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Whitsuntide Adjournment

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1957.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 25th June.— [Mr. R. A. Butler.]

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

I think that it would be wrong to accept this Motion without considering the circumstances in which it is put forward. I do not think that it can be claimed that the reason for this unusually long Recess is because there is no legislation to occupy the House. There is legislation and, in particular, there is the Shops Bill.

I hope that I am not being unfair to the Lord Privy Seal when I say that I cannot but think that there was just a touch of cynicism when he told us last week that it was proposed to adjourn until 25th June and then went on immediately, in the very next few words, to tell us that it was not now practicable to proceed with the Shops Bill this Session for lack of Parliamentary time. The Lord Privy Seal spoke about the time that had been taken in another place on this Bill, but that point was raised by Opposition spokesmen in another place and they were assured by the Government spokesman, as recently as 26th March, that it was the Government's intention to put this Bill through Parliament this Session. What has happened since that assurance was given in another place?

Certainly, there has not been any democratic expression of opinion against the Bill. But there has been pressure from certain organs of the national Press and by some of the back benchers of the party opposite, led by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), the self-appointed Jorrocks of the Tories, who gloated last weak about the demise of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) voiced last week the indignation of the shopworkers about the decision of the Government to put this Bill aside. I should like to emphasise that it is not only the workers in the retail trades who have been indignant about this decision and not only the employees; all the best employers want this legislation. Practically all the reputable trade organisations have expressed their desire to see this Bill upon the Statute Book.

I am very pleased to see that the Jorrocks of the Tory movement has returned to his place. I was referring to the fact that mention had been made on the benches opposite, and by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, about the wishes of the shopping public.

I was about to say that the Co-operative movement, for which I speak on this occasion, is competent to speak about the wishes of the shopping public and is, in fact, owned and controlled by representatives of the shopping public. It has, throughout, expressed its wish to see the recommendations of the Gowers Report placed upon the Statute Book. There may have been some criticism about the details of this legislation, but it seems to us that the proper place to discuss it and, if necessary, to amend it, is on the Floor of this House.

It seems to me that the Government are too ready to override or to ignore the wishes of the House of Commons. It has been so on other occasions and they appear to be ready to do so on this occasion. I do not think that anyone can doubt that there is a desire to see some review of the Shops Acts. The Government spokesman in another place said that the present legislation is a farrago of nonsense and that the present provisions are quite unworkable.

Therefore, I say that it is reasonable for the Lord Privy Seal, when asking us to accept the Motion, at any rate to give us some assurance that the Shops Bill or similar legislation will be introduced, if not in this Session, then certainly in the next one. I hope that he will take this opportunity to give us that assurance.

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

I want to speak strongly against the Motion, because I believe that it will be a scandalous dereliction of the public duty of this House if it adjourns for twice the length of the customary Whitsun Recess when a Measure affecting the working conditions of more than 2 million people remains for the House to debate. No doubt the Leader of the House will say that there are precedents for a Whitsun Recess of this length, but I challenge him to quote a precedent where the Leader of the House has gone to the Dispatch Box to confirm a nearly three-week Whitsun Recess and, immediately afterwards, has stated that the Government have decided to drop a Measure which they themselves, in the Queen's Speech, described as a major Measure.

I want to refresh the memory of the House. The Gracious Speech described the Shops Bill in these terms: My Ministers are resolved to maintain progress in improving social and working conditions, and you will be invited to approve a Bill to amend the law about the closing hours of shops and related matters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November 1956; Vol. 560, c. 18.] That item of legislation has a long history. In the middle of the night of 18th November, 1952, when the Government abandoned 6 o'clock closing under the war-time regulations, Lord Kilmuir—as he now is—who was then the Home Secretary, gave a pledge that there would be immediate consultations upon the Gowers Committee Report with a view to the introduction of legislation. In that speech the only point that he left open was the question whether the general closing hour should be 6 p.m., as advocated by the Trades Union Congress or 7 p.m., with the right for local authorities to bring the time forward to 6 p.m., as advocated in the Gowers Report.

