I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill:
1.—(a) The Standing Committee to which the Bill is committed shall report the Bill to the House on or before the eighteenth day of March, nineteen hundred and fifty-four;
(b) at a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any Proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the Proceedings have been brought to a conclusion;
(c) no dilatory Motion with respect to Proceedings on the Bill or the adjournment of the Standing Committee, nor Motion to postpone a Clause, shall be made in the Standing Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion, if made by a member of the Government, shall be put forthwith without any debate; and
(d) on the conclusion of the Committee stage of the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
2. The Proceedings on Consideration shall be completed in two allotted days.
3. The Proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed in one allotted day and shall be brought to a conclusion at half-past Ten o'clock on that day.
4. The Business Committee shall report to the House their recommendations as to the Proceedings on Consideration not later than the twenty-fifth day of March, nineteen hundred and fifty-four.
5. On an allotted day Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) shall have effect with the substitution of references to half- past Ten of the clock for references to Ten of the clock, and Proceedings which under this Order or the Resolution of the Business Committee are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall not be interrupted under the provisions of the said Standing Order No. 1.
6. If, on any allotted day, a Motion is made under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) the last foregoing paragraph of this Order shall not apply, but—
7. If, at Seven o'clock on an allotted day, any Proceedings on the Bill which, under the Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time have not been concluded, any Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) which, apart from this Order, would stand over to that time, shall stand over until those Proceedings have been concluded.
8. Any Private Business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by the Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill on that day, and shall be exempted by this paragraph from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) for a period of three-and-a-half hours or, if the Proceedings on the Bill are concluded before half-past Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock, and the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill; and paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking private business) shall not apply.
9. Standing Order No. 12 (Motion for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business) shall not apply to any allotted day.
10. On an allotted day no dilatory Motion with respect to Proceedings on the Bill shall be made except by a Member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith without any debate.
11. For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by the Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee or by this Order and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall, at the time so appointed, put forthwith the Question on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and, in the case of a new Clause which has been read a second time, also the Question that the Clause be added to the Bill, and subject thereto shall proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules moved by a Member of the Government of which notice has been given (but no other Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules) and any Question necessary for the disposal of the Business to be concluded, and, in the case of any Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules moved by a Member of the Government, he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made or that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
12. —(a) The Proceedings on any Motion moved by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions
of this Order or of the Resolution of the Business Committee shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion two hours after they have been commenced, and the last foregoing paragraph of this Order shall, so far as applicable, apply as if the Proceedings were Proceedings on the Bill:
Provided that if the Proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance), the time at which they are to be brought to a conclusion shall be deferred for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings upon the Motion for the Adjournment; and
(b) if any Motion moved by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order or of the Resolution of the Business Committee is under consideration at Seven o'clock on a day on which any Private Business has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock, the Private Business shall stand over and be considered when the Proceedings on the Motion have been concluded.
13. Nothing in this Order or in the Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee or the Business Committee shall—
14. In this Order, "allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as the first Government order of the day, "the Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means the Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee, "the Resolution of the Business Committee" means the Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House, and references to the Proceedings on Consideration or the Proceedings on Third Reading include references to any Proceedings at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of re-committal.
In form, at any rate, the Motion is unexceptionable. It follows precedent, for its terms are practically the same as those adopted by all recent Governments. It is what we might call common form. In the course of about 30 years I have listened to many discussions on Motions of this kind. As far as I can remember, I have never taken any part in them myself, either upon the one side or upon the other, though I have no doubt that I have done my share in barracking from the back benches in my time.
I have taken the precaution of looking through some of the recent debates on similar occasions. They make quite interesting reading. A stranger to our proceedings might suppose that such a question would be debated as a mere matter of the most businesslike and convenient arrangement that can be devised, but, in fact, the debate scarcely ever turns on anything of the kind.
What happens is this. The right hon. and hon. Members who find themselves for the moment in opposition are filled with an extraordinary devotion to the principles of constitutional Government, to the free rights of Members, to the long historic straggle of Parliament against the Executive, to the cause for which Hampden died in the field and Sidney on the scaffold. But when, with the all-healing flow of time, these same Members find themselves upon the Government benches, they become comparatively immune to these high-flown sentiments. They are influenced by the urgent necessity which every Government feel to carry through their Parliamentary business with some relation to the calendar and to the march of events.
They abandon these elevated principles, or at least they mute the shrill strings of protestation. They adopt the prosaic and humdrum rule of everyday life: in other words, they settle down. But, happily, the transformation scene is not one-sided, for the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who, when in Government, maintain the absolute necessity for the most rigid imposition of all the machinery by which Parliamentary debate is restricted and curtailed—these gentlemen, when they find themselves in opposition, become immediate and, I have no doubt, sincere converts to the cause of freedom.
They have thrown off the restraints of office at the same time as they have discarded its responsibilities. To the Opposition side of the House time means nothing. In their minority—temporary or lasting we do not know—they rediscover the most extraordinary devotion to the rights of private Members. They absorb the sentiments and even repeat the very phrases of their predecessors. When in office, of course, they represented the Guillotine as a merciful, convenient and lenient method of procedure. When they are out of office then the full horrors of the axe dominate their thought and inspire their oratory. Yet, by a strange parallel, although the victims have to make the right kind of noises as they are drawn to the scaffold, when the axe fate, as we all know it must, nobody is more pleased than they are.
The detached observer might take a certain amount of quiet amusement from this ebb and flow of opinion. If he were of a cynical nature he would regard this sham battle as a sign of the decay and insincerity of Parliamentary life. But I think that would be a narrow and shortsighted view. A debate such as we shall have today should rather be regarded as a genial interlude in a long series of dull discussions—rather like the playtime interval at school. It is a friendly and very welcome change from the hard work in the classroom. If I might borrow one of those phrases which fall so idiomatically and so easily from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, whom I do not see in his place at the moment, "A good time is had by all."
There is a great deal to be said for sham battles. They are much more agreeable than real ones, and political battles in relation to real ones are something like Mr. Jorrocks's famous definition of hunting:
The image of war—without the guilt and only five and twenty per cent, of the danger.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—I see him in his place—when he was Leader of the House of Commons made an observation which struck me as very just. On 3rd March, 1947, he was introducing a Motion similar in character to that which is on the Order Paper today. He said:
My experience of the House has been that under no Government of modern times has legislation been too swift The danger to Parliamentary democracy in this country is not from the speed but from the slowness of the forms that were used when this country was less populous than it is, and when the range of Government activities was far less than it is today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 125.]
That is what the right hon. Gentleman said in 1947. Perhaps he went a little far, but it was the right idea, of course.
At any rate, nobody can say that the progress—if "progress" is not an altogether inappropriate word—of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill in Committee has been unduly rapid. There have so far been 10 sittings of the Committee, each of some two and a half hours' duration—25 hours in all. To those who have been subject to this endurance test, I assure the House, it seems much longer than that.
It is true that with the general march forward of science and progress there are some alleviations, even in the Committee Room corridor. In the old days hon. Members had to go down to the Smoking Room or Tea Room for refreshment, but there is now brought up to us, by some beneficent power, a movable stall which supplies coffee and chocolate biscuits. Yet, even so, the morning seems very long.
As I have said, we have had 10 sittings, making 25 hours in all, and when I reflect upon it, I am astonished not merely by the fortitude but also by the resilience of hon. Members. As the result of these efforts in the 10 sittings, six Clauses have been completed and we are halfway through the seventh, and this out of 44 Clauses and five Schedules. It is clear, if we are making progress at this rate, that some impetus must be injected to relieve the strain upon hon. Members and to prevent the Bill from being unreasonably retarded.
In looking through the debates on such Motions on previous occasions, I have seen that you, Mr. Speaker, and your predecessors, have ruled that it is out of order to refer to the merits of the Bill itself. We may discuss, so it seems, whether the Bill is going too fast or not fast enough, but we are not allowed to discuss whether it ought to go at all.
At first sight this might appear rather illogical, but it is really based upon good common sense. The House of Commons, when it gives a Bill a Second Reading, in fact approves its main principles. That is what the Second Reading is traditionally for. The Bill is then sent upstairs to Committee to be examined in greater detail. It is right to remember that it is sent up to the Committee so that the Committee may work upon the task of detailed improvement and amendment. It is not sent to the Committee to be retarded or obstructed. By assenting to the Second Reading, the House has, in effect, said, "This is a good idea. It is a good Bill in general. We want these ideas and these proposals perfected and improved." But it would surely be a travesty of our whole procedure if he Committee stage were so prolonged and protracted as to result in the Bill dying of inanition.
Of course, I do not expect the Opposition—I have been here long enough not to do so—to take an enthusiastic part in promoting the progress of the Bill. That would be quite unreasonable. Perhaps an appropriate motto for the Opposition might fairly be expressed in the famous lines:
Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive Officiously to keep alive.
I agree with that. I do not expect the Opposition to play the part of rescuers, but they cannot be allowed, under any Government, to use the Committee stage to play the role of assassins.
I should like to point out that the proposals in the Bill have been before the country for many months. The White Paper on which the Bill was founded was presented on 3rd November of last year. It was discussed in the debate on the Address on 4th November. The Bill was presented on 11th November. The Second Reading was carried by a majority of 27 —we seem to be doing better today—on 1st December after a two-day debate. In the interval there have been a number of by-elections. I have not observed that there has been any great upsurge of public opinion against us. Quite the contrary.
The Committee stage was deferred until after Christmas at the request of the Opposition. Under this Motion, the Bill will be eight weeks in Committee. If the Third Reading is carried by Easter, then these proposals will leave the House for consideration in another place only six months after their first introduction. I consider that to be a very reasonable time for them to be subject to the scrutiny of the House and of the public opinion of the country.
This certainly is not "indecent haste," as was said by the Leader of the Opposition on Thursday. Indeed, it was only seven years ago that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), who was then leading the House, said:
Suppose they were to come back …
He meant the Tory Party—
… what is the answer? The answer is, that if they took the job over there would be
stagnation, there would be a 'slow motion' picture of snail's pace legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 154–5.]
Which is it — "snail's pace legislation" or "indecent haste"? It is all Very confusing. What a lot depends, Mr. Speaker, upon whether hon. Members happen to sit on your right hand or on your left.
The truth is that it has always been accepted that a Government have a right to get their business in reasonable time. That is all we are asking for today. If we are to get on with our work to clear the slums, to begin the humane task of patching, and to provide for the repair and improvement and conversion of the old houses, then we must get the Bill as soon as we can. The Bill is urgent—for the job is urgent. I think, therefore, that on the first and main issue which could be raised, the Government's position is absolutely sound. This is an important Bill. It deals with important issues. It is a vital part of the Government's programme, and it must be carried through with reasonable expedition. That must be accepted by the House as a whole.
Then comes the question: What is reasonable expedition? Have we been premature in putting the Motion on the Order Paper today? Have we been impatient? Have we been guilty of a breach of the traditional sympathy and courtesy by which every Government live and which they owe to the Opposition and on which our Parliamentary life itself depends? I am bound to say that, on an examination of the facts, our conscience is clear. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am coming to the facts, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will listen to them.
The Bill is, of course, an important Bill, but it is not a very complicated Bill and not a very long Bill. It deals with problems which are all understood and have been widely discussed, and whether the proposals in it are good or bad, they are not very novel and do not break into very unexplored ground.
The Bill has 44 Clauses. We have carried six Clauses, and we are not asking for any acceleration until after 10 sittings of the Standing Committee. Let me compare this with a Bill like the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. That was an immense Bill, covering a completely novel field of endeavour. It ranged into wholly new realms of adventure. It envisaged great new problems. In the course of its progress, a considerable reconstruction of its char[ill] became necessary. It was, therefore, an expedition into unplanned and undiscovered territories.
It was a Bill of 108 Clauses and nine Schedules. Yet, after only four sittings of the Standing Committee, a time-table was introduced. In the end, the Bill was carried through the Committee in 25 sittings. I estimate that, with reasonable assiduity—three sittings a week, say—it would be quite easy within the time set in the Motion to devote altogether 21 or 22 sittings to the discussion of the present Bill in the Standing Committee.
Let me, therefore, make a comparison, because it is important if this issue is to be pressed to a Division. The Town and Country Planning Bill had 108 Clauses; this Bill has 44 Clauses. The Town and Country Planning Bill was guillotined after four sittings; this Bill is to be guillotined after 10 sittings. The Town and Country Planning Bill was allowed 25 sittings in the Standing Committee with its 108 Clauses; this Bill—less than half its length—will be allowed at least 21 or 22 sittings.
I have already referred to the protest made on Thursday last by the Leader of the Opposition against what he called "indecent haste" in introducing the Guillotine. Apparently, in his view, the guillotining of a Bill of 44 Clauses after 10 sittings is indecent haste; a wild barbaric rush; an undisciplined charge. But to guillotine a Bill of over 100 Clauses after four sittings—why, that is calm and studied deliberation, moving slowly forward with all the stately dignity of a minuet.
But it was not only the Town and Country Planning Bill which was so treated in 1947. The Transport Bill had 127 Clauses and 13 Schedules. It was also subject to a time-table. That was after 11 sittings in the Standing Committee—almost the same as in the case of the present Bill. Was that indecent haste? Anyway, I will say about the Town and Country Planning Bill and the Transport Bill that we were at least given a few weeks of carefree, happy, unrestrained life in Committee before they were cut off, before:
The canker galled the infants of the spring,…
But the Iron and Steel Bill of 1949— now happily repealed and forgotten—never even had a chance. A time-table was introduced immediately after the Second Reading. It was strangled at birth, poor little innocent. No wonder the Labour Government tried to hush it up. Everyone was ashamed of it, even its mother, and nobody ever really knew who its father was.
The Deputy-Leader of the Opposition was quite nice about it. He always is. He was almost tearful. He put on his best bedside manner, and this is what he said:
It is a last resort…
I think it was a bit strong to say that before we had even started. He added:
… which is obviously necessary … Nevertheless, I do not like it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1435.]
It was quite affecting. It caused him a good deal of pain. We all know the sort of thing, "My boy, this hurts me a great deal more than it hurts you." He might not have liked it, but he did it, and, like all Oppositions placed in a similar position, we felt very sore.
At every point, the comparison is in favour of the proposals that we are making in the Motion. At every point we have been more tolerant, more patient, and more reasonable. If hon. Members opposite would consider the matter objectively they would find not that we have acted too quickly, but that we have waited too long.
I may be asked whether I accuse Members of the Standing Committee of deliberately wasting time, or of obstructing the Bill by filibustering methods. I must say that, with some notable exceptions, at any rate at the beginning, there was not an undue amount of mere time wasting. There was some, but we always take that in good part. At the last few sittings there have been examples of real, old-fashioned, obstruction. We have been very slow. That is partly due to Members who have been purposely slow, and partly due to hon. Members who are naturally slow; but we have really been very slow. Amendments have been moved on very small matters and protracted into very long debates.
I have moved the Closure on a number of occasions and on no occasion has the Closure been refused by the Chairman. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is the Chairman?"] Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), whom I see in his place, used this rather revealing phrase last Thursday:
… the Closure—without which we seem unable to have a Division in this Committee." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 17th February, 1954; c. 501.]
It may, of course, be argued that the Bill should have gone to a Committee of the whole House—that point was raised on the Second Reading—and not to a Standing Committee at all. If that point is made, I can only say that the Opposition are very hard to please because, in April, 1952, during our first Parliamentary Session, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) used these words:
We are … entitled to ask the Government—why they have cluttered up the House with legislation and not sent certain legislation upstairs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2785.]
The Leader of the Opposition said, a few days later, referring to the Leader of the House:
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the trouble really arises from the fact that he is trying to take a complicated and technical Bill on the Floor of the House instead of upstairs?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1952; Vol 499, c. 46.]
I think that that point cannot be sustained. That cock will not fight. It may flap its wings a little and utter a few feeble crows, but it will not fight.
If the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale speaks in this debate, as I have no doubt he will, he will no doubt make a great display of indignation. He must do so, according to the rules. He must try to give the impression, "This is a terrible scandal," and all that. It will be really impressive but, to use a favourite expression of his, it will be largely synthetic. I said "largely," because I want to be fair. The right hon. Gentleman is like some of the fanatical devotees of barbaric cults. He has a wonderful power of lashing himself into a state of fury. It all starts off quite artificially, but after a bit it becomes really quite genuine. It does not take many people in nowadays, but the right hon. Gentleman has this consolation: he is always able to deceive himself.
Let me sum up. The House of Commons has approved the Bill, which must be carried through its Parliamentary stages in reasonable time. The time which will be allotted to the Bill will be generous, even more generous than usual, to judge by the previous precedents which I have quoted. Although every Government dislike and hope to avoid the use of the Guillotine or the timetable as an instrument of procedure, no Government worthy of the name can abdicate their responsibility. For all these reasons, I ask the House to approve the Motion which is now before us, and which is fair, reasonable and necessary, if we are to do our duty.
I am sure that everybody who has listened to the speech of the Minister of Housing and Local Government would agree that the right hon. Gentleman is a very great man, because only a great man could have started a speech by saying, "I do not intend to be serious. This is not a serious occasion, and I intend only to entertain you." When a humorist starts off by telling his audience that he is going to make them laugh, he usually puts himself under a fatal disability. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman did rather well, in view of the handicap he had imposed upon himself.
It was a very entertaining speech, upon which I think the right hon. Gentleman had spent a good deal of midnight oil. The Edwardian phrases came out with their customary charade-like quality. The right hon. Gentleman was fascinated by the consciousness of his own shortcomings, because he could not even avoid using the language that would be so properly applied to himself, when he said that I started off by being artificial but eventually became serious. I rather differ from the right hon. Gentleman in that. He was artificial from the beginning to the end. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman conveyed a general impression of artificiality from the first sentence to the last.
Very rarely in the history of discussions of this sort have we listened to a less convincing speech. May I point out, with every respect, that one of the essential conditions of advocacy is a certain degree of spontaneity? [HON. MEMBERS: "Notes."] Very few hon. Members would accuse me of using copious notes. I have here a few pieces of information that will be relished. I do not propose—in fact, I never did intend—to waste the time of the House in discussing the constitutional propriety of the Guillotine. The right hon. Gentleman wasted three parts of his speech in discussing that, and in saying how, when one is in Government, one says one thing, and, when in Opposition, one says another.
I was going to take it for granted that it has been common form that, for a very long time, both parties have used the Guillotine, and that it has become necessary to use the Guillotine on certain occasions to prevent a minority in the House of Commons using the procedure of the House to frustrate the will of the majority. That has been common ground. We all know that our Parliamentary procedure cannot be carried out, and legislation can be held up, unless there is a tacit understanding that the rules of procedure shall not be carried to the point of frustrating all the legislative processes.
Why, then, did the right hon. Gentleman spend so much time on that school-boyish note? We all know very well that, when a Motion of this kind is brought before the House, it is necessary now to establish it, not on grounds of constitutional propriety, but purely on empirical considerations; that is to say, do the circumstances of the case warrant the Motion? The right hon. Gentleman spent a very great part of his speech with that particular proposition.
For my own part, I propose to devote myself entirely to the facts, and not to refer to copious and turgid literary allusions, which might have come much better from a novel by Elinor Glyn than from a modern debate in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman should bring his literature up to date. The fact is that, in this particular instance, we consider that the Government have strained the procedure of the Guillotine in an inexcusable manner; and that is to be my main case.
First, I should like to deal with a point made by the right hon. Gentleman when he said that when we had carried the Second Reading in the House it was apparent that the House, by its majority, had approved the principle of the Bill, that then a Committee had to consider its details, and that it would be an affront to the procedure of the House for the Committee itself, in its consideration of the details, to try to prevent the adoption of the principle. Let us look at that for a moment and apply it to this particular Bill.
It is absolutely essential, if the work of the House of Commons is to be done properly, that, when we go to the Division Lobby to vote "Aye" or "No," we should know exactly what we are doing, and that we shall not have included in a particular Bill two important propositions, one with which we may entirely agree and the other with which we may violently disagree. It is always an affront and an offence against the House to include in a Bill two propositions not directly related to each other.
The first point I make against this Bill—and this is one of the difficulties of the case—is that it ought to (have (been brought forward as two separate Bills. The first part of the Bill has nothing to do with the second part. It would have been perfectly proper—and I shall deal with the point in a moment, not on the merits of it, but on the structure of it, because it is part of our difficulties and directly relevant to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the vote on Second Reading—for the House unanimously to have voted in favour of the first part of the Bill and yet be in violent disagreement with the second part. I think that hon. Members who are Members of the Standing Committee will agree with that.
The first part of the Bill deals not with letting us get on with clearing the slums, a phrase that the right hon. Gentleman has used over and over again. I do not want to be too acidulated in my language, but that is really humbug. There is nothing in the Bill about the slums; at any rate, if there is, it is to enable local authorities to keep skims alive, to perpetuate them, and not to demolish them. Let no one be under the impression that any time taken in Committee prevents local authorities from going on with the demolition of the slums. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is an artifice.
The local authorities already have more slum clearance schemes in hand than they have the physical capacity to carry out. They could go on doing that for two more years, with the Bill still under consideration here, without stopping any of the slums being abolished. It has nothing to do with it, and it is characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman to use what he knows to be an entirely false argument.
Part I of the Bill relates to authorising local authorities to patch up slums which might have been pulled down had they the physical means of doing so. What has that to do with rent restriction? What is the organic relationship between patching up slums and the Rent Restrictions Acts? I accuse the right hon. Gentleman of sharp practice. He has put the first part of this Bill into the same Bill as the second part, dealing with rent restrictions, to provide a cover for himself.
It has been apparent in Committee that the first part of the Bill was put in to enable the right hon. Gentleman to talk about slums, and to enable him to tell the whole country how deeply he was moved by the fact that the slums cannot all be pulled down at once, and, therefore, in the name of—I think he used the phrase about a dozen times—Christian humanity, it was essential that the local authorities should have the power to patch them up until they can pull them down.
Again, I challenge hon. Members opposite—any one of them, whether he be a layman or a legal luminary—to say that there is any relationship between that and the amendment of the Rent Restrictions Acts and that it was not in violation of the normal rules of the House to incorporate these two proposals in the same Bill. Therefore, the main argument of the right hon. Gentleman falls to the ground in this particular instance.
The decision on Second Reading did not, in fact, endorse principles which the Committee could then consider in detail. Two principles have been conjoined which ought never to have been brought together. This is brought out by an examination of the work in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman's own side has had on the Order Paper as many as 46 Amendments, most of them on the first part of the Bill. Indeed, there are hon. Members in the Committee who have been speaking in the name of local authority associations, and a very large number of them have put their names to these 46 Amendments.
When the right hon. Gentleman moved the Closure on Thursday morning, three of his own supporters were on their feet. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the opposition in this Committee has been conducted solely or almost in the main by Members on this side of the House. It has been conducted by hon. Members on both Sides of the Committee. Therefore, I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to call the attention of his supporters to what he is doing in this connection.
