine in order to force through the House of Commons punitive powers to oppress cripples. I do not want to embarrass them too much; the spectacle is painful; but they need not imagine that because they rush this Bill through the House of Commons the people will not know what they are doing, for in a few weeks' time, if they carry these Regulations through, the consequences of this legislation will reach the people and will reach them in a thousand and in tens of thousands of irritating ways—all for the purpose of getting a miserable sum like this.
I believe that Governments should have a sufficient Parliamentary authority to get their business through. It is never right for an Opposition to use the powers conferred upon them by the constitution to deny the right of government to the Government of the day. That is a perfectly proper point of view, and that is why different parties have invoked the Guillotine from time to time. But let us have some sense of proportion; let us have some selective principles. Do not use the Guillotine for purposes like this; and, if hon. Members are going to talk about the respect in which Parliament is held, can the people have any respect for a Government which introduce legislation, and force it through the House of Commons by a Guillotine, directly opposed to the mandate they got from the country?
Not only have the Government no mandate for this, but they specifically obtained votes by saying that they were not going to do it. Never was there a more dishonourable use of the Guillotine than this. It seems to me, therefore, that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen ought to think again. It is really too bad that the weakest and the most oppressed and the most helpless people in the country are now to be denied the opportunity of having their grievances voiced on the Floor of the House of Commons.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I put this to him? He cannot have refreshed his memory from my party's manifesto, "Britain Strong and Free," because this is exactly what it said:
We hold ourselves free to review and alter the present system of charges in order to establish proper priorities.
And I am now coming to the answer. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen believe that from that document—which led to a very obscure existence during the Election—they have a mandate from the population to apply their order of priorities for charges inside the Health Service, and their order of priorities is to take the cripples first.
We have now heard three speeches from the Opposition benches representing the three distinct oppositions to the Bill and to this Motion. It is always immensely exciting to listen to the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen); one never knows until the last sentence which way the decision is going to fall. We have heard from the right hon. Gentleman whom I think is deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who made his usual speech, lavish with his adjectives and sparing with his facts, to which I hope to return in a moment; and we have heard an admirably typical speech from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and I will come back to his speech later, if I may.
I would say this, however: I think there is one allocation of time Motion which would be warmly supported all over the House by the back benchers and by those of us who have not the high distinction of being a Privy Councillor. How warmly we should support an allocation of time Motion applied to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale!
I think not. It is true, and the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan was quite right when he said that all Members of the House regret very much a Guillotine Motion; and it is in the nature of things—and again quite rightly—that the Opposition in particular should resent it and should oppose it bitterly to the end. That is absolutely correct. It is true, again, that any Guillotine Motion, any allocation of time Motion, is a denial of the rights of Members of the House of Commons and usually, though not always, it means that important matters will go undiscussed.
I am much less interested in the precedents, dating I think back to the year 1887, from Lord Salisbury, than in what happened before on the Bill in the House. Hon. Members will agree that the real subject we must discuss today is whether the Government's Motion on this Bill is or is not justified. It is immensely important to follow carefully the arguments which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, put forward about the conduct of the Opposition during the earlier stages of the Bill.
The decision seems to me to rest to a great extent on whether we have had in these three days genuine expressions of concern about the very considerable problems that can be raised, or whether, within the rules of order, there has been organised time wasting in this Chamber. It seems to me that that is a decision on which the House of Commons must make up its mind. We spent three days on nine lines of the Bill, one day stopping at 10 o'clock, on another at a few minutes before midnight, and on another at about half-past two in the morning. The fact that we have so far reached line 9, I admit freely, is in no way conclusive that there were time-wasting methods employed, but I want to take one example of an Amendment and study it for a moment or two.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham. South referred to the fact that there was a number of distinguished medical practitioners on the other side of the House who have given us the benefit of their advice. That is true. I will take up precisely that point, and I will take up an Amendment moved almost entirely by medical men on the other side and relating almost entirely to medical practitioners. It was moved on the third day at 7.14 and finally disposed of, after the Closure, at 8.45. It was an Amendment to add a new subsection to this famous line 9, and said, in effect, that no medical practitioner should be required to make or recover a charge. Naturally, I am not suggesting that Amendment was out of order, although it is a fact recorded in HANSARD that at one point the Chairman did say that it might appear that a mistake had been made in calling it. I accept that this Amendment was, in fact in order.
What that Clause does is to take power in respect of the out-patient departments in a hospital and the specialist services provided under one part of the Bill. The infinitely wider problem of what happens under another part of the Bill, under the general medical service, the pharmaceutical service, and the general dental service, also concerned with Prescriptions—
I am sorry if I strayed a little too far in discussing the merits of the Bill. I am merely describing a point which is, I think, of the first importance in relation to the question whether we did or did not have time-wasting methods employed. Leaving aside the question of the merits of the Bill, which I recognise is out of order, I would point out that it was fiercely argued on a point of order that was raised that it was possible to conceive that these larger problems came within the narrower one.
Let me admit it can just be done. It is just possible to conceive of a man who is a general practitioner and who also dispenses his own drugs by capitation and not by tariff, and that that same man is on the specialist staff in his local hospital, and that that local hospital has an outpatient department and not a dispensary, and that the prescriptions, in the absence also of a chemist, have to be dispensed by the doctor. Then the whole of the problem arises. I dare say that, if we scan the entire field of the general practitioners in this country, we could find a couple—
Of course, that merely confirms the point, which is that to bring one man in, the whole of the qualifications
have to apply. Now, the point is simply this. For every doctor affected by this Bill, 1,000 were affected by the 1949 Act. For every problem that arises for the chemists under this, a dozen arose before. I see that the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) is in his place. He argued in the Committee:
We are trying to protect the doctors from having to levy charges upon the patients before they have their drugs and medicines. I think I have every right to speak on that matter."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2846.]
So indeed he had. And he had every right to speak on the far graver problems that arose on 9th December, 1949, when the major issue was shuffled through this House of Commons. It is no excuse to say, as we were told, that those Regulations have not been implemented, because unless the hon. Gentleman—
I have been watching the course of the hon. Gentleman's speech with some apprehension. It appeared to me that the argument he was putting before the House was that unnecessary time had been wasted in previous discussions on the Bill.
That is an argument which renders some reference, no doubt, to those matters in order, but it would be grossly out of order to enter upon a general discussion of those matters.
Yes. I am doing this only by way of illustration. I do not want to introduce a general discussion on this matter. It is no excuse to say that the 1949 Act was not implemented unless the hon. Member, at the same time, is going to explain that he was in the confidence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale.
I really cannot allow discussion of the 1949 Act or of the present Bill. That would open the door much too wide, and would lead us, on this Motion, out of order.
I will certainly leave the 1949 Act and come, as I trust I am allowed to, in a sentence or two, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South, made constant references to the Act of a year ago, to that particular Measure. In the case both of the 1949 Act and of the 1951 Act, the votes of the hon. Member are recorded. I think that, as far as I am concerned, I am prepared to leave it there. If he himself can reconcile the speeches he made and did not make, I am satisfied.
What, then, is the reason we have had what I claim to be organised time-wasting in the House of Commons when these much vaster problems were before passed undiscussed? It cannot be concern for the health of the people. It is concern for the votes of the people.
I come to the second point I want to put before the House. If it is true that there has been as I said, within the rules of order, some sort of time-wasting, it is important to realise that we have been given very fair warning by Members on the other side of what they intend to do, and I want to refer here to a statement made, discussing an earlier matter relating to the Bill, and to the question of the Guillotine as well, although a Motion for one was not on the Order Paper, by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who said—and this was part of his case against the Government on this Measure:
If Parliament is so much out of tune with what the country wants, if the Government of the day force through legislation so demonstrably against the wishes of the vast majority of the electorate, how is it possible for us to continually advise the industrial masses that they ought not to use industrial action in order to prevent legislation they do not like."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2797.]
I take it the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
I am not much interested in the Plaza Toros who lead the Labour Party at the moment. I am more interested in the responsible people in it. Perhaps whoever is to reply for them in this debate—may be the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil)—accepting as I do without going into any argument about previous Measures that he loathes this Measure, and accepting that he does not agree with the Guillotine to stop discussion which is before the House, would let us know whether he thinks it is right that his objections to that might lead him, if not to encourage, at least not actively to discourage outside this House industrial action aimed at the privileges and legislation of the House of Commons. Perhaps he will specifically answer that point when he replies.
It is perfectly well known that in this House and elsewhere my right hon. Friend has explicitly disapproved of such action. But if anyone were so ill advised as to suggest it, surely the hon. Gentleman himself will go round the coalfields and urge people not to follow that course surely he has enough confidence in his own eloquence to be quite certain that he can dissuade anyone from taking that action.
I suspected that we were again straying away from the rules of order, and I will return to the subject under discussion. It seems to me that the examples I have tried to give show that there has been considerable time-wasting. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my personal view, to which I am entitled, and I think I have heard more of these debates than possibly any other hon. Member.
Let me say this finally. I submit that there has been organised time-wasting. Secondly, I submit that we have been given clear warnings by threats that this action is aimed, not only at contentious legislation, but at all the Measures of this Government. In my view, faced with that sort of situation, this and any other Government, whatever its majority in the House, provided it commands an absolute majority in the House, has not only a right but a duty to bring forward a Guillotine Motion.
At the outset of my remarks I find myself in a little difficulty, because an accusation was levelled against me which you, Mr. Speaker, interrupted by telling the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) that he was out of order. I hope that I shall be allowed to reply to the part of his speech made before he was called to order.
When the 1949 Measure was discussed we were given a firm assurance by my hon. Friend then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that there would be adequate safeguards for people who could least afford the expense of 1s. on the prescription. It was only after we had been given a definite assurance that those safeguards would be made that we supported the Measure. When the Minister came to draw up the regulations there were so many classes of people needing protection that it was found impossible to implement that Measure and it was abandoned by the Government.
The hon. Gentleman is evading the point. It is nothing to do with old-age pensioners or anyone else. The problems of doctors and chemists arose far more seriously then than they do now.
That is a matter which my right hon. Friend then Minister of Health had not overlooked. He took that into consideration, and I have no doubt it was one of the reasons, in addition to the others, why that Measure was never implemented.
The purpose of the Government in suspending the Standing Order and applying the Guillotine is to force this wretched National Health Service Bill through Parliament, to circumvent the direct resistance of a vigorous Opposition, and ignore the wishes of the people. The speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, West, is typical. It shows that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite fail to grasp the reason why we so strenuously tried to prevent this Bill reaching the Statute Book. We regard it as a nasty little Bill, but one which can have such a large and bad effect upon the health of the working population.
On the last occasion when this Bill was being considered in Committee we witnessed a most unusual event. Shortly after midnight the Foreign Secretary came into the Chamber. He was attired in evening clothes. I have no objection, of course, to his wearing evening clothes; it enhances his elegance. Obviously, he had been out to a party. Well, I have no objection to his going out to a party; as Foreign Secretary he has many duties to perform, including attendance at social functions. I mention that to remind the House of his appearance, and to recall to mind the fact that he had been absent from our discussions. As a matter of fact, I do not remember his being here for more than a few minutes throughout the course of the three days of the Committee stage.
