Rent Bill (Allocation of Time)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th February 1957.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 4th February 1957

The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) and the hon. Member for Louth suggested that the British public will think it foolish to have a debate on the Guillotine Motion. I believe that the average British elector knows more about Parliamentary procedure than some people imagine. I think he will understand that when we sacrifice, as we do, the rights of free and full debate guaranteed by 500 years of Parliamentary democracy, it is right that we should not make that sacrifice without discussing it, without the Governments' having to justify the need for such a sacrifice, and without the Government's having to sacrifice a Parliamentary day for it.

I believe the exercise of the Guillotine procedure on certain Parliamentary occasions to be essential. My criticism today is not of the action of the Government in introducing the Guillotine, but the purpose for which the Guillotine is to be used. I think that before moving this Motion the Government ought to prove that the Opposition has been filibustering; but the evidence is that local authority experts, housing law experts and Ministerial experts on this side of the House have been making valuable contributions to the debates in the Standing Committee.

If the Guillotine procedure is used it should be for some good purpose; for something which will be of value to the country in the present economic crisis. Were that the purpose of this Bill, it would be different. Were the purpose, as the Daily Telegraph innocently suggested this morning, to stop people from spending £100 million; were it something which would contribute to cutting down the cost of living, we might imagine the Government being able to make a case for using such procedure. But today we are merely facilitating the transfer of £100 million from the pockets of 5 million of the poorer people in the country into the hands of the property owners.

I wish to state clearly that I am not opposed to the Guillotine procedure but to the purpose for which it is to be used today. Yet if anyone should not use this procedure, it is the present Government. The hon. Member for Louth referred to the famous debate on 3rd March. 1947. I only wish I had time to regale the House with a detailed description of that debate. Then the Government were introducing a Guillotine on the work of a Standing Committee for the first time. Speaker after speaker, including the former Prime Minister, the present Lord Chancellor, the present Minister of Education and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) all denounced the Government; not because of the Transport Bill, but because of a passionate devotion to Parliament itself. They attacked the Labour Government for daring to use the Guillotine procedure on a Bill which had gone to a Standing Committee.

They pointed out their objection to this on principle in terms which were by no means synthetic. Those were the days of Belsen and when the German generals were on trial at Nuremberg and not commanders of N.A.T.O. armies. The present Minister of Education accused the Government of turning Parliament into the Reichstag. The right hon. Member for Woodford charged the Government with acting as the Russian Czars and issuing ukases. One by one, ex-Ministers and future Ministers who were then in Opposition denounced the Labour Party for daring to introduce the Guillotine procedure on a Bill which had gone to a Standing Committee. They said that debate on a Bill which went before a handful of Members in a Committee ought never to be limited in that way.

Although I approve of the Guillotine in itself, I deplore the use to which it is being put on this occasion. I protest at the hypocrisy of Her Majesty's Government in using this instrument, because, on its first use by this side of the House, they thought that it was utterly unconstitutional and against democracy and the Constitution.