May I say that, as far as I am concerned, I can appear at this Box in connection with the Guillotine in a white sheet. The right hon. Gentleman has obviously been asking his secretaries to look through HANSARD to see whether he could find any sins which he could attribute to me, but, in this matter, I am entirely spotless. I do not wish to reflect upon any of my colleagues who, in the past, have found it necessary to use the Guillotine, but I, personally, have never resorted to it, although during the same length of time I probably had more legislation to put through than any Minister for 25 years. In fact, I never asked the House to sit after midnight on any Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks about 10 days in Committee on just over six Clauses. There are only 44 Clauses in the Bill. I remember that the Local Government Bill, 1947–48, had 148 Clauses, but there was no Guillotine. The National Health Bill had 80 Clauses and the Housing Bill, 1948–49, had 51 Clauses, but I never had a Guillotine. I am not suggesting that that was due to any merits of my own. Nor am I saying that it was due to the incompetence of the Opposition. I think it was probably due to the merits of the proposals, which were so self-evident that both sides of the Committee eventually combined to pass them. But I never had the Guillotine. Indeed, I believe that if proposals are brought before the Committee which are themselves consistent with the underlying assumptions of the House, they can be carried without the Guillotine.
Why did the right hon. Gentleman go upstairs? He knew that this was a weakness in his position, because he applied himself to it in his speech. He said, "We shall be told that complicated Bills of this sort ought not to be sent upstairs," and then he found what he thought was a contradiction in our case. The fact is that a Government commanding a small majority ought never to send a complicated and important Bill upstairs. From the beginning of this Parliament our position has been that the Government had no mandate for any controversial Bill which they do not consider it is in the vital interest of the country to pass. I will deal in a moment or two with the use that has been made by the Government of Parliamentary time.
Therefore, I was astonished, and I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House were astonished, when, after the Second Reading, this Bill was sent upstairs. We thought that the Government attached importance to it. Why, therefore, was it not taken on the Floor of the House? The obvious reason is that the right hon. Gentleman knew very well that a time might be reached when, in his view, it might be necessary to ask for the Guillotine.
What happens? The first part of the Bill, which deals with local government, is obviously the part which can be argued as between local authorities and hon. Members. The general public are indirectly affected. But there are over 6 million houses, and the vast majority of the people of Great Britain are affected by the second part of the Bill, the part which the right hon. Gentleman is now guillotining.
The thing which the House has to remember is that the part of the Bill which primarily concerns local government is almost through and would probably be through in two more sittings. That part of the Bill on which the right hon. Gentleman is now preventing discussion is the part which deals with the increases of rent for more than half the population of this country.
What we say—and we said it at the beginning, because we divided against taking this Bill upstairs—is that the Committee stage ought to have been taken on the Floor of the House. We say that if the House is to deal with the rents of more than half the population of Great Britain, then this transaction ought to be conducted on the Floor of the House of Commons so that the country can know what is happening. The right hon. Gentleman has decided that that part of the proceedings on the Bill are to be suffocated.
Let me ask him this question, because for us it is a very serious part of the matter. It is bad enough when a Committee has to act under a Guillotine—and I admit that there are circumstances in which both sides have applied it, and probably will again—but what is worse is when the Committee has to act under an unseen Guillotine. I will explain what I mean.
I have been informed, on reputable authority, that 18th March was the date which the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind from the beginning. I believe my informant, and I will give some of the circumstantial evidence to show why I believe it, apart from my knowledge of the individual who gave it to me. Last week we had no intimation at all from the right hon. Gentleman, not even by the most ambiguous phrase, that he might be asking for the Guillotine. We have not sat in the afternoon. The discussion which I had about this with the right hon. Gentleman was that it might be possible for us to sit on the Tuesday morning and the Tuesday afternoon and not sit on the Wednesday. That was last week. What has happened between then and now?
We were in Committee last Thursday morning. That was his view. What happened? Why was there this change? We have not sat in the afternoons. On some Bills in 1945–50 the House sat all night—and we do not mind sitting in the afternoons. We have not objected. We would much rather the Bill be taken on the Floor of the House, but we have not objected to sitting longer in Committee in order to give the Bill the examination it requires.
The reason the Guillotine is being applied is that the Government have too small a majority to carry through their legislation without violating the procedure of the House. They have hon. Members who have so many businesses and professions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, that is what is the matter. They are suffering from the inevitable disability that arises from trying to pass highly controversial legislation with a very small majority, recruited from hon. Members who earn most of their living outside the House. It seems to us entirely improper, entirely wrong, that the very large number of tenants affected by this Bill should have their interests injured by the failure of Conservative Members to pay proper attention to their Parliamentary duties.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it was not a complicated Bill, a remark which I think astonished those hon. Members on that side of the House who are Members of this Committee. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) is sitting there, as are the hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Hay) and for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Would they really say that this is not a complicated Bill? It is a Bill which amends, or which can amend, all the Rent Restrictions Acts. Does any hon. Member on that side of the House, whether he be lay, sacerdotal or legal, dare to suggest that a Bill which does, or can, amend all the Rent Restrictions Acts passed since 1915 is not a complicated Bill?
It has been admitted by the courts over and over again that the Rent Acts are the most complicated mass of legislation that they have to administer—and the right hon. Gentleman has the impudence to suggest to the House of Commons that this is not a complicated Measure. I would ask Parliament to look at Clauses 28 and 29. I will not read them, because I know that one can always read a Bill to make it appear highly involved. But let hon. Members read it themselves. It is impossible for an ordinary person to understand what it means. It is absolutely impossible for tenants to understand how it is to affect their tenancies and rents—quite impossible. Legislation by reference has over and over again been condemned in this House, but legislation by reference, under a Guillotine, in a Bill of this complexity, will give rise to the most serious situation.
I will tell the House why it is serious. It has always been understood as the central principle of the British constitution that it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the intentions of the legislature. It is the duty of the legislature to put its intentions in the clearest possible language. One of the difficulties of the Guillotine is that, by the very nature of its operation, Clauses are not subject to the microscopic examination which they deserve. If they are rushed through—as, in the end, they inevitably will be—they will contain such ambiguities that the courts themselves will be doing the legislation. The ambiguity of the Clauses will put the courts in the position of having to decide, without clear direction from Parliament, what Parliament intended. [An HON. MEMBER: "That has happened."] If it has happened there is no reason why we should make it a basis for repeating it.
I myself, when Minister, made to make two Amendments of the Rent Acts because of court decisions. If, therefore, this goes from the House of Commons to the courts without proper examination we shall obviously find ourselves in the difficulty of having to catch up, time and again, with decisions of the courts. In the circumstances, therefore, it seems to us that this is not the sort of Bill that ought to have been guillotined.
Now I come to my central position. The House will judge this Guillotine not by the precedents which the right hon. Gentleman has used, but by the use which the Government has made of its Parliamentary time. Have the Government used the time of Parliament to concentrate their attention on worthwhile questions—first questions first? In my submission, they have not. We spent the first two years of this Parliament on three Bills, not one of which had the slightest relevance to the problems of the country. One dealt with "pubs" in the new towns.
The second dealt with the denationalisation of road transport and the third the denationalisation of iron and steel. I can quite understand hon. Members opposite who do not agree with me taking the perfectly sincere view that, in the interests of the country, the denationalisation of those two industries should have a first claim on Parliamentary time. We take the opposite view, but they are quite entitled to their view.
They are entitled to take the view that attempting to sell back national property, in the form of road transport and steel to private interests takes higher priority than properly defending the interests of tenants against landlords. They are entitled to take the view that Parliament should spend practically two of the first years of its life in promoting those two pieces of legislation, and should then spend a few months rushing through a Bill to enable landlords to increase the rents of 6 million tenants. If that is the order of priorities on which the Conservative Party insist it is entitled to take that view.
But I should like to point out to hon. Members opposite that although those two Acts were passed by May of last year they are so relevant to the economic interests of the country, and so anxiously desired by the capitalist class, that the properties concerned cannot be sold back. Five out of the seven big steel companies have not yet offered their shares on the market. The denationalisation of steel has been so essential to the welfare of the country that they have used our time for that purpose—yet they cannot get that industry back into private hands.
On a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman in his interesting retrospective sermon, but what has the denationalisation of steel to do with the Allocation of Time Order for this Bill?
I understood that the right hon. Member was trying to show that if time had not been used for the denationalisation of steel there would have been more time for this Bill, and the Guillotine would not have been required.
I am not now arguing the merits of the denationalisation; I concede the fact that the House is sharply divided on its merits. I am asking hon. Members to consider whether, in their judgment, the time of Parliament has been properly applied to those purposes which are of overriding national importance.
I suggest that there is something seriously wrong with an order of priorities which rushes through Measures which cannot be carried out—which have no relevance to our economic problems; which the market cannot take; about which everybody is dubious; about which Ministers are chagrined and embarrassed, and about which even those organs which support the Government are calling their attention to the failure to denationalise—and then seeks to curtail discussion of a proposition which concerns the immediate welfare of more than half the population of Great Britain.
It seems to us that hon. Members opposite have not proved their case, and that, in this particular instance, the right hon. Gentleman has allowed his bad temper to get the better of him. He has allowed himself to be influenced far too much by what he considers to be the boredom of the Committee. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman being bored. I am already bored by his miserable Bill. It is such a silly and shocking Bill that it is naturally boring. He is bored by it himself. Why should he not be? He is a man with normal perspicacity, and when he has this miserable thing disembowelled for him, it looks horrible. It is only natural that he should want to end the agony as quickly as possible.
Hon. Members opposite ought to take a second view of this matter. It is essential that those tenants whose fate is involved in this Bill should feel that Parliament has given proper consideration to their case. It is essential, especially in a Measure of this sort—which puts uncharted power into the hands of property owners—that we should examine it very closely. We are receiving letters saying that when this Bill is passed committees ought to be formed for the purpose of resisting its provisions. It is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to call attention to the figures in the by-elections.
In the course of the last two or three weeks the national newspapers have given little or no attention to our labours upstairs. If we had been obstructing progress and calling upon the talents of the Committee for the liveliest obstruction, we should have been able to produce many purple passages, but we have been business men, analysing the Bill carefully, not seeking to raise the temperature, but trying to do something sensible with it at the end.
The national newspapers have not called very much attention to our labours, but it is not sufficient to offer that as an excuse for rushing this Bill through the House. When rents are increased the people will discover that the proceedings on this Bill have been conducted in such a way as to prevent their representatives in the House from giving them proper protection.
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not doing Parliament, himself, or the nation a good service by seeking approval for this Motion. It would be far better for him to take it away, allowing us to go on with our labours upstairs and altogether unknown in this House. It is allowing us to bore him even further, if necessary, because the welfare of the nation is slightly more important than the entertainment of the right hon. Gentleman.
In rising to oppose this Motion I am not impelled by hostility to the Bill. I do not regard it as a popular Bill, either for the landlords or the tenants, although, according to the "News Chronicle" Gallup poll this morning, it is not quite so unpopular as I anticipated. We are not discussing the merits or demerits of the Bill; we are considering whether or not the proposed curtailment of the debate upon it is reasonable.
I would draw the attention of hon. Members to one important consideration. Decisions on these questions of the timetable, and whether or not the Guillotine should be imposed, are rather like those decisions in the courts of law upon which our case law has been gradually built up and modified. I have been impressed by reading the debate on the Allocation of Time Motion in connection with the Transport Bill. Frequent references were made to previous occasions when the Guillotine was used. I also noticed that several quotations were made by the Minister today, concerning occasions when the last Administration imposed the Guillotine. Every time a Minister asks for approval for such a Motion another example is provided, which will be quoted by future Governments as evidence of the fact that this procedure is in accordance with the customs of the House. For that reason alone we should be very cautious about agreeing to this procedure.
I have put three questions to myself. The first question is: have the Opposition, during the proceedings in Committee, been so obstructive—have the delaying tactics been so serious—that the procedure of Parliament has been brought to a standstill, as it was during the early days of this century by the Irish Members? Having listened to the proceedings in Committee, I cannot honestly say that that is so. There have been occasions when several speeches have been made in order to make a point which could have been made by one hon. Member, and there have been occasions when speeches might have been shorter; but that is not also true—and I hope that I am not being tactless in saying this—that there has been a noticeable difference in attitude between the joint leaders of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I hope that I have the order of precedence correct. But that is not sufficient to justify the approval of this Motion.
The second question which I have asked myself is this: is the problem so urgent that it is in the national interest to place this Bill on the Statute Book as rapidly as possible, and brush aside the normal procedure of debate? At first sight, I felt that there was a very strong case for doing so, on the grounds of urgency. While hon. Members have been speaking in Committee I have felt very conscious of the fact that houses were continuing to fall down. If that is an exaggeration, perhaps I should say that while the discussions have been proceeding the deterioration of a great many houses has been continuing. This wastage of a valuable national asset has not ceased with the introduction of the Bill. It is, therefore, urgent; but it has been urgent for quite a long time.
In the last Parliament I was one of those responsible for convening an unofficial all-party committee which was concerned about this matter, and we hoped it would be dealt with on an all-party basis. I am sorry that we failed. The present Government are not to blame for that.
I am referring to the period since 1950. I had not the honour to be a Member of this House before 1950.
Since the present Government took office there has been a period of two years during which the Bill might have been introduced. It may be that there were practical difficulties of which I am not aware, but I think that the plea of urgency fails when one considers that the Bill might have been introduced at least a year ago and a great deal more time allowed for its discussion.
I come to the third question. It is a twofold question. Is the time-table reasonable? Wore there any other means whereby a reasonable time-table might have been worked out and agreed on, instead of the Government's having to proceed by this Motion? I can give only my own personal opinion and that of my colleagues. We do not feel that the time allocated by the Motion is adequate or reasonable having regard to the complicated nature of the Bill and to the fact that the most difficult part of the Bill has yet to be considered.
Let me, then, ask a question or two on the subject of procedure. As I understand it, if this Motion is passed it will go to the Business Sub-Committee, to work out the details as to how the time shall be allocated. Could not some similar procedure have been adopted before the Bill went to Committee? I understand that there are some practical difficulties in making use of the Business Committee, but could it not have been brought into being and made to function before the Bill went to Committee?
I should like to remind the House of a comment which my right hon, and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made in opposing the Guillotine Motion in connection with the Transport Bill, in 1952:
Why could not the right hon. Gentleman"—
I think he was referring to the Leader of the House—
have started by ascertaining, first of all, what would have been the attitude adopted by the official Opposition? It might have been that an agreement could have been arrived at."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 110.]
My right hon. and learned Friend advocated the procedure of trying to work out a time-table by agreement before committing a Bill to Committee.
Perhaps that could not be arranged on this occasion. I do not know. Was there any discussion with representatives of the Opposition before this Motion was put down? I have very little knowledge of the mysteries of the "usual channels." I am not situated politically at either end of the channels. To change the metaphor, I do not know how those channels work. I think, however, I am entitled to ask and the House is entitled to know whether any approach was made to the Leader of the Opposition, or to the leaders of the Opposition on the Committee. If there was an approach, was it rebuffed? Were alternative suggestions put forward on behalf of the Opposition? I am asking these questions because I think that it is tragic that in the matter of a time-table we should have to resort to the procedure of the Whips, the Division Lobby and the Guillotine. I have been concerned recently when employees and employers have failed, in some cases, to get together round a conference table to agree about wages and such matters. I believe that we in this House ought to set an example in tackling this much simpler question of a time-table by agreement. It ought not to have been necessary on so many occasions as have occurred in the last 10 years to have resorted to the Guillotine.
There are many outside the House as well as inside who are concerned about the future of Parliamentary democracy, and I think they want to know whether the fault lies in the machinery or in those who work the machinery, and it is for that reason that I have asked these questions, because I think they have some bearing on this wider aspect of our Parliamentary system.
I do not agree that this can be regarded entirely empirically. One has to have regard to principles. On the other hand, I appreciate the anxiety of the Minister to get on with his Bill, and that he has to bear what seems to be a disproportionate share of the legislative programme at the present time. However, as this is a complicated Bill, as under the proposals before us today there will not be adequate discussion of some of the important Clauses of the Bill, and because of the principles about which I and my colleagues feel deeply, and which are relevant to this question, we feel it our duty to vote against this Motion.
One question the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) asked himself was whether there was such urgency for this Bill to reach the Statute Book as to justify the passing by the House of an Allocation of Time Order. I would suggest to him that the formulation of his question was mistaken. It is not a matter of whether the Bill reaches the Statute Book a month or two earlier or later. It is a question, as I shall show in a moment, of whether it reaches the Statute Book at all. That is the query he should have propounded.
I gather it is common ground in all parts of the House that one of the duties of the House is to provide for the dispatch of its own business. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) specifically acknowledged that principle. Therefore, if any situation should arise in which Bills introduced at a beginning of a Session could not foreseeably be disposed of by the end of the Session, then, by common consent, it would be the duty of the House, in all common sense and self-respect, lo make provision for the dispatch of that business.
Let us examine the history of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. It was introduced almost as early in the Session as any Bill possibly can be introduced. It was forecast by a White Paper that appeared during the debate on the Address. It was presented on 11th November, and it was debated on 30th November and 1st December, the earliest stage in the Session at which the Second Reading could decently have taken place. If that Bill cannot reach the Statute Book this Session, then it is quite evident that no legislation can do so.
What has happened since Second Reading? The Bill began in Standing Committee on 21st January, and since then, in 10 sittings of the Standing Committee, 6½ Clauses have been dealt with. It is a simple mathematical matter, either on the basis of the number of Clauses and Schedules or on the number of pages, to calculate how long at that rate would be required to complete the Committee stage of the Bill.
I am probably going to deal with the objection that, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman has in mind. If I do not he can intervene.
Both on the basis of Clauses and on the basis of pages, a rate of progress which dispatches 6½ Clauses or six pages in 10 sittings will require between 50 and 60 more sittings. But between now and the end of the normal Parliamentary Session, even sitting three times a week, with the minimum Recesses at Easter and Whitsun, there would hardly be time for so many sittings, so that at the present rate of procedure the Bill could hardly be expected to emerge from its Committee stage before the end of the Session. There would be no possibility of a Report stage and Third Reading in this House, of consideration in another place, or return from another place and consideration of Amendments sent down. At the present rate of progress, therefore, of which the House has a duty to take note, there is no practical possibility of the Bill reaching the Statute Book at the end of a Session at the very beginning of which it was presented.
I want first to finish this point, and I may save an intervention by doing so.
In the case of very many Bills, this argument would be fallacious. There are many Bills of which the principle is embodied in the first few Clauses, and once the first few Clauses have been dealt with meticulously and debated ad nauseam, the rest of the Bill can reasonably be expected to go through fairly fast. This Bill is not of that character. This is a Bill of which, by the profession of the Opposition—and we have heard it again from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale this afternoon—the main point and the main contentious matters are in the second Part, that is to say, after Clause 17.
In calculating the rate of progress on the basis of the debates of the first six Clauses, one is therefore making an under-estimate. When the Opposition arrived at the first Clause they told us that it was quite meaningless, that it was wind—that was an expression used by the right hon. Gentleman.
According to them, the second Clause was the only operative Clause in the first Part of the Bill, and the third Clause was hardly going to have any practical effect at all. These are the admissions of the Opposition themselves. Yet, on those allegedly unimportant, initial Clauses, on that Part of the Bill which was relatively non-contentious and is desired by many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, the rate of progress has been such that the Bill would not emerge from Committee before the end of the Session.
Does the hon. Gentleman not see that his argument is based upon a complete fallacy? He is trying to base it upon mathematics as if all the Clauses and all the Amendments had the same value and as if, because the first three Amendments take a certain time, the next four, five or six will take the same amount of time. That is a complete fallacy, because each of the Amendments and the Clauses should be taken on its merits.
I think I am right in assuming that the hon. and learned Member was present in the Chamber during the past five minutes. Judging from his intervention he might as well not have been. This is the point on which I thought I had dwelt at wearisome length when I explained that the first six Clauses are the Clauses upon which, by their very nature, the least time might have been expected to be spent and if, therefore, we find that 10 days have been spent on the least important Clauses, we are not playing mere mathematics if we assume that the rest of the Bill, which admittedly is the more important and contentious Part, will take at least as long in proportion, if not longer.
The House is therefore faced with a situation of which it must take cognisance. A Bill is proceeding through Standing Committee at such a rate that there is no reasonable prospect of it reaching the Statute Book by the end of the Session.
I thought the hon. Member was going to make some reference to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale about the possibility—I do not say the desirability—of having additional sittings, even in the afternoons and evenings, if that were the only way to get the Bill through.
But the argument is so strong that it permits of almost any concession and still holds its ground. Even if one increases the number of sittings per week from three to four, or even five, there is no prospect at this rate of progress, as I have argued, of dispatching the Bill even by Whitsun; and hon. Members will be aware how unlikely it is that a Bill which does not emerge from Standing Committee until after Whitsun, when the House is so much concerned with essential financial and other business, would reach the Statute Book.
This is a situation with which any House of Commons, as a House of Commons, must concern itself. In the reign of James I there was a Parliament which earned the title of the Addled Parliament. It was so called because it did not succeed in passing a single Bill. But we must remember this in extenuation and in favour of the Addled Parliament of 1614—that it sat for only two months. If we did not bring in this Allocation of Time Order we should have a situation in which, in a Session of 10 months, we should be unable to pass a Bill introduced at the beginning. At this rate of progress, without some such remedy as is now being brought forward, every Parliament would be reduced to an Addled Parliament.
The House is aware that what is proposed by the Motion is nothing unprecedented, nothing for which precise precedents, indeed more extreme precedents, may not be found from the practice of the party opposite and of preceding Governments. I think the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was somewhat absent-minded when he argued that such a Measure should not have been introduced until at any rate the Committee had tried sitting in the afternoons. No doubt he overlooked the fact that when a Guillotine was imposed on the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1947, there had been only four sittings of which none was in the afternoon, and of course the Guillotine on the Committee stage on the Iron and Steel Bill was introduced before the Committee had sat at all. But perhaps the lapse of memory over a period of five years is not remarkable when we remember that at 4.30 the right hon. Gentleman chided my hon. Friends for failure to give proper attention to Parliamentary duties, 50 minutes after his party had been defeated by 115 in the Lobbies. No doubt the Parliamentary day for hon. Members opposite starts a little later than 3.30.
The Opposition do not really question the necessity of such a Measure as this to ensure that a Government Bill, introduced at the beginning of the Session, becomes law by the end of the Session, but they say that we have involved ourselves in this difficulty by faults of the Bill, by peculiarities of the Bill, which are attributable to its sponsors. They say that it is a Bill of abnormal length and complication, not to say importance. They say that it is a Bill in which two or three unconnected matters have been brought together which should have been put before the House in separate Measures.
