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 a very good argument for voting for another Bill on another occasion. It is not a very good argument for voting for this Bill on this occasion.

I do not want to get into a dispute with my right hon. Friend about it. I do not think he will disagree that everybody else in the Committee knows that this Clause is an integral or central part of the Bill and that if we defeat it, we shall defeat the Bill. I am saying that it would be much better not to allow the Bill to become law if, as I think—and as I think everybody will agree I am correct in thinking—the majority of hon. Members are against it.

If we consider the speech of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) which he made during a Second Reading debate—the hon. Member has not been present during these proceedings—we can see, from a quotation which I propose to make, why it is that, although the majority of hon. Members are against this Measure, it will still go through. The hon. Member said: I believe that the Bill should be rejected. I shall not vote against it. That is one of the most remarkable statements since Martin Luther said, "Here I stand, I can do no other". The hon. Member is saying, "Here I stand and I am going to do the exact opposite". That seems to be the doctrine of this Committee. The hon. Member said: I believe that the Bill should be rejected I shall not vote against it. Apparently no one is to propose that it should be rejected and, therefore, I shall probably abstain. In view of the speeches which we have heard from hon. Members opposite, I fail to understand why they did not move the rejection of the Bill. That is the best point which the hon. Gentleman made. It would have been better if we had moved it. But it is a curious doctrine which the hon. Member is expounding, that, because hon. Members on this side of the Committee did not do their duty, that is a reason why he should not do his duty. It does not let him out.

An interesting comment on this speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) who interrupted the hon. Member for Sevenoaks at that point to say: Let us do it now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 979.] That is to say, let us reject the Bill now. I always listen carefully to any advice given me by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, and when I saw that he was in favour of voting against the whole Bill it assisted me in making up my mind to vote against the whole Bill, too. I think that that is what we ought to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and myself are always willing to accommodate hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. We propose to vote against this Clause and to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill, and therefore we shall provide an opportunity for other hon. Members to vote for what they think is right.

I am not treating this matter in a flippant fashion, because I believe that the procedure under which this Committee votes, or often refuses to vote, on the merits of an issue—partly because the Minister may have made a deal before he came into the Chamber, or because of some meeting which may take place somewhere else—such as is involved in this Bill makes a farce of Parliamentary procedure and brings Parliament into disrepute. What will be said tomorrow? If anyone reads the report of our debate, they will see that on both sides of the Committee hon. Members produced devastating arguments against the Bill, yet the House of Commons voted for it.

This will cost the taxpayers, at any rate, £3 million. Some people say that it will cost much more—£18 million. It may be that it is fastidious of us to worry about all these millions. The Government slap millions about all over the place—£19 millions for the Surtax payers last week and £18 million for the Cunard Company today. Why should we worry about it? But the poor public reads about this and also reads at the same time that there is a financial crisis, and that it finds rather mystifying. It is rather mystifying that we have to find these millions of pounds to save the face of a Government who have not the courage to do what the majority of hon. Members consider it would be in the interests of the nation for the Government to do.

I hope that the Minister will reply in very specific terms to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) as to whether, in fact, when the Government agreed to this proposition of putting up the money for the Cunard Company, they knew about the deal with Cunard Eagle. I hope, equally, that the Minister will supply very specific dates about that. The right hon. Gentleman got rather muddled in his dates when he was replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester but, perhaps, the hon. Member for Gloucester did not get his dates right either, so I suppose that they were quits on that score.