Business of the House (Private Members' Time)

Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th November 1964.

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3.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

I beg to move, That—

  1. (1) public bills other than Government bills shall have precedence over Government business on 29th January, 12th Febuary, 26th February, 12th March, 26th March, 9th April, 7th May, 21st May, 18th June, and 2nd July;
  2. (2) private members' notices of motions shall have precedence over Government business on 27th November, 4th December, 5th February, 19th February, 5th March, 19th March, 2nd April, 30th April, 14th May, and 28th May, and ballots for these notices shall be held after questions on 11th November, 18th November. 27th January, 3rd February, 17th February, 3rd March, 17th March, 14th April, 28th April, and 12th May, respectively;
  3. (3) on Monday, 7th December, Tuesday, 27th April, Tuesday, 13th July, and Wednesday, 21st July, private members' notices of motions shall have precedence until seven o'clock. and ballots for these notices shall be held after questions on Monday 23rd November, Monday, 12th April, Monday, 28th June, and Tuesday, 6th July, respectively;
  4. (4) no notices of motions shall be handed in for any of the days on which private members' notices have precedence under this order in anticipation of those ballots.
The proposals contained in the Motion are identical with those we have had in the House on Private Members' time for the last 12 or 13 years, with the addition of four half-days for Motions, introduced about five years ago, being also included in the Motion.

Most older hon. Members will know precisely how this works, but for the benefit of newer hon. Members I will mention the procedure. Twenty Fridays are provided, ten for Private Members' Motions and ten for Private Members' Bills. Of the Private Members' Bills' days, the first six are devoted to Second Readings and the four last Fridays to subsequent stages, with Second Readings falling in at the end of the line, if there is time. The ten Fridays for Motions are balloted for approximately 16 days before the actual Motion takes place in the House, and for Private Members' Bills the general Ballot covering the whole of this Session takes place quickly after the beginning of the Session.

The dates, therefore, are that the Ballot for Private Members' Bills will be on 12th November. Bills will be presented on 2nd December, which gives hon. Members the opportunity of preparing their Bills in time. The first Ballot for Private Members' Motions will be on 11th November, with a debate on 27th November, exactly 16 days later. For the four half-days, again the Ballot will take place in the Chamber about 16 days before.

3.03 p.m.

Photo of Mr Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Pontypool

I wish, initially, to oppose the Motion. Although it may appear churlish of me so to do, realising that the Leader of the House is placing at the disposal of hon. Members all the time which, during the last five years, has been customary—and particularly when we know that we have before us in other time an exhilarating and full programme—I make this formal opposition because I believe that the time now suggested for private Members can, under existing procedures, be wretchedly squandered.

The time it is proposed to be consumed should lead to needed legislation, approved by the majority of hon. Members and affecting controversial areas of opinion which cut right across all party lines. This view, which has possessed the House for years, was formulated by Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s. It is the attitude which largely informs opinion in this House. In practice, however, we all know that within the framework that the Private Member is compelled to work, no such results ensue, so that only lip service is paid to the hon. Member's desires. What happens very probably is that the efforts of the private Member merely end at the conclusion of a Session in a whimper and he sees his work in a shambles—and the section of the public involved in the content of the Bill usually finds, first, that they are bewildered, then disappointed, and then lamentably contemptuous of the procedures of the House.

One so frequently sees all of that coming out of private Members' time. The only triumph one sees is the shabby attempts of determined cabals, often totally unrepresentative of opinion in this House, able to see that they have sabotaged the Bill before the House. Indeed, the only other triumph sometimes is that enjoyed, if such is the word to use, by some hapless and guilt-ridden Parliamentary Secretary who manages to talk out a Bill, irrespective from which side of the House it may come.

It comes about, therefore, that we see time and again hon. Members, in desperation, yearning for immortality, turning aside from vital Measures and introducing Bills on less contentious lines—of the kind I recall the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) doing when he so successfully steered through the Welsh Hospital Act, which, in a radical one-Clause Bill, metamorphosised the title of the Welsh Regional Hospital Board into the Welsh Hospital Board.

There was a time, about a century ago, when the private Member was genuinely free to defy the Whip, genuinely responsible to his own conscience and constituents. He spoke within wide limits, as he wished, and it was this independence on his part a century ago which not only gave the House its particular collective character but made it a most important check on the Executive. We all know that the growth of the party system has eroded the independence of the individual hon. Member, even as it has, first, strengthened and then weakened the Cabinet and, finally, has enormously reinforced the Premiership. The more nicely balanced are the parties in the House, as we are now, inevitably the greater is the discipline imposed and accepted by every individual hon. Member.

In such a situation, party loyalties, patronage, not to mention prevailing trends which centralise and unify a powerful civil service administration, all conspire to devalue the rôle of the hon. Member, reduce his decision-making capacity and strengthen the oligarchic tendencies inherent in modern party machine politics.