In July, 1955, Sir Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister, gave a pledge to the Trades Union Congress—representing 9 million workers—that in the following Session, or the one after that, a new Shops Bill would be presented. Last week, the right hon. Gentleman said that there was not time in this Parliamentary Session. He referred to the prolonged discussions and the great deal of time taken in another place. I attended most of the discussions in the other place. It took eight days, really. The Second Reading took place on 29th November, and five days between 12th February and 26th March were taken up in Committee. The Bill was recommitted—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. It is my duty to remind the hon. Member that he cannot criticise the proceedings in another place.

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

I was not criticising the proceedings in another place, Mr. Speaker. I was reminding the right hon. Gentleman of the facts.

The facts are that the Bill was recommitted on 7th May and had its Report and Third Reading on 16th May. The total time taken by their noble Lordships was 24 hours 52 minutes, or approximately three and a half working days of this House. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that I suspect that the doubling of the Whitsun Recess has been done to provide the Government with an excuse for surrendering to this mean and contemptible campaign against the shopworkers of Britain.

In recent times certain right hon. Gentlemen opposite and the newspapers of the "Establishment" have lectured trade unionists and told them that they should accept arbitration and the findings of committees of inquiry. There was a committee of inquiry into this question—the Gowers Committee—which was accepted even by a Conservative Government, but then, because of an orgy of Poujadist spite in certain sections of the Press and on the lunatic fringe of the Tory Party, we find that the Government, which acted upon the basis of a high-powered committee of inquiry in the first place, have now retreated and have abandoned the Bill.

The Government have done this without consulting great representative organisations of opinion. I ask hon. Members opposite to remember that the Bill as it was presented originally in another place had the support not only of my own union, with its 357,000 members but of the T.U.C., with 9 million members, the Standing Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations—far and away the most represenative women's organisation in Britain, with roughly 2 million members —the Co-operative movement, with 11 million members, the National Chamber of Trade, representing 860 local chambers of trade, and 34 national traders' organisations.

At the beginning of May, when all this discussion was taking place, the National Chamber of Trade held its annual conference in the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool. It supported the original draft of the Bill on general closing hours, with but one dissentient. Let hon. Members opposite reflect that these people in the Empress Ballroom were not trade unionists; in the main, they represented the working shopkeepers of Britain. It is a disgraceful thing that after the Gowers Committee had reported, after pledges had been given by the Home Secretary in 1952 and the Prime Minister in 1955, and after the Government themselves had introduced the Bill into the House of Lords, they should first allow a protracted delay and then the deletion of the most progressive Clauses of the Bill in the Lords and, finally, last Thursday, that there should have been this ignominious; surrender.

I protest against this doubling of the Whitsun Recess. The struggle to obtain decent legislation for shop and allied workers has a long history. It stretches back for a hundred years, during which we had the early closing riots, with shop windows being broken and trade union leaders gaoled. That is the social history of shops legislation. I say to hon. Members opposite that if Britain is not prepared to come into line with the advanced countries of Europe and the Commonwealth—for example, Scandinavia, Western Germany, Austria, the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland, Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand—it means that Britain will continue to be a leader of reaction at conferences of the International Labour Organisation.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

If the hon. Member really wants British shops to come into line with European shops, does he realise that they will all have to open on Sundays?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. The question of the hours of British and European shops are really out of order on this Motion, which is that we should adjourn until 25th June. I think that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) has made his point very well, but he must not go into the merits of the Shops Bill, because that is not before us. I heard from the Leader of the House today that there is to be a debate upon this very subject when we come back. That fact should be borne in mind.

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

I gladly accept that Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was simply criticising the fact that the Bill had been dropped, and not its detailed provisions. The hen. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) does not know anything about shop conditions except in the tourist parts of Europe. Certainly, in Franco Spain what he says is true, but whether people want to claim Franco Spain as a progressive country of Europe I do not know.

I conclude on this note. After the Gowers Committee inquiry and the pledges made by Conservative Ministers there has been this ignominous surrender, and for this House to go into double the normal Whitsun Recess is a scandal. As hon. Members opposite go off to their racecourses, their yachts and their tourist resorts, they take with them the curses of 2 million distributive workers.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I oppose the Motion for this reason. The Home Secretary made a statement the appalling enormity of which may take a little time to be realised. When he was asked to provide time, or to make a statement tomorrow upon the subject of intercepted telephone calls, he brushed aside all the representations that had been made to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others who were deeply concerned about this state of affairs, as revealed by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon.

