I beg to move,
That Standing Committee C be discharged from further consideration of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill and that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
In moving this rather unusual Motion it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to make a short statement about the history of the Bill, even though it may be within the recollection of the House. The Bill was given a Second Reading in the House on 21st December last year, after a Division in which there were 355 votes for the Ayes and 170 for the Noes. Immediately after that Division, the Motion was made, "That the Bill be committed to the Committee of the whole House." A Division took place on that Motion, in which 229 voted for the Ayes and 247 for the Noes. In other words, the House was very evenly divided on that point.
At that time, in accordance with the Standing Orders, there was no opportunity for debate of the second Motion, that is, that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, and, very properly, the Question was put without debate and with the result which I have stated. The consequence of that was that although the Motion was very correctly put from the Chair there was a lack of time to consider the implications of the Committee stage of the Bill, and, obviously, a great many hon. and right hon. Members were of two minds about this.
This is very obvious from the great discrepancy in the voting on the two Divisions, in other words, a great many hon. Members who voted in favour of the Second Reading, that is, on the principles of the Bill, must have been extremely unhappy about the details and wanted to take part in the Committee stage. I think that that is a logical deduction from the voting strength.
It seems to me that many hon. Members considered that there were points in favour of the Bill and that, equally, there were points against it. It seems to me obvious that the Committee stage should have been given the widest possible scope so that as many hon. Members as possible could express their views on the details of such a far-reaching Bill. It might he improper for me to make suggestions on the subject—you, Mr. Speaker, will correct me if I am wrong— but it looks as though the Government Whips took a very active part in the Second Division on committing the Bill to a Committee of the whole House; but that is a matter on which hon. and right hon. Members can make up their own minds.
What has happened since is that the Bill has gone to Standing Committee C, where it has made very slow progress. The Committee has now met on no fewer than five occasions. The position is a little complicated, but, as far as I can make out, the Committee has dealt, so far, with only two groups of Amendments. It has nowhere near finished the Amendments on Clause 1 and there is no sign of the Bill making reasonable progress in that Committee.
In the meantime, because of the slow progress in the Standing Committee, other important business is being held up. This causes a serious interruption of the normal flow of Parliamentary business. For this reason, I have looked into the past history of the House to see what precedents there are in a situation of this kind. I found, comparatively easily, with the assistance of the Clerks of the House, to whom I am much indebted, that there are precedents very much in line. The annus mirabilis for precedent was 1934—strangely enough, these things seem to come in groups—and there were no fewer than two precedents for this very Motion in that year.
The first precedent was on the Workmen's Compensation Amendment Bill, introduced as a Private Member's Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson). That Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading on 2nd March, 1934, and was committed to a Standing Committee. On 11th April, for a reason which is not recorded in HANSARD, the original Order committing the Bill to a Standing Committee was discharged and the Bill was committed to a Committee of the whole House. At a later date, the Committee of the whole House proceeded to consider the Bill, which, after passing through all its stages and being amended in various respects, was passed into law.
There is, therefore, adequate precedent for dealing with a Private Member's Bill in the way I propose. The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill is a Private Member's Bill, so the Motion is not only competent but a very proper one, for the reasons which I am about to explain.
The second Bill which was treated in this way in 1934 affords an even closer parallel to the Bill which we are now considering. One difference was that it was a Government Bill, not a Private Member's Bill, but, as I have said, that is a distinction without importance because the procedure is competent for a Private Member's Bill. In 1934, there was presented to the House, from another place, the Betting and Lotteries Bill. It was sponsored by the Government of the day. It was a very controversial Bill. There were very strong feelings about it, almost as strong and controversial as they are on the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill. But despite that, the Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading, so that the precedent is even stronger because the Second Reading of this Bill was opposed and went to a Division.
Although the Betting and Lotteries Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading on 27th June, 1934, it was very severely criticised during the debate. However, having been given an unopposed Second Reading, it was committed without debate to a Standing Committee in accordance with Standing Orders.
The situation as regards that Bill thereafter was closely parallel to the present. It was sent to a Standing Committee, and, after seven sittings, the Committee had finished its consideration of Clause 1. In other words, the Standing Committee in 1934 made much better progress than Standing Committee C is now making, because it finished Clause 1, and, for that reason, the Motion was not quite the same as the Motion I have put before the House today, because it necessarily excluded Clause 1, the Committee having finished with it and being in a position to report on it.
The interesting parallel is that, although the Standing Committee, in 1934, met on seven occasions and completed its consideration of Clause 1, Standing Committee C is now making very much slower progress with the present Bill and, after five sittings, has made very little advance. Indeed, there is no sign of its reaching a conclusion on even the Amendments to Clause 1, still less Clause 1 itself. Thus, we see that the Bill which was removed from the Standing Committee in 1934 for this purpose had made very much better progress in Committee than this one has.
Right hon. and hon. Members may well wish to look at this precedent, and I am only too willing to be helpful in this respect. The whole question is dealt with in HANSARD, Vol. 293, starting at c. 405. The then Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sir John Gilmour, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), explained very clearly the difficulty in which the Government found themselves at that time and argued for the removal of the Bill to a Committee of the whole House for exactly the same reasons as I am now giving.
The parallel is exact. The Betting and Lotteries Bill, in 1934, was controversial in the extreme. It is not too strong to say that it created very high feelings throughout the country, as the present Bill has done. Both Bills were strenuously opposed on Second Reading the difference being that the Bill in 1934 was given a Second Reading without a Division. We see, therefore, that the present Bill is really more controversial than the 1934 Bill.
There were many misgivings about the Betting and Lotteries Bill in 1934, as there are about this one. Many right hon. and hon. Members disapproved of that Bill, as they do of this. There was a great division of opinion in the House on that Bill on Second Reading, as there undoubtedly was on the present Bill. I have already referred to the narrow majority in the Division on the Committal Motion. The great difference between the two Bills, which makes my case even stronger, is that the 1934 Bill was given a Second Reading nemine contradicente.
A great many criticisms were made in detail about the 1934 Bill, as a great many criticisms in detail have been made and will be made about this Bill. The Notice Paper at present before Standing Committee C is voluminous, although the Bill has already been considered at five sittings. A great deal of most controversial debate is still to take place. The place to have these controversial debates is not the Standing Committee but the Floor of the House, so that every hon. Member will have an opportunity to express his or her views about it.
In view of what my hon. Friend has told us, and his reflections upon the conduct of the Government Chief Whip, does not he think that it would be desirable for the Patronage Secretary to be here so that he could answer some of the many criticisms which will be made about him this morning?
I think that that would be more than appropriate. I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House here. I have no doubt that he will, as Leader of the House and spokesman for all right hon. and hon. Members, put that point of view very firmly to the Government Chief Whip.
There was a reasoned Amendment to the Motion for the Second Reading on this Bill which was not selected. It could not be selected for the reasons which you, Mr. Speaker, lucidly explained at the time. But hon. Members on both sides had very strong views about that reasoned Amendment. Again, I ask that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides be given an opportunity to express their views and be no longer muzzled by the sending of the Bill to Standing Committee.
I am alarmed about the delay in the conduct of the proceedings of the Standing Committee. Out of 630 Members of Parliament we have a Standing Committee composed of 50 hon. Members. For some reason or another best known to itself, the Standing Committee, after a debate and a Division, decided to meet on Wednesdays only. Far be it from me to criticise the views expressed in the Committee—it is not for the House to inquire into proceedings in Standing Committee—but I think it proper for me to let the House know that the Committee has purposely delayed its consideration of the Bill, whereas if the Bill were brought to the Floor of the House we could sit continuously and get rid of it, ensuring that, in its present form or in a modified form, it reached Third Reading.
In the meantime, I think it proper to tell the House of the business which is being held up in the Parliamentary timetable because of the slow progress being made in the Standing Committee. Some very important Bills are making no progress and are likely to make no progress this Session unless the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill is removed from the Standing Committee. The first Bill in the queue is the Criminal Justice Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) and supported by a number of hon. Members representing all parties. It would be improper for me to discuss its pros and cons, but the Bill is an extremely important one. Its purpose is to enable a jury trial to carry on in the event of the death of a juror.
Should not the hon. Gentleman's observations be addressed to those who are conducting a filibuster in the Standing Committee? In the Standing Committee we have had serious contributions from the two ex-Law Officers, from the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. W. F. Deedes) and from the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke). Apart from those hon. Members, we have had a continual filibuster, culminating on the last occasion—
It is very improper to discuss here the conduct of proceedings in the Standing Committee. Nor do I think we could express the kind of view, if we held it, which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was expressing, because it might involve some criticism of the Chairman of the Standing Committe, which I could not wear.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not raising the question of the accuracy of the phrase which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) used. I rise because some of us had expected to take part in the debate, and, because we apprehended that our conduct was being challenged, and because, if this Motion were carried and the matter came down to the Floor of the House, it would be necessary for hon. Members to consider the proceedings upstairs, surely it is appropriate for us, on this Motion, to say that presumably the reason for the Motion being put forward today is that, in the view of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), as he has been developing for some time, the proceedings in the Standing Committee are inadequate or subject to criticism or not being satisfactorily conducted.