Let us examine these contentions. It is said that it is a long and complicated Bill. I do not know how many hon. Members opposite imposed upon themselves the rigorous intellectual discipline of studying the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1947. I do not make it a matter of complaint of any hon. Member who has not done so, but no one who has been through that harrowing experience can regard a Bill of this character as complicated or lengthy—and it will be remembered that the Town and Country Planning Bill was a Measure to which a Guillotine was applied after four sittings of the Committee.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale argued that because the Bill refers to the Rent Acts, because it amends the Rent Acts, and because the Rent Acts are complicated, therefore the Bill must be complicated. That is a fine specimen of logic. If one were to have a lengthy and complicated statute and then bring in a one-Clause Bill repealing it, presumably the repealing Bill would be a complicated Measure because it referred to a Measure which was itself complicated. The fact is that we have here, so far as modern legislation goes, a comparatively simple Bill and a comparatively short Bill of 44 Clauses and four Schedules. But is it a Bill perhaps in which matters have been mingled together, put cheek by jowl, which have no relationship with one another? Was my right hon. Friend ill-advised or perhaps animated by improper intentions, when he stitched Part I which referred to local authorities' operations in respect of unfit houses, to Part II which referred to houses in private ownership?
Here again, I would ask the House to cast its mind back to some recent legis- lation. I would ask it, for example, to recall the Local Government Act, 1948, which contains at least three separate matters almost entirely unconnected. It dealt with equalisation grants from the Exchequer to local authorities in England and Wales in Part I and in Scotland in Part II. It then passed on to alter the machinery of valuation, transferring valuation for rating from local authorities to the Inland Revenue. As if that was not enough it went on, I think in Part IV, to alter the whole basis of the law of valuation of dwelling houses.
Any of these three separate matters could have been taken in isolation and they have far less to do with one another than the two parts of a Bill dealing with the maintenance of existing property: property in Part I which is in the category of slums and property in Part II which we hope by the measures of this Bill to save from becoming slums. If it is wrong to connect in the same Measure for the convenience of Parliament two parts of a Bill like that, what are we to say about the Local Government Act?
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that this is what we ought to think about the Bill? My right hon. Friend did not impose a Guillotine Motion on the Local Government Act, 1948, and it was then open to the Opposition to examine the Bill as fully and as amply as they wanted to. The whole point is that this complicated Bill is subjected to the Guillotine and my right hon. Friend, with his usual courtesy, did not impose a Guillotine in that case.
The contention of the right hon. Gentleman had nothing to do with the Guillotine. He was criticising my right hon. Friend for the fact that Parts I and II were combined in one Bill, and endeavouring so to account for the Standing Committee's difficulties. My comparison with the Local Government Act was on all fours.
We were told last week and again today that the reason why the Conservative Party is anxious to see progress with this Bill and why we are asking the House to adopt an Allocation of Time Order which will enable the Bill to reach the Statute Book some time perhaps in the early summer is that we are afraid of the exposure of a "landlord's ramp" by detailed examination of the Bill in Com- mittee and upon its subsequent stages. Perhaps I should say—hopping on to the other leg on which the right hon. Gentleman who leads for the Opposition sometimes stands—that the charge is that we wish to avoid the dissection of the "mouldy old turnip" which is being given to the landlords.
On that assumption, there is something very peculiar about the behaviour of the Opposition. Part II of the Bill is the part which they regard with special animosity. On Part I they are somewhat divided. Some are agreed that it is desirable, some think perhaps it will be inefficacious. But it is to Part II that their hostility attaches. It is Part II which is described as a "landlords' ramp" or, alternatively, a "mouldy old turnip."
Had you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, been in charge of the opposition to a Bill of that character, and inspired with feelings towards it of that kind, what would have been your tactics? I suggest that you would not have spent 10 sittings of the Committee talking about the first six Clauses of the Bill with most of which you were in entire agreement—although some of them you may have regarded as being entirely otiose. If you had desired to discuss later Clauses at some length, you would have realised that there was a risk of measures being taken by the House to expedite progress if delay occurred on the earlier Clauses. What would you have done? I suggest that you would have run softly and swiftly through the first few Clauses; you would have made haste to reach Part II upon which the interests of 6 million or 7 million people in this country are said critically to turn; you would have been anxious that the Government supporters should not waste too much time upon the first 17 Clauses of the Bill. When, however, you got to Clause 18, you would have put down Amendments to every Clause and every subsection; you would have debated them at great length; you would have gone into detail on the possible hardships that might be imposed upon the tenants. What a magnificent speech you could then have made if the Government had to impose their Guillotine, interrupting in the very middle the discussion of those Clauses which have been described as the landlords' charter.
If the Opposition had been genuine in their indignation about Part II of the Bill and had a case to make to that Part of the Bill, which they wanted to use the Committee stage of the Bill to convey to the public, they would not have spent 10 sittings of the Standing Committee on the first six Clauses and so obliged the House to take this measure, which in common-sense it must take, to ensure that a Bill introduced in November should at any rate become law by the end of the Session,
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would regard communications from the local authorities with so little contempt as not to desire the fullest discussion of these Clauses which do affect local authorities very greatly.
I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is not in his place because, in the course of a brief speech, I must make some reference to him. I listened very carefully to the speech the right hon. Gentleman made when opening this debate. I did not hear during the whole course of that debate one single valid argument in favour of the Motion for the closure which has been proposed this afternoon. Instead, we only had wisecracks.
The arguments which we had from the Minister rather reminded me of a character in an Oscar Wilde play, who conceals his lack of reality under a camouflage of epigrams. There was not a single valid argument in the course of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which could be put forward as an excuse for bringing in the Motion that we are now discussing.
The right hon. Gentleman—and I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me—could not say that we were in any manner either premeditatedly or unpremeditatedly trying to hinder the discussion of this Bill during the Committee stage. On the contrary, nearly all the speeches made on our side of the Committee were short speeches. Many of them were under five minutes in length and very few of them were over 10 minutes in length. In fact, the Parlia- mentary Secretary on one occasion rebuked my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) for making too short a speech. We know quite well that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, when the occasion moves him, is quite capable of speaking for two hours. He made only this very short speech on that occasion, although he was moving a quite important Amendment, because he was anxious to expedite the progress of the Committee.
Neither can it be said that any of the Amendments which we put down on the first seven Clauses that we have so far dealt with were in any way frivolous, had no substance, or were not fit to be considered. We took very great care indeed in framing them. We had the assistance of the great legal knowledge and industry of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who burnt the midnight oil and referred to all kinds of legal tomes.
Is my hon. Friend not aware that much time was lost in the Committee because many points needed legal explanation but no Law Officer of the Crown was present? We had to rely on the legal knowledge of my hon. and learned Friends the Members for Kettering and Northampton (Mr. Paget). Less time would have been taken in Committee had the Law Officers of the Crown been present.
My hon. Friend is anticipating one of my arguments, although he has stated it with greater eloquence and force than I could do.
Although in Committee the Government did not have the advantage of the presence and advice of their Law Officers of the Crown, we on our side had the advantage of some eminent and experienced lawyers, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering, who assisted us in drawing up the Amendments. And so they were Amendments of substance, and there was nothing frivolous about them; they ought to have been put down and discussed.
The Minister so far can find no fault with us for our conduct in the Committee; neither do we find any fault with the right hon. Gentleman's conduct so far during the Committee stage. He had passed a self-denying ordinance upon himself so far as wisecracks are concerned. He has been reasonable and has tried to deal with the arguments that have been advanced.
The two chief protagonists in the Committee stage have been the Minister and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering. They are both old Etonians and they certainly did not let the old school down. Listening to them and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton, another old Etonian, I came to the conclusion during the Committee proceedings that old Wykehamists may be more learned, but old Etonians are more subtle—and they have been subtle during the Committee stage.
It is ridiculous to say, as has been said by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), that the Bill is not complicated and technical. It is extremely complicated and technical, and in order to understand almost any Clause one has to refer to previous legislation and Rent Acts to try to find the relation between a Section in a previous Rent Restrictions Act and the wording of one of the Clauses of the Bill. Unless the Bill is given careful consideration and time is allowed for this to be done, Clauses are likely to be passed in a form which, because they have not been properly considered, thoroughly debated and put into really good shape, the courts may interpret as meaning something completely opposed to the intentions of those who originally drafted the Bill. For this reason alone, it is extremely important that we should have ample time fully to discuss every Clause in this technical and complicated Bill.
Why are the Government rushing the Bill through so rapidly? I was not at all impressed by the argument of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who said that at the present rate of progress we would not finish the Committee stage of the Bill before the end of the Session. The hon. Member must not think that every Clause will attract the same length of discussion, because some Clauses are not likely to be amended and may be passed almost "on the nod." Moreover, even if the present rate of progress means that the Committee stage is not finished until towards the end of the Session, that is no reason so to abbreviate the Committee proceedings that we have only 12 more sittings of the Committee—four weeks, with three sittings per week—to consider nearly 40 Clauses which remain to be considered.
The hon. Member's argument could have been quite valid had he said that at the present rate the Bill would not get through the Committee before the end of the Session, and, therefore he thought it should be speeded up. It would have been logical if he had said the Guillotine Motion should be altered to allow a longer time for the Committee stage. There is nothing whatever in the hon. Member's argument to justify allowing only 12 sittings to complete nearly 40 Clauses.
The Motion says that the Bill must be reported back to the House by 18th March. Unless we have evening and all-night sittings, we can have only three meetings of the Committee each week, which means only 12 meetings to debate nearly 40 Clauses—and Clauses containing the most controversial and most important parts of the Bill. Not even the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West can say that 12 meetings to debate nearly 40 Clauses is either fair or adequate.
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not making a false point because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has pointed out, the House is asked to approve a Motion requiring the Bill to be reported by 18th March. That is a number of weeks, but there is no limit to the number of sittings of the Committee which may take place. Although my right hon. Friend did refer to a certain number, it is, I believe, the particular business of the Committee how many sittings in a week there are to be.
I hope the hon. Gentleman and also the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West will urge their leaders to arrange as many sittings as possible during the four weeks yet remaining for the discussion of this Bill. We do not mind meeting in the afternoons, or even in the evenings, or even having all-night sittings.
Saturdays would be quite welcome. I hope that the two hon. Gentlemen will see that their arguments are validated in this connection by urging their leaders to provide more than three sittings per week during the four weeks remaining to the Bill.
I do not know why this Bill is being hurried through at this rapid rate. Is it that the Government want to get the Bill through and then to have a General Election immediately afterwards before the landlords send out their notices to the tenants about the raising of the rents, or is it they have decided, after all, to stop in office until 1956—as they are entitled to do—and try to rush this Bill through as quickly as possible, so that as much time as possible will elapse between the service by the landlords of the notice of increased rents and the General Election in 1956 in the hope that the people may have forgotten or may have ceased to care what has happened in the interval?
Finally, I want to emphasise the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who quite rightly pointed out that when this Bill becomes law and as soon as the notice of increased rent is served upon the tenants, spontaneous organisations—and I emphasise the word "spontaneous"—will spring up in order to resist this Bill. The Communist Party of Great Britain, always looking for a grievance to exploit, will on this occasion have a real grievance and will be able to say that this Bill to give outdoor relief to the landlords was rushed through the House of Commons by a property-owning Tory majority, desirous of doing something to help their fellow property owners.
It is, I believe, a very bad political blunder on the part of the Government to place this Motion on the Order Paper, especially as they are going to give a very short time for the remainder of the Bill in Committee. hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) first entered this House when he won a by- election at Mitcham, defeating a Cabinet Minister, the then Minister of Health. He won that by-election in what was considered a safe Conservative seat against a Cabinet Minister because the Government at that time had signified their intention to amend the Rent Acts in order to enable landlords to increase the rents. The anger aroused by that proposal swept that unfortunate Cabinet Minister out of the House, and he did not secure a seat in the House during the rest of his life.
The suggestion of rushing this Bill through the House for the remainder of its stages might well mean that even Bromley would become a marginal seat if there were an election next year. I hope even at this stage that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may have second thoughts about this Motion.
The hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) gave three reasons why this Motion should not be allowed to go through, which I noted in my brief notes. The first was that there had been no obstruction, the second that there were a lot of old Etonians on the Committee who enjoyed talking to one another, and the third that it was a complicated Measure. I do not think the second suggestion is one which need trouble the House very much.
If this Bill is such a complicated one, I would remind the hon. Member of what was said by his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when a similar Motion was being discussed in this House a few years ago. He said:
…the speech an hon. or right hon. Gentleman made depended on which side of the House he sat.
The right hon. Gentleman was moving a similar Motion to this in the case of the Town and Country Planning Bill after there had been four sittings upstairs. That Bill was a far more complicated one than this.
The hon. Member for Itchen also desires to make the point that the Opposition have not been obstructive on this Bill and that therefore such a Motion is unnecessary. Nobody has suggested that there has been a great measure of obstruction, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) dealt with that point in a
debate we had some years ago, when he said:
I said the progress had been slow. I did not say that there had been obstruction.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields was right when he said that the view hon. Members take depends on which side of the Speaker's Chair they sit.
No one would suggest that this debate has been one of the most passionate in the history of this Parliament, but perhaps others will take part in it when the House is fuller than at the present time. For my part, I think that there has to be general acceptance of the fact that the Government must have control over their programme.
I was waiting to hear one quotation used from the Government benches, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, when speaking on a similar Motion to this some years ago, said:
Our real aim is to try to even out the Business of the House, and to complete as much of the legislation as possible before the House becomes engaged on the Finance Bill and the Business of Supply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 124, 70 and 64.]
I imagine that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is one of the skilled Parliamentary marksmen of this House, was perhaps holding this ammunition in reserve, in which case I am sure it is such a good cartridge that it can be used before the evening is over.
We have listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and he managed to work himself up into an excited mood. He suggested that the procedure for the Guillotine had been strained in an in excusable manner because there were two principles in this Bill and not one. But the principle of this Bill, as I understand it, is, having built more houses in two years than the Opposition did when they were in power—I see the right hon. Gentleman coming in. I was saying that it is all very well to say that as this Bill affects six million people—
Sir H. Batcher:
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. We all know how difficult it is to match all our appointments. However, he made a false point in suggesting that there were two principles in the Bill. I suggest that there is one principle and one principle only. That is a determination to improve the houses in existence as soon as possible.
If determination is to translate principles into practice, that is what the right hon. Gentleman did not do. He went on to say that this is an important Bill which affects 6 million people and that therefore it should be taken on the Floor of the House. But did his Government use that argument in respect of the National Insurance Bill, which not only affected people living in rented houses, but every inhabitant of this country?
If the argument is that Bills which affect large numbers of people are to be taken on the Floor of the House, then the National Insurance Bill should not have been taken upstairs. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to chide certain of my right hon. Friends with the desire to impose this Allocation of Time Motion so that they might attend to their other duties. We have already been reminded by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that it was not hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who were neglecting their duties in the early part of today. We were here, but where were hon. Members opposite? I wonder where his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was?
I pass on, without any desire to be obstructive, to say this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As the right hon. Gentleman admitted freely and frankly in his opening speech, the right of securing Government business is one which every Government must reserve to itself as a last resort. If business is to go forward the Government must be masters of their own progress. The simple fact remains that this Bill has been going too slowly. There may be various reasons for that. The suggestion I make for the consideration of the House is that on this Bill the right hon. Gentleman leading the Opposition has not been as adroit as he could have been. It is to be noted that other important Bills in this Session of Parliament have passed through this House without an Allocation of Time Motion; for instance, the Iron and Steel Bill, which aroused great feeling, and two Finance Bills. Where the Opposition has been led by other hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Measures have gone through without excessive work and without a Guillotine Motion.
I believe that by imposing this Allocation of Time Motion the Government have acted rightly and within the precedents pointed out to them by the Opposition. The gun was manufactured by the Opposition. The Government are not to be blamed for using it in order to hasten this Measure which is designed to alleviate the living conditions of our people.
The contribution made by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) would have been more helpful had he had the advantage either of understanding the Bill or of being present at the Committee where it was discussed. If he had understood the Bill, he would have realised—
My first point is that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood the Bill when he said that it would enable a startling improvement to be made, since it is likely to have the effect of handicapping either the demolition of bad property or of its substantial improvement. My other point is that I did not say that the hon. Gentleman had no right to address the House because he was not a Member of the Committee. I said that his contribution would have been more helpful had he known what had gone on upstairs, because the hon. Gentleman could have attended the discussions or read the reports of them without being a Member of the Committee.
If he had studied what went on upstairs he would have realised that the discussion which has taken place on this Bill has not been destructive in character; it has been an attempt to improve rather badly drafted Clauses in the Bill, and to bring it more into conformity with the wishes not only of hon. Members on this side of the House or on the opposite side who have taken an active part in trying to improve the Bill, but also to try to bring it more into line with the wishes of those unfortunate local authorities who will have to work it.
I thought that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) gave the show away because, in what I thought was developing into a startling attack on the Chair, he said that if you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, had been in charge of the opposition to the Bill, you would not have bothered about the first part of it at all but would have concentrated all your time and energy and thought on wrecking the second half of the Bill. I am sure that that was not true, because you would have done what any person with public spirit would have done; you would have tried to use your experience, skill and knowledge to make it a more workable and fairer Bill.
I suggest that the real issue we are discussing today is not the question whether or not, in these circumstances, the Government are entitled to get their business, or whether or not, in any circumstances it is right to have a Guillotine Motion, for we all agree on that. The point is whether, in this case, the Guillotine Motion is either necessary or likely to be in the public interest. Secondly, if, in fact, we are now reaching the stage where a Guillotine Motion is being introduced too light-heartedly, where will the process end? If the worst is always to be the precedent for the future, we are bound to have a slow and steady degeneration in the power of hon. Members to make any contribution to legislation.
I was not a Member of the 1945 Parliament and, therefore, I do not bear directly any responsibility for what was done in that Parliament. It was a good Parliament, probably one of the finest this country has ever had. It lacked only one or two useful Members who might have been of particular assistance to it. But if we are always to take the strongest cases of the previous Government and rest our authority for what we are doing entirely on those cases, the next Government that comes along will say, "Well, the last Conservative Government introduced the Guillotine in the case of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill and, therefore, we will do the same in the case of this Bill." We shall then get tighter and tighter in the control of legislative work.
Two real difficulties have led to the time taken over this Bill. One is the fact that the Minister of Housing and Local Government very inadequately consulted the local authorities. It is true that the right hon Gentleman attended a very large and impressive conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which was held at Friends' House. The right hon. Gentleman appeared on the platform—a somewhat incongruous figure in a hall devoted to spiritual silence—but he made one of his usual sparkling addresses. He obtained a very clear indication of the mind of local authorities of all types and sizes and political opinion about the financial implications and practical working of this Bill.
Unfortunately, the Minister has shown no indication at all of any anxiety to accept any of the constructive proposals made by the local authorities to improve the Bill. That has led to Amendments being put down to the Bill, not only on this side but on the Government s side, for example, by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). It is quite obvious that if the Minister is not prepared to try to make the Bill more workable—and we are not asking him at this stage to drop the Bill or fundamentally revise its whole approach—people are bound to take a certain amount of time in re-emphasising the argument on the Bill.
I must not go into the details of the Bill, or into what happened in the course of debate, but on the matter of cost, evidence was produced very impressively to show, rightly or wrongly, that the financial provisions of the Bill were inadequate. Had there been willingness on the part of the Minister to say that he was prepared to consider that evidence dispassionately, or willingness to produce alternative evidence, a great deal of discussion might have been avoided. But there is bound to be delay when one finds a situation in which those in charge of the Bill clearly take the line, "We do not really know very much about this and how it is going to work, but the one thing that we shall do is to stick like grim death to the letter of the Bill and get it through."
Although so many Amendments to the Bill have been moved, none of them was a wrecking Amendment and there was none which, if I had been supporting the Government, I would not have wanted to see included in the Bill. They were serious, constructive attempts to improve the Bill, but the significant thing is that practically none of them was accepted. That is the real cause of the delay which we have experienced.
It has been suggested that this Bill is a simple one when compared with a vast, comprehensive piece of legislation like the Town and Country Planning Act and that it should not take much time. But the test is not the range of the Bill so much as the looseness of its drafting. One of the troubles with the Bill has been that, because a great deal of it is vague and difficult to pin down, it has been difficult to discover what it would mean in practice. All these points had to be taken up in Amendments and those were bound to take time.
The main point I want to make on this Motion is not to complain that it is wicked to guillotine the Bill or that other Governments may not have acted in the past in the same kind of way, but to ask what will happen to the functions of this House as a legislative body if we are not to be able to secure the necessary time when we have before us a Bill that needs careful consideration and amendment and its implications discussed. If, as been shown in the case of this Bill in Committee, with the best will in the world we have not been able to make further progress, something is wrong with the way in which the Bill has been presented.
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is smiling. If he is going to say which of our Amendments were irresponsible and which were not genuine attempts to make improvements generally on the lines that the local authorities themselves wanted and have suggested, well and good. But if the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to do that, I do not think that he ought to smile at the proposition that I put forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) has already pointed out that in one case when we tried to make an Amendment rather more shortly than usual it was the Parliamentary Secretary who could not understand what it was about, and we had to go to a great length to try to explain it. On another occasion, when I suggested that, to save time, an Amendment which I was moving might be taken in conjunction with another moved by the Minister, it was the Minister who popped up and said, "I want to take that Amendment separately in order that we may have a separate debate on it." I got into trouble, not for being too obstructive—no one accused me of that—but because I was too precipitate and hasty, in trying to help the Minister along, to have a proper review of the Bill.
It has been said, and, of course, it is true, that behind the reluctance of the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary to accept constructive Amendments to the Bill, was the fact that they were nervous about the implications of some of the changes. They said to themselves, "If we accept these proposals we shall find, later, that we have got into trouble because they have further implications which we did not see when we accepted them." That is one reason why we would have got on faster if we had had the best legal advice available in the House or if the Law Officers had been present, because we would have had a more reasonable attitude on the part of the Minister. As it is, we are placed in the position not that the Opposition have made no serious attempt to try to improve the Bill but that the Government have made no serious attempt to try to improve it and have not wanted to accept the constructive suggestions which were made from both sides of the Committee.
I am not one of those who feel that this Motion is the result of a passionate desire by Her Majesty's Government to hasten on with the Bill. The justification for a Motion of this kind is the inherent complexity of a Bill itself and the state of the Government's general legislative programme. I can quite see that in 1945, when there were vast schemes of social reform, too long delayed, to be got through, there was need to cut down Parliamentary time for criticism and to streamline these things. When we are in situation of national crisis of that sort it is the duty of Parliament to get legislation through, but we now have a Government of the Right.
As I understand the writings of Conservative philosophers, they have always held the view that the function of the Conservative Party, when it came into power, was not to indulge in hasty, unnecessary and precipitate legislation but rather to consolidate what had gone before. It is no part of the historic or actual function of the Conservative Party to have an overstocked legislative programme. Their job, surely, is to have adequate Parliamentary criticism of such legislation as they produce.
The great advantage of having a Conservative Government is that it is possible to take time, examine a Bill and improve it and really allow Parliament to work—or at least so I understood when I studied Conservative writings. Now that the sop has been given to the brewers, now that the reward has been given to the landlords, now that the road hauliers have had their cut and the steel barons have had their little bit, is there now any urgent and impressive legislation which makes it necessary to cut down discussion of this Bill?