We are asked to adjourn in face of an admission by the Government that any telephone communication by any barrister or solicitor handling a criminal case is liable to interception by the police on the Home Secretary's warrant. How that is calculated to assist the course of justice is something which I hope the Bar Council

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That, again, I must point out, is not the Question before the House. The hon. Member is entitled to say that this is an important matter, which ought to be discussed before we rise, but I do not think that he can go into detail about it.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I agree, Mr. Speaker, and I do not propose to go into detail, but this matter is so vital—

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

On a point of order. Has not the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) given notice earlier today to raise this matter on the Adjournment? Is it in order for him to discuss it now?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I had forgotten that. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) for reminding me of it. I think that on this Motion the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) would be anticipating the debate on the Adjournment if he carried it too far.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I take it that this is an Adjournment Motion.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It is not an Adjournment Motion in the sense that the Question is, "That this House do now adjourn." That is the proper Adjournment Motion. This is a proposal that we should adjourn tomorrow, not today.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Further to that point of order. If my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) were proposing to debate the merits of the points to which he has referred, no doubt that would be to anticipate the notice which he himself gave, and it might very well be out of order, but as I understood my hon. Friend's argument it was not that at all. He was saying that here was a subject which the House wished to discuss, that the Government had refused time for the House to discuss it and yet, at the same time, were inviting the House to go away for nearly three weeks. His point was that if we did not accept the Government's Motion there would be plenty of time in which this point could be discussed on its merits.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That is more or less what I said to the hon. Member for Brixton.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. The statement made by the Home Secretary represents such a damaging admission, in my view, that our civil liberties are in danger. I therefore hope that in asking us to adjourn for the period in question the Home Secretary will realize that the public conscience is outraged by the statement which he made today. Although hon. Members opposite may wish to howl me down on this subject, because they are not interested in the point which I am trying to make, I never theless want to register the strongest possible protest of which I am capable—

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

—against the police State tactics now being employed by the Government.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. The hon. Member is entitled to make the strongest possible protest only against the Question, "That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 25th June," and not against anything else.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I do not think that we ought to adjourn until this very serious matter has been fully discussed and explained.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

My complaint against the Government is not that they have deceived the House. It is, perhaps, that they have not deceived the House. They seem to have got into the habit of telling us what order requires us to refer to as terminological inexactitudes, although elsewhere there is a simpler and shorter word, of such a nature that no sane man can be expected to believe them. That was our experience throughout the Suez controversy and it has been our experience again about the Shops Bill.

The Government decide—and I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong—that a Measure does not command the sympathy or approval of a part of their supporters, and they decide to drop it. I think it is very unfortunate that it should have been dropped, but it is an understandable thing for a Government to do. But why tell us that they are doing it because there is not enough time and then ask for double the length of the Whitsun Recess? Who do they expect to believe it? When one goes in for making that sort of statement, is it not treating the House with contempt?

I feel considerable anxiety about the House rising before we have had a statement on the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)—a question which involves issues very sacred to our English conception of civil liberties. This is not the same conception as elsewhere. We are not here concerned with constitutional declarations. We are concerned with access to the courts, and access to the courts involves access to lawyers, access to people who can put one's case before the courts, whether it be for the defence or against the defence. There must be some confidence that these communications to lawyers are sacred and will not be interfered with and—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The hon. and learned Member is anticipating an Adjournment debate on this matter. He should direct his mind to the question of the length of the Whitsun Recess.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

With great respect, Mr. Speaker. I hope I am not doing that.

I do not know, and from his reply the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary did not seem to realise, what the importance of this case was. I know absolutely nothing whatever about the case which my hon. Friend has raised I am concerned about the principle and I am seeking to say that this principle, which I am trying to explain to the right hon. Gentleman, has been challenged, either rightly or wrongly; and that when we are anxious about it we should not adjourn. I certainly do not want to go into the application of this case. I am seeking only to indicate that the question of a man's access to his lawyers and of the sanctity of those communications is essentially involved in our English conception of civil rights.