I had hoped that we should have been—I thought that we should at least have been—able to make some reference to what has happened in the Standing Committee and, indeed, to defend conduct which seems to be impugned. I should have thought that it was very relevant to the determination of the House as to whether the question should be taken from a Standing Committee which has been apprised of it and committed to the whole House again to consider how far the Standing Committee is carrying out a reasoned and proper discussion of the Bill, how far we have made progress, whether that progress has now been so great that to commit the Bill to the Floor of the House would only be a rather nugatory exercise because of the many matters of great moment which have already been dealt with and voted upon. While I do not often seek to press myself on the House, I hoped that I might catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to refer to this matter during the course of the debate.
I should like to see how the debate develops. If the hon. Gentleman is called, and makes some point of the kind, I will rule upon it when it arises. That will give me an opportunity to reflect on the limits in this matter. There must be some limit, I feel, to the extent to which we can discuss what happens in Standing Committee. The kind of point which might arise might be, for instance, whether it was felt that somebody ought to have moved the Closure or to have accepted it in order to enable the Committee to get on. Clearly, we must watch very carefully what we do.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made a great reflection on my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) and Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson). He declared that in a Standing Committee they are deliberately obstructing business. We all know those two distinguished right hon. and learned Gentlemen, and we all know that they are taking their duties extremely seriously in the Standing Committee. May I ask whether it is within the rules of the House that words such as "filibuster" should be uttered about my right hon. and learned Friends when they are only doing their duty and trying to ensure that the views of the people of the country are heard in a Standing Committee?
Not at the moment.
Whether they are right hon. or hon. Gentlemen makes no difference to the point if it is a good one. My recollection is that it is in accordance with permitted tradition to accuse political opponents of being obstructive and of filibustering. It is legitimate Parliamentary argument. I say nothing about the facts.
At present, we have got to the stage where the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was intervening in a speech which was being made. I rather hoped that his intervention had come to an end. Does he wish to add anything?
I was being careful to avoid any discussion of the proceedings in the Standing Committee. I was mentioning the business which is being held up by the lack of progress, for whatever reason, in the Standing Committee. I had said that the very important Criminal Justice Bill was being held up, with very great prejudice to law and order. I say no more about that, lest the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) accuses me of filibustering as well.
There is also being held up the Highways (Amendment) Bill, which is proposed by an hon. Member opposite with the support of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It provides for the clearing of highways. This is an extremely important measure. I should particularly like to see it applied to Scotland and to my constituency, which is very much under the snow at the moment. All local traffic there has stopped. It is highly desirable that that Bill should have the opportunity of making progress, but it is being held up by the consideration of the extremely important Bill at present before the Standing Committee.
There is also the Armed Trespass Bill, presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) and supported by hon. Members of all parties. In these days of disorder, when young people are behaving very badly, young thugs are going about with arms, and so on, it is very desirable that the hands of the forces of law and order should be strengthened by the early passage of the Bill, which will make armed trespass a criminal offence. A few days ago the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department expressed the hope that the Bill would make early progress.
Another Bill is being held up, a very useful little Bill presented by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is the Administration of Estates (Small Payments) Bill. It is very important. Many hon. Members realise that we should ease the machinery for dealing with the estates of people in humble circumstances. This is a valuable Bill which solicitors all over the country have awaited for many years and which a great many hon. Members, including myself, would like to see make a rapid passage. All these important Bills are being held up by the slow progress that is being made, for whatever reason, in the Standing Committee which is considering the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, so there is surely ample justification, for that reason alone, for the removal of that very controversial and important Bill back to a Committee of the whole House.
I would like to have this point clarified. I understand the hon. Gentleman to be saying that, if his Motion is carried, there will be an opportunity to make more rapid progress with the Bill on the Floor of the House. That, of course, is a perfectly fair argument and one which we should consider on its merits. But surely he has overlooked the calendar of the business programme. We shall be called upon early in April to listen—I hope with pleasure—to announcements about the financial situation and the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for dealing with it.
The hon. Member will know that, under the rules of the House, certain priorities must be accorded to the Finance Bill so that it may reach another place by a certain date—otherwise, we should have to suffer the misfortune of not having to pay taxes. In these circumstances, is there genuine hope that we could make more speedy progress if we considered the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill on the Floor of the House?
It may well be that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) looks forward with pleasure to the Budget, but I look forward to it with no pleasure whatever, and nor do any hon. Members on this side of the House. At any rate, we have the honour today of the presence of the Leader of the House and no doubt he will take careful note of what is being said in arranging future business. After all, in a matter of this very great importance, I see no reason why we should be confined by the ten o'clock rule and why we should not sit late to consider the Bill and get it out of the way before we come to discuss the finances of the country.
Then there is the composition of the Standing Committee. Here I realise that I am on dangerous ground and far be it from me to criticise any member of the Committee. But it seems to me that, in this instance, the Standing Committee is a little less than representative of the House, especially in a matter of such very widespread importance. The Bill is a nationwide Measure and the Standing Committee is anything but representative of the nation. I was horrified to find, as a Member representing part of the Kingdom of Scotland, that there is no representation of the Kingdom of Scotland on the Standing Committee, with the sole exception of the Minister of State, Scottish Office, who is not here today.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again and I am grateful for the opportunity. What is he doing now? Is he criticising the constitution of the Standing Committee. If he is, does that mean that he is criticising, in some way, the Committee of Selection, which chooses hon. Members for Standing Committees? Is he advancing that as an argument for the Motion?
I suggest that the best answer to that would be obtained by the hon. Gentleman if he were to listen to my speech with some care. I have already expressed my anxiety to remain within the rules of order and I am not criticising the Committee of Selection. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we must, to some extent, look to the composition of the Standing Committee. It is in no way representative of the House. It is a Committee of 50 members, which is a very small proportion of the membership of the House.
No doubt the Committee of Selection tried very hard to produce a fair balance, but it seems to me that the Standing Committee has been a little one-sided. For instance, it is remarkable that the composition of the Standing Committee is overwhelmingly urban. There are no Scottish Law Officers on it, although Scotland has a separate legal system and although this is a Private Member's Bill in which the Government take no active part. But there are Scottish lawyers among Opposition Members, and we have not had the benefit of their advice on the Standing Committee. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) is one of Her Majesty's counsel, learned in the law in Scotland, and is quite capable of advising the Standing Committee on the law of Scotland.
Order. I have been reflecting about this, because it is rather a new situation. I do not think that it is possible for the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to do this without inevitably implying some criticism of the activities of the Committee of Selection. He had better abstain. The ground is too dangerous.
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I felt that if I strayed from the rules of order you would correct me, and I am grateful. I am extremely anxious to keep within the rules of order on this narrow Motion.
At any rate, a great deal of interest in the detail of the Bill has been taken by very many hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is only right and proper that all hon. Members, if they have strong and constructive views on the Bill, should have an opportunity of taking part in its Committee stage. I feel constrained to ask myself why the party opposite took such a strong view about the question of Committal. It seemed perfectly obvious that hon. Members were organising opposition to Committal to the whole House and I ask, quite properly, why the party opposite took that point of view.
Was it fear of open discussion of the Bill on the Floor of the House? It is common knowledge that debates on the Floor of the House are reported more widely than considerations in Standing Committee. The Press takes a great deal of interest in what goes on in the House, but what happens upstairs is semi-private and they take little interest. It may well be that the Government are afraid of offending the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). He seems to represent a powerful faction in the party opposite. It may well be that the Government are afraid of losing his support. After all, he is a man of very independent mind, as is evidenced today by his signature to a Motion on foreign policies which, to the best of my knowledge and belief, are not the policies of the Government.
That may well be. I am merely asking myself these questions. I am only too glad to have the guidance of the House on why the Government were very anxious to get the Bill off the Floor of the House. It may well be that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is a person of such independent mind, and leads so many factions on the other side of the House, that they are afraid of him. After all, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne claims to be in advance of public opinion, as he said in a very long Second Reading speech—
I commend the enterprise of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and I very strongly suggest that if he wishes to exert his influence he should do so on the Floor of the House and not in a secret committee upstairs—
The hon. Gentleman's innuendo was perfectly plain. He was saying that I had some influence in taking the matter from public discussion on the Floor of the House to a Committee that was in some way a secret Committee. I think that he should withdraw that remark.
Order. I did not know that the hon. Member would seek to try to defend the word "secret". I thought that it was a lapsus linguae. I think that it is, prima facie, insulting to the institutions of the House, and should be withdrawn.
