I beg to move,
That this House has no confidence in the impartiality or competence of the Chairman of Ways and Means after his conduct in the Chair during the Committee Stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill when, by his acceptance on three occasions of the closure, he improperly curtailed debate and especially by accepting the motion "That the Question, 'That the Schedule stand part of the Bill,'" he prevented discussion on the whole of Part II of the Schedule; and at the commencement of the Committee proceedings on the Transport Bill when, having just previously allowed great latitude to the Prime Minister in permitting him to intervene on a point of order, he declined to allow the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition to rise to a point of order.
It is a matter of regret to us that we should have to put this Motion on the Order Paper, but the incidents to which it relates leave us no other option than to draw the attention of the House to the various episodes with which it deals. It deals with matters that occurred at two separate sittings of the House, although actually both on the same day, for the first group occurred in the early morning of 3rd December—that is, in the sitting of the House which commenced on 2nd December—and the other at the commencement of the Committee stage of the Transport Bill on the afternoon of 3rd December.
The first set of episodes arises out of the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and I think it will be advisable that I should very briefly draw the attention of the House to the position with regard to the Committee stage of that Bill. It is the effective stage of the Bill, and it deals with the continuation in operation of certain Acts of Parliament that otherwise would lapse. On this occasion it was divided into two parts, the first of which proposed the continuation of seven Acts for a period ending on 31st December, 1953, and the second part of which proposed the continuation of three Acts which were extended until 31st March, 1954. As far as I can see, there is nothing that distinguishes the two groups of Acts other than the fact that a different date for their new expiry has been fixed.
The Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill affords the opportunity to the House to effect three purposes. The first is to obtain an account of the way in which Ministers have administered the Act during the preceding period; the second is to consider whether they should not now be embodied in permanent legislation; and thirdly, whether they ought not to be dropped altogether. On the first part of the Schedule we had some important discussions, and some Ministerial pronouncements that could not have been obtained otherwise than by the discussions.
The first matter discussed, merely because it was the first Act in the Schedule —and apparently they are placed in the Schedule in chronological order of their first passing—was the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. The whole of the effective control of aliens within this country depends upon the continuance of that Act. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) moved an Amendment to delete that Act so that the discussion should be secured, for one of the anomalies of this House is that very often when we want a particular line to be followed we have to move in the House in precisely the opposite direction. In Committee of Supply, if we want more money, the only way to show it is to move that the Vote be reduced by £5 or by some other amount.
In order to get a discussion to find out whether the Act should be continued or not, the only effective means is to move the deletion of the Act. On that we had a statement from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who gave a very full, interesting and, if I may say so, a fully justifying account of the steps that had been taken by the Government. This is a matter which, I know from my own experience as Home Secretary, is one that demands the very close personal attention of the Ministers in the Department, and probably nothing that is now on the Statute Book involves the liberty of the subject and the liberty of the stranger within our gates more than the correct administration of this matter. I do not think that anyone can say that discussion on that matter, conducted as it was on that occasion, was other than a justifiable use of the time of the House. Then we had a discussion on the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934—a matter on which I am not qualified to speak with any technical knowledge, but it is a matter which is within the knowledge of the House as being one that has excited the utmost interest during the present calendar year.
Then we came to the Road Traffic Act, 1934, and on that part of the Act—only one Section—which is continued in this Measure, the whole of the law relating to the limitation of speed depends. On that we had a discussion. It was conducted by both sides of the House; in fact, it would have been conducted more by both sides of the House but for the intervention of the Patronage Secretary who, when the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) rose to speak, turned round to him and said in a voice that could be heard on this side of the House as well as on the other side to which it was directed, "You do not want to speak on this"; and, curiously enough, after that the hon. Member did not want to speak.
I want to warn the Patronage Secretary, if I may, in the most friendly way, that the hon. Member for Croydon, North has promoted a Private Member's Bill to increase the penalties on those who inflict cruelty on dumb animals. When the Leader of the House said the other evening, I think on this Bill, that, after all, only 20 minutes were consumed by his back benchers, I want to assure him that there was a great appetite that was not satisfied on that occasion.
On that Bill we had a pronouncement by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that, in order to deal with the situation that is created by the continuation of this Measure in temporary legislation, a Road Traffic Act is to be promoted, and the hope was expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary that it might find an early place in the Government's programme. It is a very welcome announcement, although I did venture to damp the enthusiasm of the Parliamentary Secretary by suggesting that it might not be as easy as he perhaps thought to find a place for it. But, at any rate, there was an important pronouncement that was made as the result of this discussion, and the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), who had managed to speak before the Patronage Secretary came into the House —[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I am getting on with it; but I shall get on at my own pace. The hon. Member wanted the speed limit to be fixed at a higher rate than it is under the present law.
The next Act discussed was the Population (Statistics) Act, and after that we came to another very important Act—the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act—on which the Home Secretary made a statement with regard to a substantial alteration and gave a pledge with regard to its future administration which was regarded, I think on both sides of the House, as a very valuable pronouncement.
At about this time the Patronage Secretary seems to have thought that we had had enough, because he told the House the other evening, in an interruption of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), that somewhere about that time he considered taking the drastic step which was taken at the end; but that he had had a conversation with the Secretary of State for Scotland who asked him, apparently privately—not on the Floor of the House —not to proceed to do that until some Scottish Measures had been taken.
I am bound to say that the Secretary of State for Scotland appears to be more effective in private conversation than he is in his public contributions to discussions in the House because after that, the Patronage Secretary assures us, he did not move the Closure immediately but allowed the business to proceed until we had had two discussions on Scottish Measures. The first was in connection with the exemption from school attendance of certain children employed in agriculture and the second was the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act.
The Closure was then moved on these matters. On one occasion it was accepted by the Deputy-Chairman and on the other two occasions by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Then we had resurrected a procedure which had not been used since the expiring days of the 1900–1905 Parliament, and the Patronage Secretary claimed to move that the whole of the Schedule should then be added to the Bill.
I defy anyone to say in good faith that the discussions we had had up to that stage were any abuse of the rules of the House. I have mentioned several of those discussions. I have not dealt in detail with the two Scottish Acts, because I am quite certain that Scottish Members themselves will be able to deal with their relevancy. The acceptance of the Closure cut out all discussion of the three Acts in Part II of the Schedule—the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Act and the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act—on which a substantial number of Members wished to make contributions and to ascertain the views of the Government with regard to their administration.
I can speak with intimacy only of one of those Acts, the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Act, which deals with the re-allocation of licences and the building of new licensed premises in all the areas of the country that were subjected to any bombing. As far as I know, the administration of that Act had not previously been reviewed in the House. It was passed in 1945, under the Coalition Government. I was the Minister responsible for its oversight during the whole of the time that the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) was in office and I can recall no occasion, on which that Act was reviewed.
It seems to me that it is a matter that is now very ripe for review and that it should be discussed in the House, but that was precluded by the action, which we allege to have been premature, on the part of the Chairman of Ways and Means in accepting this antiquated and obsolete procedure which prevented any discussion on Part II of the Schedule.
The other evening some point was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister as to the time that had been taken on this Measure when his hon. Friends were in Opposition. We do not accept that as the standard by which our work in the House should be judged. The mere fact that hon. Members opposite were prepared to allow great Measures like this to continue in operation without asking for any account from Ministers of their stewardship and without considering whether the time had come either to drop them or to embody them in permanent legislation, is not to say that we should set the same standard for ourselves in the discussion of these matters.
If the hon. Gentleman had only listened, he would have understood. I am sorry if I sent him to sleep temporarily. We say that the acceptance of the Closure in the form in which it was finally moved deprived the House of the opportunity of examining these last three Measures.
After all, the Government did not save very much time by it, because when we got to the Third Reading hon. Members on this side of the House were able to make speeches, but no replies were forthcoming from the Government. Therefore, we feel that this is a subject which we can rightly bring before the House and we dissent from the view that things which are done every year can therefore be neglected in any given year when it suits the Government to have business hurried through.
I take another example by way of illustration. The other evening the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House took credit to himself for having saved the Private Member's day last Friday week. But what happened with regard to that? It was only because my hon. Friends and myself declined to move on the matter then before us, on several Amendments that were called by you, Mr. Speaker, that we were able to get the business through in time. [Interruption.] I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal will not dispute that. We abandoned a sufficient number of those Amendments—
Because we thought in the general interests of the House that it was better that we should get to the Private Members' day. I do not want the whole of the credit to be claimed by people who were absolutely at our mercy had we decided to continue. I want now to come to the next episode that occurred. It will be within the memory of the House that at the close of Questions on Wednesday of last week, 3rd December, the House was in a somewhat excited condition. The Prime Minister had given, in a supplementary answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), a twist to a phrase which greatly exasperated every Member on this side of the House. I think it was intended to be provocative, and it succeeded.
When you had left the Chair, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman started to leave the House, accompanied by the Patronage Secretary. As the Prime Minister moved along the bench, some of my hon. Friends gave vent to their feelings.
I recognise that this is a matter on which tempers can very easily be greatly roused. It is never my ambition to ride the whirlwind, and I am trying to state as objectively and as clearly as I can the commencement of the second episode with which I have to deal.
The two right hon. Gentlemen as they moved along the bench were the subject of a hostile demonstration from this side of the House. The Prime Minister returned to the Box at a time when the Chairman of Ways and Means was on his feet. The Patronage Secretary sat down nearer to the Clerk's Table. The Chairman of Ways and Means continued to stand on his feet; I gather that he was trying to get calm in order that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who had commenced his speech, could be heard in the House. The Prime Minister continued to stand at the Box. The Chairman continued to stand, and then the Prime Minister waved his hand like this to the Chairman of Ways and Means.
If the right hon. Gentleman says that he did not wave his hand at, let me say that he waved it towards, the Chairman of Ways and Means. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, he did."] It was assumed by everyone in the House that it was an indication—I will not use any other word to import any prejudice—to the Chairman of Ways and Means that he should sit down; and he did. That is a somewhat unusual procedure.
Let us admit that on all these matters it is very difficult to stand by one's memory. I am trying to state the matter as objectively as I can. What I saw was that the right hon. Gentleman walked back to the Box and did not sit down. Within a very few minutes afterwards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) similarly rose over an episode that is generally known now, I think, as the "goose" episode.
After all, one of my hon. Friends had been placed in grave jeopardy by a statement of the Chairman of Ways and Means, subsequently withdrawn, that he was out of order in using the word "goose" and that if he would not withdraw it he would have to withdraw from the Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South, anxious to avoid any misunderstanding going to too serious a stage, rose and stood here in exactly similar circumstances to those in which the Prime Minister had stood.
The Chairman of Ways and Means, not following the action he had taken in regard to the Prime Minister, remained standing and my right hon. Friend, out of respect for the rules of the House, resumed his seat. We say that the action of the Chairman of Ways and Means in differentiating between two right hon. Gentlemen, one leading that side of the House and one leading this side, is a thing that cannot be tolerated in a democratic assembly, where each of us is entitled to count as one and no more than one.
I have endeavoured to state this matter without any undue heat, but I do not want any hon. Member to think that, because of that, this is not said with deep feeling and conviction by Members on this side. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale the other evening quoted from a speech which he made some months ago, in which he drew the attention of the House to the fact that the way the Government conduct their business inevitably brings the House into conflict with the Chair. This is an example of the way in which, in both incidents, that collision was brought about.