Yet, when he arrived the right hon. Gentleman claimed that he was making a reasonable reply to the debate. What happened was that when he came into the Chamber he saw the two Ministers in charge of the Bill on the verge of collapse and in great difficulties. They had been asked questions about the Bill and had displayed appalling ignorance. They had been asked questions about the National Health Service and had shown a shameful lack of knowledge of it, and so into the breach leapt the Foreign Secretary. He accused the Opposition of having employed filibustering tactics. How could he know? He based that false assumption entirely on the slow rate of progress of the Bill. My hon. and right hon. Friends and I have tried to the utmost of our ability to show the Government why this Bill is wrong.
The hon. Gentleman made reference to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. He said that my right hon. Friend came into the Chamber in evening dress, as many of the hon. Gentleman's own Front Bench Members did when they were in power, and was trying to give the impression that my right hon. Friend had been to a party. The point I want to make is that it is the usual courtesy of the House that when an hon. Member is going to attack an hon. Member he informs that hon. Member that he is going to do so.
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has misunderstood me. I was making no attack on the Foreign Secretary for having come here in evening dress. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No. I mentioned that to emphasise the fact that he had been absent from our debate, and I said that his attendance at a party was one of his social duties as Foreign Secretary. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman either did not hear my words or did not understand them. I can assure him that I was casting no reflection whatsoever on the Foreign Secretary for having been out attending to his duties.
I was about to say, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman interrupted me, that the slow progress of this Bill has been entirely due to the obstinacy of the Government in not accepting any of our Amendments. We regard this Bill as wrong and inhuman. The Government have no mandate for carrying through such legislation, and it is our duty to oppose it to the limit of our ability.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) mentioned that the Government had no mandate for this Bill. I would like to carry that argument a little further and point out that in this cyanosed publication I have here, with its picture of a petrified lion—a statement of Conservative and Unionist policy, price 6d., and a swindle—it states, on page 5, under the heading, "The Conservative Purpose" that, "We must safeguard our traditional way of life." It does not explain clearly what is meant by our traditional way of life. I looked elsewhere for a definition, and I came across the address of my Tory opponent in the last General Election. He stated in bold print, "Conservative policy will maintain the British way of life."
Order. I realise that it is very difficult to keep in order on this time-table Motion, but I hope hon. Members will not introduce matters which are really extraneous to the Motion before the House. I did not hear what the hon. Member was saying because I was engaged in conversation by an hon. Member.
While you were temporarily absent from the Chair, Mr. Speaker, your deputy gave an answer to a similar question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). That was put while the Minister of Health was introducing this Motion. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale did, in fact, point out that the Minister, in introducing this Motion, went into the whole question of the economic circumstances of the country, and pointed out that this Bill was necessary to bring about economic stability, and in answer to the point of order of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, Mr. Deputy-Speaker said that it would be quite in order to deal with the points that had been raised. Therefore, I would submit to you, Sir, that my hon. Friend would be in order in raising any matter appertaining to the general economic stability of the country.
Further to that point of order. This is a question of reading an opponent's Election address. If we can do that, then obviously we are going to spread this debate very wide indeed.
In previous discussions on Guillotine Motions, at the time of the Iron and Steel Bill, 1948, and on the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill, many references were made by speakers on both sides of the House as to whether the Government of that day had any mandate for the Measures to be carried out, and the Election addresses of both sides were quoted, I think, during those debates. It therefore seems relevant to relate the quotation of Election addresses to the question of whether there is a mandate to carry out this Measure of the National Health Service Bill and to empower the Government to carry out a Guillotine Motion.
There is a certain relevance to it so long as it is not carried too far. It is a matter for the good sense of the House. The real matter which we have to resolve is whether this Motion should be passed tonight.
I was saying that my Tory opponent put in bold print, on his Election address, "Conservative policy will maintain the British way of life." He defined that by saying that the British way of life meant helping those who found it hard to help themselves. That is the exact opposite of what this Bill will do. This Bill, as I have said in my speeches during the Committee stage, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale emphasised today, will hit hard at the people who can least help themselves. It is an attack upon cripples, upon mothers, and upon the poor and the weak.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not got this quite clear in his mind. He is confusing different issues.
The Government have, during the course of debate on this Bill, been defeated in arguments time after time. Their own arguments have been feeble and futile, so they have adopted this method of suspending the Standing Orders and the imposition of the Guillotine which, I am afraid, I can only regard as cheating. By doing that they have sunk to undemocratic and unconstitutional methods They are pushing aside the Standing Orders and barging their way through Parliament to try to put on to the Statute Book an ugly, objectionable little Bill.
They will not listen to reason. The speeches that have been made during the Committee stage have not been filibustering speeches—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] They have been instructive speeches for people who would care to listen to them. But the Government, of course, have not wished to listen to reason, so they are trying to gag us by using the Guillotine. In my opinion, it is outrageous conduct and it is reducing Parliamentary proceedings to a farce.
I suppose that the Government, because of their majority, will be successful in the Division Lobbies tonight, and that tomorrow, or in the very near future, we shall return to our considerations of the Bill on the Committee stage. Those deliberations to which we shall return will be
a solemn council forthwith to be held at Pandemonium.
The speech to which the House has just listened left at any rate two impressions on my mind: first, that the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) does not like the National Health Service Bill, and secondly, that he does not like the Guillotine. Whereas I am quite ready to believe that he understands the National Health Service Bill—or if that be too much honour, at any rate the simpler parts of it—I am quite satisfied that he does not understand the Guillotine.
For example, he referred time and again to the suspension of Standing Orders by this Motion. But there is only one Standing Order affected and you, Sir, pointed out at an early stage of our deliberations that there was no suspension of Standing Order 41 but merely gave a Ruling that it did not apply to these proceedings.
The hon. Member says that there was no suspension of Standing Order 41. I agree that was the Ruling of the Chair. Will he explain why the Leader of the House, when moving the Motion, referred to the suspension of Standing Order 41 by this Motion?
My right hon. Friend, who is so well able to speak for himself, must have been led into bad habits by the use of that inaccurate phrase by so many hon. Members on the other side of the House.
There can clearly be no excuse for the hon. Member, who has formerly sat on the Front Bench, to address the House from a seated position. We have had many remarkable contributions this afternoon not only from a seated position. We have had an embarrassment of riches, not only from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who, so far as I can see, will speak in every debate that comes before this House for a long time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Much to your regret."] We have also heard the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I found that a very interesting concatenation of circumstances because we have it on the high authority of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that there is a competition for the reversion of the leadership of the party opposite, and that those two right hon. Gentlemen are the protagonists.
With great respect to the hon. and sedentary Gentleman the Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman), part way through the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale left the Chamber and did not return to it until after the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, had finished—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."]—but the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, not to be backward in courtesy, did not come into the Chamber at all when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was speaking—
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary left at a certain stage of the debate also and has only now returned. I have no doubt, and the House has no doubt, that the right hon. Gentleman was fully and properly engaged during the time he left the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is old enough in this House, and should have sufficient courtesy, to believe that Front Benchers on both sides of the House have other duties which take them outside this House at different times and should not attribute improper motives to them.
They were outside the Chamber, but were they outside the House? However, I will leave the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) to have it out with the right hon. Member for Easington as to exactly what is the position.
The right hon. Gentleman is now also indulging in sedentary squawks, this time on the Front Bench. Has he anything better to say than when he exhorted his right hon. and learned Friend the former Lord Advocate, when I ventured to correct him on a point in regard to the 1947 allocation of time motion? I think the right hon. Gentleman was one of those who urged the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say in answer to me that that Motion referred only to the Committee and not to the Report stage. That, of course, was quite untrue. Was the right hon. Gentleman one of those who so urged his right hon. and learned Friend? He did not correct those who urged him, at any rate. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to have a little more sense of his responsibility if he is to continue to sit on the Front Opposition Bench.
I am not very clear what the hon. Gentleman means. If I have hurt or upset him, I am anxious to apologise; but I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will protect me from these attempts at mind-reading, because that now seems to be the stage at which we have arrived.
I merely wished to establish whether the right hon. Gentleman was an accomplice of his right hon. and learned Friend, or whether he was merely a passive spectator who did not restrain him from falling into error. However, that is another question to which the right hon. Gentleman can address himself in due time.
I want to put this submission to the House. Nobody has come here so far to argue that there is anything un-parliamentary or unconstitutional about the application of the Guillotine procedure. The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) has reminded the House very properly that there is not in today's proceedings the same departure from precedent that there was in the 1947 proceedings, when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite carried a Motion to Guillotine two Bills simultaneously in Standing Committee for the first time in our Parliamentary history.
We are not concerned here with any great constitutional principle like that; we are merely concerned whether, having regard to the circumstances and the precedents, it is appropriate that the National Health Service Bill at this stage should be Guillotined. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has dug deep, as is his way, into the precedents, but I am content with the precedents set up by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1947—the Guillotining of the Transport and the Town and Country Planning Bills.
I am coming to that, if the hon. Member will allow me, in a moment; but logically, before coming to how much time was left, I was going to consider what had taken place prior to the Guillotine. Let us start with that comparison. I am not going to weary the House by considering both Bills. I will take only the Town and Country Planning Bill, because that was the Committee on which I sat. As the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) may know, that was a large and complex Measure of 120 Clauses and 11 Schedules as against this comparatively simple Measure of eight Clauses and no Schedules. The then Government saw fit to apply the Guillotine procedure to that Bill after it had had only four sittings in Standing Committee upstairs, four sittings of a total length of about 10 hours during which they had got through five Clauses, that is to say, an average of two hours per Clause.
The then Minister of Town and Country Planning, who was in charge for the then Government, made no allegation of obstruction or filibustering such as we rightly make in regard to this Measure, although he did say he was disappointed with the progress. In answer to the hon. Member for Devonport, that was the stage at which his right hon. Friend saw fit to introduce the Guillotine procedure. The hon. Member did not say that that was a denial of democracy, although, of course, he might have said so had he learned at that early stage to point out the errors of his right hon. Friends, as afterwards he did.
This Bill, by way of contrast, has had 21½ hours on one-third of a Clause. So, against two hours per Clause, there was an average of 65 hours spent on this Measure before the Leader of the House sees fit to Guillotine the debate. The hon. Member for Devonport asks how much time was left? This, of course, introduces the argument which was really the only argument of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, who said that in fixing the time for the remainder of the Clauses one could not have regard to the time spent on the previous Clauses. I say that is an unsound argument. We have to regard the Bill as a whole bcause the time of Parliament, like all time in nature, is neccessarily limited.