I wonder whether the hon. Member has been following the publicity given to the Bill which is in Standing Committee? If so, is he not aware that it has had a very considerable amount of publicity in the national Press? There have been columns of it on each occasion when the Bill has been debated in the Standing Committee.
It may be that the hon. and learned Gentleman and I read different newspapers. The publicity in the newspapers I read is nothing compared with what the proceedings would have received had they taken place on the Floor of the House.
I was saying that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne claimed, in a very long Second Reading speech, that he was in advance of public opinion. That may well be, but it may also well be that his opinion on many subjects is different—
I am very sorry, but I heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I know what the words mean literally, but I think it right to ask the hon. Member to withdraw what he said.
I think that it is in order, Mr. Speaker, to say that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne holds opinions different from those held by other people. He certainly holds opinions that are vastly different from the opinions held by the great majority of my constituents and, I believe, by the vast majority of the constituents of a majority of members in this House—
I can give no information on that subject, but I should not be surprised if he were.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne holds opinions different from those held by other people, and although I have no doubt that he holds them perfectly sincerely and honestly it does not necessarily mean that they are right. Other hon. Members have independent opinions and should, in my humble submission, be entitled to express them.
We now have to consider—and I am sorry to detain the House at such length—when a Bill should be committed to a Standing Committee and when it should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. It seems to me that it is a matter of degree. If a Bill contains matter of great public moment—as I submit that the Bill in question does—the proper Committee is a Committee of the whole House. There has never been any question that a Bill of such public importance as the Finance Bill—which I have no doubt, to my great regret, we shall discuss next month—and Measures like it, are always committed to a Committee of the whole House. The same applies to this Bill.
Again, where a Bill is of high controversy and is one of which many hon. Members hold different opinions, every hon. Member should be able to take part in the Committee stage. I think that this is a Bill of high controversy. There have been Bills in the past—nationalisation Bills, and so on—which hon. Members opposite have tried to get to a Standing Committee; why, I do not know, unless it is that they are afraid to bring the details to the light of public discussion.
On the other hand, we have a great many Bills of limited scope that may be properly discussed in Standing Committee. For instance, the Scottish Standing Committee is at present happily chuntering away on the Teaching Council (Scotland) Bill, in which nearly all Scottish Members are interested, and no one else. It is proper to let them get on with it, and they are making a very good job of it. Another Standing Committee recently discussed cereal marketing. This, again, is a very specialised subject, and many hon. Members, mostly with farming interests, were very happy giving their technical assistance in improving that Measure. It has now passed very successfully through its Committee stage. Another very technical Bill deals with the proposed Law Commissions. That is being dealt with by a Standing Committee, where the lawyers are having a field day discussing technicalities and "talking shop."
This Measure, however, is an entirely different type of Bill. It is a nationwide Bill of vital importance, and it should be dealt with on the Floor of the House—
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive my saying so but I think that he was under a misapprehension when he spoke of the Finance Bill. The Select Committee on Procedure has on several occasions discussed how much better it might be for the Finance Bill to go to a Standing Committee. Indeed, I am quite sure that there would be a recommendation to that effect were it not for the necessity of preserving the rights of the individual Member to put down an Amendment in relation to taxation, particularly affecting his constituency. That has been so time and time again.
The hon. Member's view that big matters do not go to a Committee is not true. I do not think that he was here in 1945, when we discussed in Standing Committee, the Gas Bill, the Transport Bill, the Bill to nationalise the coal industry—and I hope that we shall take the steel nationalisation Bill in a Standing Committee quite shortly. Those were matters of very great moment. It has up to now been generally the view of the Select Committee on Procedure that to deal with such matters in a Standing Committee gives the opportunity for wider, fuller and, if I may say so, more diverse discussion than can be permitted under a procedure by which Guillotines, and so on, may have to be introduced to protect the interests—
Order. There is something mysterious about today. We are not in Committee now, and it would be rather hard on the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) if the eloquent intervention of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) endured any longer.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I suggest to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that it would be more appropriate if the House listened to my speech and then he and any other hon. Member who wishes to speak can seek to catch your eye. Whatever views may be held by the hon. Member for Oldham, West on this subject, we are dealing with a Bill which is of universal concern. It is causing apprehension throughout the land and has aroused the strongest of strong feelings.
I must be careful to avoid any discussion of the merits of the Bill, for that would put me out of order. It seems that since the Bill received its Second Reading there has been a changed set of circumstances. The question of capital punishment was not a live issue in my constituency, which is in the North of Scotland, before the Bill was introduced and was given a Second Reading. I knew, before that time, that the Bill was to be introduced so I went to a good deal of trouble to find out exactly what thoughts were being given to the subject.
At that time nobody seemed to feel particularly strongly about it. As long as things were going well, we should leave well alone, was the general view. It rather reminds me of the experience of every director of every public company. So long as things are going well with the company's affairs very few people turn up at the annual general meetings. As soon as a loss is made the shareholders attend in droves to find out what has happened.
That has happened in this case, at any rate in my constituency. People were happy with the situation as it was, but as soon as the matter was brought into the limelight it became a live issue, like the company making a loss and the shareholders suddenly taking a lively interest.
It would appear that since the Second Reading of the Bill there has been an extraordinary crop of ghastly murders. [Interruption.] We have had deplorable attacks on the police—
Certainly not, but I think that I heard the hon. Member disclaim any intention to do so. Perhaps I might tidy up the point. The hon. Member would be in order if the point he made was that since the House had decided to send the Bill to Standing Committee the following murders had occurred.
That is precisely what I am attempting to do, Mr. Speaker. I am not discussing the merits of the Bill, but describing the facts and occurrences since the Second Reading. Undoubtedly, there has been a series of ghastly murders, attacks on the police and on prison warders. There has been a second murder in one of Her Majesty's prisons. All this has resulted in what was no issue at all becoming a very lively issue and causing a great deal of apprehension to Her Majesty's lieges throughout the land.
As a result of the public interest in this matter, I have received a tremendous amount of correspondence, not only from my constituents but from people throughout the country expressing opinions and asking that the Bill be considered by the whole of the House of Commons so that every hon. Member is able to express and reflect the views of his or her constituents. We are not such superior persons that we hold superior views to the bulk of the population we represent. It is essential that every hon. Member should seek, to the best of his ability, to express public opinion. It may be that some hon. Members disagree with the views of a great many of their constituents, but that is just one of those things. Hon. Members are sent here to represent the view of the citizens who elected them.
I have gone to a good deal of trouble to test public opinion on this issue in my constituency. I called at 382 houses at random and put the question, "What do you think about the hanging—
On a point of order. May I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that if this kind of argument is permissible it is permissible to any hon. Member in the House and that we may find ourselves very soon having a Second Reading on a Bill the Second Reading of which has already been concluded? What the hon. Gentleman may wish to tell us about his having asked questions in his constituency may be very interesting, but can have no possible bearing on whether, at this time of day, we should interrupt the work of the Committee and consider the matter all over again here.
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I was listening to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) and I thought that he was going to tell us that he had canvassed his constituents to find out whether they thought that the Bill should be discussed in Committee upstairs or downstairs. [Interruption.] That is literally true. It was not clear to me, from the wording he used about the canvass, exactly about what he had canvassed, when the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) rose to put his point of order. However, the hon. Member cannot discuss the merits of the Bill.
Order. I do not think that the point is difficult to understand. The hon. Gentleman cannot here and now discuss the merits of the Bill, either directly or indirectly, simply because the lady at No. 17 had certain views about it.
I am obliged for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was about to say that 380 of the 382 people with whom I spoke were of the opinion that the Bill required a great deal more consideration. My second question was whether they agreed that the Measure should be considered by the whole House, and all 382 agreed that it should be.
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling the House that he went to the homes of 382 of his constituents and solemnly asked each and every one of them, "Do you consider that the Bill should be considered by a Committee of the whole House or by a Committee upstairs"? Is he really telling us that he did that?
I did. In any case, I have spoken for far longer than I intended.
The public must not be disfranchised on an issue of this sort and I regret to say that the great bulk of the population is being disfranchised and will remain so while the Bill is confined to a Committee of 50 hon. Members out of a total membership of the House of about 630. The situation has changed since the Bill was given its Second Reading. The public have changed views on the matter and it is the duty of every hon. Member to place the views of his constituents before the House.
There are in the House some hon. Members who have, or who claim to have, specialised knowledge of this subject. We have the analogy of the judge, with specialised knowledge, and the jury, with none, but each member of the jury has human emotions. The jury in this case is comprised of 630 hon. Members who are trying to represent the majority view of their constituents. I fear that the Government and their supporters are exercising their old belief in the man in Whitehall knowing best.