It is my personal experience—and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you have had the same experience—that when we have had briefs and communications in respect of the defence of clients, what has been in our briefs and in those communications may have been of the greatest value to the prosecution. But we never took the slightest attempt to guard those briefs. We left them in charge of the police. They looked after them and handed them back to us. It never occurred to us for one moment that anybody connected with the prosecution or the police would dream of looking at our briefs or looking at the communications which we had received from our clients. If that principle is challenged, I do not think we ought to settle it without having a serious statement upon it.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Billericay

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman concludes, would he consider this whole issue a little more carefully and find out a little more about the facts and the background to the case? If he were to do that, I do not think he would express those views about this particular case.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. This shows the House where we get in these debates. We are discussing whether or not we should adjourn until 25th June, and I hope that the House will stick to that Question.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

On a point of order. All I am seeking to say, Sir, is that I know nothing about the circumstances of this case, or whether anything has been done about it. All I am saying is that the principle has been challenged and that we ought to have a statement before we separate for the Recess.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I support the protest of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I was profoundly shocked when I heard the Home Secretary's replies on this matter at Question Time today. One must give the Home Secretary the credit of not having fully realised the seriousness of what he said. It is because it is so serious that I must add my protest against the Motion that we should adjourn for two and a half weeks.

It has been a fundamental principle of civic liberties that communications between an accused person and his professional legal advisers were sacred and privileged. The Home Secretary, by his statement, is invading that fundamental principle of English liberty.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

On a point of order. I do not recognise in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), or in the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), the case in its exactitude. It would be very unfortunate if hon. Members draw deductions when the hon. and learned Member said that he had no knowledge of the case at all. It would be better to stay on this matter on the response I made to the Leader of the Opposition, namely, that I should like a further opportunity to examine the representations made on the Floor of the House. I certainly would not be in a position to make any further statement myself, because I do not think that it would be right.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Whether or not the Home Secretary is in a position to make a statement today, one of the reasons we are objecting to the Motion is the refusal of the right hon. Gentleman to accede to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that a statement should be made about this tomorrow. I can well understand the Home Secretary's desire to investigate the facts. He will have plenty of time to do that between now and tomorrow, but this seems to be a matter of such cardinal importance to British liberties that it would be wrong for us to adjourn before the matter has been cleared up.

The significance of the matter is this. It is fundamental to British conceptions of justice that any accused person should have the right of complete consultation with his professional advisers, and that those consultations should be privileged. It appears from the Question and Answer in the House today that telephone communications between an accused person and his professional advisers—

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

On a point of order. Certain disciplinary proceedings are in progress under the Bar Council. I really think that it might prejudice the case if we were to allow a discussion. I am not running away from this issue, but it is in the interests of all of us to protect a particular case and a particular person. As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton said, he has no knowledge of the case at all. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Islington, East has any knowledge of the case. Therefore, while I respect their arguments about not adjourning, which may be in order, I would strongly regret any further pursuit of this case at the moment.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I cannot understand how that is a point of order: but that is a matter for you.

I wish to give further reasons to show why I am opposed to the Motion. I am not concerned with this particular case. I am concerned with certain reasons which the Home Secretary gave in answer to the Question. What the Home Secretary said, and what shocked me so much, was this. He talked about public interest and public order. He seemed to me to be saying that there were circumstances in which considerations of public order and public interest would justify the police in tapping telephone conversations and reporting them to some other person. Those reasons given by the Home Secretary were the very reasons given in Nazi Germany and in Communist Russia for the vilest excesses of any police State.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

And by Charles I. It shocked me to hear the Home Secretary, so far from appearing to understand the fundamental principles of English liberty, appearing to be giving as his reasons for police action in the interests of the State the very reasons which Hitlerite Germany and Communist Russia have given over and over again.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I think that the hon. Member is now getting away from the Question before the House. He is introducing a much larger topic which does not seem to me to be relevant.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I want to explain what has shocked me. I have been brought up to believe—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I did not hear the hon. Member. He wants to explain what?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I want to explain the reasons I am opposed to this Motion. I am opposed to the House adjourning for as long as two and a half weeks until what I regard as a matter of fundamental importance to the British public, touching questions of the liberty of the subject, has been satisfactorily resolved. I have heard in this House for the first time suggestions from the Home Secretary which have shocked me. I am not concerned with the application of this particular case. I am concerned with the principle and with the implications of statements made by the Home Secretary, implications which go to the very roots of British justice and which, in my opinion, ought not to be left unresolved for as long as two and a half weeks.