But we have to ask the Chair to remember that the Chair is as much the master of the Government under the rules of order as it is of the Opposition. In fact, every time a Speaker is elected it is asserted that it is his duty to watch the interests of minorities. I know that the Prime Minister told us some time ago, when a similar Motion was moved concerning the then Chairman, that it is not the overriding but the underlying duty of the Chairman of Ways and Means to help the Government in getting their business. I would not deny that, provided it is not pushed to the ridiculous extent that it was in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. It is the duty of the Chair, of the Chairman of Ways and Means and of the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, to ensure that when the Opposition have matters of great public importance to discuss, they get the reasonable opportunities that the rules of this House afford.
I feel that during the past few weeks, by their refusal to use the ordinary means of procedure in this House of sending Bills upstairs to Committee, and in other ways, such as the order in which they have introduced their business, the Government have imposed great difficulties on the Chair, and have imposed an intolerable restriction on free discussion by the Members of this House, and, Mr. Speaker, realising that all the while this continues we shall not get away from the atmosphere which has made life in this House during the past few months intolerable, I ask that the Chair shall live up to its duties, that ancient and archaic weapons shall not be recognised as applicable to the circumstances of today, and that the Opposition can feel assured that they will get their full rights—no more, but certainly no less—in the discussions that take place in this House.
This is a Motion which concerns the whole House—every Member in it. I want to say at once that I deeply regret that this Motion should have been put upon the Order Paper, and I regret even more that it should have been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), for whom all of us have such deep and great respect as one of those who cherish the rules of this House.
As I listened to the speech, it seemed to me to be a critique of the Prime Minister, of the Leader of the House, and of the Patronage Secretary. That is quite right. Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to do that, perfectly entitled at all times to bring that to the attention of the House, and to divide the House on it; and, indeed, a Motion dealing with those very matters was before the House last week, and the Opposition were quite within their rights in bringing that Motion. In fact, if they felt so about those matters, it was their duty to bring those matters forward. But that is not the Motion that is before the House today. The Motion before the House today charges the Deputy-Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, with partiality and incompetence. Those are very grave charges against the honour of the right hon. Gentleman and against his position in this House. If the Motion is carried, it means, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman must at once resign from that honourable position. Even if it is not, it is an indication to him that, led by the Opposition Front Bench, nearly half the House is prepared to charge him, at this moment and with all the consequences, with a charge which, according to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, is not directed against him but against the Government: the charge of partiality and incompetence.
The machinery for ensuring that the business of the House is carried through is most delicately balanced and delicately poised.
No, I am coming to that. But the main charge, as I understand it, made in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields was directed against the conduct of business in this House by the Government. What is more, I am strengthened in that by his reference to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and to the speech that the right hon. Gentleman made the other night, when, very rightly, he said that the conduct of affairs by the Government, the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary might put the Chair in a very difficult position. I quite agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman said, and to what was said on that by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields. But that seemed to me to be the main charge in the speech.
What I am saying is that it is not the same charge in the Motion which is before the House. It is an entirely different thing. What I am pointing out is that in the conduct of the business of the House the position is very delicate, and very delicately poised. The majority is, of course, entitled to insist upon its views, desires and proposals being carried out. If that is not so, it is a reversal of democratic Government. It means that the minority rules, and not the majority. On the other hand, there is an equally insistent right and privilege of the minority that it should be heard, and it is entitled to express its views. It is between those two that that delicate balance exists.
The responsibility for that adjustment, holding that balance, rests upon you, Mr. Speaker, and your two colleagues, and it is a very difficult one for anybody to carry out. You, Sir, and the other two, are the guardians of the rules of the House and the privileges of individual Members. All depends upon you, and we all recognise how difficult it is. You occupy, and so do your colleagues, a position of great honour and great privilege, but the higher the honour and the greater the privilege the greater the responsibility that rests upon your shoulders.
That being so, it is the responsibility of all of us, first, to trust you and your colleagues, and second, at all times, unless there is something quite extraordinary happening, to support you in your decisions—and the same with regard to them. Obviously, unless we did, the responsibility would be almost unbearable, the machinery would break down and the whole of this democratic institution, of which we are all so proud, would break down.
Therefore, as I say, we should always support you and your two colleagues in your decisions, unless there is an overwhelming case to the contrary, and that would arise if it were quite obvious there were some wrong motive; certainly, if there were obvious partiality, or if there were obvious incompetence—for example, if the House were completely out of hand and if neither you nor your colleagues were capable of controlling it. So far as I can see, there was nothing of that kind here; nothing whatsoever.
What was happening was that the Opposition were dissatisfied with the conduct of affairs by the Government of the day, as the right hon. Gentleman has just pointed out; and, being dissatisfied with them, having made their charge against them, and rightly made their charge, and taken that to a Division, they then accused the Chairman of Ways and Means of partiality and incompetence. One never likes the side that makes charges against the referee.
Now may I refer to Standing Order 29 itself, because the charge made against the Chairman is that he showed partiality and was wrong and incompetent in applying Standing Order 29. As I read that, it is a directory Order. It says:
After a question has been proposed a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the Question be now put,' and"—
then I leave out the other words for the moment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]— because I am coming back to them; they are in commas. The sentence without them reads:
After a question has been proposed a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the Question be now put,' and … the question, 'That the Question be now put,' shall be put forthwith, and decided without amendment or debate.
There is the direction to you, Sir, or your two colleagues. But there are two qualifications in between. One is that it is for you or your colleague, whoever is in the Chair, then to consider whether that Motion put in that way is an abuse of the rules of the House. It is for him, if he is satisfied that it is not an abuse of the rules of the House, then to consider the further question: Is it an infringement of the rights of the minority? He considers those matters and on them he gives his order. His order is an exercise of discretion which the House has put in you or your colleagues. We may, any one of us individually or the whole House, think that your discretion should have been exercised in another way, but the House has already decided, and there is the rule. The discretion is yours and nobody else's. Even if we think that it is quite wrongly used, nevertheless there it is; the discretion is put in you.
That being so, how can I possibly, on the evidence that appears in HANSARD, challenge the use of that discretion that night by the Chairman? I am not going through the facts again. They have been gone through sufficiently fully by the right hon. Gentleman; but on those facts, can anyone say that the Chairman at that time was not entitled to exercise his discretion, and that by so exercising it he was so wrong that it is complete evidence of partiality and incompetence? I am not prepared to say that upon that evidence.
Now let me come to the other point, which is a short one, and is mainly that the Chairman did not call the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and that he did call the Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, that he gave way to the Prime Minister but did not give way to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. I have always understood that from time immemorial it has been an inflexible rule of this House that when you, or anybody occupying that Chair or the Chair in Committee, are on your feet, it is the duty of each one of us to resume his seat at once. Unfortunately, there has been great laxity with regard to that. I have observed when even you, Sir, are on your feet reading out some Order or other, Members come and Members go.
If I may recall one of the most disgraceful incidents that ever happened in this House, it was as long ago as about 1892, when unfortunately Members of this House resorted to fisticuffs and a most disgraceful scene took place. It took place merely because an Irish Member, coming past the Chair, was so certain that he had to obey this rule that he sat down upon the Government Front Bench, whereupon somebody behind him took exception to that and it led to the row. That is an illustration of what I am saying is the rule. I have always understood that it was the duty of each one of us to observe respect for you and your colleagues, and the moment that you are on your feet our duty is not to enter the House, or if we are about to leave the House, to resume our seat and not challenge you at all.
Now what happened on that day? My recollection with regard to the Prime Minister is much as the right hon. Gentleman has already described. He came back here, and I rather think the Chairman was on his feet when the Prime Minister returned. When the Chairman is on his feet, as I understand it, we must not even rise to a point of order until he sits down. The same applies with regard to you, Sir. What happened was that the Prime Minister rose, apparently to a point of order, but he should not have done it. That is a condemnation, not of the Chairman, but of the Prime Minister. But that does not excuse the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South also getting up. What is more, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South stood up, with the Chairman and himself facing one another, for quite a considerable time, and at last, very rightly, the right hon. Gentleman did sit down. It is not in order for anyone, the Prime Minister or anybody else, to stand up while the Chairman is on his feet.
Of course, the partiality point still remains. May I point out that the Chairman of Ways and Means had given a decision, for the time being anyway, that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) had said something which he must withdraw at once or leave the House. That was an executive decision, and I got up to a point of order for the purpose of assisting my hon. Friend, because I did not want to see a suspension—which are always bad things—and the Chairman of Ways and Means was refusing me permission, as I understood it, to raise the point of order.
That was why I was persistent, not with a view to defying the Chair, but because the raising of a point of order at the point when an hon. Member is about to be suspended is really a vital thing for the rights, not only of my hon. Friend, but of the whole House.
Perhaps I may, with the indulgence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, say that I rose to a point of order. I was not aware, and up to this moment I am not aware, that if a disorderly act occurs in any part of the House in Committee, even though the Chairman is on his feet, a Member may not rise to a point of order. Of course, if the Chairman does not give way, the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat; but that does not say he is not entitled to draw the attention of the Chair to a gross and shameful act of disorder like booing. I thought I was quite entitled to rise.
On a point of order. Last Session my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was suspended for precisely this thing, that he rose to put a point of order, while you, Sir, were on your feet. Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot claim to be able to do exactly that?
In order to prevent any false tradition, may I say that I think that the incident to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) referred took place in Committee and not when I was in the Chair.
I accept what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South that he rose on a point of order because he thought that his hon. Friend might have to leave the House at that moment. He did the right thing, but he stood there for a long time before he ultimately gave way. When the Chairman sat down, he very rightly rose to his point of order. That was right. What was wrong was that he should be standing when the Chairman was on his feet. Therefore, I do not think that any blame can be attached to the Chairman. But it is plainly in the Motion that the Chairman is to be blamed—and, if at all, for the wrong of the two right hon. Gentlemen.
I merely want to add this. I have said —as the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion quite obviously thought himself—that this is part and parcel of the debate which took place in the House last week. It really arises from the situation in which the House finds itself when parties are so evenly balanced, plus the fact that this House is now called upon to do an immeasurably greater amount of work than it was ever called upon to do before.
All the time—year after year—work is being added, and, unfortunately, it is making it difficult for the business of the House to be conducted. Unfortunately, also, tempers seem to be more easily aroused today than at any time during the last 40 years. I only wish that that was not so. What is needed on the part of the majority, above everything else, is tolerance, and what is needed on the part of the minority always is an optimism which is never put down by anyone. Coming back to the main point, I think that by far and away the two most interesting and most useful speeches made in the debate the other day—and I would commend them again to this honourable House—where those made by the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). They described the position in this country, and the tremendous questions which are confronting us. I agree with what was said at the beginning of the debate by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). This House is always capable of adjusting itself to any difficulties that may arise. The time has come when it should consider what it should do. I am glad that so many hon. Members are turning their minds in that direction, and are asking that some measures should be taken by a committee, or by some other means, to consider the procedure of this House, and the way in which we should conduct our business.