The Minister of Housing and Local Government has promised us a Bill on town and country planning. Are we to understand that that Bill is already waiting to be launched and that that is the reason we have to push on with, this Bill? As I understand the position, the right hon. Gentleman, having announced his pregnancy rather hastily, is not quite certain whether it is there at all. So far from being anxious to push on with this Bill in order to have an early delivery of the Town and Country Planning Bill, he has to find any excuse rather than introduce the Town and Country Planning Bill at all. I cannot see, either from the point of view of the legislative programme of the Government, or the way in which the Bill has been treated upstairs, that there is the slightest excuse for this Guillotine Motion.
What I think has happened is that there has been a revolt on the back benches on the Government side of the Committee. The other day I was interested to read an account of one of the earliest Guillotine Motions. It was introduced by a Liberal Government on the Second Home Rule Bill in 1893. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), who made such a helpful speech, is not here to hear of the earlier ventures of his own party with the Guillotine. Morley, in his "Life of Gladstone" describes how the back benchers
came to Ministers calling for a drastic closure as simple tribes might clamour to a rain maker.
We have had "simple tribes" docilely voting against their speeches and often
having to swallow their words, imploring the Leader of the House, the principal witch doctor, to relieve them from this thraldom which has kept them morning after morning in Committee. It is not that the Government need the Bill or will not get a better Bill if they allow free discussion of it, nor that they would avoid considerable embarrassment by having to bring in more embarrassing legislation but that they have not a big enough majority. They are finding that the only bribe they can offer in return for getting hon. Members opposite to sit for three days a week in Committee is to say that it will not be for long.
We have reached a position in which a Bill which is of vital importance not only to ordinary men. and women, but to local authorities—who bear the burden of the worry and responsibility of carrying out the legislation—will feel that they are to be sacrificed, and the functions of this House as a legislative body are to be reduced, simply and solely to suit the convenience of hon. Members opposite who wish to do other things in the morning and to enable the Government to keep the majority which they are finding it so difficult to do. I therefore suggest that this is the greatest abuse of the whole idea of a Guillotine Motion.
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has been talking about rain making. He finds himself in a dry and thirsty land. He may be able to produce rain, but he is certainly unable to produce a storm. We have been led to understand that the opposition to this Motion was of such a violent character that those of us on the Government benches would be torn to pieces. I congratulate the hon. Member on having by his speech raised the number of his hon. Friends in the Chamber from 20 to 29.
The hon. Member has certainly given us a topsy-turvy argument. He has been urging that the time allotted to the Committee stage of the Bill should be prolonged because the Committee has not been accepting many Amendments. I could well understand the converse argument, that because a Bill had been so badly drafted and because so many Amendments had to be accepted by the Committee, therefore it was essential for enough time to be given in Committee for each Clause to be revised wherever necessary. But what has actually happened is that, although Amendment after Amendment has been moved, the Committee has felt that few indeed of them would bring about any improvement in the Bill as it stands.
I have not voted against any Amendments which I have moved, or in favour of which I have spoken—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] What the hon. and learned Member heard me say was that that applied to many of the Amendments which have been moved, and that few of the Amendments have been worthy of acceptance by the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made, successfully and brilliantly, the real case in favour of this Motion. That was that it is essential for Parliament so to arrange its work that a Bill of major importance can be passed within a reasonable period in the Session. As he pointed out, notice of this Bill was given in the Queen's Speech. The proposition was discussed on the second day of the debate on the Address. The Bill was quickly available.
It was at the request of the Opposition that the beginning of the Committee stage was deferred until after the Christmas Recess because the Opposition desired further time before the Money Resolution came before the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Exactly, the Government have been seeking to meet the convenience of the Opposition in this matter.
I am not blaming the Government for having agreed to the postponement. It is essential for provision to be made for a Bill of this magnitude to go through all its stages in the Committee and in the House within a reasonable time before the end of the Session, if the work of Parliament is not to be frustrated. The right hon. Member knows that perfectly well.
He argued powerfully, as I know he felt, against the content of the Bill, and contended that it included two entirely disparate matters—I think that was the term he used—within a single Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has already asked the House to consider in relation to that argument the position of the right hon. Gentleman's Local Government Act, 1948, which included a far wider variety of subjects—
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Not a Guillotine." But in that part of his argument he was not talking of the Guillotine. He was objecting to the inclusion of separate items in one Bill.
I will take this point further. I have here what I believe was the last Housing Bill which the right hon. Gentleman introduced, and which became the Housing Act, 1949. Let us remember that his argument is that when the Government bring forward a Housing Bill they should deal with one subject only, and not range over a wide field of housing legislation. Part II of the 1949 Act, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, dealt with Exchequer grants for improvement and conversion. Part I, however, ranged far afield from that. Part I is appropriately headed, "Amendments of Housing Act, 1936."
Let us look at a few of those Amendments which, according to his argument, should all be closely related to the main purpose of the Bill, that is to say, grants for improvement and conversion.
I think that the hon. and learned Member had better listen to what I have to say.
Clause 2 is entitled,
Quashing of certain demolition Orders.
Clause 5 is entitled,
Power of local authorities to guarantee repayment of advances by building societies.
Clause 7 is entitled,
Power of Local Authorities to provide board and laundry facilities.
Clause 12 is entitled,
Liability to maintain certain streets and roads in rural districts.
Clause 46 is entitled,
Amendment of Section 37 of the Water Act, 1945.
What is the unifying principle running through all that variety of subjects, unless it be that all these matters needed to be dealt with in 1949 in order to improve the housing conditions of the people? That is what brought them together in one Bill, and it is precisely the same pair-pose which brings together the 43 Clauses of this Bill, all of which are directly related to enabling the people of this country to live in houses which will make their lives happier.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech, went rather far when he said of this Bill that consideration of Part I is almost completed and will probably be completed in two more sittings of the Committee. I do not imagine that any other hon. Member sitting on that Committee would have dared to exercise the gift of foresight to that extent. There are 11 more Clauses in Part I to be discussed, and I note on the Order Paper that there are 43 Amendments down—and Amendments have a way of springing up as one gets nearer to the later Clauses.
I cannot say that without counting them, but I can say with confidence that the majority are in the names of hon. Members opposite.
If the right hon. Gentleman really thinks that the next 11 Clauses will be obtained in the next two sittings of the Committee, what has brought him to that change of mind? Is it the appearance of this Motion? I should not believe that. It must be that over the week-end he and his hon. Friends have suffered a remarkable change. Apparently they now wish to do what we think should have been done from the beginning—to proceed as rapidly as possible to what are the most important Clauses of this Bill.
The prophecy of the right hon. Gentleman today is far removed from his conduct and the conduct of his hon. Friends over Part I of the Bill up to date. The right hon. Gentleman never tired of telling us in Committee that Clause 1 was unnecessary, that Clause 1 was a sham, that it was a waste of time. Yet they went on talking about it for two whole days and the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" was obtained only after my right hon. Friend had moved the Closure.
What I said in Committee was that Clause 1 was unnecessary and that it did nothing, except what might be mischievous. In fact the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins), speaking on behalf of the local authorities, told the Committee that they were apprehensive that Clause 1—which is really unnecessary—might do great damage to the powers of the local authorities.
Yes, and we spent two whole days on that Clause. The right hon. Gentleman spoke, and apparently thought he had said the last word on the subject. But his hon. Friends kept rising, so that in due course my right hon. Friend had to move the Closure. If we took two days on that one Clause, which the right hon. Gentleman says is unnecessary, how can it be conceivable that we shall deal with the next 11 Clauses in two sittings of the Committee?
The memory of the right hon. Gentleman is sometimes at fault in these things. I heard him say today in the House that he and his hon. Friends had not objected to sitting longer hi the Committee. hon. Members on this side of the House will recollect what happened at the beginning of the eighth sitting of the Committee. When my right hon. Friend moved that we should sit for three days a week, what did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale say? He said it seemed rather early to move that Motion. He said:
…it is most burdensome to have to meet on three mornings a week…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C. 16th February, 1954; c. 355.]
Then he divided the Committee against the Motion. Yet today he says, when we are debating this Motion, that they have not objected to sitting longer in the Committee.
I think that he and his hon. Friends hoped to enlist great force and strength in support of their case by the argument that 6 million people are so vitally affected by the Bill that they will expect Members of Parliament to scrutinise every word—at any rate in Part II of the Bill—most meticulously. I have here a copy of the "Kilburn Times," a local newspaper which circulates in my constituency. It is the issue of 12th February, and it states in heavy type,
Criticism of what he termed the lukewarm interest Paddington rent payers were taking in the Government's Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, was made by…the Labour M.P. for North Paddington, on Tuesday.…He expressed disappointment at the lack of willingness to fight the Bill.
Later in the report it states that earlier the M.P. had said
that although his party had attacked the Bill as part of its election propaganda it had failed to arouse interest.
Precisely the same can be said about the opposition to this Motion which, except for the first hour, has not brought 30 Labour Members together on the benches opposite.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) would have been wiser to have omitted his last remark, because during his speech he succeeded in driving four of his hon. Friends away and now there are only 16 here. Obviously, his party cannot feel very strongly about this matter. I have already succeeded in driving out two more of his hon. Friends, and now there are only 14 left. If we continue at this rate there will be only the Parliamentary Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal present. Of course, that is all that is needed.
It is indicative of the attitude of the party opposite that they think that they only need to vote at the end of the debate and that serves the purpose. The same applies to all the Divisions that we have in the Standing Committee. No matter how the argument goes or how satisfactory our case may be, in the end the vote goes against us because the Government have a majority in the Committee.
The hon. Member for Hampstead was wrong about the number of Amendments outstanding on Part I of the Bill. Most of them are from his own party. Seven are official Government Amendments, 19 are back bench Conservative Amendments, and only 17 are Opposition Amendments. That disposes of the argument that it will be our fault if the consideration of the Bill takes longer than was anticipated.
In proposing the Motion, the Minister went through all the usual forms with the exception of one. When the Lord Privy Seal moved similar Motions he said that he did it with great sorrow. He regretted that it had to be done and said that it was a great sorrow to him that they could not get through without the Guillotine. But not the Minister today. He took great delight in it. He made no expression of regret that he had to introduce the Motion. Indeed, he did it with absolute relish.
That shows his attitude to the Bill. It explains why we have the Motion. He has got from his Department all the easy credit that he can get through the 300,000 houses. He now finds it an administrative bore. His attitude today made that apparent. He wants to move on to other fields where he can get more action, and so on, and he regrets having to spend time in a Committee dealing with humdrum questions of detail. That is one of the main reasons we are being asked to push on with this Measure.
We have not made any attempt in Committee to assassinate the Bill, as he said. He made a point that it has been published to the country for a long time and, therefore, it is time that we got on with it. It is not relevant to say that because the general principles are before the country we should not consider detailed Committee points.
The question we must ask, and it is one to which so far there has been no satisfactory answer, is why are the Government taking this action now? When do they expect that the Bill will become law? What is the reason for the curtailment of our discussions in Standing Committee? Why has this Bill been selected from the many other Measures before Standing Committees now where the rate of progress has not been so rapid as our progress in Standing Committee C? What is it that singles out this Bill for this kind of treatment? Is it because the Government want the work under the Bill to be done? With very few exceptions there is nothing mentioned in it which cannot be done at present. The slum clearance proposals could be put into effect.
The repairs to property under Part II could be done now. There is no need for the landlord to wait until this Measure becomes law before he starts the work. Under the provisions of the Bill he can spread the cost of repairs over the previous three years. There is no reason why the work cannot be done without hastening the progress of our deliberations.
Why should we have this Motion now? Its timing is significant. The Minister dare not introduce the Guillotine on the first few Clauses, because they deal with local authority problems. Any Minister of Housing and Local Government has to be very tender when local authority viewpoints are expressed. Therefore, we had much consideration given to their views. It is significant that now that we are almost at the end of Part I which affects local authorities directly, the Minister should introduce the Guillotine Motion.
He does that to avoid ample discussion of that part of the Bill dealing with rent restriction and the raising of rents. There can be no other explanation except that it is to avoid embarrassment to the Government and the exposure to the full light of day of what is to happen as a result of that part of the Bill which gives power to increase rents.
Let us consider the justification for the Guillotine. If we ask whether there has been excessive discussion so far, the unprejudiced answer must be that there has not. I defy any hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite to take one speech from those made in the 10 sittings of the Committee and to say that it was a wasteful use of time or excessively long. All our discussions have been to the point. Of course, there have been a number of debates on the same point, but that is because the Clauses affect the local authorities. Hon. Members, each representing a different kind of authority, have had a perfect right to make a case for that authority. Far from there being excessive discussion, we have been encouraged to go on.
I do not want to read the OFFICIAL REPORT, but the Parliamentary Secretary probably regrets now his enthusiasm in asking one of my colleagues to expand an argument.
The Parliamentary Secretary said:
I am afraid that the hon. Member for Wellingborough has not moved the Amendment with the clarity or the lucidity which I normally associate with him when moving Amendments, because I could not understand from his explanation what he was seeking to do by these Amendments. Therefore, it is difficult for me to answer any argument because none has been adduced from the other side of the Committee.
Then my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said:
We will help the hon. Gentleman if that is what he wants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 28th January, 1954; c. 117.]
That was what he wanted, and my hon. Friend proceeded to give him help. Now we are condemned because we took up time.
I have read quite enough to prove the point.
I come now to another matter where we have shown the most co-operative spirit in trying to get the Bill through Committee. Time after time we have agreed to take Amendments together. We have not only agreed when the Government have asked us to do so, but we ourselves have also from time to time suggested that certain Amendments might be taken together to facilitate progress. There has been quite a good spirit in Committee except when, now and again, the Minister has assumed the mantle of Gilbert Harding and suddenly exploded into fierce rage when my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has got under his skin with some inoffensive comment. Apart from that, it has been a reasonably co-operative and harmonious Committee.
There is then the question: has there been any filibustering on the Committee? It is impossible for any hon. Member opposite to say that there has been any deliberate waste of time in Committee. In spite of what the lawyers say about its being a comparatively simple Bill, it bristles with difficulties to a layman like myself; indeed, it is a very technical Bill. We have had no Law Officer present to give us his advice. I believe we can all say with complete honesty that no frivolous or vexatious Amendments have been moved by my hon. Friends, and that all the Amendments have been on issues of substance and public policy and that it has been our right and duty to give the fullest consideration to them.
In assessing whether the Government are right or wrong in putting the Motion forward, we must ask: has there been a fair period of trial in the Standing Committee? Have the Government proved
that the Opposition do not want to make proper use of the time in Committee? I wish to quote in this connection the words used by the Home Secretary when he was speaking on the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill (Allocation of Time) Motion on 21st July, 1952. He said:
Ten sittings for a Bill of eight Clauses and a short Schedule would be something about which nobody could complain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 66.]
So far, we have had 10 sittings on the present Bill. We have really dealt with eight Clauses, because two new Clauses have been dealt with, and we have also dealt with a Schedule. We have, in fact, done in the 10 sittings an amount of business equal to that in respect of which the Home Secretary said that the Government could not complain. There must be some other reason why the Government are complaining. Throughout the discussions in Committee, Government speakers have taken part without any undue restraint whatever, and they have moved a considerable number of Amendments.
The third question which must be asked in seeking to justify the Motion is: Is the additional time which the Government are giving adequate to the purpose? We shall have 12 sittings in which to complete the remainder of the Bill. But it must 'be remembered that the Clauses which are most difficult, most complicated and most far-reaching in public importance are still to come—those dealing with the rent increases. About six of the Clauses still to be taken must be given the most minute examination or there will be a considerable outcry in the country when the Bill becomes an Act. It is clear that we cannot do that adequately in 12 sittings.
What about the Report stage? The Motion lays down two days for Report. We ought in ordinary common decency to be given more time than that to cover all the points which it will toe impossible to deal with in Committee. Here, I want to quote the Lord Privy Seal to show his attitude towards the sending of Bills to Standing Committees and the attention which ought to be given to them. Speaking on 24th November, 1952, on the Transport Bill (Allocation of Time) Motion, he referred to the Guillotine applied to the Committee stage of the Labour Government's Transport Bill, and said:
Surely, if to do it here is to curtail those rights "—
that is, on the Floor of the House—
… to do it upstairs is to curtail them about 10 times as much because of the difference in the composition of the Standing Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 58.]
If the right hon. Gentleman agrees that the imposition of a Guillotine in Standing Committee multiplies the curtailment by 10 times, why is he giving us only two days in which to consider the Bill when it comes back to the House? He ought to give us a much longer time on Report so that hon. Members who have not been in the Committee can express their views and the points not covered in Committee can be given adequate consideration.
Finally, the Guillotine is meant to be an exceptional instrument to be used only after it has been shown to be absolutely necessary. Having listened to the speeches which have been made so far today, I do not think it has been shown beyond all doubt to be necessary. The case has not been proved. The Government have acted prematurely. It is a sheer abuse of the power of the majority to do what they are doing.
As far as I am aware, no offer of a voluntary agreement and allocation of time has been made, either before the Bill went to Committee or while it has been in Committee. I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the difference between the treatment we are being given here and 'the treatment that we had on the Steel Bill. The denationalisation of steel was, if anything, a more controversial Measure than the present one. Yet, although we disagreed violently with its principles, we were able, instead of having a Guillotine, to accept a voluntary allocation of time on the Bill, and I am sure that all hon. Members who took part in that Committee stage will agree that the method worked very successfully. In the end, the Government had to provide only one and a half days more for consideration than they had originally intended. It would have been far wiser if the Government had attempted to make a similar arrangement in the case of the present Bill.
There will be a test of the Government's sincerity. It will be a test as to how far they want the Bill to be discussed and how far they want the controversial rents provisions to be brought into the daylight. The test will lie in how long we are prepared to sit between now and 18th March. Is it to be, as the Minister suggested, three mornings a week, or is it, as some of his hon. Friends seemed to indicate, that there will be no limit to the amount of time that the Committee can sit? We are entitled, for the purpose of looking after the interests of our constituents and local authorities and all the parties concerned, to ask the Government to sit as long as is absolutely necessary so that full and proper discussion can be given to every one of our significant Amendments.
The debate up to now has largely turned upon a few limited points. I must say that I was somewhat baffled by the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), who, it seemed to me, had carried out a very perfunctory and cursory examination of the proceedings so far in the Standing Committee.
May I come to the defence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary because, when the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said that my hon. Friend urged hon. Members opposite who are Members of the Committee to make longer speeches, that was completely inaccurate. What happened, and I am sure it is within the recollection of Members of the Committee, was that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) moved an Amendment which, on the face of it, was by no means clear. He made a very short speech—a speech which I found completely incomprehensible—and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary then asked him for a detailed explanation of what he meant. That has been used as a sort of story that we were asking hon. Members in the party opposite who are Members of the Committee to make longer speeches, and it is, of course, completely untrue.
Perhaps I may quote from col. 119 of the Committee's Report?
I do not wish to be discourteous, but, as the speakers have been selected by the hon.
and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), I should like his first selection, the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), to put his London County Council point so that I can deal with it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 2&th January, 1954; c. 119.]
The hon. Gentleman cannot enlarge that point to make it an open invitation to hon. Members opposite to make speeches at length. I would, however, say that all those who have sat on the Standing Committee up to now will agree that the great majority of the speeches have not been obstructive. I think there has been a genuine attempt by many hon. Members to grapple with these practical and rather interesting proposals, and to give them the proper consideration which they should have.
Nevertheless, the difficulty which the Government are in is not the one which is frequently the case when a Guillotine Motion comes before the House. This is not a case in which there has been inordinate obstruction. It is a case in which we are in the real difficulty that it will take a very long time in Standing Committee to deal with this important Bill.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) is in his place, because I was fascinated by the remarks which he addressed to the House. He told us, and it was rather a surprising announcement, that he was going to oppose the Motion before the House, and I rather gathered that the hon. Gentleman will bring most of his hon. Friends with him into the Lobby against us. I should like to know how he came to that decision, whether it is based on reasoned argument and whether the Liberal Chief Whip supports it. At any rate, they have decided that they are to oppose the Motion.
I do not recollect the exact words I used, but I think I said that, after consideration of the proposals put forward in this Motion, my colleagues have come to the conclusion that we ought to oppose it.
I am very glad to hear that, on occasion, the Liberal Party does consider these things before deciding upon them.
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the decision which he has made known to the House—that he and his hon. Friends propose to vote against the Motion— and the arguments which he used showing the conclusion to which they had come are contradictory. The argument was about the urgency of the Bill, consequent on the fact that houses which are at the moment falling down in large numbers ought to be patched up and made habitable. Then, the hon. Gentleman said that he thought it was a pity that this Bill had not been produced in a preceding Session, and, therefore, he would vote against the Motion.
I should have thought that if the hon. Gentleman was convinced, as any logical and reasonable person must be, about this special type of treatment needed for these houses, that was also a reason for expediting the passage of the Bill and voting in favour of the Motion.
I am sorry if I did not make the point clear. What I endeavoured to say was that I did regard this as a matter of urgency, but that, in considering whether it justified the use of the Guillotine procedure, one must consider the period of time that has elapsed since the Government came into office, during which they could have introduced the Measure, and the fact that this Motion is setting a precedent for the future; and that I have come to the conclusion that the urgency plea failed.
I appreciate the explanation which the hon. Gentleman gives, but I still say that the argument of urgency is not the argument of urgency as regards the Parliamentary time-table, but rather the urgency of the treatment which the Bill proposes to give to these houses. That is clear, but it has not yet been emphasised in the debate. This Bill intends to provide treatment for houses which the nation urgently needs, and anything that we can do to expedite such treatment we ought to do.
This is not a Bill with which we can deal in the normal fashion of party politics. It is not a Bill with which we can play about by putting up minor Amendments and wasting time. It is a Bill that is urgently needed, and when hon. Members opposite say that it is simply giving more money to landlords, that is only partly true, because this Bill gives more money to landlords, not to put in their pockets, but to spend—and they must spend it—on maintaining their property.
While I agree with the argument of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), surely, if this matter was so urgent and so necessary, it should at least have come before the so-called "Brewers' Bill"?
I was very interested in the hon. Gentleman's arguments that it was essential for landlords to have more money to spend upon their houses if they were falling down, but that is quite different from what the hon. Gentleman said in col. 217 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee. Speaking of landlords, he then said:
They have been under this handicap of rent restriction for so long that I think they ought to have the opportunity of making a bit of money on it now …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 4th February, 1954; c. 217.]
I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman would bring up that point, and I therefore armed myself with the Committee's proceedings. The hon. Gentleman will notice that the words which he quoted were used in a speech of mine dealing with an Amendment the object of which was to limit the amount of compensation to be paid to an owner of property in a clearance area. The hon. Gentleman wanted to cut down the amount of compensation from site value compensation, for which the Bill provides, to the actual value of the house in its tumble-down condition. I objected, and said that I thought it was wrong, and1 I gave as one reason for the existence of bad houses or slums the fact that rent restrictions had been in existence for over 40 years.