If what the Home Secretary said is right, one of the consequences is that the police will be able to claim the privilege—and apparently now are claiming the privilege—of tapping communications between an accused person and his professional advisers and of reporting those communications to the police or to the prosecution or to a third party. That offends against one's whole conception of British justice.

As a solicitor, I have telephone conversations with clients every day of the week. Many members of my profession communicate with clients on the telephone. Are we to assume from now onwards that the police claim the right to listen to those conversations?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

To make tape recordings?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

And to pass them on, without the consent of anybody, to the Director of Public Prosecutions?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. The hon. Gentleman has explained to the House that he considers these matters of great importance. We all accept that. He has given a very lucid explanation why they are important, but now he is arguing the merits of the case itself, and that is not before us.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I am not arguing the merits. I am stating facts which seem to me of such fundamental importance that I am arguing that, this matter now having been put in doubt—a matter which goes to the whole roots of personal liberty in this country—it is so grave and serious that it should be resolved one way or the other before the House adjourns.

I am arguing that we ought not to accede to the Motion and that we ought not to adjourn for two and a half weeks. I think that it would be a great dereliction of our duties as Members of Parliament and, if I may say so with great respect, a great dereliction of your duty as Speaker guarding all the liberties of the British people. I am arguing that it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of those—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I do not think that my duty comes into this. The Question is whether, tomorrow, we should adjourn until 25th June. It is a question for the House to decide. The hon. Member has made clear why he objects to the Motion, but he was proceeding to deal with a matter which is not before us.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I am trying to argue that we should not adjourn. I am trying to convince the House and the Government, and you, Mr. Speaker, that it would be wrong for us to adjourn until this matter has been cleared up. It would be wrong for this House to adjourn and allow this grave matter of constitutional importance to remain in doubt for as long as two and a half weeks.

Rather than to allow that to happen, I hope that we shall have an opportunity before Tuesday fortnight of ventilating this matter, and of enabling the Home Secretary to give the facts of the case and to reflect on what I hope he will find was a very ill-considered reply to questions. In that way public anxiety may be relieved, the matter put in its true perspective and the Home Secretary be able to give us a considered and informed opinion of what the practice is, not only in regard to this particular case, but in regard to police habits of tapping telephone conversations and reporting them to outside persons.

For those reasons, I would strongly oppose any attempt to adjourn the House until we have had a satisfactory explanation from the Home Secretary of how he proposes to deal with this matter.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

My hon. Friends are naturally concerned, as I think the whole House is, about the incident which was brought up at Question Time today. We are in some difficulty, because we do not know all the facts about the case. I think we are entitled to ask that before we adjourn for the Whitsun Recess a further statement should be made.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, who has built up for himself in recent months a well-deserved reputation as a humane and progressive Home Secretary, if he would give us an undertaking to do everything in his power to make a further statement tomorrow morning. It might not be possible for him to make a complete and final statement, but he would help us all a good deal if he could, in particular, cover the matter of the disclosure of this information to the Bar Council. That seems the gravest aspect of this matter. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier that there were precedents for similar bodies being informed. We have not been told what they were.

If the right hon. Gentleman will give us the assurance that he will do everything he can to come to the House and make, at any rate, an interim statement, that would be some advance, and we would be able to go away with the feeling that the matter had at least been properly aired and some progress had been made towards its clearing up.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

May I make a short reply to the debate? First, I had better take the points made by the Leader of the Opposition on the matter to which references were made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and the hon. Members for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) and Brixton (Mr. Lipton).