Let us bring this controversial Bill on to the Floor of the House and have the fresh air of democracy brought into the matter, instead of the ideological talk of some hon. Members opposite. We are, let us remember, sent here to look after the peace and tranquillity of this realm. Let us do just that.
The House this morning is faced with a narrow, severely practical question, and I propose to confine myself to that. There are, of course, certain matters to which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) has referred which are common ground and not in dispute. One is that the Bill is a very important one. The second is that there is strong feeling on both sides with regard to it, so that the principle involved is highly controversial. The third is that this makes it even more necessary than it is in all cases with legislation passed by our Parliament that the Bill should be examined carefully and in detail seriously in the Committee stage to see whether improvements can be made in it or whether alterations of any sort ought to be made.
All that is common ground—there is no dispute about it—and there is no need to labour the point whether one is either in favour of the hon. Member's Motion or against it. The question that we have to decide is whether better effect could be given to those propositions and to the duty of the House of Commons to examine the Bill very carefully indeed by removing it halfway through its Committee stage down to the Floor of the House at this stage in the Session.
I confess that I had at one time considerable sympathy with the notion that the Bill might, in the first place, have been kept on the Floor of the House, and I confess that in all previous legislation of this type the Bills have been considered in Committee on the Floor of the House. That was the case with my Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill in 1956, when we had a fairly long, fairly discursive Committee stage on the Floor of the House, and it was also the case with regard to the Government Bill which became the Homicide Act, 1957, when also the Committee stage was taken on the Floor of the House. But the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West will, I am sure, realise that under our Standing Orders, Bills normally automatically go to Committee upstairs. If it is desired that the Committee stage shall be kept on the Floor of the House, that decision has to be made by Motion immediately after the passing of the Motion for Second Reading.
It is perfectly true that, basing myself on what had been the practice on similar occasions in the past, I had anticipated that the Committee stage would take place on the Floor of the House, and so, indeed, had my fellow sponsors, including those who belong to the hon. Member's party. I hope that the hon. Member will remember in any future arguments which he addresses, either inside or outside the House, on this subject that this is an all-party measure.
The hon. Member has referred to a number of Bills that are being delayed because the Committee upstairs is doing exactly what he knows it ought to do. To give the Bill careful consideration takes time. The hon. Member said that those other Bills were all-party Bills. I think that he was intending to imply, no doubt by inadvertence, that that was a distinction between those Bills and this one. It is not a distinction. The Bill which the House is considering is a Private Member's Bill, sponsored by hon. Members in all parties, whose Second Reading was carried by a majority of more than two to one on a free vote of the House of Commons.
If the hon. Member has a little patience, he may find that I will not leave out of my argument any relevant considerations, but if at the end of my speech he still thinks that I have done, I shall be glad to give way to him again.
I was saying that this was an all-party Bill—
I interrupt a great deal less often than the hon. Member and his hon. Friends, and I think that now and then I may. If the hon. Member is leaving out words and leaving words until later will he kindly leave out "all-party"? The fact that hon. Members of different parties support the Bill does not make it an all-party Bill. "All-party" is an expression which means that, in general, all parties are in favour of the Bill. Will the hon. Member kindly correct that?
I do not think that anybody else misunderstood what I said. This is a Bill on which some Members are in favour and some against. All I am saying is that those who are in favour of the Bill, including its sponsors, contain Members of all parties in this House. That is all I was saying, and that is all I intended to convey. [Interruption.] I know perfectly well that the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) sometimes likes to form a party by himself, and I know very well that he was not a sponsor of the Bill.
I have conceded that my anticipation was that the Bill would be kept on the Floor of the House for the Committee stage, and I was prepared to move the necessary Motion for that purpose. I did not move it. It was moved by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson), and the reason why I did not move it was because the Government preferred that it should go to a Committee upstairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No one need cavil about that. We could only have the Bill at all if the Government were prepared to afford time for it. It was not for me, who was dependent upon Government time to take the Bill any further at all, to quarrel with the Government about what sort of time they should give.
The question ultimately was decided, as it can only be decided, by Members of the House of Commons. There was a Division on the Motion that the Committee stage should be taken on the Floor of the House, and the decision was, not by quite such a large majority as the Second Reading, but still by a substantial majority, that it should go upstairs. I see no objection in principle to that.
It was a decision of the House of Commons however it was arrived at. We are all bound by it unless we are satisfied that the House of Commons then made a mistake which ought now to be changed. That is what we are considering.
The next point that I want to make in my speech is that the position today is not what it was when the House decided to send the Bill to a Committee upstairs. The Committee has met. The Committee has had five sittings. It has gone at least halfway through the Bill, and I should like to tell the House, so that it may better consider whether there is any practical advantage to be derived from the hon. Gentleman's Motion, what the proceedings in the Committee have been like.
I certainly have no criticism to make of anybody on the Committee. It is true that there have been a number of speeches; it is true that some of them have been long speeches; but it is an important Measure and it has to be carefully examined. I do not know what the hon. Member really thinks would happen if we voted to fetch the Bill back here now as he suggests. Is he suggesting that every Member of the House should be able to speak at every stage on every Amendment?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not indeed? Why not be able to do anything else? But suppose we followed the hon. Member's suggestion. Suppose 630 Members of Parliament each made only one speech of 55 minutes, say. How much of the time of Parliament would be required before we reached the end of the Committee stage and what time would there be left for the House to do any other business at all?
Let us come back to see where we are in the Standing Committee. There were a lot of Amendments; there are still a number to be discussed; but they divide, broadly, into two categories. The first category does indeed raise questions of profound principle. The second category does not. By the first category I mean that series of Amendments which propose to restore one by one all the exceptions in the Homicide Act which the present Bill was designed to remove. The Homicide Act, hon. Members will remember, abolished in principle the death penalty for murder. That was 1957. There have been two General Elections since, and the matter has not been actively discussed at any of them, so that it must be taken, I think, that the general principle of the Homicide Act, which, bear in mind, was a Government Measure, and a Conservative Government Measure at that, abolishing in principle the death penalty for murder, has been generally accepted.
The hon. Member was pointing out to me, and it helps, that we could not in this debate discuss the merits of his Bill. I think he is rather near the line at the moment.
I am much obliged. I hope not to cross the line. My only purpose was to draw attention to the only purpose to be achieved by the Bill and how it is being dealt with in Committee by careful examination of every single one of the questions raised by those exceptions, Amendment by Amendment, and this forms one of the two categories of the Amendments which the Committee has been considering.
Of that category we have decided already all but one, and the one remaining we are at this moment halfway through. One may fairly anticipate that if the Committee meets next Wednesday morning, if this Motion is not accepted, then, before the end of that morning, at the sixth sitting of the Committee, we shall have disposed of all those Amendments, and all those Amendments concern the fundamental question of principle which the hon. Member thinks ought to be better decided in Committee of the whole House. After next Wednesday, all those questions which remain to be decided will have been decided by the Standing Committee.
What is the category of the remaining section? For my part, I think the remaining section of Amendments is more practical, but that would not be everybody's opinion, I dare say. What I invite people who have seen what the Amendments are to agree with me about is that this second category does not go at all to the root of the matter, does not go at all to the question whether the death penalty should be abolished or retained either in general or for any particular kind of murder. The second category of Amendments is about the alternatives.
There are very important proposals—really important proposals—as to how the Home Secretary should exercise the discretion reposed in him by Statute in all cases of life imprisonment to determine how long in fact the period of detention should be. There are suggestions, in this category of Amendments, that there should be a minimum sentence imposed by the courts, stating what period of years. There are Amendments that, short of that, the courts might express an opinion, under some statutory power to be embodied in the Bill, as to how long in a particular case the period of detention should be. There are proposals to associate the courts, maybe the Court of Criminal Appeal, with the ultimate decision which the Home Secretary has to make in an individual case whether to release on licence or not to release on licence.
All these are, of course, very important Amendments, but does anyone think that they could not be or should not be carefully examined, considered, debated, and ultimately decided by the Standing Committee? After all, when the Committee has finished with the Bill it will still come back here. The reason why our general practice is, unless the House specifically resolves otherwise, to send Bills to a Committee upstairs is precisely because it is possible to give them more time and more careful attention than we could possibly give them if we kept them on the Floor of the House, being dependent from stage to stage on the exigencies of other public business and on the judgment which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is forced to make week by week about the priorities of the matters which we have to consider.
That is why most things are sent to Committees upstairs; but I quite appreciate the point which is being made in favour of this Motion that that does not apply where basic constitutional questions are involved, or in certain other cases such as the 1954 case which was mentioned. It does not apply to those. What I am saying to the House is that this principle, that it is better done on the Floor of the House, does not apply to any of the Amendments in the second category, which is virtually all that the Standing Committee has left to do.
And discussed together, but with separate votes taken on them, so that the Committee comes to a deliberate and separate decision on each one, or nearly each one, of the Amendments, but after a general discussion in which one can be related to and compared with another so that hon. Members can decide to accept them all or to reject them all, or to accept some and to reject others. That is exactly how it should be, is it not?