I revert to the main point which I was developing. I am quite sure that the Motion is necessary. This is a technical Bill, but by no means a complicated Bill, and the distinction is important, because I think that, though this Bill treats of matters within the purview of experts in housing and town planning, nevertheless, it is a Bill which is not complicated in its provisions like the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, was complicated.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is not a complicated Bill. It may not be to him, but it certainly is to myself and to many other hon. Members here, and it certainly was so to the Parliamentary Secretary, because, on Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman said, and I quote:
This is a long and complicated Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 805.]
I cannot be held responsible for every word which my hon. Friend said, but I am quite sure that, if he said that this is a complicated Bill, to that extent he is right. It is no doubt complicated to somebody, but it does not follow that it is complicated to all of us.
Nevertheless, the Bill is not complicated in that its provisions are so complex and interwoven that it takes a great deal of trouble to extricate them. Each of these Clauses is in a watertight compartment and all are linked together and follow upon one another in sequence. It is a very good Bill from that point of view, and legislation by reference is less marked in this Bill than in many others. When legislation by reference is necessary in the Bill, it is clearly explained by those words in brackets indicating the nature of the matter referred to.
Although this is a technical Bill, it is not a complicated Bill, and the argument of the Opposition that time is needed almost in extensor to enable us to consider it fully is an entirely bogus one. I think it is perfectly feasible that the generous time-table which this Motion will give will enable us to complete our consideration of the Bill, and we should not forget that this is not the only House of Parliament which has to consider it.
From the constitutional point of view, it is proper that Bills of this kind should be introduced in this House, and that first consideration should be given them by the elected representatives of the people; but, nevertheless, we have a revising Chamber, and it is as well to remember that. This will not be the first or even the last occasion when another place may have some very useful suggestions to make. I do not rest my case on that. If it rested with this House alone, we could, on the time-table which is provided for us, easily complete a reasonably careful and non-time-wasting consideration of the Bill, which is a Measure urgently needed by the country.
With one thing that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said I entirely agree. I have sat through the proceedings of the Committee upstairs and I agree with him that there has been no obstruction. There has been proper discussion. With almost everything else that the hon. Member said I completely disagree.
I must say that I never heard a Guillotine Motion have more inadequate and more contradictory defenders than this one. The Minister did not put himself into any difficulty at all about it. He treated it with an elegant insouciance which I should have thought would have been more appropriate in someone proceeding in the tumbril towards the Guillotine than in someone who proposed to operate it. By way of argument there were no contributions for us to answer, and the position was saved, so I understood on the high authority of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), by the very remarkable contentions put forward by the hon. Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Let us see just what they came to.
First of all, by a feat of somewhat inappropriate mathematics, the hon. Member counted up the total number of Clauses in the Bill, divided them by the number of Clauses which have been taken and discussed and, on that footing, decided that there would not be time to get the Bill through in this Session of Parliament. Let us see where we are getting to. If that is the case—and if I may again agree with the hon. Member for Henley that there has been no obstruction upstairs—the position is that the Government have put before the House and have sent upstairs to Committee a Bill which, even under proper discussion, could not possibly get through during this Session.
Therefore, the conclusion to which the speech of the hon. Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West invites us is that the Government put forward a Bill which could not be properly discussed, intending either that the Bill should not go through, or that it should not be properly discussed and the Guillotine should be brought in in time to stop proper discussion. That is the best that can be said for this Guillotine.
I suggest that we are taking this business of guillotining of Bills far too easily. Look what the Government have done about guillotining Bills. They have guillotined some of the most scandalous Measures to protect private interests that I should have thought had ever been introduced into this House. One is the so-called "Brewers' Bill" applying to new towns, and another was the road hauliers' Bill for old lorries. Both those Bills were guillotined. The other two instances of guillotining have been on the Bill for surgical and other charges in connection with the National Health Service which affected a very large proportion of the population of the country, including the poorest people in it, and on the present Bill, which contains provision for rent increases that will affect 6 million families in this country. Those are the things on which the Government have chosen to use the Guillotine. A Government that do that invite some comment.
May I respectfully say to this distinguished Government that they appear to be intending to have not just one Guillotine but, so far as I can see, a whole— whatever the right plural is—let us say, a whole gurgle of Guillotines? While we are sitting here discussing the Guillotine on the English Housing (Repairs and Rents) Bill, the Scottish Repairs and Rents Bill has gone through four sittings of its Committee, which has dealt so far with one Amendment and is in course of discussing the second Amendment. That Committee has got on to page 2 of the Bill, and it is still discussing part of Clause 1. The Scots are treating their Bill very properly. These Bills are exceedingly important pieces of legislation, for good or ill, and they ought to be discussed properly.
I shall have a word to say about the wind in a minute. For the moment I am pointing out that what we are now having is either hopeless unfairness to England and Wales in this matter or a whole gurgle of Guillotines coming along for one thing after another.
That is not the only point. I have been looking at other Bills; for instance, the Cotton Bill. That had as many Closures, Divisions and the rest of it as the Housing (Repairs and Rents) Bill, and there was just as much or just as little justification, as the case may be, for saying that there was too much speaking on that Bill as there could possibly be on the Housing Bill; but no Guillotine was introduced.
Why has this Bill been selected for the Guillotine? We had better begin a little bit earlier than that. Why was this Bill ever introduced at all? I mean, why was it introduced as one Bill instead of two, as it obviously ought to have been? It is possible to find a connection between the two Bills simply because they are both about housing, but that, with the exception of one or two minor Clauses, is about the only connection I can find between the two halves of the Bill.
The Bills are drawn entirely separately. Different language is used in one as against the other, and the subject matter is entirely different. The people principally concerned are entirely different: local authorities in the one case and the landlords and tenants of controlled houses in the other. These are obviously two Bills.
Why did the Government introduce one Bill? Is it conceivable that the Government decided that there would be advantages in putting slum clearance, if I may so call it, in Part I of the Bill before we come to the exceedingly awkward part about landlords, tenants and increases of rent? Then again, having introduced it, why did the Government send the Bill upstairs? There is obviously a very great deal to be said for discussing a matter which intimately affects large numbers of people, the political significance of which might very well be considerable, openly on the Floor of the House instead of in the more secluded atmosphere of a Committee sitting in the morning upstairs.
The Government presumably sent the Bill upstairs for one of two reasons; either because they funked having a discussion on the Floor of the House for fear that it should be too fully reported, or because they thought there was a better and fuller opportunity of discussion upstairs than on the Floor of the House. If I am asked to give the Government credit for the second good and honest reason, instead of for the first and bad reason, I say to myself, "If that was indeed the reason, how can I reconcile it with the Guillotine Motion which is now before the House?" If the Government wanted full, honest discussion, and careful and detailed examination of the Bill, that and no more is exactly what they have had, by way of amendment and discussion in the Committee. Having got it, why do they at this moment bring in a Guillotine Motion?
I come now to what has happened in Committee, although I do not propose to go into that in detail. The first Clause of the Bill raised a very important principle. It is perfectly true that it would have been, and may still be, largely inoperative, but it had some very great dangers which were well known to and much appreciated by the local authorities. It was as a result of pressure from the local authorities as well as pressure, I believe, from the benches opposite and from this side of the House that a material Amendment was accepted by the Minister at a comparatively late stage.
The second question has been the large one of the Birmingham experiment, whether the duty of landlords should be merely to clear the slums or to take in more and properly redevelop the cities of this country. The third question—and a vital one—has been the effect of the Minister's proposals on local authorities whose financial difficulties and embarrassments grow from day to day, and which are fled from by one Government after another because no Government appear to have the courage properly to face local authority finance. In these circumstances, the financial provisions of this Bill had already caused the gravest disquiet to local authorities.
Surely, therefore, within the limits of the Money Resolution, they merited the most careful consideration upstairs. To have dealt with three major principles of that kind since the Committee has sat seems to me not unreasonable. It is quite untrue to say that we can measure the time that will be taken for the rest of the Bill by merely counting the Clauses. A great many of the Clauses are mere machinery Clauses which would never invite or receive any detailed discussion at all.
The substantial point is that there is every reason to believe that we could finish the Committee stage on the first part of the Bill in another two sittings. Why do the Government choose to introduce the Guillotine at the very moment when we are getting to what from their point of view is politically dangerous, the rent increases? It is perfectly true that there has been no great surge of enthusiasm or indignation one way or the other in the country about this Bill. But just wait until the notices of rent increases come round. Many people who can ill afford an extra shilling or two at a time when the cost of food under the policy pursued by this Government has been rising from month to month will then realise for the first time what the practical effect of this Bill upon them really is.
To say that these increases are being allowed to promote and facilitate repairs is a matter into which I do not propose to go any further now, except to say that the principle of this Bill is not to advance to the landlord what he is bound to spend in repairs, but to repay to the landlord what he may have spent in repairs. That is an entirely different matter.
It is when we get to all this that the Guillotine Motion is introduced. But there is more to it than that. Every newspaper in this country, every local authority, and every person with knowledge of the working of the law or of the Rent Restrictions Acts and housing generally has criticised that part of the Bill dealing with rent increases from one consistent point of view, which is that every time it places the onus to protest upon the tenant of the rent-controlled house. It is the tenant who has to take the initiative. If he does nothing, it is he who suffers. It is he who has to write to the local authority, and he who, if necessary, has to go to court. The landlord need do no more than sit back and collect the increase if the tenant does not protest.
We are just approaching that part of the Bill, and now discussion is going to be threatened and stifled by means of a Guillotine Motion. What is the justification. There are two possibilities, and two only. One is that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is a frivolously-minded man who thinks that housing is a dull subject, who does not like the Committee upstairs and has had enough of it. I do not believe that to be so. The only other alternative is that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are afraid of too much discussion and too open a discussion of the part of the Bill which we are now approaching. They are afraid that the tenants of the rent-controlled houses will realise in due time what this Government are going to do to them concerning rents after what they have done to them with regard to food.
I do not think that our constituents generally quite understand what a queer place the House of Commons can be. In the last month I have carefully prepared three speeches on economic affairs, on which I have spent long hours on subjects which I thought I understood and which have finished in the waste paper basket. Tonight I am provoked into speaking because of something said by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and which, I think, should be replied to.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has just said that my right hon. Friend is a frivolously-minded man who is sick of housing.
I said the exact opposite. I said that was the only alternative to the belief I hold that the Guillotine has been introduced because we are approaching the Clauses dealing with rent increases.
The truth about my right hon. Friend is surely that he has succeeded in the matter of housing to an extent that hon. Members opposite thought impossible. He has done even more than his hon. Friends thought he would do. The fact of the matter is that hon. Members opposite are envious of his success. He has done the job really well, and because he has really done the job hon. Members opposite are jealous of him. He is not frivolously-minded. He is a most successful Minister who has delivered the goods. I wish that the men who introduced the coal nationalisation Bill and promised us more coal had been half as successful. If they had, we should not have had a further increase this week of 4s. in the price of coal.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering threatened us with dire political consequences. He said that thousands of people could ill afford to pay an extra shilling or two per week in rent. He spoke as though it was dreadfully iniquitous. I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite—whose sincerity I have never doubted, but the workings of whose minds I cannot understand—should think it so wicked to put up the rents of privately-owned property when their Socialist-controlled councils are always putting them up.
I just cannot understand how fair-minded men, such as the former Leader of the House, can think it is wicked and socially unjust to put up the rent of a privately-owned house while the rent of the house next door which is owned by a Socialist-controlled council may justifiably be increased. I just do not see how hon. Members' minds work on that point. We are threatened with the dire consequences of this Bill. In the areas where the councils are controlled by Socialists we are not afraid to fight, because 2s. or 1s. a week extra rent is as bad whether paid to a Socialist council or to a private individual.
Another point made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering opposite was that the Bill was making reasonable progress upstairs, and he compared it with the progress made in the Scottish Grand Committee. I can appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, doubly on this ground. Surely, the English on the whole expect to make much more progress than the Scots. The Scots are naturally more talkative. They cannot be stopped from talking. The English are people who do things and the Scots are people who talk.
I do not have any difficulty in doing the two things together. The hon. Member apparently does. The progress made in our Committee cannot be compared with that in the Scottish Grand Committee.
The important objection to today's debate is that this is a sham fight. If hon. Members opposite sat on this side of the House they would be saying just what we are saying, and we should be saying just the same footling things that they are saying. Yet the economic life of this country hangs by a slight thread, and here we are wasting Parliamentary time over something which is utterly footling. The emptiness of the Chamber on both sides of the House shows how little interest there is in the debate until the Division bell goes.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) said—I think very sensibly—that a Guillotine should only be used after it had been proved to be absolutely necessary. I think that is fair. But how can hon. Members opposite oppose this Guillotine when they themselves, when in power in 1945–50 with a majority of 200, applied the Guillotine to the Iron and Steel Bill before a Committee had met even once? Again I appeal to the fair-mindedness of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—he could not use that argument.
No, I am trying to make my point.
I agree that the Guillotine should only be used after it has become apparent that it is absolutely necessary, but how can those hon. Members opposite who were in this House in 1945–50 use that argument when they themselves, with their overwhelming vote, instituted the Guillotine before the Committee had met even once?
I think if the hon. Member looks back at the history of that time he will find that the Guillotine followed immediately on the Gas Bill, when hon. Members of his party had kept the Committee sitting for I have forgotten how many days and nights on end.
It would be out of order to continue on that topic, but I could deal with that matter.
But even if, for the sake of argument, the House agreed that too much time was given to the Gas Bill Committee, was it fair to apply it in the manner I have stated on the Steel Bill? Is it reasonable that hon. Members who supported that policy should now say that this Guillotine has been rushed? How could it be rushed, when we have had 10 sittings and in that case not one was allowed. You should vote with us.
I do not like Guillotines of any kind. Over the last 50 years, whichever party has been in power, I am certain that the power of the executive has grown at the expense of Members of the House; the power of the independently-minded Member has been and is being reduced. I do not like the Guillotine method at all, but how could I, even were I tempted, join hon. Members opposite when they themselves imposed the Guillotine before a Committee had met once on a most important Bill?
May I come to what I think was the most objectionable thing said by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale? His accusation was—and I felt it was pointed to me as one of the persons he had in mind—that this Guillotine was necessary in order that the Tory Government could get their work done in short time because the businessmen wanted to be outside Parliament— out in the world making money rather than attending to their Parliamentary duties. He pointed a very accusing finger at us for so doing. The worst thing that the right hon. Gentleman can do for this country, and for his own party is to keep on nagging at the businessmen—I beg hon. Members in their stupidity not to laugh so easily. It is upon the ability of some 50,000 of our ablest businessmen that the economic stability of the country depends. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes.
Further, when the right hon. Gentleman sneered at us for not being here he should have remembered that on the Division to extend the time of the debate 277 hon. Members voted against him, and on his own side there were only 162 votes. The majority was 115. Where were the absentees? What were they doing? Before long hon. Members are going to demand higher salaries because they cannot—[Interruption.] Well, where were they? There could have been about 280 Socialist votes. I hope that the "Daily Herald" will publish the names of those not here—the men demanding higher pay for themselves, who would not give an extra sou to the old age pensioner.
I was listening to the hon. Member and wondering when he was to get to closer grips with the Motion before the House. His recent remarks I understand have been in answer to something said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale, so I allowed them to pass. But this debate is about the time-table.
I shall try to keep within the rules of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that you were in the Chair when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that this Motion was necessary only because Tory Members wanted to be working outside Parliament rather than in Parliament. He accused us of neglecting our Parliamentary duties in order that we might go out and earn money. That was the very point of his argument, and I am rebutting that argument as being unworthy and unfounded, and pointing out that nearly half his own supporters were away when we divided on the suspension of the Standing Order.
Time after time, during the speeches of hon. Members opposite, an obvious hatred of the property owner has been shown. hon. Members opposite must ask themselves whether property owners should never have any return. Would hon. Members opposite expropriate the lot?
I shall leave that point. I dislike the principle of Guillotines which stop free discussion in a free Parliament, but hon. Members opposite are the last persons who ought to protest. They have no right to come here in white sheets; they should be wearing black ones.
I do not propose to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) except to say that I could not help thinking what an enormous vanity 50,000 business men must have to think that they created the wealth of this country. It is time that that vanity was exploded. There are a few engineers, railwaymen, miners and dockers who have done something to create the wealth of this country.
I want to bring this discussion back to its proper subject, which is the question whether there is any justification for the imposition of this Allocation of Time Motion. It has been suggested that there are precedents for it. There are precedents for nearly everything we do in this House. If one goes back far enough one can always find a precedent. But nobody has proved the necessity for this Motion on the ground of waste of time. The Minister was very coy about the amount of time which has been spent in Committee over the discussion of Amendments which have been moved by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and he skated over it as though he were on very thin ice.
I want to give the House one or two figures. So far, the Committee has discussed 79 Amendments, six Clauses and one New Clause—a total of 86 debates. According to HANSARD, the average length of a speech has been 17½ minutes. Some have been very much shorter, but the average is only 17½ minutes. I defy the Parliamentary Secretary to say that that is a gross and deliberate waste of time. It is the very opposite.
I took part in all the discussions when Guillotine Motions were debated in the 1945–50 Parliament. Although it is true that on the Iron and Steel Bill the Guillotine was imposed immediately, it is also true that on the Transport Bill we wasted 1¼ hours, one morning, discussing the difference between the word "the" and the word "a" before the Guillotine was put on the Committee's proceedings. That was an example of utter and complete waste of Parliamentary time, and something which was quite contrary to the principles which are supposed to govern our discussions.
Nothing like that has happened on this Bill. Good Amendments have been moved, which have raised points of substance, and there have been good debates upon them. I challenge the Minister to say that any hon. Member on this side of the House has ever repeated an argument used by a preceding speaker on an Amendment before the Committee. There is a very good explanation for that fact. This is a Bill with very wide ramifications, and which raises many hundreds of points. It affects every local authority, and it is inevitable that any normally intelligent body of Parliamentarians will be able, on any Amendment, to raise a point different from those which have been raised before.
We have done our best to improve the Bill, but without very much help. I was very much amused by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) who said that few of the Amendments which had been put down were worthy of acceptance. One of the Amendments contained a proposition which he, as a member of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, agreed to, but he voted against it in Committee. That Amendment concerned the definition of the standard of condition of houses which were to be pulled down as slums.
There was an excessive use of the Closure in Committee. Although we have had only 10 meetings, the Closure has been moved 10 times, in spite of the fact that on only two occasions have the debates lasted an hour or more, and none has lasted more than about 1¼ hours. That is a misuse of our procedure, and it proves that there has not been such a deliberate and purposeful waste of time as to justify the Government in bringing forward this Motion.
The hon. Member for Loath tried to enjoy himself by referring to the number of hon. Members on this side of the House who were absent for the Division on the suspension of the rule, but I have noticed that during most of this debate only about three hon. Members opposite who are Members of the Committee have been present in the House. Even now there are only three here. The hon. Member for Loath must not make that kind of jibe. We are entitled to ask the Government to justify their action in this case on the argument which is normally used, that there has been a waste of time in Committee. On the experience we have had, and on the figures I have given of the debates and the time taken on them, there is no justification for accepting this Motion.
Its introduction is a denial by the Minister of a promise which he gave to local authorities as recently as 8th December. On that day there was a conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which was held at Friends' House. There was a long discussion on a speech made by the Minister, and one of the delegates put this question to him:
In view of this Conference being convened to discuss the implications of the slum clearance programme and also the undoubted fact that this Conference on the whole has been highly critical of certain aspects of the Bill, would the Minister give a definite assurance that sufficient time will be given in the Committee stages in the House of Commons to discuss and amend some of the more criticised parts?
I do not think that the Minister has accepted one of our Amendments. In reply, the Minister said:
Shall we give plenty of time to the Committee stage? I am sure we shall. I certainly am out to try, with the good will of all concerned, to use all the best efforts to improve the Bill. I certainly have no intention of trying to rush through the Committee stage, and, indeed, if I did I should be met with the most formidable opposition.
What does the Minister call putting down this Motion if he does not call it trying to rush the Committee stage?
The Minister said he had no intention of trying to rush the Bill through and that if he did he would be met with formidable opposition. We shall try to give it to him. Then he said:
We will arrange through what are called the usual channels what seems to be a satisfactory time-table to everybody concerned.
One of my hon. Friends has already asked today whether that promise has been kept. So far as I know nothing has been done about it, and no effort whatever has been made to come to a voluntary agreement about the time-table. Has any such arrangement been sought? The question has been put to the Minister today and no answer has been given. Was it not possible, as has been done in the past, to arrange an agreed time-table? However, I do not want to bring things
to a close on 18th March. I think that that is unsatisfactory.
Many of the Amendments we put down were asked for by local authorities who were not clear about the exact effects of Part I of the Bill. Part II is even more important because not only does it concern local authorities but it seriously affects over six million wage earners whose rents may be increased ostensibly because the houses have been done up. We are not sure about that Part of the Bill, because of the experience some of us had after the First World War. Thus, Part II of the Bill is probably even more important than Part I, and we should have the fullest opportunity of discussing it.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) worked out an elaborate mathematical calculation. One of the assumptions he made was that there was an Amendment proposed to every Clause of the Bill. There are 17 Clauses to which even the Labour Opposition have not proposed Amendments so far, and so far as I know we have no intention of proposing Amendments to those Clauses. Thus, the hon. Gentleman's calculation must be wrong since it was based on a false assumption.
The proposals in Part II of the Bill may put up the rents of poor people like the employees of local authorities, the lower paid workers in industry and on the farms, old age pensioners, and people of that kind, by 5s. or 6s. or 8s. a week, and if they are unlucky enough to live in a big house, by far more than that. Such a proposal ought not to go through the House without the fullest possible consideration, so that many people will know exactly what is involved in it.
There is a great deal of truth in my right hon. Friend's accusation that the reason the Government have brought forward this Guillotine at this stage is their desire to rush Part II of the Bill, through fear that that part will attract much more public attention than Part I, because it will affect the lives of the people of this country. They want to rush it through in the hope that it will not be noticed until its effects are felt by the people.
I did not love the Guillotine even when my own side employed it. We all agree that we need full and adequate discussion, and that it is only by discussion that we can justify democratic institutions. It is discussion that helps democratic institutions to continue to exist. On the other hand, the Government are entitled to get their proposals through. They are not entitled, however, to rush them as this Motion would.
I shall, therefore, vote against this Motion, not with any hope, I am afraid, that it will be defeated, but with confidence that I shall be doing the right thing. I know the hon. Member for Louth agrees with me in principle, and I hope that he and other hon. Gentlemen opposite will help us to defeat this nefarious attempt to rob the House of its rights.