I would rather not make any further observation on this case this afternoon. The hon. Member for Islington, East, said that I made an inaccurate statement, or something of that sort. I gave the facts to the House.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I said that it was ill-considered.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

There was nothing ill-considered in it at all. I gave the facts to the House, and the supplementary answers were, I think, quite legitimate. I would like to take up the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition to consider this matter with my advisers, which is the only right thing to do in a case of this gravity. That I will do.

What the right hon. Gentleman wants me to do further than that is to give an undertaking that I will make a statement on this matter tomorrow morning. I cannot give a guarantee about that.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The right hon. Gentleman says "if possible". I will see whether it is possible to make a statement. If I cannot make a statement I will inform the Leader of the Opposition later this evening of the position I am in in regard to the case. If I find that there is nothing more to say, I do not think that I can say any more. If I can do so, I will try to make it clear. In either case, I will communicate with the Leader of the Opposition later this evening. I cannot say "before the House rises", because I am not clear how long it will sit. That is the best I can do on the case.

I could answer many points that have been put in references to the case, but I think it would possibly be wrong to do so without further consideration of what is obviously regarded by hon. Members as a grave matter. I can say, in reservation, that some of the references to the case, about the widening of a practice like that, have been exaggerated and, secondly, that the gravity of the case has been underestimated. Otherwise, I would not have given the answer I did when it was brought to my attention. Perhaps, on the basis of that, hon. Members will leave the matter in my hands and I will do my best to communicate with the Leader of the Opposition later this afternoon. I am sorry that I cannot communicate with each of his hon. Friends, but no doubt we shall be able to put it about.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

The right hon. Genaleman's answer appeared to me to indicate—I may have been quite wrong—that the police claim a right to intercept communications between a criminal and his solicitor or between the solicitor and the barrister with regard to that criminal case. It is that there should be any conception of that kind that is worrying me.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I can say immediately—this is the only further observation I want to make on this case—that the matter refers exclusively to the authority of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, and one particular Secretary of State. We must take the responsibility, those of us who are Secretaries of State. This practice must not be regarded as being freely used by the police. This is reserved to one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, in this case the Home Secretary. In regard to the responsibility of the police, I hope that that responsibility will be put squarely on the Secretary of State.

On the other matters raised during the debate the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and Ogmore (Mr. Padley) referred in particular to the Shops Bill. The hon. Member for Ogmore was very eloquent and persuasive. I believe that was quite genuine, because the hon. Member is genuinely disappointed that the Bill is not going through. The hon. Member for Uxbridge spoke, I believe, with some knowledge of the Co-operative movement which, I am aware, was in favour of the Bill. It is also the case that a considerable number of employers and employees were in favour of the Bill.

This is not an occasion when I should go into the merits or demerits of the Shops Bill. The Bill is not confined solely and exclusively to the improvement of hours and conditions, but refers to other aspects, such as Sunday closing. It runs to about 75 Clauses and is one of the most delicately compensative Bills—I refer to the weighting of the drafting as between one Clause and another—that I have ever had the fortune or misfortune to read.

The Bill is susceptible to more Amendments than any Bill I have seen. Almost any foodstuff can be omitted or inserted in the course of the discussion, as the Bill raises the whole question of Sunday closing both in England and Scotland. There is the particularly difficult case of the Jewish barber in Scotland. It is a Bill which the meanest intelligence could see would require some months to consider.

I am accused of base treachery in abandoning the Bill, but I have done nothing to stop the passage of the Bill in another place. It took six months for the Bill to pass through another place. Bills go through another place far more quickly than they pass through a Standing Committee of this House. It was on 16th May that it returned to us after being in the House of Lords since 14th November.

I had to consider whether there was a chance of getting the Bill through a Standing Committee. On examining that question we came to the conclusion from all the information at our disposal of the many and varied views, some pro and some very much opposed to the Shops Bill—and not only on one side of the House—that it was impossible to envisage its passage into law this Session.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Who would have opposed it on the opposition side of the House?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

We had to decide whether to let the House know that it was impossible to get the Bill through, or whether it should linger on and probably have the result of an unfortunate foundering or a slow, lingering death in Standing Committee. I thought it was fairer and squarer to tell the House that there was not a chance of getting it through.