Further, the argument of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, would suggest this—was my right hon. Friend to assume in advance that hon. Members opposite would filibuster and require an average of 65 hours to deal with a single Clause? Was he to come to this House and propose an allocation of time Motion from the start? Even now, in fixing the time, what guarantee have we on this side of the House who have witnessed the obstructionist activities of hon. Members opposite that if they were given more time it would be well spent in the processes of democracy? We have no guarantee at all. Therefore, I say that the right way to approach this, in answer to the hon. Member for Devonport, whose attention has strayed—
They are coming. The right way is to average over the time and see how much time will be spent per Clause of the Bill. Working out those figures very quickly for the benefit of the hon. Member for Devonport, I find that, whereas the average for the National Health Service Bill is four and a half hours per Clause, the average for the Town and Country Planning Bill was one half-hour. Nine times the amount will be given in the average time on the National Health Service Bill compared with what was given by right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1947.
Clauses in one Bill and another are, of course, entirely different—[Interruption.] Of course they are. Does the hon. Member think that every Bill has the same Clauses? Would the hon. Member say, as a general proposition, whether or not he considers it the duty of a Government which imposes the Guillotine to leave adequate time—at whatever point it imposes the Guillotine—for discussion of what remains to be discussed, and does he honestly think that has happened this time?
The answer to the question of principle is of course, yes, and the answer to the second question is that I hope so. I have no doubt that at the end of it, when we have finished with the Committee and Report stages of this Bill, we shall have something better to show in regard to democratic discussion than either on the Transport Bill or the Town and Country Planning Bill. On the Town and Country Planning Bill 37 Clauses and seven Schedules were never discussed by this House either in Committee or on Report, and on the Transport Bill 36 Clauses and seven Schedules were never discussed either on Committee or on Report. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) would think that was an appropriate result. All I can say to him, because these things are relevant—
No, I cannot give way again—is that we shall do better in the democratic discussion of this Bill, infinitely better than that which contented the hon. and learned Member when he exercised his suffrage for the Guillotining of those Measures.
I am prepared to take as the appropriate tests—and hon. and right hon. Members opposite will agree with this—as to whether it is appropriate to have the Guillotine procedure, the tests
applied by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) when he introduced the Guillotine Motion in 1947. He said:
I am saying that I am sorry that it has not been possible for it to be done by voluntary agreement and that if it had been done by voluntary agreement it would have been to the satisfaction of the Government; but, in view of the state of the programme, and of the fact that no voluntary agreement has been reached, we have no alternative but to put into operation machinery with which we have been armed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 57.]
There are two clear tests suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, the test of the voluntary agreement or absence thereof and the test of the state of the Government programme. If we apply those two tests to this Measure, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is quite entitled on both of them to take the course he has taken.
In regard to the voluntary agreement, how is it possible to make a voluntary agreement with the party opposite? One cannot make an agreement with a party which cannot agree among themselves. They have no contractual capacity. They are like the front and hind legs of a pantomime donkey; both are active from time to time, but seldom in unison and never in harmony.
The position the House has to face in this matter is that no agreement made, even if they wished to make it, by right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench opposite would necessarily bind those who sit behind them. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite have status but no power, and hon. Members who sit behind them have power but no status. Therefore, on the first test of voluntary agreement, it is quite clear that it would not have been possible to achieve it in this case: and the first test of the right hon. Member for Wakefield is satisfied.
Then there is the question of the Government programme. Here I am indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), more particularly—although I do not wish to differentiate between two such learned hon. Members—because he explained in a most interesting speech in the course of the Easter Adjournment debate, just how much there was of the Government programme to be got through in a limited time and made the case for us on the second test suggested by the right hon. Member for Wakefield. I know what the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to say—that I must not make too much of his advocacy; he is going to say that he is wrong. I know he is going to say that because he said it before.
This is what the hon. and learned Gentleman said in this House on the Committee stage of the National Health Service Bill, on 3rd April:
Mine may be, and very often is, an entirely mistaken view of the law, and I should be wrong if I were to conceal it from the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 1936.]
Now that I have made, on behalf of the hon. and learned Member, the modest disavowal which he was anxious to press upon the House, no doubt we can save his blushes and I can be spared from giving way to him.
I know that the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was, when we were discussing this matter, otherwise occupied presiding over a meeting, attempting to secure some agreement between his party and the Prime Minister, and was well occupied in that task. It would be a saving of the time of the House if hon. Gentlemen opposite would try to curtail their speeches, having missed the particular debate to which they are relevant.
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member. Of course, he will appreciate that the difference between us is that even assuming—I am not admitting it—that there was anything in what he said, which succeeded, but there is a yawning chasm separating the various factions of the party opposite.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has also powerfully reinforced our argument in that regard. In the debate on the Easter Adjournment, he was good enough to make some complicated calculations, and he found that if we proceeded only at the same rate as we have been proceeding on the National Health Service Bill, it would take 23 years for the Government programme to be got through the House.
The hon. Gentleman made a mistake in his arithmetic. I am not criticising him for that; he had a classical education and cannot be expected to get these little matters right. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the hon. Member?"] I will make a correction for the hon. Gentleman. Overcoming the disadvantages of my education, I have also worked out the figures to the best of my ability, and the period is more like 50 years.
My calculation, inaccurate though it might have been, was based on the belief that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) might wish to discuss the Customs and Excise Bill, which contained about two-thirds of the Clauses upon which my calculations were based. Therefore, the removal of that Bill from the field of controversy reduces the period to five or 10 years.
We are passing from the element of fantasy introduced by the interruption of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch to the element of farce. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East rises voluntarily to correct the extent of his error. What I said was based on my calculations of the time taken on the Bill, and on that basis the figure is 50 and not 23. If the hon. Gentleman now says that it is a smaller figure than 23, the proportion does not differ, does it?
We cannot continue with this dialogue, interesting as it is. The position quite clearly satisfies both the basic tests, which are not mine; they were laid down by the right hon. Member for Wakefield. The situation fully satisfies both of these tests, and my right hon. Friend is justified in bringing forward this Guillotine proposal.
There has, in my submission, been filibustering and obstruction in the course of the Commitee stage of this Bill. I do not dissent from the view that many hon. Members opposite have made thoughtful and valuable contributions; but I say that there have been many contributions which fall into neither of those categories. I have here chapter and verse. I shall not weary the House with the whole of it, but I would say that, taking the very start of these proceedings—the short debate, or what should have been the short debate, on the Money Resolution, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was checked four times by the Chair in less than 10 minutes. Another hon. Member outdid his right hon. Friend and was checked seven times in a contribution occupying less than three columns of HANSARD.
There is an hon. and gallant Member opposite to whom I owe the courtesy of a short quotation because it is so very revealing of the conduct of these proceedings. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) said:
Subjected as I am, I regret to say, to more interruption from my own side of the Committee than from the other, I will try to introduce perhaps a little more luminosity into the discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Why not?" He could not have been present to control his own hon. Friends at that time because only half a column later in the OFFICIAL REPORT the hon. and gallant Gentleman is recorded as saying:
Despite the difficulties that have been made for me, to some extent, I regret, by my hon. Friends, who have impeded me in the discharge of my duties. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 1048–9.]
That means that hon. Members opposite are convicted out of their own mouths. They admit that difficulties have been put in their way by their own hon. Friends when they tried to make a constructive contribution. The case of obstruction is proved up to the hilt out of the mouth of the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton.
Despite those interruptions which occurred on my side of the House because Members on my own side of the House were following what I said with close interest, will the hon. Member at least do me the credit of putting on record that everything I said was in order? I was not called to order by the Chair.
The hon. and gallant Member was certainly not out of order. So far as his hon. Friends were concerned, I am certain that they listened to him with the degree of attention that they thought he deserved. But though the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not out of order, there have been many instances in these debates of what might be called bogus points of order made by hon. Members opposite which have contributed to the time-wasting aspect of these proceedings. That is another matter which should be taken into account.
Because I have, owing to the helpful interventions of hon. Members opposite, taken up more time than I expected, I shall not detail all the instances. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I will not go through all the passages. After all, these are only comparatively casual passages which I have picked out. It has been a very long debate. But there were a large number of them. Even the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, if he will at some stage refresh his memory with the speech which he made at column 2692 of HANSARD and onwards, will see that he was frequently reminded by the Chair that he was getting irrelevant in the course of his observations. I have too much respect for the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member to suppose that he would be irrelevant by accident, and so one can only conclude that he was being irrelevant as part of a concerted policy.
There are those various and numerous evidences within the close-packed columns of HANSARD, all irrelevancies of hon. Members opposite which, as I say, it would strain credulity to suppose were accidental and unavoidable on their part. We are, therefore, however reluctantly, driven to the conclusion that if it was not Parliamentary ineptitude—and I do not make that charge—it was a deliberate and concerted attempt to waste the time of the House and to obstruct the process of legislation. That being so, in my submission the Allocation of Time Order is the correct and constitutional method of proceeding, and the Government are not only justified in making it, but are under a duty so to do to protect our Parliamentary processes in this country.
The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has been under severe restraint in recent weeks, and, like a horse turning out on Monday morning, he has managed to exhibit an exuberance which, I gather, was not quite sympathised with by one or two of the people supposed to exercise authority even over him. He alluded to the well-known modesty of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). Of course, the hon. Member must always be glad to see someone possessing qualities so remote from those which distinguish himself, because after the speech to which we have just listened I do not think that anyone would accuse the hon. Member for Hertford of undue modesty.
I have been in the House long enough to have heard speeches made on both sides of the House by old Members. I regret that the form of this Motion is not the same as that used by Mr. Ramsay McDonald after he had formed the National Government, so-called, in 1931. Then the form of the Motion enabled a discussion of the Bill under consideration to be proceeded with forthwith if the Motion for the allocation of time ended quickly.
The late Lord Addison led my hon. Friends on that occasion and he said, "If anyone wants to know my view he can read what I said when I was in the Government and when I was in opposition. I think that the best thing we can do is to get on with the discussion of the Bill and let the time allowed for the Motion be given over to the further stages of the Bill."
I do not complain, I would be the last to complain, that the Leader of the House had been reading my speech on a somewhat similar occasion when I sat on the other side of the House. Neither do I dissent now from the views I expressed then. One of the difficulties confronting a democracy is securing that action shall be taken, both in legislation and administration, in sufficient time to enable the country governed by that democracy, and the world at large, to feel that there is sufficient speed in this process of discussion. If a democracy and the world at large lose faith in that I think that the world will have taken a terrible plunge downwards towards a new dark age. Therefore, I do not complain, but I think that we on this side of the House have a legitimate cause for complaint about the way in which the Committee stage of the Bill has so far been conducted by the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary.
The right hon. Gentleman is a little handicapped by the fact that he is the Minister in charge of the Bill as well as being the Leader of the House. When asked to nominate anyone for the captaincy of a cricket club I always considered it a good policy never to choose one of the club's stock bowlers, because if a stock bowler became a captain it was sometimes astonishing to find how difficult he found it to realise that the batsman had mastered him. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has given the House the leadership or displayed the knowledge of this Bill which we are entitled to expect from a Minister in charge of a Bill.
If I say that with regard to the right hon. Gentleman himself, I say it with the more emphasis with regard to the hon. Lady who is his Parliamentary Secretary. There were occasions, as I listened to her dealing with Amendments when I very much doubted whether she had read the Bill she was defending. The answer we received when these weaknesses were pointed out was for the Chief Patronage Secretary to get the Ministers out of their difficulty by moving the Closure, just when their incompetance was being made most manifest.