It had not been my intention to take part in this debate because I had assumed from the deep emotions which the tabling of this Motion had aroused on the other side of the House that there would have been rank on rank of hon. Members awaiting the privilege of catching your eye, Sir. It is therefore fortunate to be able to intervene without having had to wait unduly long, without having had to suffer too long the anxiety that waiting inflicts, and from which none of us is exempt.
Someone said that he thought that this Motion had been put down because of a revolt or threatened revolt on the part of the back bench Members of the Committee on the Government side. I happen to be one of those back benchers, and I would assure the House that I have heard nothing of any revolt. On the contrary, we are happy to be taking part in the deliberations of the Committee. I will make a present of this to hon. Members opposite—we do not find their participation in the debates upstairs unentertaining.
That is one of the problems with which the Minister is faced, because hon. Members have shown that they possess the greatest ingenuity in being able to extend the proceedings of the Committee without in any way going outside the rules of order. They do it with great skill, great knowledge and a great deal of entertainment. I would assure hon. Members opposite that we are in no sense resentful that we have to spend so much time there, but nevertheless we do like to feel that at least some reasonable progress will be made.
So far I have not said anything that could be regarded as offensive to hon. Members opposite. I have said that what they have been saying is deceptively entertaining and within the rules of order. However, I propose to say something now that may be criticised by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. The rules of order, both for debate on the Floor of the House and even more for debate in Committee, were settled at a time when legislation was simpler than it is today. As the years go by, we have to revise our procedure in accordance with the changing circumstances.
Now that Bills in their complexity and length are of almost unimaginable difficulty and complication by comparison with those of 50 years ago, surely the time has arrived when some fresh approach can be justified to the question of speeches in Committee. I am not saying that there has been any undue repetition by hon. Members, except that I recall one example: it would be interesting to measure the amount of time which has been occupied in Standing Committee in deploring the absence of the Law Officers of the Crown.
As a member of the legal profession, I welcome this new-found affection for legal advice. It is something which is not often met with in public life, and it is quite touching to notice the way in which, time and again in the proceedings upstairs, the absence of the Law Officers is mentioned with sadness and with regret and their presence is requested by one hon. Member after another. I cannot help feeling that hon. Members are wasting their time, because we all know perfectly well that if the Law Officers of the Crown were in attendance, hon. and learned Members opposite would prob- ably disagree with everything they said. Nevertheless, a great deal of time has been spent in repeating the argument that the Law Officers should be in attendance.
I make my next point with some diffidence: there must be some limit to the time which it is useful to spend in discussing anything. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen appear to suggest that legislation must be accompanied, or at least preceded, by an almost indefinite amount of talk, and if it is not heresy of the most dreadful nature for me to say so here, I suggest that what is most-needed for legislation is thought and that talk does not necessarily lead to the best results.
One of the dangers of Committee procedure is that there is no incentive to Members to make their speeches short. We all know that in order to make a short speech a great deal of preparation is needed beforehand. I think it was the late Mr. Asquith who said, "If I have to speak for a week it takes me five minutes to prepare, but if I have to speak for five minutes it takes me a week to prepare." In the nature of things, and especially as we are entitled in Committee to speak on an unlimited number of occasions, there is no inducement to any of us to take thought beforehand and to ask ourselves how we can make our points in the shortest time and the fewest words.
In putting this suggestion before the House with great diffidence, I can do so without any implication that there is anything unreasonably obstructive in what is being done by hon. Members opposite, any more than there is anything sinister in what was said by the Minister in support of the Motion. There is at present no inducement to any of us to try to be as brief as possible in Committee, and the result is, in the nature of things, that our proceedings tend to be dragged out unduly.
It was said by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that what was happening here was that discussion was being stifled. I do not think it can fairly be claimed that anything of the kind is happening. I was glad that the hon. and learned Member paid a tribute to the Minister for his patience, because I think the Minister's patience has been monumental. He has shown the greatest consideration for the arguments which have been put forward, but obviously we must make some progress, and in the 25 hours of our discussions so far we have managed to get through only seven Clauses. If hon. Members opposite could be quite frank with us, I think they would agree that at the present rate of progress, or lack of progress, especially bearing in mind that the real difficulties are likely to arise later, the chances are that the Committee stage would not finish before we rose for the Summer Recess. I cannot believe that that would be a satisfactory way for us to do our business.
Following what I have just said about the changing and changed circumstances and the need for a fresh approach to legislation, which has become many times more lengthy and more complicated as the years have gone by, I think it is the view of most Parliamentarians of experience, of whom there are many on both sides of the House, that it is nowadays almost impossible to get a major Bill of any complexity or of a controversial character through the House without recourse to some kind of machinery to bring the discussion to a conclusion.
I do not think hon. Members opposite can contend that it is wrong to use any kind of incentive or time-table. The time comes when discussion must be brought to an end, and if the truth were told, hon. Members in Opposition, whoever they may be from time to time, are themselves sometimes not sorry when the Division has to be taken. I believe that in their heart of hearts hon. Members opposite will themselves probably be glad in Committee when all of us have to compress our arguments and our speeches into the most workmanlike shape so that the Bill, which I believe is urgently needed, may be brought to the Statute Book without unreasonable delay.
I have listened to the whole of the debate so far and to the comments made on the Bill by the local authority section of hon. Members. The local authority section Members have the assistance of the whole of the organised local authorities. They are able to express their point of view with some force. I have been wondering exactly why, at a time like this, when the Bill is reaching the stage where the unprotected tenants' point of view may be expressed, this expression of opinion is to be stifled by a Guillotine Motion.
The 6 or 7 million tenants of this country have not bothered very much up to now because of the extreme complication of legislation on rent restrictions and the payment of rent, but the ordinary tenant is beginning to wonder exactly what is happening. I have heard it said that there is no agitation in the country about the Bill. I do not agree; there is agitation. I have been speaking at meetings from the north of the country to the south since the Ormskirk by-election and there has not been one meeting at which I have not been asked to make some reference to the Bill.
People are anxious to know what the position is, and, reading the debates in Standing Committee, watching the Amendments and the progress of the Bill, I have been saying on every platform which I have used in the country, until yesterday, "My opinion is that the Minister is not prepared to accept any Amendment to the Bill, particularly that part of it which relates to increases in rent for tenants at present under rent restriction." From the discussions, from the statements in Committee, from every Tory speaker, it is obvious that some agreement has been reached already with the property owners that they are to have the terms laid down in the Bill. Yet the peculiar thing about this Bill is that it does not satisfy any section of the community. It does not even satisfy the property owners, because it does not give them as much as they think they are entitled to get.
It does not satisfy the local authorities, because they know the financial obligation that will be put upon the ratepayers in each area as a result of the alterations regarding slum clearance and the maintenance of property until it can be pulled down; and it does not satisfy individual tenants who know that they will be saddled with an increase in rent of between 4s. 2d. a week and just under £1 a week.
The tenants have no organisation through which to express their opinion. The property owners have an association —
I am relating my comments to the Motion before the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I am saying that by curtailing discussion on the part of the Bill to which the Committee is coming shortly, the Government are stifling the opinion and the information of the tenants, six million or seven million of whom have no association to speak for them. Therefore, they will have no way of getting their opinion put properly by their representatives in different parts of the House as a result of the limit which is to be put upon what discussions can take place on the Clauses in this important part of the Bill.
Hon. Members opposite have said that there is no interest being shown in the country; that there cannot be any anxiety in the country because of the results of the recent by-elections. Let us look at where they were held. They were held in areas where property does not come under rent restriction because it is owned by the people concerned or is above the level of rent restriction. But in the ordinary working-class parts of the country such as Liverpool, and Manchester, where I was speaking last night to a large audience, people are waiting to hear explanations in simple terms, not in legal language, of their rights in relation to these increases in rent.
This Motion will make it impossible for them to have the knowledge they require, because there will only be a certain amount of discussion and amendment in future. I represent a number of tenants in my constituency who have come to me repeatedly and have asked, "When shall we know our responsibilities? How can we tell by what amount our rent will be increased?"
As, I imagine, no amendment will be made, I have been taking the Bill as it stands and, by the use of a blackboard, I have explained to my constituents what the increase will be in their rent. It is the very negation of democracy to refuse the fullest discussion of increases in rent such as this Bill will allow. I believe that this Motion will make people who were not bothering too much about the Bill wonder what it is all about, and they will want to know exactly what will be their responsibilities and liabilities.
Although I am opposed at any time to the use of the Guillotine, I believe that by using it the Tory Party are giving us exactly the propaganda we need before the forthcoming municipal elections. I hope that the fullest opportunity will be taken of it by my party. I shall certainly use it to the fullest advantage. I hope it will be explained that the Tory Party are using this Motion unnecessarily, because all that has been happening in the Committee until now has been that opportunity has been taken to move Amendments to improve a Bill which, in my opinion, is not worthy of improvement and cannot be improved because it was bad from the beginning and will be bad at the end.
The use of the Guillotine will arouse indignation among many tenants whose rent will be increased. Already, tenants are asking local labour parties to set up tenants' protection associations in order that the difficulties may be explained to them. They know it is no use going to the other party because hon. Gentlemen opposite will not want to explain the increases. If tenants cannot have the Bill fully explained in Standing Committee because of this Motion, if they cannot have it explained fully on the Floor of the House on Report because of this Motion, and if the Third Reading stage is restricted because of this Motion, they will get the information from us. I believe that it will be to the advantage of my party, and that it will precede the definite and heavy defeat of the party opposite at the next General Election.
The speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) has been enlightening. Towards the end of it the hon. Lady said that this Bill, which she will explain to her constituents, will be a great disadvantage to the Conservative Party during the municipal elections. When we were discussing this Bill on Second Reading I said that it was never intended by my right hon. Friend to be of advantage to any political party and certainly not to the Conservative Party. Furthermore, if he had wished to bring in a Housing Bill that would be of advantage to the Conservative Party at elections, he could have thought of a much better Bill than this.
Quite frankly, when this Bill appeared in its original form, and it has not changed much since, many of us thought that it would have severe effects on our party in elections, but my right hon. Friend pursued the matter and brought the Bill forward. It has reached its second stage, and he is completely uninterested in whether it helps our party or the party opposite or the Liberal Party. He believes sincerely and genuinely, as do all hon. Members on this side of the House, and very large numbers of hon. Members opposite, that this is a first-class Bill—
I accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I shall endeavour to keep well within the terms of the Motion.
The Bill is intended to bring comfort and happiness to people who are living in unpleasant houses by enabling those houses to be patched. In bringing the Bill forward, my right hon. Friend took courage in his hands. He is determined to see to it that people who are now living in squalor and whose houses need patching shall be taken out of that squalor at the earliest possible moment. If this Motion is not accepted today, several months will go by and the effect of the Bill in improving the lot of those people will be postponed.
Any hon. Member opposite who goes into the Lobby tonight against this Motion will be voting in favour of postponing the patching of those houses. However, had it not been for the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange, I should not have made these remarks, but I think that they have been warranted.
On two occasions this afternoon the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) referred to me, inasmuch as I have been representing in the Committee upstairs the views of local authority members of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which I understand represents nearly 54 per cent. of the total population of this country.
You are well aware, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that in the case of a Measure of the complexity of this Bill the Minister normally has consultations with the local authorities before the Bill is drafted. Their views are heard and are often expressed in the Bill. I do not know the facts about this Bill, but that is the normal procedure. The Minister consults the local authorities and incorporates some of their views because it is they, and not the Minister, who have to work the Bill.
I see that you are looking at me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, very quizzically and I am now coming to the Motion. When the Bill goes upstairs, certain Amendments are put down. Today, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that the case of the local authorities had been put forward by the hon. Member for Dulwich. Remembering that, I ask hon. Members to study the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee upstairs and examine the length of the speeches and the time taken in moving the Amendments which I had been requested to move on behalf of the local authorities.
The speeches were extremely short. Consideration of the Amendments took practically no time, and in four or five cases out of six the Minister, who had obviously considered the Amendment, quickly got up and said that where he could not accept the actual wording he was prepared to accept the intention of the Amendment and, at the Report stage, would introduce an Amendment of his own. Where he could not do that on one occasion, he said that he would send a circular or instructions to local authorities to give effect to the intention of the Amendment.
I submit that fair-minded Members of this House who were on the Committee upstairs will agree, on examination of the OFFICIAL REPORT, that the speeches made in support of Amendments put forward on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations were short and to the point. It will be seen also that where I was fortunate to have the support of the Opposition in the Committee the debate was prolonged. As far as the Bill has gone, I say with confidence that the local authorities are very satisfied with what has happened and that very few further Amendments will be moved on their behalf.
Obviously, the hon. Member must know that I am speaking only on behalf of that association of local authorities for which I have been speaking throughout in the Committee. No doubt the hon. Member himself will be putting down Amendments on behalf of associations of other local authorities.
If hon. Members opposite representing any association, whether of tenants, local authorities or property owners, wish to move Amendments it can be done very easily by making short, definite speeches giving the facts. The Minister really does not need a large number of speeches. It has been said by the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) that there has been no repetition. I have been present in the Committee for most of the time during its 10 sittings. The repetition that I heard there from some hon. Members was quite fantastic. It was quite unnecessary. The Minister has been extremely co-operative with every hon. Member who has put forward a point.
If, as I believe will happen, the Guillotine Motion goes through tonight and we get the Committee working tomorrow to its time-table, I am perfectly certain that no harm will be done to the Bill or to the people of this country by our dealing with Amendments more quickly than we have done in the past. I quite agree that no charge of filibustering can be levelled at anyone in connection with this Bill, but in the case of another Bill there was a considerable amount of filibustering in the Committee of which I was also a Member. In this case, however, a very large number of unnecessary speeches have been made, some of which have been unnecessarily long. I think it perfectly possible for the Minister to be able to help hon. Members opposite, probably by conceding points put by their Amendments where they are good. No hon. Member opposite can say that my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary have been other than reasonable.
Local authorities will have to carry out the provisions of this Measure. I think it is fair to say that in conversations which went on prior to the Bill being placed before the House, after the Bill had a Second Reading, and subsequently, the Minister has shown nothing but consideration in order to meet points put by the local authorities. I believe that this can and will be so in future. I have never looked upon housing as a party political matter and I believe that privately hon. Members opposite take the same line. I believe that the Motion will result in relief being brought to people living under horrible slum conditions some months earlier than would have been the case if the Motion were not carried. If for no other reason, I commend the Motion to the House.
The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) was the first hon. Member who has seemed to suggest that in Committee upstairs time-wasting speeches have been made. I believe that, subsequently, he withdrew, or partly withdrew, that assertion and admitted, what is generally agreed, that upstairs there has been no obstruction, but that speeches have been constructive and comparatively short.
The hon. Member seemed to have a rather subjective view of his own capacity to put his Amendments with brevity and force. In my recollection of what went on in the Committee he was no more precise or brief than any other hon. Member on the Committee. Further more, the points which he put were short points which did not involve any principle, but were mainly concerned with administrative details. It seemed that most of the points put by the hon. Member on behalf of local authorities were not points of principle, or substance —
The hon. Member has failed to meet the point I was making. We on this side of the House are, naturally, concerned with the big principles which divide the House and which are embodied in the Bill. Local authority points are mainly points which deal with their problems under the Bill when it becomes law. Therfore, they are of secondary importance to the big points of principle put forward by the Opposition.
The hon. Member has made a statement about matters of detail. I think he must inform the House of what the matters were. There were certain matters of substantial principle.
I agree that we cannot pursue this matter now, but I think that, on reflection and reconsideration, the hon. Member will take my point that we as the Opposition are concerned with major points of principle, whereas his Amendments were of less substance.
The most striking thing I have heard in this debate came from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) when he said he thought this House was taking this business of the Guillotine too lightly. It seems to me that the atmosphere of this House in this debate has been rather light when we remember the importance of the Motion we are discussing. You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and Mr. Speaker would agree that it is the main function of the House of Commons to scrutinise in detail every proposal put forward by the Government. We have to do all we can to preserve freedom of speech so far as we consider that appropriate. Any proposal to curtail freedom of speech receives, of course, our critical consideration.
I was, therefore, rather surprised when the Minister, in explaining the Motion with some lengthy frivolity, finally came to his main reasons for it and all he could say, in effect, was, "We are only doing what you did when in Government. What is good enough for you is good enough for us." That may be quite a good debating point, but it is not a sufficiently weighty argument to put up for an important Motion which limits the freedom of discussion in this House. The Minister failed to face the gravity of the proposal in the Motion that the time the House should devote to this important Bill should be curtailed.
I hope that whoever replies to the debate for the Government will deal with the speech made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), which I thought, coming from the Liberal benches, was an eminently reasonable speech. We welcome the support he and his colleagues will give us in the Lobby this evening. The hon. Member asked specifically whether any attempt had been made by the Government to get a voluntary time-table on this Measure. So far as my information as a member of the Standing Committee goes, such an attempt was not made. In fairness to the House, and certainly out of respect to one of the few Liberal Members, the Government spokesman should address himself to the question of whether or not an attempt was made to get this Measure through in an amicably agreed fashion without using this heavy and dangerous implement of the Guillotine.
I have formed my conclusions about why the Minister has tabled this Motion. After consideration, I have decided that the Minister was determined from the outset to push the Bill through as quickly as he could. At the second sitting of the Standing Committee, to the surprise of everyone, the Minister moved the Closure, and he has applied it on 12 occasions in 10 sittings. That seems to be a rather rapid, early and unjustifiable use of such a procedure.
In the Third Sitting, because things were not going according to his desires, the Minister lost his temper with one of my hon. Friends and we wasted at least seven minutes on that episode. I think that the pressure of back bench Members opposite has influenced the right hon. Gentleman to move this Motion. It is evident that hon. Members opposite are disinclined to spend time in the Committee and we shall see whether they will agree to afternoon sittings so that we may have sufficient time to deal with this Bill.
This is a long and complicated Measure, as we were told on Second Reading by the Parliamentary Secretary. Not only does it alter many Acts of Parliament and legislate by reference, but it will repeal many local authority byelaws and curtail their future powers. I regret that the Minister has taken this precipitate action. Had he approached the matter in a reasonable way, I am sure we could have come to an agreement. We might have arranged to sit in the afternoon and, if necessary, in the evening, in order to deal with this Bill in a proper manner and bring it back to the House in an improved form.
In my opinion my right hon. Friend has established beyond reasonable doubt that in this case a time-table is reasonable. He quoted figures which showed that the first six Clauses were discussed in 10 sittings of the Standing Committee. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said in the Committee that the Clauses which have been discussed represented that part of the Bill generally acceptable to hon. Members opposite, and I am wondering how long the less acceptable part of the Bill might take in the absence of a time-table.
I think the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) would agree that the gravamen of the Opposition's argument is that Part I of the Bill is just window dressing. It is eyewash. It does not mean anything. We have been wasting all this time on the first part of the Bill which has not done a single thing to improve conditions in the country.
I am sorry.
What the hon. Member for Welling-borough (Mr. Lindgren) has said, and what has been said by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) strengthens my argument. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale implied that the first part of the Bill was either "less objectionable," as described by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, or "a waste of time," to use the words of the hon. Member for Pembroke. But even that part of the Bill occupied 10 sittings of the Standing Committee. When the Committee moves on to that part of the Bill which, in the words of the hon. Member for Pembroke, is not "eyewash," or is "less objectionable," according to the hon. Member for Wellingborough, I wonder how long it would take in the absence of any kind of time-table.
My right hon. Friend was right when he described the attitude of Governments and of Oppositions to the use of this device, but I do not think the Opposition can call that in aid. One Government in recent years which was relentless in the use of this device was the Labour Government of 1945–50. The charge mentioned by my right hon. Friend has not been dealt with by any hon. Member opposite, namely, the use of this device on one occasion by that Government, not merely before 10 Clauses of a Bill had been discussed, or even six, but before the Bill had been committed to a Standing Committee at all. For hon. Members who supported that action to say now that they oppose this much more reasonable use of the Guillotine appears to me to be quite bogus opposition.
Nevertheless, I would say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that in future we must reconsider the use of the Guillotine. It is not a device for which I have any great affection. If it has to be used—and I believe that on this occasion there is a strong case for employing it—we ought to consider whether in future, when a time-table is imposed, a Bill should be restored to the Floor of the House. Then what is lost through the shortness of the debate may be in part restored by the greater publicity given to the proceedings of the House.
I have always supported the Liberal view that the use of the Guillotine is justifiable only under extreme provocation or for extreme reasons. It should be used with great restraint where Bills are sent to Standing Committee.
As my hon. Friend is speaking of the Liberal view of Guillotines, it may be interesting for him to recall that when a Guillotine was imposed by the Liberal Government in 1911 the effect was not to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House from Standing Committee, but actually to send part of it upstairs.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Even the Liberal Party, when in Government, adopted the same device. It seems to be a failing common to all parties.
I consider that the case has been made out that the opposition to this time-table is largely bogus. It is an opposition which should not be made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who used this device with such relentless heartlessness in the days when they were in Government.
The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) ought to have listened to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). My complaint against the use of the Guillotine was largely made by the hon. Member for Dulwich. He said that Part I of the Bill dealt largely with local government activities and that the remainder dealt with landlords and the rents of tenants.
Before the Bill was even brought to the House there was discussion with local authority associations. I do not complain of that; it is the correct thing to do. Where a Bill vitally affects the day-to-day operation of local government, the local authority associations have a right to be consulted—not to decide but to be consulted —on the general trend of the legislation. They should give the Government of the day the benefit of their views.
Those discussions took place and, in confidence, the local authority associations knew roughly what was to be the make-up of the Bill as it affected them. The Measure was then brought before the House. The Government did not accept all that the local authority associations wanted, so those hon. Members who are in close contact with the associations were asked to put down Amendments. Those Amendments were discussed in Committee, and we have almost reached Part II of the Bill which deals with landlords and tenants.
Look at the different treatment accorded by the Government. It would be the same whatever Government were in power, because there is no machinery to deal with the matter adequately. Those who represent landlords, the property-owning associations, and so on, made their representations to the Government. They even made representations to the Labour Government, but they did not take any notice. The Tory Government have taken notice. The other parties, the tenants to whom the rent increases will apply, have not been consulted. Their views have not been put. The Government consulted the local authorities and allowed their case to be discussed; but the tenants have not been consulted. The only opportunity for the case for the tenants to be put is to be guillotined by the Government.
The Bill is most unfair. There are about 13,750,000 houses of which 7,250,000 are rent-controlled—owned by someone and rented to another person. Of the 7,250,000 houses, 2,250,000 are over 100 years old. The Bill thus enables increases to be made in the rents of houses which are over 100 years old. Also, 1,750,000 of the 7,250,000 houses are over 75 years old, and 1,000,000 are over 60 years old. Consequently, under the Guillotine Motion we are dealing with 7,250,000 houses, of which 5,000,000 are more than 60 years old. Those houses were built before the Boer War and before there was any control whatever over the construction or siting of houses. Yet we are asked why we want time to deal with the Bill.