I have always noticed that the type of speech which impresses us most is that which comes from a miner when he is telling the ordinary person like myself what are the difficulties of a miner. I rise today because I am one of the very few people in this House who can speak to this Motion as having been both Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means. I wonder if I may, very respectfully and very humbly—and, I hope, shortly—put forward some of the chief difficulties of the Chairman, whoever he may be.
I am perfectly certain from the speech which we have just heard, and from the way in which it was received by many hon. Members in this House, that almost everyone here today realises that we are in a difficult position as a House of Commons, and that we ought to do our best to get out of that difficult position. That is what, I think, we all want, not only in connection with this Motion, but concerning the general position.
May I say, with respect, that one of the things which I found most difficult when I was in the Chair was to deal with the Front Bench, whichever the side. It is extremely difficult for anyone who is in the Chair to deal with a Front Bencher at the Box, facing the House of Commons, who fails to carry out the rule of the House, which is that every remark made by anyone speaking in the House should be directed to the Chair and through the Chair to hon. Members.
There is a rule, I believe, concerning cricket, and things of that sort, to keep one's eye on the ball, and it is quite impossible for anyone at the Dispatch Box really to see what is happening unless he faces the Speaker. May I say, as one who has come near to getting out of order from time to time, that I have always found that keeping one's eye directly on the Speaker is a very great help towards knowing how far one is going towards getting out of order. I hope that I am not stating this in any offensive way. I do know that this is one of the great difficulties that one has to face in the Chair.
The other point has been dealt with by both the right hon. Gentlemen who have already spoken. It is the very great difficulty which the Chair must have in balancing the obligation to defend minorities and the obligation to see that on every occasion all points of view are expressed, and the obligation to get the business through. I am not in agreement with all authorities on this, but I personally have always thought that it was very much more important for the Speaker to have a far deeper regard to getting minorities into a debate than it is for the Chairman of Ways and Means in Committee. This is necessary on both occasions, but it is far more important in the case of Ways and Means to secure the business because, as the very word shows, and as our financial position shows in the Budget, there is an obligation on the Chairman of Ways and Means to get the business through.
In dealing with that matter—and it is in close connection with the whole of this business—may I remind the House that one of the most successful occasions when a very small majority was protected through very long and difficult times was during the war when the I.L.P. was under the leadership of Mr. Maxton. Throughout the war, which was quite a difficult time for the House, the I.L.P. always got a say and the opportunity to have a Division. Everything went peacefully and easily. That procedure was agreed by everyone. The Chairman, of course, carried it out, and it worked well.
We are a great institution, and we who are here today are not just speaking for today. We are entrusted as Members of Parliament—as I think all hon. Members will agree—with a great duty to hand this Parliament on to others better than we found it. We found it a very great instrument, and we have to do our best to hand it on. I do not say for one moment that I have always been innocent of any fault in our debates, but I do say that in the main it is our duty to try to leave this institution better than we found it.
Whatever may happen to the Motion today, may I ask the House to take this view, as one who has received great courtesy and great kindness from the House when I was in the Chair? May I ask hon. Members to think of what the Chair must always mean to the House and the difficulties of the Chair? We are part of a great institution which has a sacred trust to which hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House have contributed, and which has seen us through many difficult periods, including the war. The Leader of the Opposition carried out well a very great charge as deputy Leader of the House during the war.
Cannot we, when this day is over, try to think things out, so that the Opposition get real time to oppose on all the things which are most vital to the Opposition; and cannot every one of us try, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) appealed to us just now, to put an end to the bickerings which are happening today, which are not doing credit to anyone but which are doing discredit to the House? I believe that this is only a temporary sickness through which the House is passing. Cannot we stop it now and live up to the highest traditions of the House for the remainder of this Parliament?
May I say, quite frankly, that I do not like this Motion. If I could put it in the simplest and shortest way, the words,
That this House has no confidence in the impartiality or competence of the Chairman of Ways and Means
expresses the exact opposite of my personal opinion. Beyond that, I believe
that the Motion places the blame for what has happened in this most unhappy Parliament on the wrong shoulders. Overwhelmingly, the blame for all what has been happening, which we all regret, rests squarely on the Government and on the way in which they have been conducting business.
It was pointed out to them by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that the manner in which they were trying to treat Parliament would inevitably bring about a conflict between Parliament and the Chair. That is just what has happened. Parliament has to do certain work. There is other work which should be done in Committee upstairs. When we have the parties so equally matched that Bills cannot be sent upstairs, then, if the Government try to impose these Bills on the House in addition to its other work, they will break down the procedure of Parliament; and that is exactly what has been happening. It is, of course, possible for the Government to get through their controversial Measures—Measures which have nothing to do with the administration of the country and which have a mere ideological importance; but they can do so only at the expense of destroying Parliament as a legislative instrument.
Broadly speaking, that is what they have done. The method whereby they have allocated time for the Transport Bill, to take a single example, has the effect of making that Bill an Act not of Parliament but of the Executive. I should have thought that that was a precedent most dangerous for the party opposite who, on the whole, are in favour of the status quo. What they are doing is to take the legislative function from this House and to add it to the prerogatives of the Executive. That is a step which the party opposite will regret.
I will now turn to the particular difference which we have had over the Chair, which has arisen largely through the awkward position in which the Government have put the Chair. I would say very little about what occurred after Questions. When the House is in that sort of mood, I always feel very great sympathy for whoever is in the Chair, for he is in the position that he cannot do right by doing wrong—and that is even more the case when there is involved in the incident somebody as famous and as venerable and as obstreperous as the Prime Minister. I think the Chair was placed in an impossible position.
As to the earlier incident, that is another matter and one of great importance, but here, to my mind, the blame rests not on the Chairman of Ways and Means but on the Speaker—and I want to say why this is the case. The Chair has a discretion, but that discretion is governed by an overriding duty. That overriding duty is to provide that the House shall decide the Questions which it is the right of the House to decide. That is the overriding duty of the Chair—to bring the House to the point at which it can decide the Questions which it is for the House to decide. Any use of the Closure or selection or any other device for shortening the debate is an abuse of procedure and a denial of the rights of the minority, if it is used to deny to the House its right of decision.
The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill provides that the House shall have the right annually to decide whether certain Acts of Parliament shall be renewed. To move the Schedule as a whole or to accept the Schedule as a whole denies to the House the right of deciding whether or not certain Acts shall be renewed, and to my mind such a decision is clearly an abuse of procedure.
The 1947 Supplies and Services Act provides in precisely the same way that Parliament shall decide annually whether certain Orders shall or shall not be renewed and provides that Parliament may consider the work of these Orders annually. The first of these Orders was the Dock Explosives Order, and by using a right of selection in that case so as not to call that Order, when a Motion had been put down that it should be left out of the Schedule—by exercising a power of selection in those circumstances, Mr. Speaker denied to the House the right to come to a decision on a matter the decision upon which had been expressly left to Parliament. Mr. Speaker having come to that decision, it seems to me wrong to blame the Chairman of Ways and Means for following the decision of his boss—which is what it really comes to. I am sorry that Mr. Speaker is not in the Chair, for it is highly important that this question should be brought to his attention.
One other thing, of lesser importance, is the conduct of the Patronage Secretary. I know well that it has been the custom for a long time for the Patronage Secretary, of whatever Government is in office, to have a word with the Chair before the Closure is moved. During this Parliament that has been done in a manner which is absolutely infuriating to the Opposition. I do not know how the practice started, but I feel that it ought to be discontinued and that if the Patronage Secretary has something to say to the Chair he should say it in future from the Box where we can all hear. Private consultation between one of the principal players and the referee— to put it in sporting terms—is infuriating to the other players and it ought to be stopped.
There has been something new in this Parliament which is quite contrary to precedent. That has been a refusal to accept a point of order after the Closure has been moved. That is a regrettable innovation. Whilst on the one hand the Chair hears the Patronage Secretary in private; on the other hand it refuses to hear any point raised by the Opposition in public, even though the occupant of the Chair may not have been in the Chair when matters relevant to the Closure have occurred and there is no opportunity to draw his attention to any of those matters the occupant may not have seen.
I would refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT, 1905, Volume 151, column 538, where Mr. Balfour moved the Closure and a point of order was accepted and discussed. It was moved by Mr. Runciman. Also, in 1908, Volume 107, column 1843, where the Closure was moved by the present Prime Minister and a point of order was accepted and discussed. I would point out that the words: "shall be put forthwith" mean that it shall be put next thing in the ordinary business, but it does not affect and never prior to this Parliament did affect the overriding precedence of a point of order.
I hope that in point of fact from now onwards, as it has caused so much irritation, the Patronage Secretary will not speak privately to the Chair but will say what he has to say to the Chair from the Box in the hearing of us all so that it can be either accepted or refused. I believe that certainly would improve matters. Having said that in regard to the Chair and the Government, I feel that the raising of points of order as raised during other hon. Members speeches has been grossly abused. The idea did occur to me that we might possibly follow the example of ice hockey and have a penalty box where anyone who raises a bogus point of order should be put. Some measure ought to be taken to stop these bogus points of order.
I hope the Motion will be withdrawn and that it will have provided an opportunity to clear what has been the most unhappy atmosphere in this Parliament. I trust that some of the suggestions I have put forward—I hope constructively—will be taken note of both by you, Mr. Speaker, and by the Government.
This is a Motion which I am very sorry to see upon the Order Paper, especially because it is in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. It says:
That this House has no confidence in the impartiality or competence of the Chairman of Ways and Means.
I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) saying that those words did not express his sentiments. I honestly believe that they do not express the sentiments of a majority, and a large majority, of hon. Members on either side of the House. We have had some considerable experience of the present Chairman of Ways and Means. When we were in Opposition there were many occasions when we grumbled from time to time at the Chairman of Ways and Means. From that I draw the conclusion that when we were in Opposition we felt, just as hon. Members opposite do, that our position was difficult. Now I am again on this side of the House, I recognise and realise that that really is a test and that it shows how impartial the right hon. Gentleman is in the Chair.
I know what a difficult position it is to occupy a chair. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman, who has long experience in the post, has himself to form a judgment when a Closure Motion is claimed. If the Chairman does not accept a Motion for Closure when in his judgment it is his duty to do so, the Chairman is not being honest. The kangaroo Closure is something which many hon. Members may not like, but it is in our Standing Orders and it can be used. When it is used it must be a matter for the judgment of whoever is in the Chair to decide whether or not to accept it.
I was surprised the other evening that the Patronage Secretary did not move the Closure sooner. I was not surprised that he moved it when he did. I did not really believe that on that evening business was conducted as well as it might have been in the interests of this House. [Interruption.] I am giving my views, and I hope that hon. Members will allow me to do so. I was here during the whole night and every hon. Member was not. I do not want to be controversial. I believe quite honestly that if discussion had been somewhat curtailed on the earlier parts of the Bill there would have been no occasion for the kangaroo Closure to have been moved.
On the point about Question time, it is the duty of Mr. Speaker, or whoever is in the Chair, when there is a stormy scene, to restore order to the House to the best of his ability. It must be an extremely difficult task to carry out, particularly when the House is very full and some of the keenest protagonists are on their feet. I would only say this with reference to the right hon. Gentleman then in the Chair, that he had been up until 5 o'clock in the morning and it may be that his touch was not quite so light as it might otherwise have been, and on that occasion it is quite possible that the right hon. Gentleman made an error of judgment for the moment—an error of judgment from which he was able to retract.