I would recall one occasion which illustrates the way the Bill has been handled by the Government in Committee. We were discussing a proposal that a certain charge should be put into the Bill. The hon. Lady first said that the charge was in the Bill. It was then pointed out that it was true that the words she quoted were in another Clause applicable to another charge, but that they were not in the Bill in regard to the particular charge that we were discussing. There was a consultation on the Front Bench opposite, and the hon. Lady then got up and said that it was true that she had made a mistake, but this would be incorporated—and she stopped with the word "incorporated." Quite obviously, the discussions related to the incorporation of this charge in the Bill.
When the hon. Lady sat down, my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), started a speech in reply, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health interrupted him to say that incorporation would be in the regulations and not in the Bill. When my right hon. Friend rose to continue his speech, the Patronage Secretary moved the Closure.
That is not the way in which a discussion can be conducted with good will in the House. I am bound to say that, when the Minister of Health was appointed Leader of the House, I heard the news at the time with a feeling of great satisfaction, for, having sat opposite to him for a very long period during the time I have been in the House, and having sat beside him for some years during the Coalition Government, I believed him to be a man who had the very highest respect for the traditions of the House, to be a good Parliamentarian and a first-class House of Commons man.
Never have I been more disappointed in anyone than I have been in the right hon. Gentleman. Whether it be on Thursdays, answering business questions, or in the conduct of the other affairs of the House, it is quite evident that his view is that his first job is to get the Government business, and that it is only his second job to be Leader of the House and have regard to the needs of all parties in the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), devoted some time to an examination of the proposals contained in this Motion. In spite of the denunciation which I have heard of my right hon. Friend for synthetic anger and inconsistency, he was far too generous to the Government. Take Clause 2. This is a Clause that has not been discussed at all. Not a word has been said in Committee so far on Clause 2. My right hon. Friend said that the Government had allowed three hours for it. The Question bringing the discussion on Clause 1 to an end will be put at five o'clock, and that relating to Clause 2 at eight o'clock, on the first allotted day.
I imagine that a Question will be under discussion when we reach five o'clock, in view of the large number of Amendments on the Order Paper, and that there will be at least one Amendment on which there will probably be a Division. Then, there will be the Motion, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill," and I do not expect that anyone on either side of the House imagines that that Motion will go through unchallenged.
Therefore, in these three hours, we must assume, on any reasonable understanding of House of Commons business, that there will be at least two Divisions immediately at five o'clock. We shall be very lucky if we start the discussion on Clause 2 at 5.20 p.m. I think it is much more likely that it will be 5.25 p.m. than 5.20 p.m. Therefore, the time allowed is only a little over two-and-a-half hours for the discussion of an important Clause that raises a very large number of detailed points.
I do not accept the argument used by the hon. Member for Hertford that, in considering the future of this Bill, one should deal with the time that has already been spent on the first part of Clause 1. I do not really think that the hon. Member can expect that anything done on Clause 1 can be regarded as settling either the principles or the details of Clause 2.
When one comes to look at later Clauses of the Bill, which are lumped together in the next period from 8.0 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the first allotted day, with the Schedules and new Clauses thrown in for good measure, it is quite certain that nothing has so far been said that will deal with them.
It seems to me that it is quite ludicrous, even making allowances for all that may have happened to excite the wrath of the hon. Member for Hertford, to suggest that this time of one day for the remainder of the Committee stage of this Bill can be regarded as affording any real chance for Parliamentary discussion at all. It is quite clear that, so far as Clause 1 is concerned, there may be an hour and a half for the remainder. I do not know what will happen on the first allotted day, but I understand that the right hon. Gentleman hopes it will be taken directly after 3.30 p.m. There will be his business statement, and there may be one or two supplementary questions on that.
There may be a statement, because I do not know which other Department the Prime Minister will have decided to take over, so that he will come here and tell us that he has decided that what one of his hon. Friends thought was improper only a few days before had now become so essential that he must come to the House, take over the business and make a pronouncement upon it. At any rate, a few supplementary questions might be asked.
The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) may again be moved to protest about the way in which he had been misled by a Minister in the original answer to a Question. It is, therefore, very difficult to believe that even the hour and a half that is here theoretically allocated will, in fact, be available.
I started off by saying that I accepted the principle that too much discussion can ruin the chances of democracy as a Government, but, equally, too little discussion and too vindictive a use of the power of the majority can bring democracy into disrepute. So far as I know, and I have made inquiries, there was no discussion as to the form which this Guillotine Motion should take; that is to say, there was no approach to us by the Government, through the usual channels, to inquire whether it was necessary to have a Guillotine, or whether we had any suggestions to make about the length of time that should be allocated in gross or the way in which it should be shared out in detail. After all, I had a short and very difficult period as Leader of the House, in which my majority was rather smaller than that under which the right hon. Gentleman now suffers.
I did very well because I did not pursue this policy. After all, I was handicapped by certain hon. Gentlemen who announced that they were voting for me merely to keep me in office and not because they loved me very much.
I suggest to the Government that when they reached the kind of impasse that was reached on this Bill immediately before Easter—I must say that I enjoyed some of the speeches at 3.30 p.m. more than those at 3.30 a.m.—the proper thing would have been for an approach to be made to see whether some allocation of time was possible. I hope that if, in future, we get involved in this same, kind of difficulty—and we very well may—it will be treated as a House of Commons matter, that the reputation of the House as a place where free discussion can be carried on should be safeguarded, and that there should at any rate be a Parliamentary approach.
If such an approach is rebuffed—as I was occasionally—then the Government are, I think, entitled to take such a course as they think fit. But I hope that there would first be an approach to see whether the position of Parliament could be preserved, for the effort in this particular Motion to deal with the situation is not one that reflects credit on either the Government or the House of Commons.
I want to make it quite clear that, in my view, to ask for the remainder of the Committee stage of this Bill in one day is an outrage of Parliamentary procedure. To attempt to get Clause 2 in what I think I have shown quite clearly cannot be longer than two hours and 40 minutes is an application of that outrage which, I think, deserves the severest condemnation. I have no doubt that this particular Motion for the allocation of time will be regarded in future years as an outstanding example of the way in which, if this has to be done at all, it ought not to be done.
I hope that when we come to the detailed provisions of the order—I do not wish to anticipate any of the proposals being put forward—the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will consider whether in the interests of Parliamentary democracy and the good name of this House it would not be advisable to give further facilities than those he has shown because I am quite certain that the passing of this Motion—the first to be put forward by this Government—can only lead to an embitterment of the situation which for the sake of the good order of the House and the smooth working of business we all ought to avoid if we possibly can.
This Bill, after all, affects a very large number of comparatively defenceless people, some of them quite defenceless, and it is the duty of the Opposition to see that in such a situation all the proposals of the Government are adequately and fairly discussed. We cannot accept this Motion as a genuine effort on the part of the Government and on the part of the Leader of the House and the Minister of Health, regarding the right hon. Gentleman in his two capacities, as an effort properly to deal with the situation which has developed.
I recall that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary was also for a short time Leader of the House.
They were somewhat extraordinary years. Nobody was quite clear who was leading whom in those days, but I do not want to say anything more about that.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to approach this Motion in the spirit in which I have endeavoured to approach it. I feel very embittered—I want to be quite frank with the right hon. Gentleman—at the terms of this Motion and the shortness of the time allocated. I think that embitterment is justified by the analysis I have made. We have to live together in this House, and in my view and in my experience we get on a great deal better when such causes of embitterment are not forced on our opponents in the House. I very sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman, looking at this time-table, will feel that it is not one upon which, in a few years' time, he will look back with any pride, and that a little generous use of the power he now has in this matter may be a very good investment in the years to come.
As the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has just said, he and I and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) have, at different periods during past years, shared the leadership of this House, and we have had to do with Guillotine Motions and other problems of that kind from either side of the House.
I remember once the right hon. Member for South Shields making a delightful comment, in his typically humorous
vein, about the view one took of these matters according to where one happened to be sitting at the time. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman remembers the quotation, but it struck me as being such a good one that I will, if I may, give it to him. He said:
It was interesting to find how a speech that had been made by one hon. Gentleman who sat on the Opposition side, was answered by himself when he sat on the Government side, in the same terms as were used by the Member of the Government who replied to him when he was in Opposition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1952; Vol. 434, c. 124.]
That is not only a remarkably accurate description of some portions of this debate, but also a remarkable statement to get through without making one single fault. As a general rule, I think we all accept that the right hon. Gentleman can, perhaps, put a case more persuasively than almost anyone in this House, and this evening he made a very earnest appeal. However, I thought he was less than fair to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in this difficult business which he had to handle. Indeed, I thought he was much less than fair, as also was the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, earlier this afternoon.
I will, in a moment, go into one or two of the considerations which the Government have in mind in their effort to allocate this time, but I would like, first of all, to say that I agree with the right hon. Member for South Shields on his general principles with which he opened this discussion. What the House has to do if it is to function effectively—and the right hon. Gentleman says, rightly, that we have to work and live together—is to find some mean between unduly long discussion—I will not use words like "filibustering" or "obstruction"—on individual Clauses which result in the holding up of the nation's business, and too drastic a Guillotine machine. Somewhere between those two things we must find a happy medium.
As I understood, that was what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do not think anybody can complain about that, but I do not entirely accept the picture of himself which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, presented to us for our acceptance—even our admiration—this afternoon. He told us what a master of moderation he had always shown himself to be when it came to dealing with these Guillotine matters. If he could have seen the faces behind him I am not sure that he would have carried it through without any real hesitation at all. But he put it over with an aplomb which was really remarkable and he told us no one had been so moderate.
He did it so well that for a moment I thought all my recollections must be wrong and all my memories of the right hon. Gentleman introducing the Guillotine, not after many days' discussion hut before there had been discussion at all. I thought I must have been wrong. I thought my recollections of the right hon. Gentleman guillotining Bills, not here on the Floor of the House but upstairs in Committee—the first time that had ever been done in our history—were wrong. There was the master of moderation. Once again I thought my memory must have been wrong, so I looked it up after I had heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
I do not know whether he remembered what he said or what he did. I do not think he could have done this afternoon or surely he would not have been speaking as he was. He made a speech on the allocation of time on the Iron and Steel Bill and he became positively lyrical about the Guillotine and its value and what he was doing. He said:
At this moment I am dealing with a new chapter in our island story.
That is really magnificent. And then he was interrupted, which, I must say, was really unkind. Hon. Members said:
Answer the question.
The right hon. Gentleman replied characteristically:
Who is ordering me about? I repeat, I am dealing with the new chapter in our island story. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1428.]
That was the introduction—and it was a new chapter, because we were guillotined before we ever got going at all, the first time it had ever been done in our Parliamentary history. I do not think that is a very good precedent. If anybody wants to weary himself by looking it up he will find that the protest we then made when we were in Opposition was precisely against that. The words I used were that the main part of our case rested on the Government's decision to guillotine these Bills upstairs before there had been any proper examination. We considered they should have been discussed
on the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] That is arguable, but I am dealing at the moment with the right hon. Gentleman in the character of the master of moderation.
