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Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill (Allocation of Time)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st July 1952.

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Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields 12:00 am, 21st July 1952

Of course, when Surrey lost Bedser, Laker, Lock and May, they substituted four others; and it is difficult to say who was substituted for whom. But I am certainly entitled to draw my own conclusions, and I think most reasonable people will draw the same.

Some of my hon. Friends have told me that we are in this present position because of the political ineptitude of the Leader of the House. Having known the right hon. Gentleman for a great many years, I do not believe him to be capable of political ineptitude. We are in this position not by accident but by design. Let us accept for the purposes of the argument, and for nothing else, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion that we could not have this Bill on the Floor of the House because the Government were clearing up the bequests. One of the troubles of this Session of this Parliament has been lack of business for the Committees upstairs. They could have sent this Bill upstairs, to occupy one of the Committees that have been unemployed, early enough to have given us full opportunities for discussion up there.

I do not accept the view that we could not have had the Bill on the Floor of the Chamber. After all, we were to have four great Measures this Session: the Transport Bill, which we have seen, but is withdrawn from our sight, and which we may take next Session and not this; the Steel Bill, the later gestatory stages of which we are to be given some indication of one day this week; the Monopolies Bill—well, we have not even got as far as that with that—it has not apparently even been conceived yet; and there was another Measure to deal with emergency legislation which was to he taken in two parts; we have had the first, but nothing more has been heard of the second. When one thinks of the time that was taken to spend Christmas this year in a Parliamentary sense it is quite clear that, if the Government had wanted this Measure to be here in circumstances that would have enabled it to have been discussed properly, there was ample time either on the Floor of the Chamber or upstairs.

Instead of that, this Bill—while there was all this trouble about next year's brewster sessions in the mind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—was allowed to lie fallow for four months; and then it was decided to send it upstairs; and the Government took good care to put the Motion to defer it upstairs at the end of a day's business, when it was evident it would have to be taken early in the morning, although the only precedent for such a course had quite rightly placed the Order first on the Order Paper for the day, so that the alteration could be properly discussed. This is not ineptitude. This is political trickery.

The whole history of the Measure indicates that this is a Bill on which the Government do not desire to have adequate discussion. I suggest that there is no reason why this Bill should be forced through in the later stages of this Session. I see that one of the newspapers that generally gets good information of the Government's intentions says that the Report and Third Reading stages will be taken on the two days immediately after our return. We understand that there will be about three weeks after we return. That is not treating another place with much respect. After all, there are the experts. I am old enough to remember the father of the present Minister of Food, who said that there were two qualifications for being up there. One was to be the first of the litter, and the second was to have brewed vast quantities of beer. The House where the real experts are is to have, at the most, three weeks to consider this Measure.

We should be quite willing on this Committee to sit all through the night. We offered the right hon. and learned Gentleman that last Wednesday. When people began to object to the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) that we should meet at 3.30 we said. "Very well, we will start at 10." After all, we have got the people on that Committee who seem to take a delight in spending late hours of the night. But, of course, one of the difficulties about this Measure is the mesmeric effect that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch has on the supporters of the Govehnment when he comes into the discussion. We might be discussing the Hypnotism Bill.

I once saw at the Oval, when Gloucestershire were playing Surrey, Surrey disposed of "The Doctor" fairly early, and a young man came down the pavilion steps and we had about an hour of Gilbert Jessop. My hon. and learned Friend has just the same effect on the other side of the House. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) and another hon. Member thought, when my hon. and learned Friend started, that it was their turn to bowl, and we wasted a good deal of time while we were recovering lost balls hit over the pavilion roof.

This Measure is one which gives to the brewing houses of the country the opportunity to secure a monopoly in each of these new towns. That was what they asked for. When they came to see me they had already decided who was to have which. That is what this Bill is to do, and because we question it we are to have as little time as possible in which to discuss it. This Bill was read a Second Time on 27th February; it was not referred upstairs until 27th June. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) used to meet me every Thursday and ask, "Are we going to hear about the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill today on the business statement?" We heard nothing about it until the end of June. If they were serious in wanting this Bill it is quite clear that the Government had ample time to have this discussion during the months that intervened either on the Floor of the Chamber or upstairs.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman consults nobody, but I understand that he has received an emergency telegram from the Methodist Conference who met last Friday. I trust that he is to consult them. They tell me that the emergency telegram says that that Conference, who, after all, represent the biggest Nonconformist body in this country, are greatly perturbed by the Bill and beg the Government to withdraw it. At the same time, while they desire the withdrawal of the Bill, they wish this matter to be thoroughly considered in the full light of day.

We have placed our Amendment on the Order Paper because this is unlike any other time-table Motion that has ever been moved in the history of this House. Three Sittings upstairs, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman made up his mind—[HON. MEMBERS: "Four."] He made up his mind during the third Sitting—he told us at the fourth Sitting—that he would have to come to the House and ask for a time-table Motion.

He did not approach us to know whether it was possible to get a voluntary time-table for which there is a great deal to be said on the Committee stage of this Bill. He should have consulted the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the way in which he got the Education Bill through Parliament in 1944. I know that last year on the Finance Bill efforts were made to get a voluntary time-table, and they were made this year as well.

I have no doubt that it would have been possible to have arrived at an arrangement by which the right hon. and learned Gentleman could have ensured that the Government would have got their Measure with full discussion; but it is obvious that it is the second part of that stipulation that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want. This proposal today marks the absolute low water mark of Parliamentary prestige. This country, with the other free nations of the world, has sacrificed the flower of its youth of two successive generations and reduced itself to beggary in order that Government by free discussion shall be preserved.

The claim of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he made upstairs, and that he has repeated here this afternoon, namely, that he knows what are the matters which are suitable for discussion in Committee and that it is really an effrontery—he used the word upstairs—on the part of the Opposition to think that they know what ought to be discussed. That represents a failure to preserve free government and open discussion which deserves the condemnation of the House.

I therefore beg to move, in line 2, to leave out from "Bill" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to make an Allocation of Time Order in respect of a Measure which received its Second Reading on 27th February and was thereupon committed to a Committee of the whole House under which committal no action was taken by Her Majesty's Government, and which was only referred to a Standing Committee after a lapse of four months during which time Standing Committees were available for its consideration and has now only been before the Standing Committee at four Sittings.