Why did the building of houses for renting in this country cease 60 years ago? It is practically 60 years since private enterprise built any houses for workers to live in. The first power of control over building by private enterprise was contained in the Public Health Act, 1875, which gave local authorities the right to make building byelaws. The local authorities were at that time public health boards, school boards and boards of guardians, and so on, and they could not operate properly. There had thus to be a reorganisation of Local Government. The Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, reorganised the municipal boroughs, and the Local Government Act, 1888, set up county councils and county boroughs, and the Local Government Act, 1894, set up urban and borough district councils. That type of building ceased because local government came into operation and put into effect not Socialist legislation but legislation passed by Liberal and Tory Governments to control the evils of private enterprise building.
The hon. Member for Dulwich spoke about people who are living in hovels getting their houses patched up a few months earlier as a result of the passing of the Guillotine Motion. What is the reason for the existence of these hovels —the 2,250,000 houses built over 100 years ago, the 1,750,000 built over 75 years ago, and the 1,000,000 built over 60 years ago? They were built before there were any building regulations. Yet hon. Gentlemen opposite support the Motion because it will result in the earlier patching up of hovels.
My hon. Friends and I are chiefly concerned about whether the Bill will protect the tenants. If the landlords had done their job over the last 100 years, there would have been no need for the Bill. It is because they failed to do their job that we are having to consider the matter in this fashion. What hon. Gentleman opposite are now asking is that, under this Bill, we shall allow the tenant, who is living in a house which is 100 years old, who is—
This is a real Government, is it not? It is only a few months ago that local authorities were urged to sell their good council houses, and now the Government are asking them to buy slum properties.
I was led astray by the hon. Gentleman opposite. I am easily led astray, and I think that the hon. Gentleman opposite should accept part of your rebuke to me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
In objecting to this Guillotine Motion, we are concerned with the fact that these are houses which are 100, 75, or 50 years old, from which rent has been drawn by landlords during those years, and, for the whole of that period, the landlords have refused to carry out their obligations. Yet, now, when we are having a new Bill to deal with the problems which have arisen through the errors of landlords in the past, we are not allowed to have either the opportunity or the time to discuss the proper protection of the tenants.
Every phase of Part II of the Bill has a heavy bias in favour of the landlord against the tenant. If the tenant wants to object, it is his job to go to the local authority. Under this Bill, the landlord can make an increase in the rent if the House is in good general repair as regards both structure and decoration, and the landlord himself determines that under the terms of this Bill. If, however, the tenant objects, he has to go to the local authority within 21 days and ask them to give him a certificate of disrepair. When it comes to what is a vital Amendment to this Bill, in which we want to put the onus of proof of fitness on the landlord, we are to have the Guillotine, and shall not be able to discuss it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite object to our reference to them as the friends of the landlords, but every phase of this Bill is in favour of the landlords and against the tenants. Will any hon. Gentleman opposite give us a guarantee that, when we come to the question of the protection of the tenants under this Bill, we shall have ample time for the discussion of Amendments? Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will give us some indication what the allocation of time for discussion is to be? My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but I think that before this Motion leaves this House, tenants in the country—and hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that there is no great stir among them—should know what the position will be.
I wrote an article for one Sunday newspaper a fortnight ago, and, as a result, I received well over 50 letters from tenants in all parts of the country who are concerned with vital aspects of this Bill, and their concern is very largely as to whether or not particular items are to be brought to their attention.
I object to this Motion because, in the first place, the discussions on questions affecting the local authorities are now finished. The local authorities had the opportunity of discussions with the Government before the Bill was brought in, and they have had the opportunity of putting forward their Amendments while the Clauses which affect them have been under examination. The landlords have been right on the Government's doorstep and right into the Minister's office putting their point of view.
We now come to the point of view of the tenants, for whom hon. Members on this side of the House speak, and we are to have the Guillotine, which does not give to those hon. Members the opportunity to put the cases of the constituents whom they represent and whom they wish to protect against further exploitation by the landlords, which exploitation has been going on ever since there was landlordism.
We have heard some very cynical arguments from hon. Gentlemen opposite during the day, and none more cynical than the argument of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins), who made a great deal of complaint about the fact that he was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) as the spokesman of the Association of Municipal Corporations, who had been holding up the Bill because of the number of Amendments he had put forward on behalf of that body. Then, the hon. Member for Dulwich went on to say that we had dealt with that part of the Bill, and that he would not be putting down many more Amendments, so that he would not be holding up the proceedings in future.
I ask the hon. Member seriously to consider this kind of argument. It is not in the best interests of this House for the hon. Member to hold up the proceedings and then, when the Guillotine comes after the part of the Bill in which he is interested has been dealt with, to say: "Never mind about the rest. I am all right. I am not concerned with what happens in regard to increases of rent. That has nothing to do with me." The hon. Member not only takes that attitude towards the debates in the Standing Committee but takes it apparently towards the debate here, because he has left the Chamber. Having made his speech, he has no interest in what takes place afterwards.
Hon. Members say that it is of vital importance to remove the slums of this country and do away with the squalor by taking the immediate and vigorous action now proposed by the Minister, but we all know that there is no reason for immediate haste in this matter. The limitations on the timing of the slum problem are physical and not legislative. Every hon. Member on the Government benches knows that the difficulty with which we are really confronted in any attempt to deal with the slum problem is the allocation of available materials and supplies of manpower within the building industry.
If we are to allocate a very large proportion of our resources for the building of new houses there is no urgency for the Bill, because the resources of the building industry will be engaged in building new houses. The whole of Part I of the Bill, which has occupied 10 sittings in the Standing Committee is, as I said earlier when the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) was speaking, almost exclusively eyewash and window dressing.
The hon. and gallant Member for Norfolk, Central (Brigadier Medlicott) finished his plea for the use of the Guillotine by saying that the compression which we shall have in the proceedings of the Standing Committee will enable us to have more workmanlike speeches. I was very interested in that argument from the hon. Gentleman, because I had been looking through, somewhat hastily, what has happened in the Committee. I may be doing the hon. and gallant Gentleman an injustice. He, like the hon. Member for Dulwich, has left the Chamber and is apparently taking no further interest in these proceedings.
The hon. and gallant Member has not been deliberating very much in the Committee, because over the last six or seven sittings he has not said anything at all. That is the most workmanlike speech that one could possibly have. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has tried to give the impression that he has been playing a large part in the proceedings of the Com- mittee and that he wants to secure a more satisfactory arrangement of the proceedings, when in point of fact he has been playing no part whatever in the Committee's proceedings for several sittings during some weeks that have gone by.
A very interesting speech was made by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who is not a member of the Standing Committee. Some of us have spoken from particular experience of the housing problem and some from experience on the Standing Committee. Listening to the speech of the hon. Member, I thought he only spoke from Louth. He was moved to righteous anger against my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) because my right hon. Friend said that a number of hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches objected to prolonged attendance at this House because they had business commitments outside. Of course, some hon. Members opposite have been writing to "The Times" saying that it is perfectly easy for a Member of this House to indulge in business activities outside, and that therefore there is no need for deliberations on the Report of a Select Committee which has just been presented to the House.
Hon. Members opposite really ought to address their minds to this problem because we on these benches have been seeking to scrutinise this Bill in the best interests of the community as a whole. They are apparently seeking to curtail scrutiny of it because they are not prepared to accept the hint thrown out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale for more numerous sittings, including afternoon sittings. The only assumption to be drawn is that hon. Members opposite are too busily occupied with other activities to take part in the discussions of the Standing Committee.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government made the most cynical comment of all on this Motion. He said, "Of course, it does not really matter. Every Government want the Guillotine when in power. Every Opposition has to oppose it, so what are we having this sham fight about? It is rather a waste of time." He then went on to produce a series of turgid phrases which made the whole thing much more cynical than anything he could have produced in argument. The right hon. Gentleman really ought to realise that the proceedings of this House cannot be brought into contempt or disrepute in that way. It is not good for the House to have that sort of cynical comment about what should be a serious argument on a serious matter.
There are two reasons why discussion on this Bill has had to be curtailed and why the Government have brought in this Motion. The first is the very pattern of the Bill itself. Had it been drafted differently it would not have been necessary to have a Guillotine in this form. The Minister has filled up Part I of the Bill with a lot of vague Clauses which amount to nothing but wind. We on the Opposition benches have had to explore every one of them because it is essential for us to safeguard the interests of local government. It would not have been possible for us, had we accepted the right hon. Gentleman's arguments at their face value, to have deduced in the first instance that these Clauses meant nothing at all.
I made this point quite clear in the course of the first sitting of the Standing Committee. I will presume to draw the attention of the House to some remarks I made on the very first morning. I said:
We have been here all this time "—
that was after an hour or more—
and it is entirely the fault of the right hon. Gentleman. He is holding up the Committee at the beginning of what must be a long consideration of this Bill, which is obviously going to take up a great deal of the time of hon. Members here. He is holding us up with this new proposal,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 21st January, 1954; c. 17.]
I am merely seeking to show the Government that I gave this warning earlier, and that there is no excuse for them not realising that this is the sort of situation which was bound to arise because of the very nature of the Bill which they introduced. That is the whole point of the complaint which we are making here today, and I submit that it is very relevant that the Government cannot escape the logical conclusion of the warnings which we on these benches uttered earlier in the proceedings. The first reason this Guillotine Motion is being introduced is, as I say, because of the wrong conception of the Bill and because of the unnecessarily prolonged discussion which we had to have because we were unable to find out what Part I of it actually meant.
The second reason the Government have been forced, in their own interests, to introduce this Motion is their own Ministerial incompetence. Throughout the whole of the proceedings practically all the handling of the Opposition's Amendments has been in the hands of the Minister himself. The Parliamentary Secretary, because of his deficiencies, has been practically a passenger in the Standing Committee, which has meant that nearly all the work has been on the shoulders of the Minister himself. If the right hon. Gentleman had devolved some of the work on to his Parliamentary Secretary he would have been able to get a much better grasp of all the Clauses and Amendments.
I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary was only allowed to open his mouth twice—and put his foot in it; and on one occasion he prolonged the proceedings. Because the Minister has had to be jack-of-all-trades he has been master of none. He has been unable to give explicit explanations and we have had to ask for further enlightenment. That has taken time—and quite rightly. As the Opposition, we have not been satisfied with windy phrases and from time to time have asked for further assurances.
The other example of Ministerial incompetence leading to the introduction of this Guillotine Motion has been that when in Committee we have had legal difficulties there has not been present a single Law Officer of the Crown. Had there been a representative of the Law Office present, we might have had legal explanations given very quickly, which could have short-circuited the work of the Committee. I am not, myself, keen about the Law Officers—I think this particular lot are a seedy-looking bunch— but, on occasion, they have their uses.
Had they been present on one or two occasions they might have facilitated our work, because this Bill deals with a number of ramifications of the Rent Acts, the Local Government Act and the Housing Act. Had someone with legal knowledge been present— even one of these Law Officers—our proceedings might have been speedier.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that we want simple explanations. We were even prepared to acknowledge that, bad though they are, the Law Officers might have been able to reduce legal jargon into simple English and so allow our deliberations to proceed more quickly.
In their handling of this Standing Committee the Government have been very largely the instruments of the obstruction of their own legislation. We are right to register the strongest possible protest because, as a result of the Government's incompetence, we are having to curtail discussion on that aspect of the Bill which has the widest impact on the widest public. The Government have only themselves to thank if people go out into the country and tell the electorate, when the opportunity comes, "Well, they were prepared to have discussions on the minor matters of the Bill, but were determined to ride roughshod over all opposition when it came to increasing the rents." That is the gravamen of our charge. In the four years that I have been in this House I do not think I have been on a Standing Committee in which a Minister of the Crown has handled the Measure under consideration more incompetently than has the right hon. Gentleman himself.
I should like to express the regret of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) at not being able to be here this evening, owing to illness. I am sure that we are all sorry that he is not able to be here. During this debate we have had a much more serious consideration of this Motion than at first seemed likely. Its introduction by the Minister was of a very light-hearted and jovial kind, and did not attempt to deal with the major issues involved. It is only through the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and other speakers that we have got down to some of those major issues.
The first point to which I want to refer is, perhaps, the most important of all. It was raised initially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, and it certainly needs to be pressed. Is it right for a Government holding as precarious a majority as this Government does to use the Guillotine procedure to force through Measures which are highly controversial and are bound to lead to a great deal of argument and discussion, whether they be taken on the Floor of the House or in Committee? It is noticeable that in the last Government's period of office, when they suffered under an even smaller majority than that which is enjoyed by the present Government, the Guillotine procedure was never used.
During that relatively short period we did not attempt to force our views upon the House on matters of great controversy, accepting the small majority which we then had. This Government, on the other hand, have repeatedly used this unwelcome procedure to force through highly controversial Measures. It was used on the National Health Service Measure, which imposed further charges upon the Health Service, and affected very many people; it was used in the handover of transport; in that miserable little Measure dealing with the brewers in the new towns—of all the pettifogging Measures in respect of which to use the Guillotine procedure—and now it is proposed to use it in connection with another major issue which affects the bulk of ordinary working men and women.
This is being done after a most specific promise by the Prime Minister, who, in opening the debate on the Queen's Speech, stressed the importance of this very Measure, and led us to understand that he was anxious that everyone should have an opportunity of putting forward views and constructive ideas in order that there should be a real pooling of thought about this Bill, which he agreed affected so many people. Since the Prime Minister gave that clear undertaking at the commencement of this Session of Parliament, it is only fair that he should be here to explain why he has gone back on that promise.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government also gave a specific promise—to local authorities. When the point was put to him at a meeting held with representatives of local authority associations he gave the assurance that there would be the fullest opportunity for discussion, and that he had no intention of rushing this Bill through. He gave us those pledges, and, therefore, he should make it clear to the House why he has gone back on them
It was because this was an important Measure that affected large numbers of people that we ensured that there was a strong team of Members on the Opposition side of the Committee. Nobody can deny, I think, that we did ensure that on the Committee were men and women with very wide experience of local government and specifically of all sorts of housing problems; men and women with experience of the particular experiment in Birmingham and elsewhere; and who have wide experience of the legal side and the Rent Acts, a very important and complex mass of legislation very much affected by the Bill.
With the exception of myself, I think we provided an able team of Members for the Committee to ensure that the most constructive use possible was made of the time. What has happened? We have the discarding of all that valuable assistance and experience, and insistence on the Guillotine that will not allow sufficient time for discussion of the great mass of important issues that arise. Guillotine Motions, if they are to be approved by the House, must be needed. It must be made clear that a Guillotine is needed because a Bill is vital, urgent, and must be passed within a short time; that it is so important to the Government that it must be given precedence. Can that be said about this Bill?
It has been suggested by the Minister, of all people, that the Bill will help towards shim clearance; that if this Motion is not agreed to people will have to live in slum conditions longer than they otherwise will. He must know as well as anybody that that is not true, that the local authorities today have all the powers they require for slum clearance. The Bill does not add one single jot or tittle to all the powers the local authorities have for slum clearance. The only thing it does is to delay the clearance, for reasons that we have pointed out.
So far as Part I of the Bill is concerned, dealing with the patching up of houses, there can be no urgency because the local authorities possess already the powers for slum clearance, but they are, as we all know, facing the problem of where to get the labour, skilled and unskilled, that Would be required to carry out their extra obligations under the Bill. We know, for example, that at the present time they are 450 sanitary inspectors short. Yet the Government propose to impose on the local authorities duties which we know that they will be unable to carry out for some time to come.
So far as I have been able to find out from Questions, the Government are doing nothing to deal with that shortage. Therefore, it cannot be said by any stretch of the imagination that this Bill is vital and urgent and has to receive the Royal Assent within a short time. It ought to be the purpose of the Government to ensure that a Measure of this importance is fully discussed and that no point is missed in the discussion before the Bill is passed.
The second argument which is normally advanced when a Motion of this kind is brought forward is that the Bill has been either blocked or unreasonably delayed by discussion in Committee, but a most noticeable point in the debate today has been that hardly any hon. Member has dared to argue that there has been any unreasonable delay in the treatment of the Bill. References have been made to other Bills. I cannot speak of them, but we may wonder what is to be the prospect for the Scottish Bill. We are interested to know whether other Guillotine Motions are to be imposed. We certainly have a right to discover what is the Government's general attitude to this matter.
In connection with this Bill and this Motion, no one has attempted to argue that there has been any delay or unreasonable discussion. The most that has been said is that a few speeches may have been rather longer than they need have been. I am sure that could be said of any Measure debated in the House and I am sure it applies to hon. Members opposite just as much as to my hon. Friends. It is natural enough that every one of us should think that other people are inclined to speak for too long. That is, no doubt, a very human failing of each one of us.
No one has advanced any more than the suggestion that there may have been occasionally a certain diffusion of speech, which is natural to hon. Members either in Committee or on the Floor of the House, and there has been no suggestion at all of an organised attempt or any other attempt by hon. Members on this side of the House to hold up the Measure. Far from that being the case, we have had it made perfectly clear by the times which 'have been quoted that we have done the opposite. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) pointed out that 17½ minutes has been taken on each Amendment discussed in Committee, and no one can suggest that that is an unreasonably long time. I defy anyone to suggest that a single Amendment put on the Order Paper was an Amendment which in any way wasted time, which is quite unlike the tactics used by right hon. and hon. Members opposite when we discussed the Gas Bill in earlier days in the House and in Committee.
Not a single Amendment put down by the Opposition was not a serious and valuable Amendment. Indeed, to give him credit, the Minister never suggested the contrary. He has never said, either in Committee or on the Floor of the House, that any of the Amendments were of a frivolous kind.
Thus, the argument which is normally used to support such a Motion as this has not been made. We ace not being asked to pass the Motion because there has been any unreasonable discussion or delay in the consideration of the Bill upstairs. I think it was the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) who suggested that it was merely because the Government wanted to get the Bill through. It was not, he said, that there had been any unreasonable discussion; it was that the Government, irrespective of whether there was proper discussion or not, wanted to get the Bill on the Statute Book.
I am speaking within the recollection of hon. Members present, who heard what I said. I said the Government wanted to get the Bill on to the Statute Book but I did not say, "irrespective of discussion." I added that they wanted it on the Statute Book so that they could get on with the work which has to be done.
I have already dealt with that point. I said quite clearly that local authorities will not be able to get started for some time to come on any of this work, and that if this Bill were to be passed through this House two or three months earlier, it would not mean that a single house would be patched up more quickly.
A most curious and dangerous argument was brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Norfolk, Central (Brigadier Medlicott). If I am misinterpreting what he said, I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will correct me. He seemed to say, however, that because Bills which come before the House of Commons today are more complex we should limit discussion upon them.
My purpose was to show that, by their very nature, modern Bills provide almost indefinite opportunity for discussion, and that there must obviously be a limit to the extent to which any matter can be discussed usefully. I said that we were moving towards the time when both sides of the House would feel it to be inevitable that there should be a regular time-table for the discussion of Bills.
That is a dangerous proposal. Already there are great powers in the hands of the Chairmen of Committees, such as the power to select Amendments. There is also the power in the hands of the Minister or his supporters to insist upon the Closure. Those powers are very great indeed. Are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite now going to accept this theory that the amount of debate generally on modern Bills in Committee or on the Floor of the House ought to be cut down? Are they going to support the strange doctrine put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman?
Then there were some extraordinary points put by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins), who seemed to be attempting to give us all a lecture on the way we ought to run our business in this House. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this House sufficiently long to warrant lectures of that kind, and I am not sure either that his contributions in Committee have warranted that amount of arrogance either. The hon. Gentleman seemed to assure us that all we need to do is to make our representations to the Minister when this Guillotine Motion is passed and that we need not worry much about discussion.
He seemed to be asking, what is the point of all this discussion? But is not that the basis of Parliament? Is it not serious when an hon. Member of this House suggests that we can do away with what is, after all, the prime function of Parliament? It seemed to me that he was almost suggesting that all we needed to do was to write notes to the Minister telling him what we wanted, and that then we should all be looked after and that we did not need to have the cut and thrust of argument and of debate in the House or in Committee.
I suggest seriously that if the arguments put forward by some hon. Members opposite during this debate are followed up, they will be found to have serious consequences upon our right of free debate and discussion.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be referring to what I said. The whole purpose of my speech was to show, not that discussions should be abolished, but that we should come to the point more quickly.
It is odd how hon. Members opposite can say the same thing in different ways, but I was then referring to his hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, who is not present.
The other point is that there must be a difference of opinion on the other side of the House about this Measure. We were assured by the Minister that this was a relatively simple Measure, not a very complex and difficult one and not a very lengthy one, although his Parliamentary Secretary made it perfectly clear on Second Reading that he regarded the Bill as both complex and important. I am much more inclined to take the Parliamentary Secretary's view on this point. It was also the hon. Member for Henley who suggested that it was a technical but not a complicated Measure. He was put right almost immediately, of course, by someone who pointed out that the Parliamentary Secretary had insisted that it was indeed a complex and difficult Measure, as it is to anyone but, perhaps, a solicitor, who may have spent his whole life in this particular field.
The point that we have to consider is whether we have wasted any time in the Committee in considering Part I of the Bill and whether the time allotted by the Government for the future is adequate to consider the very important matters that still remain to be discussed. Let us examine Part I which, largely, we have been considering up to now.
As has been pointed out from this side of the House, although Part I does not provide any new powers for local authorities to carry on with slum clearance, it does provide certain parallel powers which have raised and still raise very serious doubts among local authorities as to whether their old powers still continue. It was, therefore, a matter of very great importance that this very difficult legal problem should be cleared up. The local authorities were making representations to all of us about it. That was an important question, apart altogether from the proposals for the patching up of houses, which were the principal proposals of Part I of the Bill.
Even on the patching-up proposals, hon. Members opposite pointed out that there was a difference of opinion on this side of the House. There is no harm in that. It is very natural that there should be. We have been anxious to clear away slums as quickly as possible, and the natural fear in our minds, about which time has been spent in Committee, is the question whether, if the patching work is done, the local authorities almost inevitably will not hang on to these still wretched houses a good deal longer than any of us would like.
We have been seeking, therefore, to put a time limit to these proposals to ensure that there will be no unreasonably extended life to houses of this kind. Most of us on this side of the House know these houses in our constituencies. We do not want to see them continued in life a day longer than is necessary, even though we succeed in patching them so that the rain does not penetrate into them as much as it does at present.
But this Motion covers other important matters which are still to be discussed. One of them is the most serious matter of all. My hon. Friends have all pointed out that Part II of the Bill deals with ordinary tenants of 6 million or more houses. Part II, therefore, affects more people who will be threatened under proposals in the Bill by rent increases, which many of these people will not be able to afford.
We would have sought to bring forward, in regard to this part of the Bill, many matters which are of great concern to every one of our constituents. We would have sought to have had the opportunity of discussing the chance of extending protection to tenants. We know the tragedies which occur today when many people who have been protected tenants lose their protection and are flung out of their homes. That happens all over the country. But it is very doubtful whether we shall have a chance of discussing that issue under this Motion.