My sympathy was entirely with the Chairman on that occasion, and I believe that the sympathy of the House was with him. We have had rather difficult times lately, and I hope that when this incident is all over we shall get into calmer waters and the House will resume a conduct of affairs which will be a credit to it and to the nation.
We have just heard from the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) a speech which is typical of the attitude of mind which has led the House into its present unhappy situation. The right hon. Member has one complaint; it is that the Chairman did not accept the Closure earlier. His view is that discussion should have been further curtailed. The right hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) was good enough to suggest that the Chairman had two duties—
I think the hon. and learned Member has misunderstood me. I was suggesting that had discussion been rather more evenly spread over the various parts of the Bill it would have been more advantageous to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman will also remember—I read through very carefully a copy of the debate to refresh my memory—that he was absent, presiding over a Committee upstairs, and that he arrived at a late moment and apologised for his absence. He said that it was a very valuable discussion and he was very sorry that he had not been able to take part in it. It is therefore improper for him to criticise the length of time taken by a discussion in which he did not take part, and the value of which he commended to the House. It is typical of that attitude of mind for the right hon. Gentleman to believe that every discussion in which he did not take part ought to have been considerably curtailed.
As for the right hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), his argument, in short, was that the Chairman should, on the one side, get through Government business as best he could and, on the other, protect the rights of minorities, swerving neither on the one side nor the other to partiality. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) really got to the heart of the matter. He said that we should pay attention to the referee. The referee of the rules of debate in this place is not any individual, however exalted he may be, but the House itself. Decisions should be given, not on the basis of voting, but of free exchange among Members of the House, one to another, as to how business should be best conducted with the most regard to the principles of democracy.
This is a very difficult Motion for many Members of this House to speak to, because of the great personal regard in which we all hold the Chairman of Ways and Means. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I speak not only for myself but for many of my hon. Friends, in saying that we have appreciated his acts of kindness and tolerance when perhaps we should not have been tolerated on any account. On all such matters the Chairman has been perfectly impartial between one side of the Committee and the other. It is therefore with great personal reluctance that I say that the Motion put down by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench is perfectly justified in every word it contains, because it is on a matter which it is very necessary for this House to discuss.
The essence of the matter is that somehow or other the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary have manoeuvred the Chairman of Committees into such a position that he connives at their altering the Rules of the House. That is the gravamen of the charge. When right hon. Gentlemen had not a sufficient majority to carry out their controversial legislation according to the accepted practices of the House, they have managed to alter the practices of the House so as to carry it through. I will in one moment give the House comparative figures which will illustrate perfectly what I mean.
The British Constitution, our Constitution, is carefully balanced. We have the single Member constituency system, and that sometimes results in a party which has a minority of votes in the country nevertheless getting a majority of seats in this House. That is one of the difficulties we have to face with the single Member system. When that happens, another check comes into play. The effect of that check is that a party with a minority of votes in the country and a majority of seats here never has sufficient seats to enable it to man Committees upstairs. By that simple fact it is restricted to the carrying through of non-controversial Measures. Otherwise, a Constitution which gave that result would be quite intolerable.
That is no new theory; it is one which occupies one of the most classic passages of Erskine May. At the conclusion of the 14th Chapter, dealing with the Arrangement of Sessional Business, are these words:
The conclusion which emerges from the facts, collected in this chapter from the whole range of procedure, is that, while a Government is placed by standing order in effective control of the time of the House, and while
it can and sometimes does use its influence over the majority of the House to remove any and every impediment to the full exercise of this control, yet reasonably adequate safeguards exist for the rights of the minority and of private Members as individuals; for these rights are inextricably embedded in the procedure by which Ministers secure the passage of indispensable portions of national business, and no Government could go far in withholding these rights without bringing the machinery of Parliament to a standstill.
The Motion is saying that those adequate safeguards have been abandoned by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Instead of strictly adhering to precedents, the Chairman has permitted more and more often the Closure to be moved until finally the example has occurred which has been chosen by my right hon. Friends to call to the attention of the House. It is not only that this example was important and should be dealt with on this occasion, but it was not merely one isolated example.
One fact which came out in debate was that hon. Members expected that there would be small majorities all the time. That was accepted on both sides. If that is accepted, it means, with our present electoral system, that the party opposite will always be in a minority in the country. If they had a majority in the country they would have a large majority here, but if they look forward to small majorities here it means that they look forward always to being in a minority in the country; and not only a minority but a considerable minority.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that Measures such as those we were discussing, like those in the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the Transport Bill—which are Measures applying only to Great Britain, and so far as Great Britain is concerned hon. Members on this side of the House represent by far the largest number of electors —should not be closured by the application of the extra votes obtained from outside, by Members who represent Northern Ireland, who have no say or concern in the particular Measures. At least there should be allowed by the Chairman a fair play of argument.
Perhaps I may illustrate the change in attitude which has occurred in regard to the Closure. In the last Session of Parliament, the Closure was moved no fewer than 77 times and was accepted on 70. It was moved on 62 of those occasions by the Chief Whip or one of his deputies, and it was accepted on every one of those 62 occasions. In Committee, it was moved on 36 occasions and was accepted on 35, the other occasion being when it was moved rather surprisingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams). Nevertheless, there was no Closure at all on the Finance Bill. If there is any justification for the Chairman's accepting the Closure in order to expedite Government business it is, as the right hon. Member for Torquay said, on financial business.
Those figures should be compared with the last year of the late Administration, when we were in even greater difficulties of numbers in this House. The Closure was accepted on only 33 occasions as compared with 70. Of those, while 22 were in Committee 19 were on the Finance Bill. Let us look down the previous years. In 1948–49, the Closure was accepted on 23 occasions, of which nine were in Committee, six being on the Finance Bill. In 1947–48, it was accepted 22 times, 14 being in Committee. These were on private Clauses dealing with the Representation of the People Act. In 1946–47, it was accepted 29 times, nine times in Committee. During 1945–46 we had the closest figure approaching the present 70, when the Closure was moved 38 times, only 11 times in Committee, with seven times on the Finance Bill.
Hon. Members opposite may think I am being unfair to compare the régime of their present Chief Whip with the days pre-war of the noble Lord who was then such a terror; but I would remind them that when Captain Margesson was Chief Whip, in 1938–39, the Closure was moved and accepted only twice in the whole of that Session and it was never accepted in Committee. In 1937–38 it was accepted three times, never in Committee; in 1936–37, it was accepted eight times, four times in Committee; and in 1935–36 it was accepted 13 times, five times in Committee.
So, going back for a period of 15 years, it is quite clear that the Closure has been applied in a form which has never been applied in this House before. Why has that taken place? It can only be because, consciously or sub-consciously, the Chairman—in this case the Chairman of Ways and Means—has accepted the ruling assumption of the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House, and that assumption is that there is a divine right of a group of business men and country gentlemen in their spare time, without prejudice to their social engagements, to run the business of the greatest Empire in the world. That could have been the only possible justification for the action taken by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
We are discussing the conduct of the Chair—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, the Chairman of Ways and Means. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman exactly the number of times that the Closure has been accepted by the Chairman. He can discover it for himself if he cares to take the same trouble as I have taken. The returns are available. He has only to look up where the return is, trace it in HANSARD and find out who was in the Chair at the time. It will take some little time, but the hon. Gentleman will be well occupied in doing that during an evening Sitting.
It does not concern the case I have made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I am saying that there has been a profound change in the principle of the enforcement of the Closure. It has been enforced this Session in a way that it has never been enforced before in the history of this House, even if one goes back, as I took the trouble to do, to 1887, though I will not weary the House with the figures. On whose shoulders rests that responsibility, I do not know.
When we come to the matter with which we are dealing now, it could only have been accepted by the Chairman of Ways and Means provided he was prepared to accept a standard of rules of the House which has not previously obtained, and he behaved in a way quite contrary
to the rules of the House as previously understood. If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will develop that point. He will remember what his right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary said. It was typical of the effrontery with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West addressed the House. His right hon. Friend said this:
I did in fact consult the Secretary of State for Scotland because, to be quite frank, I had intended to claim the Schedule before the Scottish Amendments were moved, but having had a consultation with him we agreed that it would be right to take the Scottish Amendments and allow some discussion upon them." —[OFFICAL REPORT, 4th December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1882.]
What extraordinary presumption. There was no question of the Chair. It was merely assumed by the Patronage Secretary in a speech in this House that the Chair was at his complete disposal. There were no words in parenthesis "If the Chair had thought there had been sufficient discussion."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery addressed a vehement argument to the House in the course of which he read out paragraph 1 of Standing Order No. 29. What we are complaining about is not paragraph 1 of Standing Order No. 29 but the application of paragraph 3, which is quite another matter. Therefore, valuable as it was to have his views on paragraph 1, they did not really assist on the matter, because it has seldom, if ever, been raised by the Chair since the introduction of permission to the Chairman to select Amendments. Why? Because if he selects any Amendment and determines to call it, he has come to a judicial conclusion that there is an argument to be put before the House in regard to it. Therefore it would be impossible for him subsequently, equally judicially, to accept the point of view that the whole matter could be wiped out without any discussion.
If the Patronage Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman who leads the House ever care to look in Erskine May, they will find this comment on the Standing Order which the Patronage Secretary sought fit to invoke:
This power has proved too drastic and its application too indiscriminate for practical use. Experience has shown that in such cases the discretion conferred on the Chair by S.O. No. 31 to select the Amendments which may
be moved is the best method of securing reasonable opportunities for all varieties of opinion.
It was the departure from the perfectly legitimate powers entrusted to the Chairman by Standing Order No. 31, and his invoking of paragraph 3 of Standing Order No. 29 at the behest of the Patronage Secretary, that we are complaining about. That was both an infringement of the rights of the minority and, in my opinion, an abuse of the rules of the Chair. It has been said by hon. Gentlemen that this discussion was unnecessary, that these Amendments should not have been moved. That was the argument of the Patronage Secretary, but what were the arguments addressed to the Committee by the Ministers who were speaking but whose speeches the Patronage Secretary did not bother to hear? Quite the contrary. The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said, in regard to the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, that it was quite legitimate to have a general discussion by means of moving an Amendment.
That, of course, is a perfectly proper thing to do, but what was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman for moving the Closure? That they were not going to proceed to a Division. And what was the argument of the Prime Minister? Why, that as this matter had been discussed at some length before, it should not be discussed on this occasion. Yet, on the very day before, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department had gone out of his way to answer this argument and to say that there are certain occasions when one should discuss a matter on the Expiring Laws and others when they should not. Speaking on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, he said:
In the first place, it provides an opportunity for the House to review this question annually, although it is an opportunity that is not always taken. Yet it is an advantage to have a matter of this kind brought forward from time to time so that there should be an opportunity for hon. Members to raise points as they have done this afternoon, because this aspect of policy is necessarily subject to fairly frequent change. We are not dealing with something static. The state of the economy of this country and the state of the world is changing constantly and the way we deal with aliens has to be changed to meet those changes. —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1314.]