What advantage would be gained if now, in the very middle of the Committee's proceedings, the House were to change its mind for the reasons offered and stop the Committee in the middle of doing an extremely useful job and start it all over again in Committee on the Floor of the House? I beg those who have serious doubts about the Bill to realise that they would be doing their side of the case no good at all by bringing it down here and letting it take its chance with the wide variety of other public questions whenever the Government feel able to provide half an hour here or an hour and a half somewhere else to discuss it, perhaps spread over several weeks. This is what would happen, and I submit that if we look at this matter, as we ought to do, in a severely workmanlike way, the House ought not to accept the Motion.
Before I sit down, I should like to comment on what was said earlier. I make no charge of filibustering against anybody. The argument has been serious. I know that I have sometimes become impatient. Who does not sometimes do so? I know that sometimes I have regarded some arguments as less relevant than others, and I have made no bones about saying so. That is my temperament, and it is my duty to say so. If one is in charge of a Bill and is promoting it—
Order. I am obliged for the intervention of the hon. and learned Member, because I can now indicate the principles on which we must run. Clearly, the conduct of proceedings in the Standing Committee are entirely and properly entrusted by this House to the Chairman. Any suggestion that the proceedings were not properly conducted in any way, such as that irrelevancies were permitted, would clearly be out of order.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The last thing in the world that I would want to do is to cast any reflection on a Chairman who has shown the utmost patience, but, as you know, an hon. Member starts to read a speech, you say that it is out of order and that the hon. Member must not go on, he gets up and says, "Yes, Sir, I quite agree", and proceeds to read the next paragraph, and that continues paragraph by paragraph.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Ruling you have given, would the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) now withdraw the remark that he made concerning filibustering, and the allegations that he has made, and listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman)?
This is really extremely difficult. Because of an intervention by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) I felt obliged to rule upon a point of order myself and on which I hinted I would rule. If we now exercise an invitation to withdraw by way of an intervention on an intervention or a point of order or an intervention it would be very hard luck on the hon. Member who is addressing the House.
With the greatest possible respect to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I have some difficulty in knowing what all this discussion is about. Even supposing that his reminder to me were accurate, I would not think it worthwhile to make a comment on it. The hon. Member in the Committee was called by the Chairman. He made his speech in the hearing of the Chairman. If the Chairman did not see fit to rule it out of order, then it was not out of order. And if he did see fit to rule it out of order, then at that point it stopped. Certainly I make no complaint of the hon. Gentleman about it, and certainly I make no complaint of the Chairman about it.
There may have been exceptions—and I may have been filibustering myself now and again, who knows?—but what I am saying is that taking the Committee discussions as Committee discussions, there is no reasonable complaint to be made of them. If there were reasonable complaint to be made of them, that would be a reason for accepting the Motion, not for resisting it. I am saying that we ought to resist it because the Committee is doing a practical, workmanlike, commonsense, job in a practical, workmanlike, commonsense, way under the expert guidance of a Chairman whom we all respect, and who is doing the job extremely well.
I think that the Committee should be left to do its work, to bring its work to a conclusion and then, when it has finished with the Bill, that the House of Commons should do its work of review when it comes to the Report stage, if there is one, and on the Third Reading, which there certainly will be. I hope that the House will not see fit to jump in at this stage in the consideration of a highly important Measure and waste all the work that has been done already.
Before I reply to the main case which has been made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), I should like warmly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) on the choice of his subject, arid on the way in which he proposed it this morning. He did so with excellent good humour under provoking circumstances.
This is a rather unusual Motion for the House to be considering on a Friday, but in the view of some of us who have been closely involved with the Bill it is none the less, important. I do not think that anyone disputes the two main points made by my hon. Friend: first, the importance of the Measure; and, secondly, the strong feeling held in the House on the subject. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne omitted to comment on the third point advanced by my hon. Friend, namely, the change in circumstances since the Second Reading of the Bill.
This debate is in part, but only in part, not a protest against the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, but a protest against the way in which the Government have handled this affair. In the long history of this subject—and this is confirmed by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—I can trace no previous occasion on which this great subject has been dealt with less seriously in regard to the House, or less seriously in regard to public interest.
Lest there be any misunderstanding about my remarks, may I say at once that, as a member of the Committee which is being discussed, my protest is directed against the initial decision of the Government, and not against anything that has happened since. It is right to record, and I hope that I remain in order in doing so, that so far as I am concerned no member of the Committee has any cause to complain of the nature of the proceedings. The complaint is against the choice of the vehicle, not against the way in which the vehicle has been conducted, and I think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne made the same point himself.
I am at a loss to understand—and I am glad to see the Patronage Secretary present—why the choice was made. Clearly, it did not conform with the inner wishes of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, whose position in this matter entitles him to some respect and regard from the Government, who saw fit to mention this matter in the Gracious Speech. At one time it occurred to me that the reason for the decision of the Government, to which hon. Gentlemen opposite had to conform, that is, against taking the Bill on the Floor of the House, was pressure of Government business.
It is quite clear now, however, that whatever reasons may have lain in the minds of those who are responsible for the arrangement of business that could not have been one of them, because, for reasons which it would be beyond order to discuss, it is quite clear that during the last month the Government have been in difficulty about finding enough business to keep the House occupied. There must have been moments during the last few weeks when the Patronage Secretary must have regretted that he had not given the Committee stage to the House, to occupy its time. That would be a charitable explanation for the choice, but, alas, I cannot believe that it is the right one. I believe that in reality the choice which has been made springs from something much more fundamental.
I believe that a fundamental error of judgment was made by the Government at an early stage in their assessment of the Bill, its implications and effects. It is very regrettable that, in this sense, they should have misled certain hon. Members, but it is much more serious that they should have misled themselves. The Government took the view that the Bill was one to abolish hanging. That is something about which we have been arguing for a long time. The Government took the view that the argument was over. Without doubt they were fortified in this view by an overwhelming majority in the Second Reading debate, when the House divided 355 in favour and only 170 against the Bill.
In the mind of the Government this was decisive. It was certainly decisive in the mind of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, because he reminded us from time to time, when some of us tried to make fundamental alterations in the Bill, that the House had given its verdict; it wanted abolition, and, therefore, Amendments which would render the Bill a Measure for something short of total abolition did not reflect the will of the House. I do not think that I am expressing his point of view unfairly. He put it forward more than once in our proceedings.
If I am correct in my interpretation that in the mind of the Government and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne such Amendments as I have referred to have no real relevance and are academic, I must point out that they are certainly not academic to me or to my hon. Friends. The attempts that we have made to amend the Bill spring from a passionate feeling that the Bill is wrong in the light of criminal behaviour; that it is wrong in the light of public desire, and wrong at a time when law and order is being threatened. Those of us who have moved Amendments have done so because we have meant them.
Let us assume, however, that the will of the House was finally expressed in the Second Reading debate. Let us assume that hon. Members on both sides gave their view on Second Reading and that the Hose decided that it wanted abolition and, in a sense, that those of us who advanced, in one way or another, retentionist views, no longer represent the view of the House. This does not end the main debate; this is where the main debate begins. The question to be debated is: what is to be the alternative to hanging?
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne divided the Bill into two parts. He referred to the first part as a matter of great importance, but made rather light of the second. He said that it seemed to him to involve matters much less important than those contained in the first part. That is not my view. Retentionist though I am, I regard the second part as most important. No right hon. Gentleman can tell me that the question what is to be the alternative to hanging is irrelevant or unimportant. If the Bill goes through in its present form this question is crucial. It becomes suddenly, dramatically and nationally relevant, and as serious a subject as the House could discuss.
This brings me to the heart of my argument. This matter has never been fully discussed in the House—never. I have looked through the proceedings on capital punishment issues right through this century. Not many subjects have occupied the time of the House for so long. But no hon. Member, not even the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, with the longest memory of all on this subject—a bibliography of this subject is his own biography; I say that with respect—can point to a debate which has been directed to the alternative, namely, the life sentence.
If the hon. Member will allow me to make my remarks in my own way he will see how I propose to deal with that point.
I was saying that this subject has never been properly debated on the Floor of the House. One of my complaints against the abolitionists has always been that they have been unwilling to face the issue, and to rehearse the arguments. The alternative has never been fully rehearsed. Even after the Report of the Royal Commission, which devoted a great deal of time, thought and space to this great subject, in the debate which took place on the Floor of the House the alternative was not fully discussed. The main argument has been to hang or not to hang, and not, "If we abolish hanging what is to be done in respect of capital murder?" This is a matter of the widest concern, and it involves every hon. Member, whatever his views may be on retention or abolition. It is a subject in which every hon. Member has a right and a duty to be involved.