May I try to deal with what the right hon. Gentleman said about this division of time? That was the main—I would say really the only point—the right hon. Gentleman made. It was repeated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields on our allocation of time on this Bill. I should like to make one or two comparisons. I have tried to work them out. We gave consideration, naturally, to the amount of time on this Bill in relation to the time given to other Government Measures guillotined before. I put two examples in parallel so that the House can judge.
We had for the Transport Bill 37 minutes per Clause, if one includes all the time taken in that discussion before the Guillotine was imposed. For the purpose of this comparison I include all that. If one takes the Town and Country Planning Bill, on the same basis we had 32 minutes per Clause. If one takes the present Bill on the same basis we have three and a half hours per Clause. I quite understand that hon. Members may say that that is not a fair basis of comparison. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I was going to give hon. Members another basis, but I saw that that argument might flash through the minds of some hon. Gentlemen opposite.
It might easily occur to hon. Members to say, "What is the good?" It all depends on how much time there was before the Guillotine operated. I am perfectly willing to give this comparison.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member will not challenge me on Amendments. He will remember whole chapters of Amendments which were never discussed on the Transport Bill at all, and, unhappily, Clauses that fixed the fares.
That is not my recollection, but even if we were offered a timetable the hon. and learned Member is not going to tell me on the figures I am giving, and more figures that he will get if he keeps on interrupting, that this was the kind of treatment we received when the party opposite were in power.
If one takes out all the time of the discussions that took place before we moved the Guillotine Motion on this Bill, and if we take out of the calculation all the time the House had on the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill previous to the starting of the actual Guillotine, it will be found that even on that basis we have allowed 48 minutes per Clause compared with the 32 minutes and 37 minutes which I mentioned earlier. I do not think that on that basis the Opposition can say that we are behaving so harshly in this matter.
Of course, as has been said, there is a wider issue in this business than the Guillotine and the time-table. We differ across the House and within the House about our assessments of these matters, but I do not think that anybody would doubt the gravity of the national problems that confront us. I have heard several speakers, among them the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), say how absurd it is to make economies on a small scale at the expense of the cripple and so on in relation to the general national position. But it can be said how small the economies are in relation to almost any broad scheme of economies that has to be made.
This is only part of the Government's scheme, and if we as a nation fail to maintain the purchasing power of our money—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] We are engaged here in a wide series of plans of which this one is admittedly financially a small element. The whole goes together. It might have been that some part of these measures could have been dealt with in the Finance Bill which comes later, but this is part of the whole effort the Government are called upon to make and if the effort as a whole fails nobody will suffer more than those very people who are dealt with under this Bill.
I do not think this whole business could have been better expressed than it was in a speech not very long ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. It is a speech which I read —I say this sincerely—with very great respect and admiration. Unfortunately, it was not very widely reported in the national Press, though I have armed myself with a report from the "Daily Herald," so I hope that I shall not be challenged about its authenticity. This speech was reported on 21st April.
The heading of the speech—not my heading, but that of the "Daily Herald"—is "Attlee hits out at trouble-makers in party." But I am not going into that. I am simply dealing with what the speech said. The speech is to me a very correct and, indeed, courageous analysis of the international situation which makes, in passing, this remarkable observation about the re-armament programme:
The programme has had to be slowed down by the Tory Government. If we had been in power we should also have had to slow it down.
He then deals with the Health Service, and refers to the way in which the costs went up rapidly. He said:
It kept going up and it was difficult to fix a limit. But it was essential to strike a balance between what could be afforded on health and what on other things. Ministers suggested certain changes"—
as we have done here—
which were not unfair, but were designed to prevent some abuses such as excessive prescribing and excessive provision of dentures. It was on this that certain Ministers found themselves at variance with their colleagues. Subsequently, there was added objection to the level of armaments.
All this is an argument to show that last year the Government had to take certain steps about the Health Service. Just as they had a situation which had to be met, so have we to take these steps as part of a much wider and more disagreeable plan than the late Government had to impose.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a point that it is because of the nation's financial and economic difficulties that these economies are being made, or these charges are being imposed, for I do not admit that they are economies. Does he not know that his hon. Friends, notably the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod), have been telling us for weeks that he believes in the imposition of these charges on social and ethical grounds?
Maybe he did say so, but I am dealing with the argument that I am presenting at the moment.
I want to put this further point to the House. Last year there was a similar situation with respect to the Health Service, in this sense, that the Government presented a Bill effecting certain charges and there were differences between the then Government supporters. We did not seek to embarrass the Government at that time. We watched night after night—I myself watched—the divergence on the Government benches, but we did not attempt to interfere. We believe that exactly the same position confronts us now, the only difference being that now right hon. Gentlemen opposite are following their back benchers instead of leading them.
There is even more in it than this. The House knows quite well that some Members of the Opposition are not merely trying to hold up the National Health Service Bill; they are trying to delay the whole Government legislation. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), warning us specifically that if the Government insisted upon his legislation going through the House, said:
We cannot guarantee them any facilities whatsoever, either on the Finance Bill or the Supplies and Services Bill despite whatever constitutional embarrassment may follow"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2796.]
That is a point of view that anybody is entitled to take. But what I have to ask is: Whom does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "we"? Is that the position of the Front Bench opposite?
The right hon. Gentleman must let them answer. He cannot answer for them. Is that the position of the Opposition Front Bench? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Perhaps that could be worked out for the next occasion, when I could be given a reply.
It is obvious that any Government has got to take account of that situation, and I would say that even in normal times no Government could ignore that challenge, nor is it intended that we should ignore it. No Government could ignore it in normal times, still less in these times, which everyone knows are abnormal. To ignore that would be to accept the complete abdication of our role and responsibility. That would be to leave a vacuum and no government for the State. That we are not prepared to do.
We believe that this Measure, disagreeable and unpopular as it is, losing us votes in county council and borough council elections as it probably will, must be carried through. We intend to carry it through, with the other disagreeable and unpopular plans, and let the country judge on the issue when the time comes. Meanwhile, I say that this time-table, unpalatable as it is, is inevitable, and I ask the House to approve it.
Mr. Hector McNeil:
I beg to move, in line 5, to leave out "one," and insert "three."
This is an Amendment which stands in my name and in the names of some of my right hon. Friends, and I imagine that it will not be completely out of order if I address myself to some of the remarks offered by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. As usual, I was impressed by his eloquence and his sincerity. My regret is that I cannot conclude that either his eloquence or his sincerity match his facts.
For example, without wishing to labour the point, I say that it is utterly inaccurate to suggest that the situation which existed when we introduced certain amendments last year to the National Health Service Act was comparable to the present circumstances. It was neither comparable in the kind of Amendments we offered nor in the economic measures we were taking at the same time.
The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends will always have to face this difference—that we imposed no charges or restrictions which fell upon sick people. The sick people were not in any way embarrassed, impeded or disabled by the charges that were made. There is the right hon. Gentleman, surrounded by all his informed friends, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food, and that fact cannot be challenged and is not being challenged. I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) acting in the capacity of P.P.S. It is the nearest position to responsibility in which I have noticed him.
The second point is that the right hon. Gentleman will not persuade us or anyone else that this is an essentially economic saving, at a time when his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is releasing in tax easements something in excess of £120 million to people who are in relatively better positions, and, at the same time is descending upon the feeble, the sick and the very, very poor to secure £10.75 million. It is a simple piece of arithmetic. If this was all he needed to save, it was simple enough. His right hon. Friend should have scaled down his tax concessions from £120 million to £110 million; but he did not do that. He did not do that because, as the right hon. Gentleman has explained, he thought—and his calculations have been proved wrong—that he would catch the votes in the county council elections for that piece of cheap bribery and he did not think that he would lose any votes because of this nasty, mean, miserable Bill.
There is still plenty of time for the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends to take back this miserable imposition and, in the Finance Bill, to get back the £10 million—or recapture it, as I think the Treasury phrase is—from the middle class who are going to enjoy tax easements under a Measure which is being introduced at the same time. It is quite simple, but it will not be done, because there are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who delight in this cut in the National Health Service.
I want to take these matters briefly because there is no argument, no support, for this Measure which we are asked to discuss and to which I have moved an Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary was very clever and very fair in the quotation which he gave from the mouth of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). Even while he was talking had an opportunity of looking up some other quotations, and I offer him one. "What must be the consequences?" That is what the House was asked. The present Foreign Secretary said:
Obviously, large parts of these Bills will not be examined at all, either in Committee or on the Report stage. What does that mean except an unprecedented denial to Parliament of its free right of discussion, debate and amendment?
I will make one more quotation, but I will spare him others. The right hon. Gentleman said, quoting from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:
There is a danger that this House may be turned into the equivalent of the Fascist Conncil."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 75–6.]
He went on to say that that represented his fear. I am not taking these quotations too far; we can all find quotations on this subject.
I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—and I do not think he will say this is unjust; I do not think he made too much capital out of the argument—that at any rate a business committee was offered to them. We made an attempt to discover what the then Opposition, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, wanted to discuss and what time they thought was necessary for that discussion. But we have not been consulted in that way; we have had no such inquiry directed to us, no attempt to find out what we thought was important in this Bill, which is very important to us.
The right hon. Gentleman used figures comparing the time allotted with that allotted on previous occasions. I am not a lawyer and I am sometimes quite grateful for that.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend, because I often have to rely on those right hon. and learned Gentlemen. But the Foreign Secretary knows that his argument about the average amount of time offered per Clause was not strong. If we go back to the various discussions on other Bills—Transport, Town and Country Planning—we find that Clause after Clause was a machinery Clause, a reference back, which scarcely interested anyone except the lawyers in the House; but there is only one Clause in this short Bill which does not impinge immediately upon the distressed and frequently the very, very poor people.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think he will not disagree with me when I say that all the Clauses of the Transport Bill which dealt with the fares structure, which is now giving so much trouble, were Guillotined and never discussed.
My recollection is that that is substantially accurate, but the hon. Member must himself take a share of that blame. If it was a bad Bill, it was because right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their pique or their pride or their short-sightedness, refused to avail themselves of the opportunity of telling us to which part of the Bill we should address ourselves.
I was merely directing myself to the remark of the right hon. Gentleman when he said that Clauses disposed of under the Guillotine were Clauses of no importance, were procedural or machinery Clauses. They were important.
I am sorry if I misled the hon. Gentleman. What I said was that the Foreign Secretary, in making this calculation, developed an average time per Clause over a long Bill—the Town and Country Planning Bill—in which many of the Clauses were machinery Clauses and references back. I said that that was not a fair calculation because, in all except one of the eight Clauses in this short Bill, these people are directly affected. I think that is a reasonable argument.