In other words, the hon. Gentleman was saying that it is perfectly proper to
have this discussion—a discussion which the right hon. Gentleman did not even hear. Then the Patronage Secretary comes forward and says that there was far too much discussion. Why? Because hon. Gentlemen only followed the advice given from the Front Bench by a Minister of the Government with which he is concerned. What was his other argument? That 250 Members were waiting. Why should they not wait? If he keeps 250 Members in this House for the Expiring Laws and 22 for the Steel Bill, surely that is his affair. It is not an argument to influence the Chair.
The real danger, Mr. Speaker, and the real reason why we should raise this matter in the House, and why we on this side emphasise these points as strongly as we can, is that unless we do so we cannot protect the Chair—both yourself and the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means—from the improper type of pressure imposed upon them by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the House and his friend the Patronage Secretary.
Let me give the House one example of the arrogance of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal. Under the guise of administering a rebuke to back bench Members on this side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded on the Censure debate to deliver a talk on the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman said this, referring to an event which took place when we were dealing
with the Supplies and Services Act:
Even the right hon. Gentleman himself"—
referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—
the other night came to an agreement that we should adjourn, and the Adjournment was delayed by something like half an hour because hon. Gentlemen behind him would go on speaking, although he and I had agreed that we should adjourn."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1895.]
But what were the facts? The right hon. Gentleman came in when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was speaking, interrupted in the middle of a speech, quite irregularly moved "That the debate be now adjourned," and was called to order by you, Mr. Speaker. You pointed out that it was impossible to do this. He then asked that the House should deal with the matter shortly so that he could move his Motion. The House was not
delayed for half an hour, as he said; we had entered on the Adjournment 14 minutes later.
What happened? In order to oblige the right hon. Gentleman my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who was speaking on a matter of the greatest importance to his constituency, got up and seconded the Motion, whereupon, when he came to speak again he was only able to do so by leave of the House, and the fortunate absence of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). When hon. Members make sacrifices of that sort, that is the sort of pressure that is applied—an attempt to put on the Chair a quite improper type of pressure.
We can only preserve democracy in this House provided that we all try to fit ourselves within a series of rules and conventions. It would be quite easy on this side of the House, or indeed on any side of it, so to obstruct business that it would be impossible to carry it out. Nobody desires to do that, certainly not my hon. Friends on this side of the House. If witness be needed for that, it is to be found in the fact that the Closure was never moved once on the Finance Act this year, which I think has not happened since 1945.
But it is necessary that the majority should abide by the rules and traditions of the House. That is why I was particularly disappointed that the Prime Minister, when the Motion of Censure was moved, should have dismissed the whole matter as a technical question. Nothing could be less technical or more important in this country than that we should preserve the framework of our democracy. The view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman would not have been that taken by his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who was prepared, in rejection of the Closure, to take the Conservatives to the country and fight on the issue of freedom for the House of Commons.
Nobody is now saying that there should not be Guillotine Motions or things of that sort. All that we are saying is that if the time of the House has to be curtailed it should be curtailed in an open fashion, by the moving of a Motion and after discussion, and not be curtailed by improper pressure being put upon the Chair. I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes longer. I wish only to read to hon. Members opposite what was said by the Prime Minister himself not long ago, not when he was a member of the party of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, because when he was a member of that party he would never have made the sort of speech which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has made. It was when he was leading the Opposition, and he was speaking some three or four years ago. When he said it he was not weighed down with the responsibilities of office and the need for getting Government business through. He expressed rather better than he did a few days ago what were the duties of the majority and the minority in the House.
I should have thought it was not at all wise to proceed on this naked line of saying: 'We have a majority; we are going to get our Measures through, and we will not give time for them to be discussed—we will vote you down.' That, I should have thought, was an attitude inconsistent with the kind of view of national affairs, of the way in which people and States should be governed, that we have taken in the world successfully during the last few years. That is reducing legislative Assemblies to mere registration machines of Government will. The whole aspect of the British Constitution has been to the contrary. It has been the shaping of legislation by the action of Parliament, by the influence of minorities from day to day:"—
Then, let the Leader of the House note this phrase from his Prime Minister—
and even the time factor has had a modifying effect.
It is that factor which the right hon. Gentleman is now prepared never to permit to apply.
That is why, in this island, there is a very great respect for the laws, because laws have been shaped by Government and Opposition.
Here we were dealing with three great Measures affecting Great Britain. Not one Member was allowed to express his opinion on any one of them. How can anyone possibly say that in those circumstances the continuance of those Measures were shaped by the Government and the Opposition? It was shaped merely by a vote on the Closure which had been moved by the Patronage Secretary.
To conclude the right hon. Gentleman's remarks:
As was pointed out by an hon. Member on this side of the House below the Gangway, there is a feeling that the laws that come down
to the people from Parliament and the Crown are laws which Parliament, as a whole, has had a hand in shaping. … It is quite true that in foreign countries they have followed other methods. They have admired our Parliamentary system, but they have not liked it, because of the corresponding inconvenience. They have liked to have assemblies filled with members so long as the Executive will was in no way affected. They have even allowed free criticism from time to time in order that an appearance might be given that anyone could blow off steam and that they were free Parliamentary countries, but they have not now allowed any interference with the will of the Executive by Parliamentary Debate or by the length of time involved in full discussion."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 84.]
The right hon. Gentlemen the Patronage Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal stand condemned by the words of the Prime Minister. But it is not on their conduct. The hon. Member makes himself clear without even speaking.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making an interruption which is quite up to his usual style. I repeat that it is not on them that we are moving this Motion of Censure. It is on the Chairman of Ways and Means. It is because he, unwittingly perhaps, has lent himself to this complete departure from what was until a year ago accepted as Parliamentary practice that my right hon. Friends have—I think regretfully—set down this Motion.
Whenever I watch the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) addressing this House, I always think he is trying to catch the Lord Chancellor's eye, and not yours, Mr. Speaker. It is a far too frequent practice of Members to turn their back on you; the hon. and learned Member invariably does it.
This is a deplorable Motion of censure, and nine-tenths of what has been said about it has not been directed to the subject. Whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench ought to be censured is a matter always open to argument. That happened last week, but hon. Members opposite are this week making their last week's speeches. I cannot understand it. There is a want of thought and a want of capacity which is quite shocking to me.
Let us go into the history of this matter. By good fortune I was paired from eight o'clock on the evening of the sitting in which the events leading to this Motion took place. I did take part in the proceedings from 3.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The first debate was on the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act. What was the burden of the speeches made by Members opposite—that all this ought to be permanent legislation. There was no desire to discuss the subject seriously except that one hon. Member bad a grievance, namely, that his wife was still an alien.
The hon. Member said that he was listening to that debate and that the only purpose we had was to make the legislation permanent. He could not have listened very closely because the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and which I supported, was to abolish that legislation altogether.
That suggests that those proposing the Motion did not believe that the legislation should be abolished, which shows that hon. Members opposite were even more hypocritical than I thought. After we had finished with that, we got on to the Cotton Manufacturing (Temporary Provisions) Act. I listened for an hour while two hon. Members devoted themselves to reading out to this House a very good speech I made in 1934. Again, they wanted permanent legislation. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) does not know whether the speech was good or bad because he has not read it.
I will withdraw to this extent, that I mistook the hon. Member for an hon. Friend of his behind him, and I apologise to the hon. Member for Deptford for attributing to him a remark which came from behind him.
It was perfectly obvious when I left the Chamber what was going to happen. An Amendment in relation to each one of these Acts was going to be moved in order that hon. Members could make exactly the same speech about each Act, namely, how desirable it was that permanent legislation should be passed, and in every case they did not desire that to happen at all. It was quite obvious that the debate would go on all night. On four occasions the Closure was moved; Tellers were appointed by the Government, but no Tellers were appointed by the Opposition.
Nothing, but if hon. Members opposite want freedom of debate, they should have voted against the Closure. We all know why there was no Division. If there had been, it would have revealed what a trifling number of hon. Members opposite were left in the building. That happened seven times running. What is the use of hon. Members getting up and saying they want free speech, and then will not vote for it seven times running?
The hon. Member has said that one of the reasons for putting down Amendments of that kind was to get a discussion. That is what happened here, and surely it does not follow that there has to be a vote.
The hon. Member must not have listened to what I said. Four of the occasions on which Tellers were appointed was when the Closure had been moved. Hon. Members opposite should have carried their opposition to the Division Lobby. The Closure was accepted by the Chairman, and though Government Tellers were appointed none was appointed by the Opposition. I know why—because there was a trifling number of Socialist Members present, who were abusing the proceedings of Parliament and keeping other hon. Members out of bed.
Because a handful of 20 Scottish Members wished after midnight to discuss Measures affecting their country—and I was here with them and the hon. Member was not—and because they protested against the Closure being moved, why should it be considered an abuse of the rules of procedure of this House?
I should have thought that, if the hon. Member thought so deeply on the matter, he who belongs to another branch of the Celtic race could have brought some of his Welsh hon. Friends with him to support his Scottish colleagues in their task.
Does the hon. Member remember the occasion on which he and his friends held this House all night till six o'clock in the morning on six Prayers, that he refused to vote on any of them, and that the only way the House could get a vote was when the Government appointed Tellers for both sides?
I have great respect for the hon. Member and I would ask him to consult the OFFICIAL REPORT of that debate and he will see what happened. There were six Prayers on the Order Paper dealing with the cost of living. We asked the Chair to take them as one for the purposes of debate. There were certain reasons why that could not be done. The practice has since changed, because the party opposite had eight Prayers down the other night, and the Chair agreed that they should be taken in two lots.
The opening speech on the Prayers about cotton thread was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls), who was barracked all the time. I came next and it took me an hour to make a speech of 10 minutes because no audible speech was permitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The only reason the debate went on to 6 a.m. was that the supporters of the Government denied free speech to the Opposition when we wanted to talk about the cost of living.
I agree it is a little remote but I was led astray by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Porter).
I have had my grievances about the Closure. I have always had my grievances about those who occupied the Chair. When we are not called, we always say that Mr. Speaker is showing partiality to someone else. That is common form and we know it. On one occasion a Private Member's Bill was before this House. It was the third Bill on a Friday, and was strongly opposed by Major Procter, the then Member for Accrington. The Second Reading of the Bill was moved at 10 minutes to four in a speech of about three minutes, and seconded in a speech of one minute. It was roughly five minutes to four when Major Procter got up to oppose it. Before he had finished his speech, the Closure was moved, by a back bencher, and for reasons I have never understood, Mr. Speaker Fitzroy accepted the Motion even before the conclusion of the speech for the rejection of the Bill.
I made my personal protest at the time. I never understood why not one single Member of the Socialist Party on that occasion objected to the Closure being put at the end of an eight to 10 minutes debate and in the middle of a speech moving the rejection. I would ask hon. Members opposite to look that up, for it shows what happens when hon. Members find themselves supporting a Bill. It is time that hon. Members opposite searched their consciences on this matter. We all know that the other night it was all pure filibustering.
I regret for a number of reasons that this discussion is taking place today. First, I recognise that any person occupying the chair in any assembly has always a difficult job, and I know that in a political assembly of this kind, where political opinions are so evenly divided, it is a job which will always be extremely delicate.
