I am glad to hear that the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) has been making some profitable speeches. What a pity he does not make them in the House. If I may put myself in order by phrasing it in this way, if that is the situation, why does not the Prime Minister take the opinion of the country on this and other Measures if, in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member, he is certain to win?
We should like to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman about this strange change by the Government. There was a long period—two or three months —in which the House was adjourned in order that Her Majesty's Ministers could prepare the important legislation which they wished to place before us. The first Measure which was introduced after the pause, the fruit of the nine weeks' Recess, was this Bill. It was so urgent that it was the first Measure. We had been told that we were in the middle of an economic crisis, but the first Measure to be introduced was this.
Was it brought forward at that time because the right hon. and learned Gentleman could think of nothing eise? If that was not the reason, surely it must have been a matter of urgency; and if it was urgent, why was this Committee not set up long ago? I can understand that, confused as he was at the time, and unable to give all the attention that he should to the business of the House, the Lord Privy Seal did not appreciate that he had no time left for the first month or so, but as time went on surely it must have been apparent that it was not going to be possible for the Bill to be taken. Why was it not sent upstairs then?
It is very unfair to the House to ask hon. Members to rush through a Bill of this sort at the tail end of a Session. Whatever our views on the Bill, we are all agreed that it needs careful and detailed consideration. Why should we suddenly be asked to deal with it at this time and under very unfavourable circumstances? The right hon. and learned Gentleman holds a pistol to our heads—and not a water pistol; and he says, "Here is the position. The new towns are doing illegal things, they cannot get a licence, they are deprived of drink, and in those circumstances this Bill must be sent through." That is his case as to why it should go upstairs. But, he must have known this some time ago; and why should he not have set up a Committee then. at the earliest stage?
There is a further argument. Before we agree to send this Bill upstairs, we ought to consider if there is going to be any value by so doing. Have we got all the information or knowledge at our disposal which makes it of value to send it up now? When is it proposed to send it up? Immediately? I suggest that one of the reasons why we have not taken the Committee stage before now is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely ignorant about the whole Bill.
I set down two Questions, the answers to which are obviously necessary before one deals with the first Clause of this Bill; and they were: who are the owners of these public houses? But somehow, he cannot get hold of this information; perhaps the clerks to the justices will not reply to his letters, but whatever the reason, it is strange that he did not know who owns any of these houses.
That, I suggest, might be a very good reason for not taking the Committee stage for some time. Then, we do need to know a little more about the plans for future business. Nothing would be more unfair to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who work hard, and attend for long hours at a time—and there are far more hon. Members on that side than on my own—to have them locked up in a Committee room in the mornings as well when they were not likely to reach any fruitful conclusion.
One cannot tell whether it is worth while sending a Bill upstairs if one does not know for how long the Session is going to continue. If, after much work upstairs, we finally approve the Bill in Committee and bring it back here, it may be that we find it impossible to take the Report stage.
Can we be told when the Session will end? Will it be this year? Is the right hon. Gentleman going on until March, or will he end it at the normal time? When are we to have the Recess? Should we wait until after that Recess in order that he might collect the various material which is necessary for our deliberations? All of these are highly material questions which should be asked when considering whether we shall send this Bill upstairs or not.
Cannot we be told a little more about the motive behind this matter? There were two important items which won the last Election—"red meat "and" public houses to go back to the brewers." One got the votes, and the other got the money. It was said, very naturally, that the first promise could not be honoured, and then decided that they had better have the second as quickly as possible.
We started off with a return for a definite pledge given; but if the pledge had been given, why, after the Second Reading, was it forgotten completely? Surely this is one thing that ought to have been on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's conscience—that here was a Bill of importance, here was the one pledge of the pledges given that it was possible to keep. Or is the case that all the other pledges were so automatically broken that hon. Gentlemen opposite felt that this, too, just should go?
Why do we have this long gap? Why, after four months, send this Bill upstairs? I can understand putting a Bill upstairs straight away, because then there would be a good deal of time in Committee upstairs, but at this stage of the Session it is most unusual to send any Bill upstairs that is controversial. I think, looking back on past Parliaments, that in a normal Parliament—it is a pity we have not the Leader of the House here to explain the matter to us— this is the time when the Standing Committees are closing down, when Bills cease to go to them; and now we are suddenly to send the most controversial Bill of all upstairs to a Committee.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be frank with the House —if he feels that this is a discreditable Measure. Because that is the interesting thing. That was the reason the 1917 Bill was sent upstairs—the 1917 Bill which amended the criminal law—for it was felt that the subject was such that it should not be discussed in the whole House; and that was the reason why the change took place there. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to cite that precedent in favour of doing this, but is he doing it for the same reason? Is his argument the same why the Bill should be sent upstairs—because it is not quite nice to discuss it with the full publicity downstairs.
If that is not the reason, what is it? He hopes to save Parliamentary time down here? Will he tell us what for? What other Measures are there to be discussed in this Chamber? If there is none, then we have plenty of time. Or are we to rise soon? Then, the Standing Committee will rise, too. I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the many unanswered questions on this matter.