There is the question of ensuring exchanges of property. Not a single hon. Member on either side of the House has not had representations on this sort of matter, where landlords still refuse to consider exchanges of tenancies. We were anxious to have this matter debated on Part II of the Bill, but whether we shall be able to do so or not I cannot tell; the working of a Guillotine is sometimes very difficult to be sure of in advance.
We were anxious to ensure that the onus should be placed on the landlord and not upon the tenant—one of the most important things. I would have thought that even if hon. Members opposite were thinking more of the landlord than the tenant they would have had many repre- sentations on that point. But whether we shall have a chance of discussing it or not I do not know and no one can know now.
Then there is the question whether references should be made to the county court. According to the Bill, the tenant has to take a case of complaint to the county court within 14 days. We would have wished to insert proposals to ensure that it was the rent tribunal which would deal with matters of that sort and not the county court. We would wish to ensure that the time limit should be revised. We are concerned about all these matters. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite are concerned; perhaps they are not, perhaps that is why they are prepared to chatter tonight instead of considering the matters which, by their act this evening—if they vote in favour of this Motion—will deny us the possibility of discussing. There are many other matters we would wish to ensure were discussed.
If all the normal reasons for introducing a Guillotine Motion in this House fail in regard to this measure tonight, why should the Government have introduced it? Many different suggestions have been put forward. One point I want to mention, which has not been raised so far, is that we know well enough there is strong pressure upon hon. Members opposite from landlord interests. We know very well that the landlords are dissatisfied with what has been given them so far. They want more—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should keep quiet. If he is not interested, people outside certainly are.
It is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to put down his own Amendments on the Order Paper favouring the landlord interest and he can make sure of getting them accepted without any discussion. They will be carried by his majority on the Committee and in all probability there will not even be an opportunity for us to discuss them. That is a point to which the Leader of the House ought to refer when he winds up the debate. What is the intention of his right hon. Friend in putting down late Amendments of his own that would be in the interest of one section of the community—in the interest specifically of the Landlords— in view of the strong pressure which we know he must be receiving on this matter? There is also no doubt in my mind that my right hon. Friend was quite right when he said, at the outset of the debate, that one of the matters we have to look to in the moving of this Guillotine Motion is that, in fact, hon. Members opposite are already tired of Committee work. They wish to avoid being held back in Committee work because of their interests outside this House. If that is not the case, we should have a clear understanding from the right hon. Gentleman that there is no difficulty of that kind with regard to hon. Members opposite. But it appears obvious to us that many hon. Members opposite tend to look on the duty of attending Committees of the House as not being of such great importance as the preservation of their private interests outside.
The most important reason which led the Government to bring forward this Motion is the fear of detailed discussion of these later Clauses of the Bill. They have been delighted that there has been, as they say, little interest shown in the Bill so far in the country. They wish it to stay that way. But if we can get full and free discussion of these later Clauses the people will understand what they will have eventually to accept in the way of increased rents and the fact that their interests will no longer be protected.
We say that this Guillotine Motion is one of the most serious of a long list which this Government have brought before the House. It is preventing proper debate of a Measure which hon. Members opposite, from the Prime Minister downwards, have described as of prime importance. They have asked for our views and we have not delayed the progress of this Measure. But we are forced to accept a Bill which we deeply dislike without proper amendment. The Government are attempting to force through the House a great controversial Measure and their slender majority does not warrant such an action.
My first words must be to express, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, our sympathy to the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) in his illness. I hope it will not be long before he is back with us again, because we certainly miss him when he is away.
We have had a remarkably quiet debate on this subject. hon. Members opposite can hardly be described as having seethed with indignation at the prospect of a time-table Motion of this kind. That fact is, I think, some justification for what the Government have done. In all the speeches, and I have heard all of them except for about 20 minutes—I must apologise to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) for not being present when she spoke—
I regret I did not hear her speech. Whether that was the noisy one I do not know.
I have heard a great deal of what has been said and the criticisms which have been made have been all on a very low note. I imagine that we all feel exactly the same about this. We all object strongly to there being any time-table Motion at all. It is a matter of great regret that such a thing should be necessary though I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition has, at times, intimated that he thought it would not be a bad way of proceeding. But that view is not universally accepted. It is a matter of very great regret that we should have a Motion of this kind.
On the other hand, of course, there is the fact at the back of the mind of every hon. Member who has sat through the debate, or who has thought about it, that we have all been on Standing Committees in our time, and we all know that if after 10 days only about six Clauses have been passed it is very slow work. That is the general experience. I think that that consideration has been behind a good deal of the quietness of the criticism.
But all Governments, much as they regret having to produce such Motions as this, from time to time have had to do so. They have done so and no doubt they will go on doing it. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that it was necessary to prevent a minority frustrating the wishes of the majority. I am glad that we both agree about that; but from that he sought to argue that a Government—not necessarily this Government but any Government—ought not to take debate in detail upstairs when the Opposition was so bitterly opposed to the principle of the Bill.
That argument will take Parliamentary discussion a very long way. If the Opposition object strongly enough in principle on Second Reading of a Bill, are we to take it from the right hon. Gentleman that ipso facto it must never go to a Standing Committee?
I took a careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman said. If that is the argument it is going back in Parliamentary procedure a matter of 50, 60 or 70 years. Originally all Measures were discussed in all stages on the Floor of the House. It was decided, I think inevitably—and if it had not been done then it would certainly have been inevitably decided in the last 20 or 25 years—that we could not congest the Floor of the House to the extent of having every single Bill debated here. Therefore, the Standing Committee system began. The test certainly cannot be whether or not an Opposition is in principle violently opposed to a Bill.
—highly controversial Bills. Of course, that is a slight change from what he said two years ago. Then he was complaining that we were not sending Bills upstairs. As my right hon. Friend recalled earlier, and I repeat it again for the benefit of hon. Gentlemen who were not here then, and who want
to follow the argument, the right hon. Gentleman said:
We are, therefore, entitled to ask the Government… why they have cluttered up the House with legislation and not sent certain legislation upstairs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April. 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2785.]
Then he makes the point that he is talking about complicated and technical Bills of a controversial nature.
Many of my hon. Friends do not seem to have had any recollection of it either, and it certainly is not on my notes.
On the point of complicated and technical Bills, the right hon. Gentleman's own leader was saying at the same time that our trouble arose from the fact that we were trying to take a complicated and technical Bill on the Floor of the House instead of upstairs. hon. Gentleman opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot complain that difficulties arise when we take Bills on the Floor of the House, and again complain if we send upstairs a Bill which is complicated or technical.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said that, in his view, it was certainly a technical Bill, but that, from a drafting point of view, it was not at all complicated and should be understood quite easily. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that argument may be, the House decided to send the Bill upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that he divided the House on that very Question. Therefore, it was a decision of the House of Commons that the Bill should go to Standing Committee.
I had better repeat for the re cord that there we have had 10 sittings and that only six Clauses have been dealt with, and we are half-way through Clause 7. That cannot by any measure of speed be counted fast. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), who has just been sent out of the Chamber to look for a quotation—I am sorry to say it in his absence—intervened during the speech of one of my hon. Friends and described Part I of the Bill as meaning nothing and said that we had been wasting our time on it. That was the first admission that I had heard from anyone of "waste of time."
I will leave it there. The hon. Gentleman has also used the word "waste."
The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government had brought forward the Motion when the Standing Committee had not yet sat in the afternoon. A Motion has been passed in the Standing Committee for it to sit three mornings a week. That is the normal procedure. In my experience, a Standing Committee first passes a Motion that it should sit three mornings a week. Then, if delays take place and it is found necessary to make more progress, the Committee has afternoon sittings.
The reason for that is not related to the allegations about the customs, habits and business activities of some of my hon. Friends. It is the far more general reason that hon. Members as a whole like, if possible, to be in attendance in the House when it is sitting, particularly at Question time. That is why afternoon sittings are the second and not the first resort. It is less burdensome for hon. Members in all parts of the House if Committees sit in the mornings.
They have been known to do so.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) pointed out, when the time-table Motion was introduced in the case of the Town and Country Planning Bill, there had not been any afternoon sittings either.
It is clear in this instance that progress has been slow. Whether we use the word "waste," which has been repeated by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) or not, is a matter of taste, but it has been slow. My right hon. Friend has described how the White Paper was introduced, how there was a debate on the Address, how at the very first possible moment the Bill was introduced, how we had the Second Reading, how the Committee stage was delayed, at the request of the Opposition, until after Christmas and how, after 10 sittings, the Committee has dealt with fewer than seven Clauses.
When we talk so glibly about five or 10 sittings and all the rest, it is just as well to remind ourselves that 10 sittings of a Standing Committee are equal, within about an hour or so, to a whole Parliamentary week, Friday being Private Members' time; that is to say, that the Standing Committee has already sat, with a fractional difference, as if the Committee of the whole House had sat on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on this Bill. Put into those terms, it seems to me to be a very long time in which to have achieved so little.
The right hon. Gentleman also complained that a lot of time had been taken up by Amendments moved by one of my hon. Friends. I have had the figures handed to me, and, although I was not on the Standing Committee and I take them as given to me, I find that 10 Amendments were moved by my hon. Friends, and that the total time consumed on them was one hour and 45 minutes out of 25 hours. That is not an unreasonable proportion.
What I was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman was that, in his view, the local government provisions in Part I of the Bill would be dealt with in two more sittings; that is to say, that he anticipated that two more sittings would dispose of another 10 Clauses. That statement, when he made it, was cheered by such hon. Members as were present at the time, showing that they absolutely agreed. If that is so, there has been a great deal of argument about very little, because there would be plenty of time to discuss Part II, to which the right hon. Gentleman and others naturally attach such very great importance —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, it is for the Business Committee to note these remarks, and, when they come to decide, which I think they will do in the most friendly manner, how to use up the time between now and 18th March, which is the only date in the Motion to which they will have to pay regard, they will no doubt be able to come to some amicable agreement.
I do not know at all why the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) kept assuming that there was not going to be time to discuss vital Amendments, any more than I can see why the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East kept saying that they wanted to discuss the protection of tenants, putting the onus on the landlords, time limits, reference to the county courts and a whole lot of detailed matters dealing with the Bill which it is not for me to discuss here. I do not see why these hon. Gentlemen assumed that there was not going to be time, because the Standing Committee can have as many meetings as they like so far as this House is concerned. All that the House says in this Motion is that the Bill has to be reported back from the Committee by 18th March, and what the Committee does between now and 18th March is no concern of the House at this moment. Therefore, I do not see why it should be assumed that there is no time to discuss these vital Amendments.
I should like to deal with the very thoughtful questions put by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) who said that we ought always to be very cautious about introducing any Guillotine or time-table. We all agree about that. We have to be very cautious, and I think that all Governments are very cautious. He went on to pose a rhetorical question, and answered it himself, which is a very agreeable way of doing it because one sees how the speaker's mind is working. He asked if he was to take it that the Opposition had been so obstructive in their behaviour that a timetable Motion was justifiable. To that, he answered, "No."
Well, here we are dealing, not with the word "obstruction," but with a length of time representing the whole of a Parliamentary week spent on so small a number of Clauses. Then, the hon. Member said that, if the matter was urgent, that was obviously another consideration which we ought to have in mind—that, if it is urgent, different considerations arise than those which have to be weighed if it does not matter whether the Bill is passed this month, next month, or in six months' time.
He answered the question by saying: "Of course the matter is urgent. It has been urgent for quite a long time." I should have thought that was an argument for getting on with it, rather than for saying: "It can wait a little longer." That was the implication of what the hon. Gentleman said. Ingenuously, he did say: "Well, it might have been done last year," but as it was not done last year there is all the more reason for doing it this year.
It is a rather dangerous argument to say that a Bill should be placed on the Statute Book within a very short period of time because the Government failed to introduce the Bill— for reasons that we do not know—earlier, knowing that had it been introduced earlier there would be more time available.
I am not sure that I am any clearer about the working of the hon. Gentleman's mind now. What I said is quite valid. If the hon. Gentleman thought that the matter was urgent but says it has been waiting for quite a long time, and then asks why we did not do it last year, I think I am justified in replying: "Be that as it may, it is all the more reason for doing it now."
It is not as though the Bill will get on the Statute Book in five minutes. It has to go through many more processes. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the time-table was reasonable, to which his answer was "No." I put it to him and to the House that for the House merely to say: "Eighteenth March is the day on which the Committee must report," is not unreasonable at all. There is plenty of time between now and then to discuss in considerable detail, and perhaps in full detail for all I know, all the outstanding matters.
The hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) said that more time should be given in the Motion itself, but if the Opposition thought that, they might have put down an. Amendment as an alternative to 18th March. They left it at that, so I naturally assumed that the date was agreeable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly. The ordinary way of showing that it is disagreeable is to put forward an alternative date and not merely to vote against the whole thing, because then hon. Members are not deciding Whether the length of time is reasonable but are voting against the principle of having a Guillotine.
Another question was: "Should we not have a Business Committee on Bills before they go to a Standing Committee?" That is a very interesting proposition and certainly a very revolutionary one which I think the House would like to look at very carefully before accepting and saying "Yes" to it. It is, in effect, saying that there should be a time-table for every single Bill that goes to the Standing Committee, and that is a very big pill to swallow at this hour of the night. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press us to do that.
The last question was by another hon. Member who asked whether any talks had taken place with the Opposition with regard to the time-table. Here I must tread rather delicately, because conversations which take place through the usual channels with the leaders of the parties are always of a confidential nature. This question was also put—I cannot say by whom, but it might have been by the same hon. Member as it was this sort of debate— to the right hon. Member who is now the deputy Leader of the Opposition, in November, 1948, when there was a timetable Motion on the Iron and Steel Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman was obviously asked the same question, so I do not think I can do better than answer the question in the words which the right hon. Gentleman then used, because exactly the same thing happened in both cases. They are these:
An approach was made to the Opposition to that end, but the Opposition were not willing to meet us on the point. I am not complaining about that at all. I understand their feelings perfectly and I do mot blame them. Nevertheless, having sought to do it by agreement and having found that impossible, we are left with no alternative but to devise a time-table."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1948; Vol.458, c.1436.]
That is the way the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Leader of the House, did
not disclose the full extent of the conversations, in exactly the same circumstances as in our case.
It was, and I leave it at that.
I pass now to the hon. Member for Itchen who said he thought that 12 more sittings of the Standing Committee would be unfair and inadequate. We have no reason to suppose that there will be only 12 more sittings of the Committee. That, as I tried to point out, is entirely a matter for the Business Committee to decide when it meets after this Motion is passed, as I hope it will be.
Then the hon. Gentleman got very curious about the date of the next General Election, which shows how far this debate can range, and dangled in front of us the awful warning of what happened at a famous by-election at Mitcham as a result of which we are indebted for the right hon. Gentleman's first appearance in this House where, apparently— it was before my time— the issue had been some projected Rent Restrictions Bill. It led to the defeat of the Minister, and this awful warning was dangled in front of those of us who sit on these benches so that we should not deal with this question at all.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman will realise that since the White Paper in November there has been a considerable number of by-elections in this country, and that the proportion of voters supporting Conservative candidates has gone up. But for all that, and having dangled that warning before us, the hon. Member was wondering why we were in such a hurry. He asked whether we were hurrying to get the Bill through before tenants knew what it was about. If there is all this mass indignation throughout the country, I should have expected some of it to be reflected in the recent by-elections.
The hon. Gentleman asked alternatively—and this was an extremely naive way of putting it— if the idea was to post- pone the General Election and whether we were going to abandon making, approaches for a Dissolution before 1956 —to use his own words—" when they have forgotten all about it." If it is such a terrible catastrophe to all the tenants of this country, I should hardly think that they would have forgotten about it by 1956. The Opposition really cannot have it both ways, just as the right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways, between the "ramp" and the "turnip."
Another argument that has been put forward why we should not have this, time-table is that hon. Members opposite hold the strange theory that because Part I and Part II of the Bill do not deal with exactly the same topics they should be different Bills, and that it is very wrong that matters which are not identical should appear in the same Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) entirely defeated that argument by quoting the extraordinary variety of topics which were brought under the umbrella of one of the local government Bills of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.
It is quite true, of course, that there are two Parts of this Bill, but, of course they only deal with one problem. Perhaps I may be allowed to put it in this way. Today, there is one great problem, houses, and some people think that it is the greatest of all the social questions facing the country. That great question of houses raises two problems—new-houses, old houses. Well, my right hon. Friend has dealt fairly effectively with the question of new houses. It is not much appreciated by the right hon. Gentleman-opposite. In this Bill my right hon. Friend goes on to deal with old houses, and it is the old houses which are the link between Part I and Part II of the Measure.
I do not want to take up all the points raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East because I just do not know how far I can go. He was insistent in saying that the early Part of the Bill— which, of course, will not come within the four corners of this Motion because those Clauses have passed through Standing Committee—was all eyewash. I think several hon. Gentlemen used that rather unpleasant term. Anyhow, he said that it was no good because it would not do anything and meant nothing.
He argued that the local authorities had all the necessary powers and that, therefore, there would not be any more done as a result of that Part of the Bill. I would reply to the hon. Gentleman and to others taking that view, that local authorities had powers to build 318,000 houses, but the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said it was not possible; that even if they had the powers which the right hon. Gentleman says they had, they were not exercising them. I am not sufficiently expert in these matters to know, but the same stimulus can be applied by my right hon. Friend in one direction as in the other.
This Motion has not caused the great indignation we were led to expect. I generally look to see the right hon. Gentleman the deputy Leader of the Opposition on these occasions, but we have not set eyes on him. The Leader of the Opposition did look in for a little
I say, as I began, that the Government are most reluctant to have had to produce this Motion. We all are— we always will be. But we are quite satisfied that the slowness with which this Bill has so far been discussed in Committee is such that this Motion—which does not divide up the business; the House does not decide how it is to be done, what Clauses are to be discussed on what day or anything of that kind—is necessary; and that the Motion in this form, instructing the Committee to report back by 18th March is, in all of the circumstances, fully justifiable.
|Division No. 42.]||AYES||[10.3 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Glover, D.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Cole, Norman||Godber, J. B.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Colegate, W. A.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.|
|Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Gower, H. R.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Crouch, R. F||Harden, J. R. E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hare, Hon. J. H.|
|Banks, Col. C.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)|
|Barber, Anthony||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Davidson, Viscountess||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Deedes, W. F.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Digby, S. Wingfield||Hay, John|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Bell, Ronaid (Bucks, S.)||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Donner, Sir P. W.||Heath, Edward|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Doughty, C. J. A.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Higgs, J. M. C.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Drayson, G. B.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)|
|Birch, Nigel||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Black, C. W.||Duthie, W. S.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Boothby, Sir R. J. G.||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Hollis, M. C.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hope, Lord John|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hornsby Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Braine, B. R.||Erroll, F. J.||Horobin, I. M.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Fell, A.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Braithwaite, Sir Gurney||Finlay, Graeme||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Fisher, Nigel||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Fletcher, Sir Walter (Bury)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Hurd, A. R.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E||Fort, R.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Foster, John||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Carr, Robert||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Channon. H.||Gammans, L. D.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Clarks, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Kaberry, D.||Neave, Airey||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Kerr, H. W.||Nicholls Harmar||Speir, R. M.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Nicholson Godfrey (Farnham)||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Nugent. G. R. H.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Nutting;, Anthony||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Oakshott, H. D.||Storey, S.|
|Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Odey, G. W.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Lindsay, Martin||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Summers, G. S.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Orr-Ewin, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Osborne, C.||Teeling, W.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Page, R. G.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Low, A. R. W.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Perkins. Sir Robert||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Peyton, J. W. W.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|McAdden, S. J.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|McCallum, Major D.||Pitman, I. J.||Tilney, John|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Powell, J. Enoch||Turner, H. F. L.|
|MoKibbin, A. J.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Turton, R. H.|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Raikes, Sir Victor||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Maclean, Fitzroy||Rayner, Brig. R.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Redmayne, M.||Vosper, D. F.|
|MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Remnant, Hon. P.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Renton, D. L. M.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Wall, P. H. B.|
|Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Robertson, Sir David||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Robson-Brown, W.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Marples, A. E.||Roper, Sir Harold||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Wellwood, W.|
|Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Russell, R. S.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Maude, Angus||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Maudling, R.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Scott, R. Donald||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Medlicott, Brig. F.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Mellor, Sir John||Shepherd, William||Wills, G.|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Moore, Sir Thomas||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Snadden, W. McN.||Sir Cedric Drewe.|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Adams, Richard||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Dodds, N. N.|
|Albu, A. H.||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Donnelly, D. L.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Burke, W. A.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Burton, Miss F. E.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Callaghan, L. J.||Edelman, M.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Carmichael, J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Baird, J.||Champion, A. J.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Balfour, A.||Chapman, W. D.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Bartley, P.||Clunie, J.||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Coldrick, W.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Bence, C. R.||Collick, P. H.||Fienburgh, W.|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Corbet, Mrs, Freda||Finch, H. J.|
|Benson, G.||Cove, W. G.|
|Beswick, F.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Crosland, C. A. R.||Follick, M.|
|Blackburn, F.||Grossman, R. H. S.||Foot, M. M.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Forman, J. C.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Daines, P.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Freeman, John (Watford)|
|Bowen, E. R.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Freeman, Peter (Newport)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Gibson, C. W.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Gooch, E. G.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Deer, G.||Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Manuel, A. G.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Grey, C. F.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mason, Roy||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mayhew, C. P.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mellish, R. J.||Snow, J. W.|
|Grimond, J.||Messer, Sir F.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mikardo, Ian||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Mitchison, G. R.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Monslow, W.||Steele, T.|
|Hannan, W.||Moody, A. S.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Hargreaves, A.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Morley, R.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Hastings, S.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Stress, Dr. Barnett|
|Hayman, F. H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Mort, D. L.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Moyle, A.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Mulley, F. W.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Murray, J. D.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Hobson, C. R.||Nally, W.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Holman, P.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Holmes, Horace||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W)|
|Holt, A. F.||O'Brien, T.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Oldfield, W. H.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Hoy, J. H.||Oliver, G. H.||Thornton, E.|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Orbach, M.||Timmons, J.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Oswald, T.||Tomney, F.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Padley, W. E.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pannell, Charles||Wade, D. W|
|Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Janner, B.||Parker, J.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Parkin, B. T.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Peart, T. F.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Weitzman, D.|
|Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Popplewell, E.||Wells, Percy (Faveraham)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Porter, G.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||West, D. G.|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Proctor, W. T.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Jones T W (Merioneth)||Pryde, D. J.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Keenan, W.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Kenyon, C.||Rankin, John||Wigg, George|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Reeves, J||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Wilkins, W. A|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Reid, William (Camlachie)||Willey, F. T.|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Rhodes, H.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Richards, R.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Lewis, Arthur||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Logan, D. G.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|MacColl, J. E.||Ross, William||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|McGhee, H. G.||Royle, C.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|McGovern, J.||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|McInnes, J.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley||Wyatt, W. L.|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Yates, V. F.|
|McLeavy, F.||Short, E. W.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
Question put, and agreed to.