The second reason I regret my intervention is because I still recognise that in many ways I am a junior Member of this House, with only six years' membership. I make this qualification however. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) is regarded as an expert, or he claims to be a bit of an expert in procedure. After having heard him today, I do not think I am such a junior, after all, in my knowledge of the procedure of this House. Thirdly, I would prefer to see the House discussing how we could more speedily shape policy and events so as to promote the economic and social wellbeing of the country.
I regret the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the Leader of the Liberal Party. During the time when the trouble arose, not a single Member of the Liberal Party was present. I feel that it is essential, if a person is going to intervene in a debate to call attention to any point of procedure, that that person should have been in attendance so that he would have all the facts at his finger tips. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch?"] My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) was in attendance that night, or in the early hours of the morning. [Interruption.] When the discussion on both sides of the House finishes, I may be able to continue.
That night we were discussing Measures which had been in operation for a number of years and would have expired at the end of December but for continuing legislation. During the Second Reading, we were not allowed to discuss a single item contained in the Schedule. I draw attention to that because it is extremely important. When some of us tried to debate those subjects, Mr. Speaker called us to order and said there would be ample opportunity to discuss them in the Committee stage.
Any hon. Member who reads the proceedings in HANSARD must admit that there was no filibustering on those Measures. Among the Scottish Measures was one dealing with the exemption of school children. Two hon. Members from this side of the House were allowed to express their views. Then the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who was well fortified by two of his colleagues and had the chief of the Department in attendance, said it would be wise for him to intervene at that point. It is well established in the House that when a Minister enters a debate at an early stage and uses such words, it is recognised that the discussion will continue for some time.
I do not want to go over that again, because the point was dealt with to some extent in the debate the other evening, but I emphasise that the Committee generally recognised that the intervention of the Joint Under-Secretary of State was to clear up a number of points so that hon. Members could continue the discussion with more knowledge than would otherwise have been the case. But no sooner did the Joint Under-Secretary of State resume his seat than the Patronage Secretary intervened and moved the Closure.
It happened that the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means was in the Chair. In spite of what has been said about Standing Order 29, it is the Chair which has the authority to decide whether or not a subject has been adequately debated. It is not a matter which can be left to any hon. Member other than the one occupying the Chair to decide. The Closure was accepted, and that was our first grievance at that hour.
Later in the proceedings the Committee were told that there would be no discussion at all on the Schedule. Three very important Acts of Parliament were thus left. Some Acts continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill are much more important than others which go through the House of Commons. On occasions when the continuing legislation is discussed, it may be that hon. Members will think that certain Acts involved have fulfilled their task and should be discontinued, although it might be desired to continue others.
When it is sought to continue an Act which has been on the Statute Book for five or six years, that might be an opportune time to discuss in detail matters which have since occurred which might improve the Act. Nobody can suggest that the Opposition was filibustering on any of the Acts concerned, because some of them had been on the Statute Book as long as six years and no hon. Member had tried to intervene and keep the House discussing them until last week. Therefore, I consider that the Chairman of Ways and Means was at fault in accepting the Closure from the Patronage Secretary when Acts in the second part of the Schedule to the Bill had not been discussed.
The hon. Member for Croydon, East made a strong point that the Opposition should have cast a vote. We are talking about free discussion, and there can be no justification for that argument, because casting a vote would have closed the discussion. Casting a vote is a question for hon. Members, and what we are now discussing is the acceptance of the Closure by the Chairman of Ways and Means. When we discuss legislation of that nature in the early hours of the morning, the Chairman of Ways and Means should recognise that the Measures involved are important and due consideration ought to be given to them on both sides of the House.
I have no more desire to stay up during the night than have any other hon. Members. As a matter of fact, I sometimes feel that there is a touch of lunacy about the House when the great statesmen of the country sit up all night trying to pass a Measure. That is a matter which may be discussed in some other way, perhaps through the usual channels, but, when this House has decided the order of business, no hon. Member should be denied the opportunity of discussing the business fully, and to that extent, although I expressed my regret at the beginning, I consider that the Chairman of Ways and Means was greatly at fault in the manner in which he handled the business that night. I content myself by making my protest without going into the matter further.
Might I have your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Some of us sat throughout the whole of the other evening but did not succeed in catching the Chairman's eye, and we wish to express our resentment at the treatment which we received then. Shall we have an opportunity of speaking in the debate today?
The debate takes the form of a Motion of censure on the Chairman of Ways and Means but the run of the debate appears to me to have been a continuation of Thursday's debate and a general censure on the Government, on myself, on the Government Chief Whip and upon everybody else except the Chairman of Ways and Means at whom the Motion is nominally directed.
I made the Government defence on the main issue last Thursday, and the House supported me in what I then said, and I shall not go over that ground again. But the Chairman cannot speak for himself when the Motion has been moved, and, therefore, I hope I may be allowed to put the point of view which I think may very well be his. I have not asked him about it, but it is what I should say if I were in his shoes and were allowed to speak.
That is a danger into which some hon. Members can never fall, I know. I shall try to put the points which I think should be brought out.
There are two charges against the right hon. Gentleman. He is alleged, first, improperly to have curtailed debate, and, secondly, to have declined to allow the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition to rise to a point of order. Because of that, the House is supposed to have no confidence in either his impartiality or his competence. The words "competence"—the word "convenience" is obnoxious to the hon. Gentleman—or "incompetence" seem to be turning up very frequently in our debate.
I can throw the ball back to the party opposite, because this Motion is an incompetent one. It does not, in fact, pick up the point which I understood from the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and others was the real complaint against the right hon. Gentleman. It was that not only did he accept the ordinary Closure Motion, but also the Question, "That the Question 'That the Schedule stand part of the Bill be now put.'" Those last three words have been left out of the Motion. I will not take any objection to a manuscript Amendment if it is to be moved. I am merely making the point about competence.
We do not want to get unnecessarily at cross purposes, but surely the words are
especially by accepting the Motion 'That the Question, "That the Schedule stand part of the Bill"'"—
"be now put." That is the second Motion, which follows naturally, and without debate, from the first. And it is the first one which the right hon. Gentleman—at any rate, it was the first one which the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch was taking exception to.
There are two points of issue here First, the Closure business in the middle of the night, and secondly, the alleged prohibition of the right hon. Gentleman from rising on a point of order. It is quite difficult to reconstruct from HANSARD what happened. We have had the version of the right hon. Gentleman, with which I do not quarrel, except that I do not think for one moment that my right hon. Friend was waving at the Chair. It was just one of the general motions or gestures he so frequently makes and it was not directed at or an attempt to cause the Chairman to sit down.
It is obviously quite difficult, in a rather heated moment when points of order are being raised on all sides, to know—as we know from experience during recent months—what was happening. That was brought out last Thursday by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir E. Keeling). There has been such an enormous increase in the number of alleged points of order. That is a matter which has been referred to during this debate; and I suppose, judging by previous form, that the Chairman, or even you, Mr. Speaker, feel fairly certain that many of the so-called points of order which are to be raised are not points of order at all.
It is obviously a very difficult situation for whoever is occupying the Chair. But so far as declining to allow the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to make his point is concerned, when future historians look back to see what happened according to HANSARD they will find that the words attributed to the right hon. Gentleman occupy far more room than those attributed to anybody else—[Interruption.] Well, if he looks he will find the interchange here at any rate. The evidence is on paper. The Prime Minister rose to a point of order. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) made the offending remark and the Chairman said that the hon. Member must withdraw the remark. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock said something else. The Chairman spoke again, and then the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) occupy the whole of the rest of that page. There were some more points of order raised subsequently by the Prime Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) and then the Chairman said that he must ask for the withdrawal of the offending words.
The right hon. Gentleman rose. I think that was the period in which he and the Chairman were both on their feet at the same time, because the right hon. Gentleman then goes on by saying, "with great respect"—evidently, I take it, trying to get in what he wanted to say. The Chairman must have sat down, because all the rest of the page is again occupied by the right hon. Gentleman. If we count the lines spoken, and nobody else spoke on that page, they are about five times as much as was spoken by anybody else.
It is hard to reconstruct the picture— there is, of course, a lot more on the next page, too, on this same point of order. So the way I put it is that I do not think for one moment there is any real validity in the charge against the Chairman of Ways and Means.
I am not arguing about the number of lines in HANSARD, which appears to me to be irrelevant. The point made by my right hon. Friend in moving the Motion was that while I was rising on what we thought a perfectly legitimately point of order the Chairman was resisting my right to raise that point of order, whereas, in the case of the Prime Minister, he was given every facility to raise his point of order, when it was somewhat doubtful whether he was not less in order in raising his point of order than I was.
In any case, the Chairman ended by not resisting any longer, because the right hon. Gentleman made all the points he wanted to make. So the argument is merely about the right hon. Gentleman not having been able to raise his point of order just at the moment when he wanted to, whereas in less than half a minute afterwards he was allowed to do so. To bring in a Motion of censure on the Chairman of Ways and Means for that is rather ridiculous.
The second point, although it is first on the Order Paper, is the other question of what happened during the debate on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I had something to say about that last Thursday and I am certainly not going to repeat it now. We have now to consider it in the light of the alleged action of the Chairman of Ways and Means, whose conduct is being impugned. It has nothing to do with my action, or the action of my right hon. Friend, or the Prime Minister, or the Conservative Party. It is with regard to the impartiality and competence of the Chairman of Ways and Means.
Let us look back to what was the situation with regard to the Bill before the Closure was moved on the Question, "'That the Schedule stand part of the Bill' be now put." We had already had 11½ hours of debate on this Bill. It is true that every part of it is debatable and may be debated. It is also true that that occasion is not in the only time in the year when that can be done. If it was the fact that never again could any matter arising out of that part of the Schedule which was not debated, be debated, or any point be raised, that would be one argument. But that is not the case. There are other opportunities —[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]—and the fact remains that more time was taken on this Bill than in all the eight years—
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Would he tell us when we will have an opportunity of discussing those Acts referred to at any other time, other than on that occasion?
I say that there are opportunities. I am not going to lay out the whole of the Parliamentary possibilities for the hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us one."] It is obvious that anything relating to administration can be dealt with on a relevant Supply day. That is perfectly simple. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course it is, and everybody knows it quite well. I do not wish to be diverted. The fact is that the time taken in debating this Bill was 11½ hours, which was more time than had been taken in the whole of the eight years since the war in debating corresponding Bills put together. There were 53 speeches by hon. Gentlemen opposite—and hon. Ladies. There were nine speeches from the Government Front Bench and six from my hon. Friends on the Government back benches. That was not the last occasion, as I say, on which these matters could be debated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has said, no fewer than seven Divisions were called, and on no occasion were Tellers put in on behalf of the Opposition.
I quite appreciate that, but some of these were Closure Motions. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted the Question put "That the Question be now put," if he wanted the Closure, why is he censuring the Chairman of Ways and Means for accepting it? Really, the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has not looked at what has happened. Perhaps he was not there, I do not know—I am not blaming him; I do not see why he should be. But we had seven opportunities for a Division to take place, and no Tellers were put in. The deduction which I make from that is that this was purely a time-wasting device.
The right hon. Gentleman had just said the Opposition wanted those parts of the Schedule to stand. Why, then, go through the pretence that they were going to have a Division and occupy what is in these cases always about two-and-a-half minutes before it is known that the Division is off? When that is multiplied by seven, we are already running over 15 minutes of time purely wasted.
