Clause 1. — (Power to Make Advances for Construction of Vessel.)

Part of Orders of the Day — North Atlantic Shipping Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1961.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 29th June 1961

That is the position I want to examine. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said that by some accident there was not a vote on Second Reading. I am not quite sure what the nature of the accident was, but the accident can be repaired partly by voting against this Clause and also by voting against the Bill on Third Reading. I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) explain that he would vote against the Clause and try to knock it out of the Bill but still vote for the Bill on Third Reading. It took all his dialectical skill to get that proposition over. There is no doubt that, if the Clause is knocked out, the whole Bill goes west. If that is the case, why not vote against giving the Bill a Third Reading as well?

Hon. Members may say that it is not very important and that other methods of dealing with the Bill have been proposed. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester suggested that the Minister should go away and have some quiet conversations with the Cunard Company. One method would be to put up the bill to £30 million, and that would kill it.

There is another method in which it could be done which would not cause the Minister much difficulty. We know that he has to save his face. We know that it is a matter of prestige for him, even if we do not save our prestige on the North Atlantic route. The Minister could force the Clause through on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", and then not proceed with Third Reading. He could leave it over for a while. Then in the middle or latter part of September he could publish a demure little announcement in the Press saying that he had considered the question again and, after representations and full consideration, the Bill would be dropped, just as other Bills have been dropped. The Minister could choose a day when the Test Match was on, or a very sunny day, or when the Government had created an economic crisis, or when there was a catastrophe in foreign affairs. He could get away with it then. He has got away with worse things than that in his lifetime. He could get rid of the Bill in that way if he wanted to. Perhaps that is the course he already has in mind. I hope I have not put him off it by describing the method in detail.

However, it would be much more honourable for the House of Commons to kill the wretched Bill. Why do we not do so? The vast majority of Members are in favour of killing the Bill. Why cannot we do it?