It may be, by some extraordinary coincidence, that every hon. Member, opposite, save one, firmly believes that no man should hang. It may be that every hon. Member has reached that view by the unfetterred and uninfluenced exercise of his conscience. But it is too much of a coincidence to suppose that every hon. Member opposite would have exactly the same view about the life sentence. No party could be regimented to that extent. There is a variety of views on the subject, expressed by those who take one view or the other about the first part of the Bill. Surely all those should have a full opportunity of expressing their view if Parliament means anything at all.
The question of the alternative is of far greater complexity than the issue of hanging itself. The Standing Committee which has been entrusted with the Bill—and now I come to the point made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—has reached the frontier of this subject. It is about to address itself to the alternative. I think that the word "frontier" is the right word to use, because this is an uncharted subject—alarmingly uncharted. In my opinion this is something to demand the view of the whole House. Balanced in the minds of the Home Secretary and every hon. Member must be this consideration: as far as we can judge, to the best of our knowledge—and our knowledge does not go very far—what is sound penology and what is an adequate deterrent to crimes which now rank for capital punishment?
That is the profound question yet to be resolved. In the whole calendar of crime and punishment which we debate often enough there is surely no more difficult, fundamental or demanding subject. It is fundamental because it not only affects human liberty, but bears upon the whole scale of punishment for serious crime. It confronts us with the distinctive outlook between the Executive on the one hand, and the judiciary, on the other, in respect of very long sentences.
It is a matter of immense and profound importance. Whether we realise it or not and whether we like it or not, this punishment of hanging has hitherto been the cornerstone of our penal code, and the life sentence, as it will be if the Bill becomes law, will, in turn, become the cornerstone of our penal system. And it bears on so much else.
To anticipate a thought that may be occurring to the hon. Gentleman, the matter is rather different today than it might have been in 1957 when I was then concerned with the proceedings on the 1957 Bill. It is perfectly true that the life sentence assumed a new meaning because of the number of murderers who were deemed to be non-capital murderers. But what we have now to deal with are those crimes which will call for the longest sentences which can be imposed. That was not quite true in 1957.
It would be presumptuous of me to discuss whether Standing Committee C is fit or not to resolve this question, but this I must say at the risk of momentarily being out of order and following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West, that the Committee was drawn up—and I make no complaint of this—in terms principally of either abolition or retention. But this could not reflect what might be the views of the House on this great issue, the alternative—and it is a great issue. What should a civilized country which, let us assume, has resolved that hanging should go, deem to be the right punishment for what I hope all of us, whether retentionists or abolitionists, will continue to regard as the primal crime of murder?
I hope that we shall not, at this stage, have obscured from us by the instances mentioned by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—the passionate, the compassionate, the most difficult murderer—the fact that despite such cases murder is still an awful crime. When we discuss the alternative it is surely something with which the whole House ought to be concerned. If the supreme deterrent goes it seems to me that the consequence is something that we cannot escape. Some hon. Members say that all this could have been done, and was done in part, in full Committee of the whole House which sat on eight separate days in 1956 and 1957 It was then, they may say, that we decided what should happen to murderers who did not hang.
We decided nothing of the kind. We left it to the Home Secretary and to the Prerogative.
It may well have been a decision, but I am just coming to the point if the hon. Gentleman will wait a moment. Even if we had debated the alternative at great length we could only have dealt with the easier part. What the Bill proposes will be infinitely more difficult. It is what should be done to those who must serve very long sentences.
What does the Bill say? If we look at its Long Title we see that it is
… to make further provision for the punishment of persons so convicted.
We have not yet heard a great deal about this. It is a weakness that the Bill has been made a part private, part public, Measure—a hybrid Bill. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne may achieve abolition, but he cannot influence, still less control, the alternative, and he knows it. Nor does it seem to me that the Standing Committee, established to traverse the well-worn ground of abolition or retention, is best equipped to decide this great issue of the alternative.
The debate which is going to conclude the Committee stage of the Bill is one which goes to the root of law and order, and one of deepest concern to a civilised country. It is one which will—and I rejoice in this—bring together, perhaps for the first time, those who would abolish and those who would retain. In my view, it is a subject for the whole company of this House.
The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has made a very impressive speech, and with many of the things that he said I find myself in agreement. But I think that he has come to the wrong conclusion, and I hope to say why. It seems to me—I have no desire to go wide—that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal can only be considered if we are, in a sense, considering the respective merits of a Committee of the whole House and those of a Standing Committee upstairs, but, of course, limited to any special way in which this Bill itself could be affected by that procedure.
I think that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), who opened the debate in what I can only describe as a very impressive and very reasoned speech, has failed a little to be familiar with the normal procedure of the House in Standing Committee upstairs. To start with, the hon. Gentleman—I think that he did withdraw it—appeared to be under the impression that the proceedings of the Standing Committee were not open to the public. He certainly referred to a "secret" Committee.
I was wrong to mutter anything at all. Surely my hon. Friend slipped into saying "secret" when he might well have said "semisecret", when everyone would have understood. He corrected it the moment that there was any question about it at all.
I said that the hon. Gentleman made a correction, but the whole tenor of his argument was to suggest that this was a small and obscure Committee about which the public did not know much and where the public would not be admitted.
The hon. Gentleman will, I think, recollect that I unreservedly withdrew. I think that my Committee record in the last three years has been the highest of any hon. Member.
The point I want to make is this. The one thing that I have never been refused in my Parliamentary life is membership of a Standing Committee upstairs. Indeed, I spent a great deal of time trying to avoid it. I do not criticise the Committee of Selection, but it is well known that that Committee is willing to receive, certainly through the usual channels, and, as far as I know not through the usual channels if necessary, applications for membership or recommendations for membership of a Standing Committee. It is the normal method of procedure for Members to withdraw from a Standing Committee at the end of a Bill to make room for those with a special interest in the matter.
I have no doubt, in view of what the hon. Member said, that he might have considered that Wednesday mornings were inconvenient to him. With, I think, 362 constituents expressing a passionate concern, the hon. Gentleman would not have failed to apply for membership of the Committee except on very substantial grounds. I have been there at every sitting, and, subject to the fact that I wander out for a few moments, I have been there all the time. I have not seen the hon. Member present studying our procedure and finding out what an admirable Committee this is.
Standing Committee C is an admirable Committee; no one would dispute that. I am sure that no member of the Committee would wish to criticise the procedure of the Committee in any way, but the hon. Member then went on to suggest that a Standing Committee was not appropriate for the consideration of Bills of great importance. Of course, this is not true. I made an intervention about the Finance Bill. I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure when we earnestly considered this whole matter for a very long time. It was the dilemma of the House. The constant complaint which was made by the Select Committee on Procedure was that our procedure in Committee on the Floor of the House made it extremely difficult for private Members to be heard on matters on which they had special knowledge.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the Chair has anything to do with this. There must a be point at which any Government would like to see their Measure get through. There must be a point at which one recognises that the matter has been discussed. There are Members with very special interests and knowledge. I have never attributed knowledge to myself, but I hope that, for the moment, it will be permissible to say that I have spent my life mostly in the study of penal reform. I have the privilege of being Rapporteur of a Council of Europe Committee on Penal Reform. I am not saying that that is a very important position. I do not know how I was appointed. I rather think that I appointed myself when nobody was looking, but it gives me the opportunity of studying the penal system all over Europe and visiting convict prisons, and this I have been doing for a long time. There are not many which I have not seen which have any representative capacity.
My opportunity of voting or of speaking in a Standing Committee is the same as any other hon. Member's This was the dilemma of the Committee. Are we to have consideration of a Bill by 50 hon. Members in a Standing Committee, in which those who have or who feel that they have a very special knowledge of the subject may ask to be added, with a knowledge that their desire is likely to be approved, with the knowledge that the Select Committee will be considering precisely that point; or are we to say—as we do say, quite fairly—that the whole procedure of Standing Committee is in a sense an abrogation of our democracy and that it limits the procedure of the House as the grand council of the nation?
This is a dilemma which all of us know and about which we would agree at once, and we could go in the Lobby for once unanimously on this. We know, unhappily, that in present circumstances, to treat the House as the grand council of the nation on every subject is quite impracticable, that we very often pass Bills with too little consideration, that the channels are choked with Bills which many Members desire should go to a Standing Committee, but which will never get there, and that our democratic procedure is not only impossible fully to implement; we know that the conception of the grand council, and, indeed, our democratic procedure, is becoming progressively limited, partly by the fact that we have to pay for democracy the penalty of delay and that in this automative world the urgency of decisions becomes often so imperative that the House has to short-circuit discussion.