The next point I want to deal with is that made by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). He took the view that the Motion, "That the Question, 'That the Schedule stand part of the Bill' be now put" was an outrageous Motion, or words to that effect. It is true that this method has been infrequently used in recent years. It is true that one of the precedents for using it is, in fact, on a Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It has been done on this very Bill before, and on that occasion it was done after only three hours of debate—
The right hon. Gentleman should be frank with the House. He is referring to the occasion when Mr. Balfour moved the Closure in 1902. That was after all the Amendments had been disposed of and only to prevent a general discussion on the Schedule.
Whatever it was for, it took place. There has been a more recent example, though not on a Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I agree that this is the last extreme form of Closure which is much to be deprecated. It is entirely to be deprecated except in extreme circumstances; but what was the last time when it was used?
The last time was—and I expect right hon. Gentlemen opposite know what is coming—on the Unemployment Insurance (No. 3) Bill on 15th July, 1931, when it was moved by the then Minister of Labour, Miss Bondfield, who swept with her into the Lobby 136 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, including the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). In that Division the other Lobby was occupied by 16 Members of their own party who were, therefore, being closured by the Government of the day from continuing to put up the fight that they were putting up against that Bill. And would it surprise anybody to know that one of those was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)?
In view of the fact that, just a moment ago, the right hon. Gentleman most dishonestly concealed from the House a vital factor about his argument, he has probably concealed a few more now.
I have deceived no one and have failed to disclose nothing. There it all is, on page 711 on the relevant HANSARD. This extreme and much to be deprecated form of Closure was used by the Labour Government on that occasion against their own supporters—not even against the Opposition of the day. So much, therefore, for that.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means is, naturally, always in a difficulty, I suppose, when any question of Closure comes up. It is quite possible, I suppose, for us to imagine that there should be some other form of control over speeches and debates in this House. It might be possible, as in some places, to put time limits on speeches—even exchangeable time limits, and all the rest of it. It is conceivable, and it happens elsewhere, but that is not the way in which our affairs have grown up here.
What this House decided long, long ago was to give you, Mr. Speaker, in your Chair, and the Chairman of Ways and Means, in his Chair, full discretion in this matter. Everybody knows that it is the right of the Chair to protect minorities, but, of course, the majority also has some rights; otherwise, there is nothing in the democratic theory. The democratic theory is rule by majority, as I understand it. Therefore, while the rights of minorities have to be safeguarded, all the rights of the majority cannot be thrown right over, nor can the rights of the House as a body be long out of the mind of the occupant of the Chair.
So the Chairman, like you, Mr. Speaker, though I must try not to bring your name into this discussion—this is the same argument which we have had throughout history, because this arose before there was a Chairman—has to set aside his party predilections and see, as far as he can, that all goes smoothly. If all does not go smoothly I hazard the guess that, as often as not, and probably far more often than not, it is the fault of the House and not of the Chair.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means is accused in this part of the Motion. The words used are:
… no confidence in the impartiality or competence of the Chairman of Ways and Means …
He is said to be not competent. Really, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman has had immense experience of the Chair of this House, such as probably none of his predecessors have had, for a very long period. It is 18 years since he first became a Temporary Chairman. And so competent and, I presume, so impartial was he thought to be that during the whole of the recent tenure of office of right hon. Gentlemen opposite he was in the Chair as Deputy-Chairman. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that he was not impartial and not competent they must have been failing in their duty.
Let us frankly face it. The right hon. Gentleman is a House of Commons man through and through and a friend to everyone of us. There is no one who has any question about procedure, about how to put down a Question or how to proceed in a debate, who goes to the right hon. Gentleman for advice and does not get it abounding and in full measure, and very wisely. If they dissociate this Motion from the troubles of last week and the previous Motion of censure—if they throw that out of their minds for a moment—are hon. Members really going to say, on the alleged ground that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South did not get his point of order raised quite as early in a rough and tumble affair as he might have done —because he got it in the end—and because the Closure was accepted late at night on an occasion when the Opposition never took the trouble then to protest about what it now calls a constitutional outrage, that the House has no confidence in the right hon. Gentleman?
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite never went into the Lobby on this Question of the Closure. It is no good complaining that because there were only a few of them here it was not worth doing. Those who have been long in the House remember occasion after occasion when, whatever Government were in office, whether Conservative or Labour, there was a group who used to sit below the Gangway under Mr. Maxton's chairmanship who frequently divided the House. And, not uncommonly the number of the Ayes, or Noes, as the case may be, was none, because all the little party could provide was two Tellers. But they went through the form of registering their protest. The official Opposition, in the middle of the night, never did that at all on this matter.
It was a waste of time! A great constitutional outrage, and we are told that it was a waste of time at four o'clock in the morning. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should restrain himself.
If it was such an awful outrage hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should have shown it in the Division Lobby. They had plenty of precedents for small bodies of Members doing that. It may be a small party or a small number of hon. Members who had stayed up late to make their protests. I am not criticising that, but I am saying that the House will find it hard to accept the argument when the Opposition come with this so-called Motion of censure on the Chairman of Ways and Means for outrageous conduct and when the Opposition themselves did not at that time make any form of protest at all.
The fact remains that we are all agreed, wherever we sit in this House, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means is completely qualified by his knowledge and experience to hold the high office which he adorns with so much dignity. He has the competence and the experience, and everybody knows it, and I certainly hope that this Motion will not be pressed.
We really must be very careful not to undermine the authority which we have given to the Chair. On this matter of accepting or refusing the Closure Motion, one might think that the Closure was always accepted. I am sure that it is not; I do not know, but I am sure that there are many occasions when, possibly, the thought that passes through someone's mind is, "I wonder if this is the time when the Closure Motion might be accepted." At any rate, the discretion has been left by the Standing Order with the Chair, and I think that we might take the converse argument and say that, if the occupant of the Chair thought it was his duty to accept the Closure Motion, and if he said "No," he would not be acting with the full honesty with which he should act. The Chair has to kept master of the situation.
I submit, and it has been my view all along, that this Motion of censure against the Chair is wrongly directed. I am merely saying that I am certain that it is really a further edition of last week's debate, and that the Chairman of Ways and Means has been dragged in on the general grounds of, "Let us put down a Motion of censure on everybody we can think of." On this occasion, unlike the last time when we went to a Division, when the Government were upheld by the House—
What happened on Thursday is what I am talking about— last week's business.
I am saying that the right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said that this is all a matter of delicacy and balance. Having elected the Chairman, we have got to support the Chair and trust the Chair, unless an overwhelming case arises when the extreme sanction of putting down a Motion of this kind arises. In my submission to the House, if the House will be good enough to take my view on this matter, such an overwhelming case has not been made out. If it had been, I hope I would be the first to say so, because it is important that the competence and the impartiality of the Chair should be respected by us all.
I have no hesitation in giving that advice to the House on this occasion. This matter is trifling in comparison with the knowledge, efficiency, hard work, dignity and fairness, with which the Chairman of Ways and Means has been known to act ever since he first occupied that Chair, now almost 18 years ago. It is such that I now express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw the Motion and allow the House to proceed to the Orders of the Day.
The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal prefaced his remarks by saying that many of the arguments adduced in the course of this debate had been arguments directed against the conduct of Her Majesty's Government and Ministers, rather than against the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means. He then went on to make the claim that he had answered all these criticisms last Thursday.
May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, while he gave a very good imitation of a successful University Union debate last Thursday, he has not met the criticisms levelled against Her Majesty's Government and the Ministers thereof, and, by the same token, he did not seek to answer the main charges which were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in his opening remarks.
I think the keynote of this debate has been a feeling in all quarters of the House that we should try to the very greatest of our powers to maintain and preserve the great traditions of this House, and accordingly there is a responsibility on each and every one of us. While it is true to say that we are all equal in this House, that responsibility falls more heavily in certain quarters than in others. I think, for instance, it falls more heavily on the right hon. Gentleman himself and on the Chief Whip. It might fall on some of my hon. Friends, and I think we would all concede that a heavy responsibility falls on the Chair. Therefore, in so far as a greater responsibility may fall in certain quarters, we desiderate a higher standard of conduct in those quarters.
May I say—and I am sure I am echoing the views of many of my hon. and right hon. Friends—that it was no great pleasure for anyone on this side of the House to participate in the debate on this Motion calling into question the impartiality and competence of the Chairman of Ways and Means, for whom, I think, we all have a very high personal regard. It is essential, however, for the working of our Parliamentary system not only that justice must be done, but that it must be seen to be done, and it is for that reason that, by his conduct in relation to the incidents referred to in the Motion, we feel that the Chairman of Ways and Means had departed, however unwittingly, from the high standards of conduct which Parliament demands and which the right hon. Gentleman had set for himself.
It was accordingly necessary for us to table a Motion in order to ventilate our grievance and seek to redress the position which had resulted both in seeming injustice, and, in our opinion, actual injustice. We accept the position that in tabling the Motion, the responsibility rests upon us to justify it. We willingly accept that responsibility, and it seemed to me that we were greatly assisted by the concession made by the Leader of the House in his closing remarks, in which he referred to this form of Closure—which is the real substance of our complaint—as the last extreme form of Closure, entirely to be deprecated except in extreme circumstances.
It is our submission that such extreme circumstances did not exist on the night in question. Accordingly, if those extreme circumstances did not exist, by his own confession the right hon. Gentleman admits that it was a form of Closure entirely to be deprecated, and the responsibility for that rests not only, although primarily, on the Patronage Secretary, who moved the Motion, but also on the Chairman, who accepted it, and who must also accept his meed of responsibility.
That, of course, is the main reason we have put forward this complaint. Furthermore, the bare recital of the facts by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, seems to me to be sufficient in itself to discharge the onus. Our complaint is based solely on these facts, and arises out of no personal animus against the Chairman of Ways and Means. In fact, the reverse is the case. No one who knows the history of this Parliament and who has followed the proceedings that led to your election to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, can have any doubt as to the esteem and affection in which hon. Members on this side of the House hold the Chairman of Ways and Means, and I would ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who remember that incident to realise in exactly what general esteem we hold the right hon. Gentleman.
For my own part, I can sincerely assure the House that there are few, if any, debates in which I personally would have less desire to intervene than this one. It was merely because I was very much involved in the circumstances which gave rise to the dispute that I find myself here.
In 1945, I opposed the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means in the General Election. We then formed a very close friendship which has persisted and deepened ever since, and accordingly it gives me no personal satisfaction to have to intervene in this debate, but since I was involved in it, and since we think that we were the victims of an incident which is the subject of the first part of the Motion, it would not be in keeping with the traditions of the House if one were to shirk one's responsibilities merely out of a feeling of personal friendship for the person involved.
The gravamen of our complaint was the acceptance by the Chairman of Ways and Means in the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill of the Motion "That the Question, 'That the Schedule stand part of the Bill,' be now put." It has been conceded on all hands that this is a most exceptional Motion to be moved, and it is even more exceptional, I submit, that it should be accepted. I would further submit that it is very surprising indeed that it should be accepted in the circumstances which preceded it.