I do not want to go back over that side of the debate. The House has no doubt that we oppose this Guillotine procedure because it has been offered on a Bill on which it is not necessary and because it has been offered in an arbitrary and peremptory way. Nor do we seek at this stage to prolong the argument about why we are in this situation. No one likes attacking the right hon. Gentleman, but anyone looking at the Report of the Committee proceedings on the Bill will derive three curious conclusions. One is that the discussion on every Amendment came to an end in one fashion—the use of the Closure. I was trying to do some arithmetic last night concerning how the Patronage Secretary has gone about things compared with the way my right hon. Friend did. I think that the Patronage Secretary is in the process of knocking up an all-time record in the use of the Closure Motion.
The second is that the right hon. Gentleman only on three occasions in those 21½ hours admitted that there was anything he wanted to look at again—despite the fact that he had, as he should have had in Committee, the valuable and careful and sincerely offered advice of my right hon. and hon. Friends whose everyday business is the business of this Bill. Only three times—in relation to the old-age pensioner, in relation to the child under 16, in relation to the country doctor—did the right hon. Gentleman find it possible to say to the Opposition, "There is something in what you have to say and I will look at it again."—[Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend here says that the Parliamentary Secretary could not have done it. She could not have looked at it again because she had not looked at it before. There is fair merit in that observation. The Parliamentary Secretary twice had to be fished out from the pond after making assertions that were quite inaccurate. The Secretary of State for Scotland treated the House of Commons yesterday to an assertion that he had no responsibilty for this Bill which bears his name. He has not appeared in the proceedings despite the fact that his name is on the Bill. Nor has any Scottish Minister appeared, and yet it is a United Kingdom Bill.
May I give the right hon. Gentleman a moment or two to decide where the debate is going by asking him a question? He said a moment ago that all the discussions on the Amendments ended in one way—with the Closure. Now, the right hon. Gentleman is a very fair-minded man. I have known him many years in many capacities, and I like him very much. But is it not a fact—and I have attended every part of the debates on this National Health Service Bill from the beginning—that as 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock or the shadow of midnight appeared, we had then the three weird legal sisters, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing)—
I am very anxious to help the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we shall have the pleasure of reading the rest of his remarks in his column on Sunday. Hon. Members who are journalists have a great privilege because when they are not fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, they can turn their proposed speech into a by-product to be used in their newspaper column.
The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) does not seem to realise that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has not uttered one sentence in the debates on this National Health Service Bill.
I gladly take up this point, because it is related, in a curious roundabout way, to what I was discussing. It is not true to say there have been anything but Amendments of substance and constructive discussion in the three days' Committee proceedings. I challenge the Foreign Secretary or the Minister of Health to show us one Amendment which they would dare describe publicly as frivolous or irrelevant. I confess that outside the actual Committee proceedings there may have been discussions which would not be accepted as very serious by the whole House, but the conduct of the Committee has been exemplary, if a trifle protracted.
The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken in his view. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) is quite right in saying that we have not had that kind of discussion in Committee. On only one occasion have we sat after midnight. The hon. Member for Southgate is a trifle confused in his recollection. The 21½ hours in Committee have been devoted to Amendments of substance, to constructive Amendments, and the Minister of Health would not dare to tell the House or the public that any of them were frivolous.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that this Amendment which in substance proposes that we should have three days instead of one day for the Committee, is a reasonable and responsible Amendment. My right hon. Friend has dealt with the time that will literally be available according to the Government's proposed schedule. I will not deal with Clause 2, because that has been dealt with. There remain on Clause 1 some 50 Amendments. Suppose only four of them are called; suppose the four that seem most important are called. Suppose we deal with the Amendment standing in my name and the names of my right hon. Friends, relating to the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. That is an Amendment which shows that this Bill was so casually, hurriedly or thoughtlessly drawn that it actually conflicts with Section 75 of that Act. That is a matter of great importance, upon which scores of my hon. Friends, from their own intimate experience, can give advice to the Minister of Health—advice which he would be very wise to accept.
As my right hon. Friend reminds us, that was his Act. Then there is an Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), relating to those who are certified as being in attendance at out-patient departments awaiting hospital beds. That is a great injustice to people who, in their doctors' opinion, should be in hospital, and who should therefore be outwith the operation of this miserable Bill. What is to be said about that?
Supposing we turn to the series of Amendments which stand in the names of my hon. Friends, some of them medical, dealing with these illnesses of T.B., V.D. and so forth. I am told, in the way one sometimes is, that the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps going to allow exemption in the treatment of venereal diseases. I am glad of that. I am very anxious, however, that that exemption should be extended to tuberculous patients.
There are four very important subjects. If we follow this time-table offered by the Government, we shall have at the maximum 1½ hours to conclude these Clauses—and probably less than one hour. We are going to discuss these important tar-reaching subjects, upon which we have not heard one word from the Government, with one speaker on each side—a 10 minutes speech on each side.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he must be honest with the House; that he must admit to the House that this will be the most irresponsible, the most callous behaviour that has ever been offered under a Guillotine Motion I suggest that he has the responsibility to tell the House how he is going to deal with these important Amendments—important not only to this House but important to the people who will suffer disadvantage and be embarrassed under these miserable provisions. One hour for 50 Amendments; one hour for four, six, eight, 10 Amendments of great substance—the right hon. Gentleman knows that it cannot be done.
If he is going to stand by his own schedule and refuse these very reasonable Amendments offered by my right hon. Friends and myself, then it means that not only is a bad Bill going to be worse, but injustice is going to be visited upon tens of thousands of people in the country, and a large section of the National Health Service is going to be made less efficient. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman looks bored—I know he has heard this before—but he is going to hear it much more often until we get some kind of reply from the Government about what they are going to do concerning these classes of sick people.
Our Amendment is a responsible one. It is not what we would like; it is not even what is needed to afford even the most cursory discussion of all the Amendments that are likely to be called. It is not a political calculation; it is a calculation by the Opposition, and it is so little we are asking for that we believe that not even the Government can refuse to meet our Amendment. I very much hope that is so.
I am not pleading for a Bill that is at all likely to be either efficient or well-accepted; I am pleading for the right hon. Gentleman, with his very extensive knowledge of business, to make some kind of reasonable calculation as to what time is needed to give the most superficial treatment to these important Amendments. I think that he will be forced to admit to the House that our proposition of two additional days, three days for the Committee stage, with consequent Amendments upon Report, and the Third Reading stage, is the least he can offer to the House.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I approach this subject, not from a party point of view, but as one who, from the time I first came into this House seven years ago, has taken a great interest in medical, especially dental, matters. I feel strongly about this Bill. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made some play with the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, in a speech last week-end, justified the National Health Service Bill which was introduced last year. I opposed that Bill and today a large number, if not the majority, of hon. Members on this side of the House think it was a bad Bill. Therefore, it is no justification of the present Bill to say that we did it last year. Two blacks do not make a white.
In his opening speech the Leader of the House justified the Bill on the ground that it was necessary because of the dangerous financial position of the country. He said that it was necessary for us to raise just over £10 million by this penal Measure to save the financial structure of the country at a time when we are giving the farmers another £50 million and the doctors another £40 million. There was never a more shallow argument put up in the House to justify a "phony" Bill.
The charge has been levelled against us on this side of the House that in the three days of the Committee stage we carried out filibustering tactics. What justification is there for that? The hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) made a speech tonight. He also made a speech on the Second Reading of the Bill which, I thought, was a fairly able one. The result was that the "Sunday Express" and other Tory papers said what a fine speech it was from the Tory back benches, and hailed him as a coming Minister of Health. Tonight, the bubble was burst. I have never heard a more inefficient speech.
What is this charge of filibustering that it put forward? The first charge is that last year we took only two days over the Committee stage of the Bill which imposed charges and that this year we have taken three days and have worked a lot longer. What is the difference? There is a difference. I opposed the Bill last year and I oppose this Bill—and I am therefore unbiased—but at least the Ministers on the Front Bench then knew the Bill they were bringing forward. This year, the Government Front Bench do not even know what is in the Bill they are putting forward.
Furthermore, in the 1951 Bill the Front Bench met some of the criticisms of the back benchers, accepted some of our Amendments, and at least made the Bill more in accordance with our point of view. The reason for the Guillotine Motion today is that the Government Front Bench is totally incompetent to deal with this matter. I do not like to attack young ladies, and especially charming young ladies, but it is quite obvious to all of us that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is not capable of being a junior Minister.
Time and time again we found the hon. Lady putting forward arguments for which there was no basis. Indeed, she had to admit that she did not know what was in her own Bill. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), one of the leading experts on health matters in this House, made a speech. The hon. Lady told him he did not know what he was talking about because he suggested that young children under 16 would have to pay for surgical appliances. The hon. Lady said that the Bill exempted young children from paying for surgical appliances.
When I intervened and asked what part of the Bill provided for this, she had to sit down. Then we saw the Members of the Government Front Bench whispering among themselves, and then she had to get up and admit that she had made a mistake. That is the kind of thing we have been up against during these three days when discussing this Bill—complete lack of knowledge of what is in the Bill which the Government put forward.
Take the question my right hon. Friend mentioned. The Minister has told us that he is bringing forward regulations to exempt venereal disease from the charge for medicine. Why exempt venereal disease and not T.B.? What is the reason for it, and what opportunity can we take to discuss this? Why exempt one disease and leave the others?
Another point I would have liked to discuss if we had time was the question of children under 16. When we pointed out that children under 16 would have to pay for appliances and the Government found they had made a mistake the Minister answered that he would introduce a regulation to put the matter right. But when the suggestion was made with regard to dental treatment that the exemption age should be raised from 16 to 21 the Minister was able to move an Amendment. Why should we have an Amendment in regard to one exemption of an age limit and a regulation for the other? The whole Bill is a muddle from beginning to end.
Hon. Members opposite charge us with filibustering. I challenge hon. Members opposite to tell me one speech on the Committee stage of this Bill which was filibustering. I will give way if they can tell me of one speech. The fact is that all the expert knowledge on health matters in this House is on this side of the House and almost every speech from these benches was a speech by an expert on these matters—doctors, dentists and opticians—from men who, not for a month or two, but for many years, have been fighting for a National Health Service.
I am especially interested in Clause 2, for which we are to be allowed two hours' discussion on the whole Clause, of all the ramifications of the dental charges. I am told, and I hope the Minister can deny this, that during the petty squabbles in the Tory Party before the Bill was introduced on Second Reading the dental profession met the Tory Party. I may be wrong, but I believe the suggestion was put forward from the Government benches that if the dentists could suggest other ways of raising the money the Government would look at those ways.
I do not want charges for the dental service at all, but if the principle is accepted we have to see that the charges bear less heavy on the people least able to bear them and I put an Amendment down to carry out the policy of the British Dental Association.
I am not relating it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to a general argument. My Amendment will probably not be called, but if the Government wanted ways and means of raising money in a more equitable manner my Amendment would have solved the problem for them. What does this Bill do? It makes a charge up to £1 per patient, whereas the British Dental Association propose a percentage charge for treatment over £1 There will be no opportunity to discuss this question on behalf of the organised dental profession.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said earlier that the Government have no mandate for this Bill. We all know that they have no mandate. Neither have they a majority in the country; indeed, the county council elections show that as a result of their mishandling of the whole situation any support which they had, even in their own strongholds, is dwindling away. Apart from that, the medical profession is against this Bill; the British Medical Association do not want it; the British Dental Association do not want it.