We heard from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday his concern at the growth of the Executive and the possible effects this may have on the Legislature. I felt that he was talking rather with the zeal of an enforced proselyte when he spoke in that way, but the blunt fact remains that although most of my hon. Friends are bound to agree that we need a wider Executive to respond to the demands of administering a modern community, inevitably inherent within such an extension is a challenge to the legislature.

Those who mistrust excessive concentrations of power, wherever they may lie, as I do, and those who are not content deferentially to concede that the modern highly developed state must inevitably be managed on authoritarian lines, become particularly jealous that Private Members' Bills should not be utterly frustrated by otiose procedures.

Once again, as others have done in the past, I am querying the usefulness of allocating the time proposed, without removing the procedural handicaps and obstacles confronting an hon. Member who is successful in the Ballot. I do not want now to go into all of these obstacles, particularly since the House is anxious to get on with its business. However, I hope that no hon. Member takes the rôle of the private Member lightly. Although I will not enumerate these difficulties and handicaps in our partisan party political system, I hope that some of them will have the care and concern of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

There are some which must be mentioned. There are, for example, the difficulties which concern a private Member, as new hon. Members will quickly discover if they are fortunate in the Ballot, right from the beginning; the need to articulate the intentions of the hon. Member and the fact that there is not in existence any officers of the House able to assist him in drafting his Bill or Amendments. This hurdle is the first of many. There has been a Select Committee on Procedure. It suggested that officers should be placed at the disposal of individual hon. Members. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that recommendation, along with the problems confronting hon. Members with regard to having 100 individuals here to move the closure on a Friday.

When we have, as we have at the moment, a demand for hon. Members to be here for Government business on Fridays, it will become even more difficult than it now is for us to be able to have 100 hon. Members present for a Private Member's Bill at any time on a Friday afternoon. That means that there is every possibility for an unrepresentative minority to kill Bill after Bill. I therefore hope that further consideration will be given to the notion that, perhaps, the vote of 50 and not of 100 hon. Members should be sufficient for a Closure. I hope, too, that consideration may be given of the manner in which quorums can be so manipulated that it is possible for hon. Members to be appointed to a Committee and then walk out and kill the Bill, as happened to hon. Members opposite when introducing Bills in the last Session—kill a Bill, as it were, by default.

All these things, and others that have been mentioned in other Sessions, are in need of alteration. It was suggested last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) that these matters should be referred to a Select Committee. Last week we read in The Times a letter from a distinguished servant of this House, a former Clerk of the House, suggesting that there is need for a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament in order to ensure that all procedures are reviewed and not dealt with in a fragmented way.

It is my earnest wish that the Leader of the House should give consideration to this suggestion, and to the other suggestions, so that we can be sure that in future we shall not feel, if sitting on that side of the House, that our only rôle is to be chronic iconoclasts or, if sitting on this side of the House, only to be Lobby fodder.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I should point out to the House that all this Business Motion does is to fix dates, and that has some bearing on the question of relevance.

3.12 p.m.

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

In the normal course of events I should not have sought to speak on this Motion but, in the light of the final paragraph of the Gracious Speech, I am a little surprised that the Leader of the House has made these proposals about private Members' time without, at the same time, making some reference to what is meant by the words that the Government … will propose new measures for the impartial investigation of individual grievances. I suppose that hon. Members on both sides would agree that one of the best means by which individual grievances can be fully ventilated is through the procedure of having days to deal with Private Members' Motions. Indeed, very often some Private Members' Bills tend to cover individual grievances. I would say to the Prime Minister that since I have had the honour of being in this House I do not recollect an occasion when there have been more Ministers accountable to neither House than is the case today.

If we are to safeguard the rights of individual constituents, whom we are sent here to represent, we must at least ensure that when considering the number of days to be set apart for private Members we are fully aware of what is in the Government's mind about the individual rights of our constituents. As the matter at present stands we are in considerable uncertainty about that, not least because the Prime Minister yesterday made no attempt to explain what is intended by … new measures for the impartial investigation of individual grievances. Nor has the Leader of the House attempted to do so today—

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. If we get back to the debate we may yet hear, but it does not arise on this Motion.

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

With very great respect, Mr. Speaker, I did preface my remarks by saying that in the ordinary course of events I would not have sought to make any comment on this Motion, but I submit, with great humility, that there is a difference in this instance, because the question of how best to look after the individual grievances of our constituents is included in the Gracious Speech. We have no indication of what is in the Government's mind in this respect, yet the Leader of the House today puts before us this Motion giving this number of days as being appro- priate, without our knowing whether or not the number of days sought to be re-examined in the light of what the Government propose in the Gracious Speech.

I would therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to permit the Leader of the House if he were ready now so to do, as I hope he is, to explain what the Government have in mind in this context. I am quite certain that what the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has said is bound to be coloured a great deal by what the Government intend to do in this matter. I have had the experience, as he has, of seeing a Private Member's Bill introduced and then counted out on the Closure. I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member has said, but if we are to have improved machinery for looking after the individual grievances of our constituents perhaps we might both have a different view about this proposal today. My only complaint is that we are left completely in the dark, and I hope that the Leader of the House—

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. I hope that I can help the hon. Member. It is not as easy as this. All this Motion does is to fix the number of dates. The rest is a matter fixed by Standing Order and is not debatable now. All the Motion does is to fix dates. But I am sorry if I interrupted the hon. Gentleman.