The right hon. Gentleman was really on a very bad point when he produced an alleged precedent without giving us the full circumstances of that precedent, which proved that it was not a precedent at all, because it did not touch the question at issue, namely, the exclusion during Committee stage of certain Acts confined to the Schedule.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether there were any Amendments down to the remaining Acts in the Schedule, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, if there are no Amendments down to them, those Acts cannot be discussed in the Committee stage. Accordingly, if there was no Amendment down, there could be no discussion. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to be honest with the House—as I am sure he is anxious to be—will he tell the House whether any Amendments were down in relation to these succeeding Acts? Can we please have an answer?
I cannot charge my memory as to whether there were or not, but, of course, if that Motion was put there must have been some reason for it being put as distinct from the Motion, "That the Question be now put."
It may help my right hon. and learned Friend and the Leader of the House if they will recall that the only Act in Part II on this particular occasion was discussed early in the debate. It was, in fact, the Irish Labourers Act, 1882, and it was discussed during an earlier stage in conjunction with another Act.
I think enough has been said to indicate quite clearly that the arguments adduced by the right hon. Gentleman had no substance, no relevance and no bearing on the point. Accordingly, we came to consider a situation where it was contrary to all precedent—and even if there had been a precedent, it is rather strange that the right hon. Gentleman had to go back 50 years to find one, and then only to find it to be a false one—to apply the Closure to this particular Bill for the simple reason that, by virtue of our procedure, it is really the only occasion when there can be proper and adequate consideration of these Acts; where, in point of fact, we are legislating for another year in respect of each of the items in the Schedule and where the House of Commons in Committee consider whether legislation in respect of various matters should be carried on for another year.
In many ways, one could say that in accepting this Motion the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means had made a mistake, and, of course, if it were a mistake in isolation, I do not think that this House would be anxious in any way to condemn it. But in our submission, it was worse than that, because there was a continuous course of conduct, running right through that night, resulting in Closures being put, in our submission, most unfairly and accepted most improperly, and repeated the following day in another form.
We felt that it was not just an isolated mistake which could be overlooked and excused, but an unfortunate course of conduct over a period of time which justified our putting down this Motion. What is the gravamen of our complaint in respect of the first night? It is that we had been led to believe that we would be allowed a full discussion on each of those Acts when we came to the Committee stage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) pointed out, the point had been raised on Second Reading, when you, Mr. Speaker, gave a series of Rulings, only one or two of which I intend to quote. You said:
It is a Ruling that has lasted for over 50 years that the inclusion or exclusion in or from a Schedule of the Bill of any Act cannot be discussed on Second Reading.
Therefore, there cannot be any discussion on these Acts at that stage. Later, you said:
I agree entirely with the hon. Member, and that is the point of order that I have been trying to instil into the House. It is not proper to take up the time of the House on Second Reading with criticisms of the various Acts when machinery exists ready for proper discussion in Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1952; Vol. 507. c. 1759, 1764.]
Therefore, there was a fair indication from the Chair that opportunity would be given for proper discussion in the Committee stage.
My right hon. Friend has recited the events of the evening, and I do not intend to repeat them. All I intend to say is that during the night we were again misled. It cannot be argued that there was any filibustering in respect of the arguments. Each of the Acts under discussion was seriously considered. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, two important statements were made by Ministers of Her Majesty's Government, and if one examines the time-table, one sees that only a reasonable amount of time was taken up on the discussion of the first five Acts and that there was no question of the Closure being moved. Then followed an Amendment in connection with the Public Works Loans Act, and again a full discussion without the Closure being moved.
But then we were let into the rather grim secret of what was going on. It was at that point that the Patronage Secretary made up his mind that he was going to move the Closure there and then on everything in order to prevent discussion on any of the further Acts, but, seemingly by an act of great grace, he decided to allow some more discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff. South-East (Mr. Callaghan) had moved to report Progress for the simple reason that we had had a very full, fair and profitable discussion on the previous Amendments, that the time was now midnight and that we should all go home and resume our considerations at a more congenial and favourable time.
That Motion was rejected by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House in terms which again led us to believe that we would have ample opportunity for discussing the subsequent Acts in the Schedule, and, in particular, the three Scottish Acts which immediately followed. The right hon. Gentleman assumed—on what grounds I know not—that the Scottish Acts would not take a very long time to discuss, that some trivial points would be raised and that then we should pass from them.
How little he knows the context of the Acts and how little he knows Scottish Members. But, in any event, he encouraged us to go on, and anyone who cares to read the report of that evening's proceedings will see that we were encouraged to go on. We then turned to the next Act, but within 47 minutes the Closure was moved and accepted. One of the unfortunate features of that—and I say this with respect to two of my hon. Friends who spoke on the matter—was that we were discussing an Act which had been passed by our own Government. Two of our back benchers who were critical of the Act had spoken. There were two hon. Members who had been junior Ministers in our Government on their feet when the Closure was moved and it was their intention to put a rather different point of view with regard to that particular Act.
Nevertheless, the Patronage Secretary moved the Closure and it was very unfortunate, as has been pointed out already, that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in intervening used words which, however unwittingly, led the Committee to believe that he was merely inter- vening and that the debate would continue. We now know from the admission of the Patronage Secretary in his maiden speech last Thursday— [Interruption.] I beg his pardon, I did not realise that. There has been a series of speeches from him which have been characterised by tedious repetition.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we shall hear them again. We are making an appeal for better leadership in this House in order that business can be effected in a manner consistent with Parliamentary tradition, and as soon as the Chief Whip is inveigled into an argument, all we can extract from him is that we shall hear these things again. The right hon. Gentleman will not find us unreceptive to proper and decent treatment, but we will not be bullied and will not be bull-dozed.
Be that as it may, the Closure was moved, accepted and carried. We then had the second Scottish Act discussed, and again the Closure was moved and accepted by the Chairman of Ways and Means— a really offensive Closure in face of all the undertakings which had been given. I am not suggesting that any undertaking was given by you, Mr. Speaker, when you were referring to procedure, but I do not think that anybody would have interpreted this matter otherwise, consistent with the rules of the House. The Chief Whip and the Leader of the House sought to interpret it otherwise. In view of what was said when the Motion to report Progress was moved, we were entitled to expect full discussion, but by this method discussion of three very important Measures was excluded in the Committee stage.
According to you, Mr. Speaker, we had a proper time for a proper discussion. The procedure adopted was against all the traditions of the House, and while primarily the responsibility rests with the Government Ministers who were responsible for moving the Motion, we feel that, against that background and in those circumstances, the Chairman of Ways and Means cannot escape criticism for accepting that Motion.
There is a great deal of misconception on this matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) seemed to think that since acceptance or rejection of this Motion is a matter of discretion, there can never be criticism of the discretion exercised. That is a strange proposition to put forward. We are not in any way suggesting that the discretion can be exercised, or was exercised, in bad faith. We are suggesting that the discretion may be exercised in circumstances where justice is not done, and that if it is done not once but on a series of occasions one is entitled to draw attention to that fact, because if repeated it might undermine the whole confidence of hon. Members in the Chair.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery had the thing entirely wrong, because I think that he was dealing with the wrong part of Standing Order 29. He did not draw attention properly to the effect of an important part of Standing Order 29, because the whole thing is conditional upon its appearing to the Chair that the Motion for the Closure is not an abuse of the rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority. [HON. MEMBERS: "He said that."] Of course, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that, but he took it out of its context.
It is within the recollection of the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman purposely omitted that part of the Standing Order. He said that he was doing it; but at the end he came in with it. The point is that he put the emphasis in the wrong place, with respect, because he rather looked upon this as incidental to the invocation of the Order, whereas it is a condition precedent to the invocation of the Order. That being so, he com- pletely distorted the whole of his argument. Without impeaching the bona fides of the Chair, we say that these consistent errors of judgment in the exercise of discretion led to partiality being exercised on that occasion and to a denial of the rights of the minority who were in the House.
I turn now to the incident of the following day. All I want to say in connection with that day is that again, standing in isolation, it might not have formed the subject matter of a Motion of the nature of the one now before the House; but it seemed to us to be a continuation of that lack of consideration for the right of the minority which had been so manifest on the previous evening.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was scarcely convincing when he tried to explain away the action by which he apparently put down the Chairman of Ways and Means. First of all, the right hon. Gentleman had no recollection of waving his hand at all. Then he remembered that he had waved his hand and, I think, it was said that he had waved it in his usual manner. But the right hon. Gentleman ought to remember that the usual manner of the Prime Minister is to wave his hand in an upward direction and not in a downward direction. On this occasion he waved it in a downward direction. It may have been just one of those strange coincidences that with that downward sweeping gesture of the Prime Minister the Chairman of Ways and Means resumed his seat. He appeared to us as if he was accepting directions and instructions from the Prime Minister.
It is no use saying, "Let us look at what HANSARD says." If we do that, we shall see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was allowed to make his point of order. But that is not the point of our complaint. Of course he was allowed to make it, and perhaps it is just as well that he was allowed to make it eventually, because otherwise a grave injustice might have ensued.
At that point the Chairman of Ways and Means had instructed my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to withdraw his remark or withdraw from the Chamber. My hon. Friend refused to withdraw and, as events turned out, he properly refused, because the word which he had used was not an un-Parliamentary expression and he was entitled to stand on his rights. The Chairman of Ways and Means, by his own confession, turned out to have been wrong, and yet he was about to impose a wrong decision and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South rightly came to the aid of my hon. Friend.
Be that as it may, that is not the burden of our complaint. The burden of our complaint is that the Prime Minister, who was walking out of the Chamber, returned, and, without sitting down and subsequently rising, raised a point of order and achieved the point, in our opinion, by waving down the Chairman of Ways and Means. Yet when my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South tried to raise a point of order—and he did it in more decorous circumstances because he did at least rise from his seat—the Chairman of Ways and Means refused to hear him on the point. It seemed to us that discrimination was being shown in that, whilst the Chairman of Ways and Means was prepared to take signalled advice from the Prime Minister, he refused to give similar consideration to my right hon. Friend who, for the time being, was the counterpart of the Prime Minister on this side of the House.
We feel that that continuous course of conduct was sufficient to indicate to us that something had to be done in order to voice our dissatisfaction. We felt that the whole course of conduct could not be excused as a momentary lapse. We were afraid that if this type of conduct were repeated, it would destroy the confidence in the Chair without which Parliament as we know it would not work.
We have ventilated our grievance. I think—and my right hon. and hon. Friends believe—that we have justified our grievance. Now that we have done so—I trust, putting forward our case with proper decorum—we do not propose to carry it further today, and the Motion in due course will be withdrawn. But Parliament is jealous of its rights. It is, I think, equally generous in its ability to forgive and forget. I trust that, now we have stated our complaint, we can resume our normal friendly and felicitous relationship, in the hope that the circumstances which gave rise to these unfortunate proceedings will not be repeated.
When 18 months ago a similar Motion was moved—[An HON. MEMBER: "By leave of the House."] No, I was the mover of the original Motion—I appealed to the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the House to withdraw the Motion. He insisted on the Motion being negatived without a Division so that, I think, the House was left in the worst of all possible positions as a result. We have had a discussion. I trust that we have expressed our views on this side of the House with moderation and clarity, and I beg to ask the leave of the House, on the lines indicated by my right hon. and learned Friend, to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.