There is no justification for introducing a Bill of this kind at this time. The argument about saving money is shallow and paltry. As for the argument that it is necessary for the economic salvation of the country, no one in the House believes that. Even at this late hour I appeal to the Minister, who is doodling away, to reconsider the whole question, not just from a narrow party political point of view.
I appeal to him as a professional man. I am treating patients every day and I know that if this Bill is passed a large number of young people who come to me regularly to have their teeth saved will not be able to afford the treatment because of the charges which the Minister is imposing. The health of the country will be undermined as a result. I appeal to the Minister, in the interests of the general health of the nation, to withdraw this Guillotine Motion, and, at the same time, withdraw the whole iniquitous Bill.
I wish for a moment to deal with the question of filibustering and with the point which I raised with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), who so courteously gave way to me during his speech. The case which he and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird), have made has hinged entirely on the question of the Guillotine being applied to this Bill, but I think the case for the Guillotine ranges much wider than that, and also answers the challenge put forward by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. That challenge was, in effect, that nobody from this side of the House could produce any evidence that this Allocation of Time Motion had been made necessary by filibustering from the other side of the House.
There would have been far more time for consideration of this Bill if it had not been for the actions of hon. Members opposite who have taken every opportunity to hold up the proceedings of this House. I will quote just two statements which I think prove that conclusively. The first was a statement by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who said:
we cannot guarantee them"—
that is, the Government—
any facilities whatever on the Finance Bill or on the Supplies and Services Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2796.]
That does not look like a very co-operative spirit to enable more time to be taken on this Bill to which this Allocation of Time Motion applies.
I will quote another instance. It was a statement by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I think he was referring to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) who at the time was, in his own inimitable way, endeavouring to hold up the business of the House on an Amendment to the Motion for the Easter Adjournment. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, referred to that manoeuvre as a filibuster.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite were occupied in a very important and necessary party meeting upstairs. It was essential for them to get together and decide whose policy they should follow, that of some hon. Gentlemen on the back benches or that of their leader. In those circumstances, it would have been quite hopeless to address any arguments to the Leader of the House, because he was not here. It was desirable that we should have a discussion on the intentions of the Government about business. Does the hon. Gentleman not want to know that?
In view of the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) was not at the meeting to which he refers, and has incorrectly reported it, is it in order for him to describe what happened there?
I notice that, as usual, the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church has skilfully evaded answering my point. I will put it again. It is that one of his own colleagues, the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, said quite frankly that his manoeuvre on that occasion was a filibuster. I do not see anything wrong with that, but let us name it for what it is. I do not see any objection to right hon. and hon. Members opposite carrying out—
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene, but really he must distinguish between the Motions put down by his right hon. Friend. There is an Order Paper in the House of Commons for the convenience of hon. Members which indicates what is the business. For reasons best known to himself, his right hon. Friend preceded the National Health Service Bill with a Motion and I made a speech, as any hon. Member is entitled to do—even hon. Members on this side of the House—in regard to that Motion. That has nothing whatever to do with the National Health Service Bill. If the Minister wished for progress with his Bill, he should have chosen another day for his Motion. We on this side of the House are not responsible for the order of business; otherwise things would be much more efficiently conducted.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman had been paying attention instead of talking to one of his hon. Friends, he might have heard my opening remarks. I was drawing attention to the fact that the mover and seconder of this Amendment had devoted their argument entirely to the question of the Health Bill. What I am saying is that there would have been far more time for the discussion of this Measure, and the Motion before the House might not have been necessary, had it not been for the calculated policy of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in taking every step to obstruct the legitimate business of this House at all times.
I have already quoted the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who admitted it frankly. I have quoted one of the hon. and learned Gentlemen's colleagues who also admitted it. Therefore, I consider that the justification for this Motion must be examined in the general course of our Parliamentary affairs over the last month and not on the narrow issue of this particular Bill. I consider it to be the duty of an Opposition to have its say, and, as I said, I see no reason at all why right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should not have their filibuster if they want it. But if they are going to have it, they must not come in high moral righteous indignation to us when we take the only Parliamentary course open to a Government which must get its legislation through and introduce this kind of Motion.
I consider that the introduction of this Motion has been entirely justified by the conduct of the Opposition in the early months of this Parliament.
The hon. Member was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird), to point out a single speech or instance on the Committee stage of this Bill which could be regarded as filibustering. The hon. Member has given two instances, neither of which was on the Committee stage of this Bill, and he is now stating that, because of the conduct of the Opposition outside the discussion of this Bill altogether, he is supporting an action to penalise those who are affected by this Bill.
Nothing of the kind. I made my remarks perfectly plain. It is obviously the best tactic for hon. Members opposite to try to confine the argument to this Motion which is a Motion to Guillotine a particular Bill. It is obviously in their interests to try to confine it to the narrowest possible issue. I have intervened in this debate because the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment endeavoured to say that most of the Clauses Guillotined in the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill, in the early Socialist Administration, were not important because they were not matters of substance. I have pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that almost the whole of the Clauses of the Transport Bill dealing with the fares structure—the very things that are causing so much trouble now—were Guillotined without discussion, and he admitted that it was so, so that there is no point in his raising the matter here.
I do not propose to give way until I have completed my argument. Perhaps I may continue with my speech. My argument—and I will repeat it again for the benefit of hon. Gentlemen on the back benches—is that we must examine the introduction of this Motion in the wider context of how the Opposition have conducted their affairs in this Parliament. They have conducted their affairs in such a way—
I should not have repeated myself at all had it not been for interruptions from the benches opposite.
I merely conclude by saying that, whatever hon. or right hon. Gentlemen on the other side have said, nobody has yet denied the two statements which I have quoted from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, both of whom frankly admitted that the main duty of the Opposition at the moment was to obstruct all forms of Government business. When faced with that situation, however much we dislike the principle, we have no option but to take the only course open to the Government and introduce a Motion of the kind we are now discussing.
One thing, at least, is clear from the speech of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson), who has just sat down, and that is that, although he began by saying that he would take up the challenge about filibustering speeches during the Committee stage of the National Health Service Bill, he has completely failed to do so.
I made it quite plain. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members have misunderstood me, I am prepared to withdraw it, but what I intended to make plain, and what I think I did make plain, was that one had to consider not merely the narrow point of this Bill but the conduct of the Opposition.
Very well. In that case, we may claim that the challenge made from this side of the House about filibustering speeches is still unanswered.
The hon. Gentleman also quoted some remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), but, surely, it must have been apparent to him from the very words he quoted that my right hon. Friend was not describing anything that we on this side had done, but what would be the result if the Government persisted in their high-handed policy not only of putting forward a Motion like this today at all, but putting one forward in the form in which this Motion is presented. That is inevitable, because my right hon. Friend, as the quotation well shows, was referring to future events, namely, the passage of the Finance Bill and the Supplies and Services Bill. I would really advise the hon. Gentleman to study speeches a little more closely if he proposes to quote from them.
May I say that I was hoping to try to avoid quoting at tedious lengths from the speeches of other hon. Members in what I have to say. It is a remarkable fact that whereas, in the 16th and 17th centuries, hon. Members quoted from the Scriptures, and in the 18th and 19th centuries from the classics, at present we are reduced to quoting one another's speeches. Whether or not that is progress is not for me to say.
I believe that is so. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the decline in the classical standards of the party opposite. That is one of the most interesting features that interest sociologists at the present day.
I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will return to the Amendment under discussion, which is a proposal that the Government should so far modify their Motion as to allow three days instead of one for the Committee stage.
If we are to weigh up the merits of a proposal of that kind, I do not think we get very far merely by quoting precedents regarding what was done in 1947 or what happened in that or the other Bill in 1948, because the merits of any Guillotine proposal or of a suggestion to make the timetable a little less harsh must be judged in the light of the circumstances of the time, the whole nature of the Government's programme and the nature of the particular Bill to which the time-table relates.
For instance, in the years immediately after the war it was inevitable that the pressure on the time of the House should be very great because whatever party had been in power there would have been a great deal of legislation which would have had to be carried through. Further, by returning a Labour Government in 1945 the country expressed its support of a political philosophy which took the view that there was a great deal of legislation which needed to be pushed forward, that great changes needed to be made in our political, economic and social system, so that inevitably at that period there was bound to be heavy pressure on the time of the House and bound to be an exceptional use of the Closure, of the timetable and of other methods for expediting business.
But what is the position at the present time? We have now in power a party whose whole political philosophy is based on the assumption that the less Governments do on the whole the better, that the less legislation we have the better. After all, we do not need a mass of legislation to provide people with more red meat. We have only to send out the experienced business men and the thing is done. I say that with confidence because I have heard it said to me so often in this House during the past six years by hon. Members opposite.
We do not need legislation to bring down the cost of living. We have only to wipe out the extravagant expenditure in all Government Departments which, we have been told, has been fast growing in the last six years. There is no ground, therefore, for supposing that to carry through their main political pledges the party opposite have to bring in a great mass of legislation. Indeed, the rather moth-eaten philosophers whom they have occasionally produced to try to provide a sort of philosophical background to Conservativism have generally argued that what is wrong with the country under Socialist rule is that the energies of the people are held back by too much legislation; the thing that is needed is to cut the bonds when the people will leap forth and we shall all become more prosperous.
For doing all that we do not need legislation. Therefore, it is inevitable that the Conservative Government must have much less case for putting any pressure on the Parliamentary time-table than a Labour Government would have because the argument on which they got the support of the people is that they do not wish to put through a great deal of legislation. That being so, they ought to be prepared to consider the very moderate proposal which has been made by my right hon. Friend that if they must persist in a time-table Motion at all, they ought at least to be prepared to grant three days rather than one for the Committee stage. What, after all, are they going to do that is so important in the two days they are denying for the Committee stage of this Bill?
If there is any truth in what hon. Members have been saying for the last six years, they do not need legislative time to do that. It might even be an advantage if Ministers were less vocal at times in this House and spent more time in their Departments.
But what are they going to do with the two days which they will deny if they do not accept my right hon. Friend's Amendment? The hon. Member for Woking—having abandoned the idea that there had been any filibustering on this side of the House in the course of debate on the Bill—tried to justify the severe time-table on the ground that some of my hon. Friends might have obstructed what he was pleased to term the legitimate business of the House. What right has he to assume that it is only Government legislation which is the legitimate business of the House'? Part of the business of this House is to expose the incompetence and evil intentions of the Government.
I advise hon. Members to study one of the pictures in St. Stephen's Hall. It shows one of the most distinguished occupants of the Chair in which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, are now sitting—Sir Thomas More, perhaps the most distinguished, with the possible exception of Geoffrey Chaucer; and out of respect I do not bring you, Sir, into it. Sir Thomas More is there represented as saying, quite frankly, to the representatives of the Government that the House does not propose to proceed with a particular business that the Government want to thrust on it at that time.