There was another major proposition which was being put all the time. It is said that this is a very important Bill. Of course, this is a Bill on which many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have strong feelings. This is a Bill which excites some emotion. I do not disapprove of emotion. I have a considerable contempt for facts and for logic. I have never known a fact which has remained a fact for more than a very brief period, I have never known a pragmatic argument which was not an excuse for a surrender of principle, and I have never known a logical argument which has not ultimately been refuted. The Bill arouses genuine emotion and it is right that it should. But if we consider the Bill—I do not want my words to be understood in the terms in which a Select Committee or, indeed, the House itself, would have to consider its aptitude for consideration—we realise that it is not an important Bill from that point of view. It is a one-Clause Bill, however it is considered, with a second Clause defining it.
Therefore, it would be almost impossible to imagine more than two or three days being devoted to its consideration on the Floor of the House. Those Members who are anxious to see our steel industry come under national control would complain if even three days were allotted to that, while we can go into a Standing Committee and discuss it at leisure. Leisure is not the only consideration, though I think it should be discussed at leisure, as I passionately agree with what the hon. Member said about the Clause which remains to be discussed. Not only can we discuss it at leisure; I thing that it was the decision—I think the unanimous decision, though I may be wrong—of the Committee that it should meet on Wednesday mornings.
It is within the power of the Committee to say, "We will sit two days a week," if there were any manifestation of a general desire for the point which was put by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, West, when he continually emphasised the necessity of coming to a decision within a reasonable time.
I am sure that the hon. Member would not want to get this wrong. He is a member of the Committee and he knows that we had a vote on whether the Committee should meet on Wednesday or on Tuesday and Thursday. Those present who were sponsoring the Bill preferred that we should meet on Wednesday morning and won on that issue.
I am obliged for the correction. I made my point rather hesitantly and I was expecting to be corrected if I were wrong.
I have been glancing through the votes to refresh my recollection, and I find that it is quite clear that most of them have been fairly decisive. Many of the votes have been carried by substantial majorities, in view of the smallness of numbers. I also noticed that the standard of attendance at the Committee has been extremely high, apart from, perhaps, a regrettable exception in the Liberal Party. I know the distinguished hon. Member of the Liberal Party who is on the Committee, and he is an hon. Member for whom I have a personal regard. However, with that exception of the Liberal Party, both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party Members have attended with regularity and assiduity.
We have the privilege of hearing the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) and of listening to him with respect, and no one doubts the sincerity with which he puts his views. If it is not discourteous, I think that he sometimes finds it difficult to express himself within the limited compass of that brevity which we are told is the soul of wit, but may not be the soul of argument. Subject to that, I do not want to say a discourteous word about the hon. Member.
I say it about myself, too. Would he or I have the opportunity of expressing these views—important and serious views—as fully in Committee on the Floor of the House as he has had in a Standing Committee. If he votes for this Motion, is he not limiting his own opportunity of pursuing his eloquence at leisure and with the ease and comfort with which one can formulate one's arguments in Standing Committee upstairs without inhibition? I always feel, those of us who are humble men, "While I am talking, I am depriving someone else an opportunity of talking about what might, to him, be an equally important subject."
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his discretion in the circumstances in which he says that we are regarded as having similar points of view. I hope that he will draw the line in that regard. He said that I have been able to speak in the Standing Committee, and I did have the pleasure of addressing the Standing Committee. I remember that I was interrupted rather often. The hon. Gentleman has also had the opportunity of addressing the Standing Committee, and he is addressing the House this afternoon. I hope that I also shall have an opportunity to speak this afternoon, and I cannot see that we shall gain any more advantage from speaking in the Standing Committee than in the House.
If the Bill had gone to a Committee of the whole House, it is hardly likely that it would have been discussed on a Friday. We do have today, on a snowy Friday, an advantage which might not be fully available when 600 hon. Members might be present, on a Wednesday or a Thursday. I, too, hope that we may have the privilege of hearing the hon. Member for Dorset, North this afternoon. I always listen to what he says with appreciation, and I shall have the convenience of being able to listen to him at leisure and to reflect on what he says.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West overlooked, or I think he under-emphasised, the fact that we have made progress. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) was a little optimistic about the speed of our future deliberations. I should not wish such speed myself; there is rather more on the Notice Paper, I think, that might be discussed in another sitting—
I am obliged to my hon. Friend.
We are discussing a number of Amendments together, according to the announcement which the Chairman was kind enough to make for the convenience of the Committee at its last sitting. The Chairman was good enough to intimate that quite a number of other Amendments may be discussed together, and so it seems to me that it would be at least fair to say that, on the major controversial part of Clause 1, we have two quite possibly long and quite substantial discussions to undertake. By that time we shall have broken the back of the controversial part of Clause 1 and then we pass to the subject mentioned by the hon. Member.
I should not have thought that a Clause which said:
this Act may be cited as the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, 1964
would be particularly controversial, and I should have thought that the second part, which says that the Measure shall not extend to Northern Ireland, would not excite much argument. But the hon. Member has referred to the Clause, and I wish to refer to it, because I think it extremely important and it leads to an important discussion.
The rules of debate apply equally in Standing Committee as in this Chamber, but I should have thought one might hope that a little latitude would be extended in Standing Committee when we are discussing obviously important matters. I should have thought—the time taken will show—that, on the whole, and without any sort of fear of a Guillotine or something like that, there would be more opportunity for fuller discussion. We have discussed a number of Amendments.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West has studied this matter carefully, and I am not suggesting that he neglected it in preparing his admirable speech, but it would be simple for someone who had not read the whole of our proceedings to overlook the fact that we have made a decision on a number of Amendments which appear on the Notice Paper and which are now subject only to a vote.
In accordance with the normal procedure, we have discussed together a number of Amendments which were not always consecutive on the Notice Paper, and so we have already made a decision on some future Amendments. They remain on the Notice Paper but will be put to the Committee only for the purposes of a vote, if the Chairman says that they refer to a matter to be voted on. They will not be put at all for further discussion if they are not to be voted on. So there are items on the Notice Paper which could mislead anyone looking at it casually about the length of the future deliberations that we could reasonably anticipate.
The hon. Member for Ashford developed at some length—and I was grateful that he did—the importance of the consideration of an Amendment which desires—
I am grateful for that somewhat momentary manifestation of interest in my remarks.
I come to the question of the Amendment to be moved, which the hon. Member for Ashford said was important. He made this the theme of his whole speech. We shall be discussing the question of alternative sentences. Without for a moment wishing to press the Chairman of the Standing Committee, or endeavouring to stake out any claim about the ambit of the discussion, I hope that we shall be discussing it in some detail, and on as wide an ambit as the rules of the House, duly administered by a very fair and able Chairman, permit. It is important, and one of the questions in which again involves, I do not use the expression "public interest" in this connection, but prefer to say the interest of those members of the public of all classes who have taken a very keen interest in this matter or have a keen interest.
Those of us who work in penal reform know that there is little to be learned about it. There are no certitudes or statistics which establish very much. We are dealing with individuals. I have said that before, and I apologise for putting it again. As a borstal governor once said to me, jokingly, although perhaps with a certain amount of truth, "To tell you the truth, Mr. Hale, we ought to have one borstal institution for each boy." They are all different. The question of dealing with individuals is a matter on which we know that whatever we do will produce bad results. It may be—I hope it is true—that we lay down moral principles for our guidance. But we know that we shall not attain our moral principles wholly, or wholly successfully, or unanimously.
One of the points on which I find myself at difference with my colleagues is that I have always taken the view that if a penal reform system is to be directed to the consideration of the interests of the criminal and the public interest, we may have to take harsh decisions involving classification. We may have to face the "doctor's dilemma". We may have to stop mixing all classes of prisoners together in a prison—I know that we are doing something on those lines—and say that there are some people who are virtually incurable in our present circumstances; and that with our present allocation, and indeed with a good deal more expenditure, we must use the money for the best interests of trying to send out young people rehabilitated and fit. Perhaps we may say that we have to have a maximum security prison for those we feel cannot at the moment be saved. After all, that is a harsh decision which has to be taken—
I do not dispute that for a moment. I thought that perhaps I was getting a little wide, but you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, did not have the privilege of hearing the hon. Member for Ashford, who dealt with this at some length. But I do not want to widen the discussion.
This is the dilemma that faces doctors at the Oldham Hospital every day of the week, and will do for a long time. [Laughter.] Yes, hon. Members should not laugh at the fact that an old man with bronchitis in Oldham may be condemned to death because of lack of institutional treatment, and we ought not to give to the enemies of society better treatment than to the sick.
But why does the hon. Gentleman not want the Bill dealt with on the Floor of the House? Lack of proper treatment may be bad for the people of Oldham, but why not have the Bill on the Floor?