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

I am fully aware of that, Mr. Speaker, but whilst I appreciate that the number of days is governed by Standing Orders, it seems to me that before this Standing Order is implemented for this Session of Parliament it might be helpful to the House as a whole to be made aware of the Government's plans for the individual rights of constituents. That is included in the Gracious Speech, and we know no more than there appears. That is my only point, and I would hope that you would allow the Leader of the House to tell us.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

No. This is the reason. The interference with what hon. Members can do to deal with individual rights which could be affected by this Motion would be a choice of date A as against date B. Of course I would allow the Leader of the House, if he wished, to speak on the distinction between date A and date B in that context.

3.18 p.m.

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

I do not wish to take the time of the House to pursue any of the interesting lines of thought of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) or of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), but there is one matter that seems to require some little explanation. The Gracious Speech states: Facilities will be provided for a free decision by Parliament on the issue of capital punishment. I apprehend that that means that if an hon. Member presents a Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule, the Government will provide time for the discussion of its later stages. This is what was done in rather different circumstances in 1956.

If I am right about that, the question arises whether there is any conflict or confusion between that intention by the Government and the procedure of balloting for Private Members' Bills. It seems to me, first, that such a Ten-Minute Rule Bill could not be presented before the Ballot. If an hon. Member were to be successful in the Ballot at an early stage and should desire to move a Bill for this purpose, any subsequent Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule might possibly be void by offending against the rule against anticipation.

Therefore, perhaps the Government might make clear that in putting this statement in the Gracious Speech they were intending to give notice, as it were, that time will in any case be provided for such a Bill by the Government, and that, therefore, competition, by ballot or in any other way, by private Members for time for such a Bill would be unnecessary, and might be embarrassing. I should therefore like to have it clear that it is not necessary, in view of what the Government have said as to their intentions in regard to it, to have a balloted Bill for the same purpose and that such a balloted Bill might itself be void under the anticipation rule in view of the announcement the Government have made.

3.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I rise only for a moment to dispel what I think was an entirely wrong impression created by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that private Members' time, as I understood his speech, is useless. The hon. Member may be a little peeved that he did not manage to persuade the House to accept a Bill of his on the question of marriage laws, but he will see what great achievements may be made by hon. Members when he calls to mind Sir Alan Herbert's Bill on the same subject.

Many of us have succeeded in persuading the House to accept as many as three Private Members' Bills. The impression should not be allowed to go out that the House does not give a good hearing to Private Members when they present Bills, and that there is not a great opportunity for Private Members to make law in this House.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

Despite the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), inasmuch as the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was a protest against the growing stranglehold by the Whips over back benchers, I think it ought to be known that many hon. Members agree with him.

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that there has been great value from private Members' legislation in this House, and every hon. Member realises it. But, if that legislation is likely to be highly contentious, it does not have quite such an easy passage as non-contentious legislation. That, I should imagine, applies equally to Government business.

In the desire to remain in order, may I reply to one or two of the points which have been made? The question of objecting to interrupted business at 4 o'clock applies, of course, equally to Government business at the time for the interruption at 10 o'clock at night, or 4 o'clock on a Friday. The simple objection means that business cannot be taken after that hour. There is nothing organised in the way of keeping private Members out and excluding them from the same sort of thing which Governments have to suffer.

On the point about Parliamentary draftsmanship and aid to private Members with the drafting of their Bills I am extremely sympathetic. A Select Committee on Procedure, I think in 1959, reported in favour. Subsequent Governments have found it difficult to do this I think that the restrictive factor is probably the shortage of Parliamentary counsel and the terrific amount of work they have to do, but on this one point I am prepared to look at the matter again.

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

On a point of order. I think I did hear you say, Mr. Speaker, that you would have no objection to the Leader of the House answering the point I put to him if he so chose.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I did, but it raises no point of order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That—

  1. (1) public bills other than Government bills shall have precedence over Government business on 29th January, 12th February, 26th February, 12th March, 26th March, 9th April, 7th May, 21st May, 18th June, and 2nd July;
  2. (2) private members' notices of motions shall have precedence over Government business on 27th November, 4th December, 5th February. 19th February, 5th March, 19th March, 2nd April, 30th April, 14th May, and 28th May, and ballots for these notices shall he held after questions on 11th November, 18th November, 27th January, 3rd February, 17th February, 3rd March, 17th March, 14th April, 28th April, and 12th May, respectively;
  3. (3) on Monday 7th December, Tuesday 27th April, Tuesday 13th July, and Wednesday 21st July, private members' notices of motions shall have precedence until seven o'clock. and ballots for these notices shall he held after questions on Monday 23rd November, Monday 12th April, Monday 28th June, and Tuesday 6th July, respectively;
  4. (4) no notices of motions shall be handed in for any of the days on which private members' notices have precedence under this order in anticipation of those ballots.