He is doing what the hon. Member for Woking, had he been there at the time, would have called obstructing the legitimate business of the House. But it was by its insistence on its right to say "No," not the right originally to legislate but to say, "No, we do not want this done" that this House turned itself into the most eminent part of the constitution of this country.
Therefore, if it is the case that my hon. Friends have been resisting proposals of the Government, often obliging them to think again when they ought to have thought before they brought their ill-considered Measures to the House, we are acting in the best traditions and in accordance with every historical precedent.
If we turn from the general consideration of what justification there can be for so harsh a time-table as this to the actual nature of the Bill for which the time-table is proposed, I think the following considerations occur to us—and I shall be careful not to get out of order by wandering too far into discussion of the Bill itself. I shall follow an example where I cannot possibly go wrong, that of the Leader of the House himself. I shall confine what I have to say to comment on the remarks he has made.
His argument at an earlier stage was that, after all, we have passed the Second Reading of this Bill and therefore the general principles of it have been accepted. He said he thought that in view of that we ought to have got through the Committee stage at a much greater rate than, in fact, we have done for, he said, after all, the part we have been debating on the Committee stage only affects certain small minorities in the country.
But if the right hon. Gentleman had studied more fully the nature and implications of the Bill he would have seen it was for that very reason that it was likely to take a long time in Committee, because this Bill imposes charges for a large number of reasons on a very large number of sections of the population. Each one of those sections, it is true, may be quite a small minority but very often the argument that applies to one small group is totally different from the argument that applies to another.
Even if the House has by a majority accepted the general principle of this Bill, much as we deplore that on this side of the House, there is still a great range of argument left. For example, if one decides—the general principle having been planted by a majority on the House—that one must, on the whole, accept the charge in respect of corsets one is not obliged to say, in that case, "We will say nothing about abdominal belts or surgical boots."
Every one of these things which are mentioned either in the text of the Bill or the Amendments brings up a separate set of arguments which need to be argued separately, and that is why the Committee stage was bound to take a long time. If I may voice my own view, I believe that because of the complexity of the Committee stage it would have been better handled in a Standing Committee upstairs. An hon. Member speaking from the Liberal benches earlier in this debate said that in a Standing Committee only a limited number of Members managed to express their opinions.
But that, unfortunately, is true even if we discuss the Bill in Committee of the whole House and even if a time-table is not introduced. But very often, particularly on a Bill of this kind, the discussion can be more closely knit, the points at issue can be more precisely sorted out and the work which the Committee stage of the Bill is supposed to do is, in fact, better done.
While I am on this question of the possibility of the Bill having gone to a Standing Committee upstairs, I should like to comment on some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). He began his speech by making a certain amount of comment on which of my right hon. and hon. Friends happened to be present or absent during various stages of the debate. However that may be, the hon. Member for Hertford, having made his own speech, is not in his place at the moment. He compared the position under this Bill with the proceedings on the Town and Country Planning Bill. I remember very well indeed the proceedings in the Committee stage of the Town and Country Planning Bill because I was a Member of that Standing Committee. If ever there was an outrageous example of filibustering, it was the behaviour of Conservative Members of that Committee.
Very early in the proceedings they spent three-quarters of an hour discussing a suggestion that one of the members of a board to be set up under the Bill ought to be somebody who had been born in the county of Cornwall. Three-quarters of an hour was spent on that point, which had no relevance to the merits of the Bill at all. On another occasion, so anxious were the Conservative Members of that Committee to work to the full the procedure of democracy, that all of them, except one, absented themselves from the Committee in the hope that there would not be a quorum and the Committee would not be able to go on with its business. Their calculations were incorrect owing to the much more punctual and regular attendance of hon. Members from our own party.
One Conservative who was left there had to speak for a very long time to give his hon. Friends time to realise the situation and return to the Committee. That was the kind of situation—and those are not isolated instances—which made it necessary to impose a time-table on that Bill. We on this side of the House have shown no parallel to that kind of irresponsible and undemocratic behaviour that was shown by the Conservatives on that occasion.
One further cosideration has been advanced by the Leader of the House and by other hon. Members opposite, and, I think, by the Foreign Secretary when he was speaking recently, as an argument why we should have a time-table or why, if we are to have a time-table, it must be this particularly harsh one and not modified as is suggested in this Amendment. That argument was that in the light of the country's economic situation there is immense urgency to get this Bill through. If there were all that urgency, why was a Bill of this nature not introduced a great deal earlier in this Parliament?
If the financial situation is what it is, why was unnecessary time taken up in introducing a Home Guard Bill—a Bill that need not have been introduced at that time and which was introduced in such a hurry that it was painfully in need of amendment, and the debate took much longer than would have been necessary if proper time had been given to the consideration and preparation of that Bill before it was brought before the House? If blunders of that kind had not been made in the management of the Business of the House there would have been plenty of time for proper consideration of this Bill without the attempt to impose a time-table of this kind.
In conclusion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sorry that hon. Members do not care for speeches. I thought they were the advocates of the fullest and freest discussion; but that was when they were on this side of the House. We are told that there is great urgency to get this Bill through because of our grave financial situation. It is argued that although this Measure only saves a limited amount of money it is all part of a carefully thought-out programme. But have those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have advanced that argument already forgotten what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us in his Budget speech, namely, that the amount of goods and services available for civilian consumption this year will be about the same as it was last year and that, therefore, if any sacrifice is demanded from any section of the population and if any section, the cripples, the deaf, the blind or whoever it may be are to be told, "You must consume less" that is simply to enable another section to consume more?
On the Chancellor's and the Government's own showing it is not a necessary step either for the defence of the country or for the removal of our financial and economic difficulties. The total size of the cake is to be the same, but the slices are to be different. For whose benefit are these sacrifices demanded? They are for the benefit, for example, of persons with large unearned incomes who will be getting in tax relief—
With very great respect, the time limit has been urged upon us on the ground that to save the country's finances it is necessary to get this Bill through. I am venturing to show that that argument leaves out of account the statement of the country's position which was put before us by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I say, therefore, that not only has the case for a time-table not been made out, but still less is there any reason for refusing the very moderate suggestion for increasing the time to be spent on the Committee stage from one to three days, either on the ground of the Government's general programme or that time has been wasted in the Committee stage of this Bill so far, and least of all has any case been made out on the ground that there is any real urgency in the national interest to get this Bill through.
There are some people—and I think the number is increasing—who believe that in reality the party opposite is animated, and has been animated for years, by a hearty dislike of the Health Service, and would be quite pleased to do anything which makes it administration less attractive to the people. Certainly, the idea of imposing charges on poor and unfortunate people to provide tax relief for better-off people is one which is bound to commend itself to the party opposite.
For those reasons I believe that if the Government persists in this time-table, particularly in its present unamended and harsh form, they will be contributing nothing either to the financial solvency of this country or to the good conduct of Parliamentary business. They will undoubtedly be demonstrating that they have no regard for either of those considerations.
The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) was so busy preparing his speech that obviously he has not had time to read the Economic Survey for 1952, because if he had read it he would have seen that the situation of the country is much too grave for the time to have been wasted which has so regularly and persistently been wasted by some—and I use the word "some" advisedly—hon. Members opposite.
I did not use the word "frivolous" or [HON. MEMBERS: "You meant that."] If hon. Members do not want to hear the answer, they need not listen. I did not use the word "frivolous" or the word "unnecessary." I merely used the words "200 Amendments." If hon. Members with any elementary knowledge of mathematics like to work out how many days it would have taken to discuss them fully, or what they call fully, they can easily do so. I have no hesitation in saying that the purpose of putting down that number of Amendments was because they desired to make Government business impossible. My reason for saying that is that the reserve team—that is to say, the team who always go into play on the field when the first eleven are not there—wrote a letter to "The Times" making perfectly clear that that was so.
I am not going back to what happened in 1947 and 1948 or previous years.
I was not here. I was about to say that, but the hon. Member said it first. I came to the House, new, in 1951, but with considerable knowledge of Parliamentary procedure, having passed examinations in it and having read HANSARD for many years. [Laughter.] Is there anything to laugh at in having a knowledge of Parliamentary procedure? Some hon. Members opposite would be well advised to study Erskine May. If they would like to know what is in the preface to this edition of Erskine May, I will tell them. There is nothing in the book—
Perhaps I may come to the defence of the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), and suggest that what he was saying to the House was relevant to some of the speeches which had gone before him. When we have comparatively few speeches from hon. Members opposite, I think it would be unfair that we should seek to circumscribe them in any way.
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) was not in his place when his hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East, was speaking. I was replying to the hon. Member for Fulham, East, so that, although I gave way to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, with great respect I suggest that there was no reason why I should have done so. The hon. Member for Fulham, East, complained very bitterly that only one more day was being given to the Bill. Is not this the test of the matter—and I am not going back to what happened in the last Parliament: I was not here—
So did the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer). I came here, not as a nervous new boy, perhaps, but as a new boy last year. The thing which struck me—and I am speaking entirely personally—was the total irrelevance of the speeches of most hon. Members opposite.
On a point of order. Is not it a reflection on the Chair to say that most of the speeches were irrelevant because, if they were totally irrelevant, as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, it was the duty of the Chair to pull up the hon. Member who was speaking.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite appear here today in sheep's clothing, wolves though they be. Not one hon. Gentleman opposite has suggested that today, on which we are discussing the Guillotine procedure, might, perhaps, by agreement, have been spent upon a discussion of the Health Bill, providing another day.
No. I cannot give way again. I have given way several times and have had many interruptions. I do not mind, but I am going to finish my speech. What I am going to say now will doubtless appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch, and that is that there is a very good maxim which says that one must always be presumed to have anticipated the consequences of one's acts.
I would apply that maxim to hon. Gentlemen opposite in the making of their speeches on this Bill, many of which can only be described as filibustering. I heard them, and so did hon. Members opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did not the hon. Gentleman speak?"] Why did not I speak? Because many hon. Gentlemen opposite would have liked me to have done so, because they wanted to waste the Government's time. But they forget this much—the Government are here to govern, and govern they will. I said there was filibustering. If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to be referred to a particular instance, I will refer them to one. [HON. MEMBERS: "On this Bill?"] I referred to 200 Amendments to this Bill. I would refer to occasions of filibustering if I were not in fear of being pulled up by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
The Amendment asks for two more days for the Committee stage of this Bill. The Opposition have had their three days already. What did they do in that time? Nine lines. If those hon. Gentlemen had kept their speeches shorter and more to the point, I am sure that there would have been no necessity for this Guillotine. I can tell them this. Though some of them appear tonight in their sheep's clothing and say how disgraceful it is that a minority should be silenced, I can assure them that they would have no stronger friends in this House than those who sit upon this side of the House if—[Interruption.] I do not mind. It matters not. If their complaints were genuine they would have no stronger friends than those who sit on this side of the House. Nobody is keener than the back benchers on this side of the House that everybody, on whichever side of the House he sits, should be fully heard; but if that privilege is abused, the consequences must be felt, and felt they will be.