The question arises whether, if we had sat for another week, we could have got the Bill through. On my information, I am satisfied that one extra week would not have made any difference to getting the Bill through. On the information in my possession, having taken the advice of many hon. Members, and having regard to the fact that Amendments which were moved in another place would no doubt have been moved in Committee in this House, I think there is absolutely no chance, considering our financial business and one or two new Bills which we have been obliged to introduce into the Sessional programme at a late stage, of getting the Bill through.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

It is true that in this Bill there are 75 Clauses and that they are delicately compensated, as the right hon. Gentleman said. It may also be that they refer to Jewish barbers in Scotland, but all that was known at the time the Bill was introduced in another place. All this was perfectly well known to Her Majesty's advisers on 26th March and quite categorical assurances were then given that the Government intended to proceed with the matter. What happened between 26th March and 16th May is that the Government changed their mind. The only conclusion that could be drawn is that the pressure to abandon the Bill has been too much for the Government.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

Does the right hon. Gentleman forget that the Government forced the Rent Bill through Committee?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I dare say we did, but that started earlier and we had an opportunity of putting it through.

It is my duty to face the facts quite plainly. I do not believe that there would have been support for a Guillotine on this Bill. However desirable that might have been, I do not believe it would have been possible. Under the circumstances, I am quite convinced that at this stage of the Session, however much Ministers on behalf of the Government have stated Government intentions in regard to this Bill, it would not have been possible to get it through in the time.

The main gravamen of the case of those who do not want us to adjourn for a fortnight's holiday is that we should have had time to deal with the Shops Bill. I claim that one extra week would not have made the difference. That is why I took the decision quite squarely, and I stand by it.

Photo of Mr David Jones Mr David Jones , Hartlepools, The

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that in March this year he used the argument of the Shops Bill going through the House as an excuse for not introducing legislation to deal with the railway section of the Gowers Report? He has been telling me all the time that legislation on the Gowers Report was being held up because the Government were introducing the Shops Bill. Now they are doing neither.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The railways Bill is another controversial point, but it is a Bill which also is important. There are conditions on the railways which we all know need attention, but I cannot give any further undertaking about that Bill today. The Opposition have asked for a debate on the Gowers Reports on the Tuesday when we return. I suggest that that is the proper time to review progress on the Gowers legislation, so much of which stands to the credit of the Government. I would prefer that we adjourn our discussion of the Gowers proposals until the 25th.

Under the Administration of the party opposite, in 1949 and 1951, we had long Whitsun Recesses.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

And we got legislation through.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), when he was leading the House as Lord President of the Council, said that he was always in favour of a longer Whitsun Recess. He was perfectly right. He said that it was not a question of hon. Members having a holiday. It is not necessarily a holiday; many are going to their constituencies and are going to have a well-needed rest after a very protracted and hard-working Session. In my opinion, it is not only the time of the House that matters, but the quality of the work that it does.

Always, when anybody is leading this House, and has an opportunity to give the House an extra week at Whitsun, he should do so. I have done so, I believe without doing any violence to the conscience of the hon. Member for Ogmore and the cause in which he so much believes. Had we been prejudicing any particular matter, we would not have done it.

Photo of Mr Hilary Marquand Mr Hilary Marquand , Middlesbrough East

The right hon. Gentleman has undertaken, very properly I think, to consider whether, tomorrow, some time could be given to discussing the case of civil liberties. I should like to draw your personal attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that I have given notice to raise a matter of policy involving civil liberties. I would respectfully ask that in considering the allocation of time you will bear in mind the fact that the question of civil liberties is important, no matter which case we raise.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

May I say, in answer to the right hon. Member, that I was not envisaging that I should interfere with the discretion of the Chair in regard to time for a debate. What I said was that I would respond to the request of the Leader of the Opposition, who asked whether a further elucidating statement could be made. I think, as the right hon. Member agrees, that I must leave to the Chair the allocation of time, because that is the prerogative of the Chair. I shall stick to the undertaking I gave to the Leader of the Opposition.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 25th June.