The problem that faces the Chair in the selection of speakers on the Floor of the House is different. Hon. Members may ask to speak on a great number of grounds. The Chair has to exercise an impartiality in general in connection with Members which must be limited to a certain extent by the right to secure the expression of minority opinion, and so on. It is quite wrong to say that the duty of the Chair is to maintain impartiality, because it has a duty to be impartial to some limited form of opinion which otherwise would not be expressed. Everyone appreciates that this is done, and the Chair also has to have regard to constituency discussion. An hon. Member might want to be called because Dartmoor is in his constituency and many people were concerned about prison escapes, when we might be discussing penal reform.
I have made the point before that upstairs we have 50 Members. It was wrong to say, as has been said, that there is no Member from Scotland on the Committee. There is, and the Committee Members are very distinguished Members, with the exception of myself. They are certainly a representative body. By good fortune we have a Home Secretary who was an extremely skilful Law Officer and who can speak with the authority of a distinguished lawyer. We have on the Committee a former Home Secretary with recent immediate experience. Although the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) and I have had disagreements on a number of subjects in the past, we all listen to him with the added respect for someone who has had to bear the responsibility and who has had to come to a conclusion which he seemed at one time not likely to arrive at. The hon. Member for Ashford also saw service at the Home Office before he took over duties of diverse kinds which some of us did not accurately fathom or understand. We have also on the Committee a former Attorney-General and a former Solicitor-General who, not infrequently, have given us the benefit of their experience and advice. We are grateful to all these hon. and right hon. Members.
I think that the next Amendment which the Committee is to discuss is the one which suggests that the alternative to the death sentence should no longer be a life sentence but a sentence of 25 years. I think that there is another Amendment also which suggests that judges might be able to impose some immediate limit on sentences, a matter of great controversy which we have discussed in many connections and on which many of us hold strong views.
I say humbly as a member of the Committee, and perhaps it will come better from someone who is not a member of it, that the Committee provides a better opportunity for more informed discussion, remembering of course that if this Motion is defeated the Bill will still come to the House for the Report stage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Would it?"] I do not know. I know that if the Committee stage were taken on the Floor of the House there would be no Report stage unless the Bill had been amended, but I had thought, subject to correction, that there would be a Report stage even if the Bill passed the Committee stage without Amendment. I receive in the unwritten shorthand of the House the most comforting assurance that I happen to be right for once and hon. Members opposite appear to be in error. That is what I gather.
The hon. Member was Minister of Information, or something of that sort, and I should have thought that he should be the last person to complain about the system for the dissemination of information about a Measure. It seems a little ungallant that he should have done so now, though no doubt he did so without premeditation. If the hon. Member was under a temporary misapprehension, I am sorry, but at least the matter was decided by the House and a vote was taken and carried.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any occasion during the term of office of the last Government when, for example, on any matter affecting the liberties of the House or elections to the Chair on which a Whip was not issued? Many of us regard the Whip as an institution to be described in the famous words used in a Motion in the days of George III of another matter and would say that the power of the Whip as it is now has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. We did not get much help from hon. Members opposite on the occasions when we expressed that view during the last 13 years.
Would not the hon. Member also agree that it is lamentable that Her Majesty's Government applied the Whip on this vote? If the principle is bad, is it not a bad principle to be adopted by the hon. Member's Government?
We must be fair. A Whip, on principle, is rather unfortunate in any circumstances, but the use of a Whip is not so much to drive frightened Members into a Lobby but to call their attention to Measures or Motions of importance which otherwise a busy Member preoccupied with constituency business might not sufficiently and rightly apprehend. I should have thought that most of us do not take any notice of the possibility, which is not even mentioned on the Order Paper, unless a special Motion has been moved, that a Bill might be taken on the Floor of the House or in Committee upstairs.
In fact, I think that the rule is that normally a public Government Measure after discussion on the Floor of the House would stay on the Floor without a special Resolution whereas a Private Member's Measure would go upstairs without a Resolution. Therefore, one can make mistakes about that, and I should have thought that an imperative warning that a Division was contemplated was not only justified in the circumstances hut also in the event, because with this Measure that was not a decision to be criticised today on the ground that it was taken by a small number. It was taken by about 600 Members, an almost unprecedented number.
Does my hon. Friend not think it worth while to say, in answer to the intervention just made, that if the Government decided on a matter of principle first to leave it to the House to decide and then to offer Government time in order that the Bill should make progress, it is not unfair that the Government who are offering the time, without which we can make no progress, should be able to advise their supporters on the question of what time should be available? What is wrong with that?
I do not dispute that. I have been saying throughout that the decision whether to send a Bill to Standing Committee or not is always finely balanced and, apart from exceptional circumstances, the major considerations are always the same. On the Floor of the House more Members can take part, and upstairs in Standing Committee fewer Members, but perhaps Members with a greater interest in the subject can take part.
This is really what I was afraid of. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, in the course of the brilliant speeches he has made in his constituency, has devoted enough time to Parliamentary procedure. I am happy to say that I shall be talking about it to my constituents again in a fortnight. I know that, unless a Member devotes a good deal of time to talking about our procedure, there are genuine misapprehensions in the minds of constituents who wonder about these things.
If the hon. Gentleman's point is that matters of importance should be taken on the Floor of the House, I have already dealt with that. The Transport Bill, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill, the Gas Bill and, I think, the Electricity Bill all had their Committee stages in Standing Committee. They were very distinguished Committees which had very long sittings. There was a tremendous "gas" about gas.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because he has almost made my point for me, a point which is relevant and which one must in honesty and sincerity make. When we have a criminal law amendment Measure taken on the Floor of the House, we do not see 600 Members present passionately anxious to take part. We see hundreds of Members in the Library and elsewhere saying that it is a matter for the lawyers or for those who have devoted their time to law reform. Very often, there is not such a gathering as we have had in Standing Committee C, but it is a gathering which can offer expertise and specialised knowledge to the consideration of Amendments. We have had in this Parliament an unusually good record of attendances, and it is no criticism of the House—it is an excellent tribute to the system—
Yes, he can come here and address the House, but, in this connection, I remember the problems which we discussed in the Select Committee on Procedure. For instance, we considered whether a Measure as important as the Finance Bill should go to a Standing Committee, and, for a considerable time, we wondered whether it would be right to amend the procedure of the House so as to permit a Member with special constituency interests who wanted to move an Amendment to appear and speak on that Amendment before the Committee though not a member of it.
This was one of the proposals to resolve a dilemma which cannot be resolved. I opened by saying that it could not be resolved. This is too important a matter for us not to speak sincerely about it. We discussed the possibility of morning meetings, later votes, and so on and we came to the conclusion that Members were already so over-burdened—the death rate among Members of Parliament is higher than that in any other occupation in the world except, I believe, among licensed victuallers—that, on the whole, we could not recommend any alterations which would do justice to the conception of the House of Commons as a great council of the nation discussing every subject. Incidentally, we limited discussion of Statutory Instruments to about 1½ hours, and no one has ever complained to me about that.
The right hon. Member for Ashford referred to the Amendment about the sentence of 25 years' imprisonment. This is a serious and important Amendment and it has already attracted obiter dicta from both sides of the Committee. I think it has been said that the opinion of the Home Office, as expressed by the present Home Secretary and by the former Home Secretary—I think that one referred to nine years or thereabouts and the other to ten years—is that about ten years in prison is as much as a normal human being can stand and emerge from with any reasonable hope of taking up a normal sort of place in life at all. This is a strongly held view supported by strong evidence.
Again, I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was addressing my mind to replying, as briefly as I could, to what was said by the right hon. Member for Ashford. I certainly do not wish to widen the ambit of discussion. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a terribly important matter, a matter upon which many people felt deeply, a matter which should come on to the Floor of the House because of his deep feelings and the deep feelings of some of his colleagues on the Committee, and I was trying to show that there would be a fuller discussion of it upstairs in the Standing Committee.
Yes. When next the hon. Gentleman receives a letter from one of his constituents asking why he is not taking part in the proceedings in the Committee, let him say frankly whether he asked to be on the Committee or not and whether he was refused. If he did not ask, or if he was refused, that would be a reason.
Now that the Bill has taken this particular move, and having regard to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, it is clear that many hon. Members will wish to take part in a discussion on the Floor of the House on the very matters which my right hon. Friend has put before us today.
And a good many other things. For my part, I regret—I do not say this in any way as a criticism—that the House does not devote more time to discussing the whole subject of penal reform. But the hon. Member for the Wrekin (Mr. William Yates) makes a fair point. It is unfortunate that, however generously the Chair applies the rules of the House on a subject like this, we are always limited by the rules and there are so many matters which hon. Members wish to discuss. You have already had occasion to tell me that I have erred and strayed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I hope you think that I am now back on the straight and narrow path and pursuing the argument with rectitude.
This is an important question. In Standing Committee, it will receive discussion by a Committee of high expertise. We shall have the benefit of the presence of both the Home Secretary and the previous Home Secretary. We have two former Law Officers present in addition to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary who is an ex-Law Officer. I have not gone through the list, and I do not wish to weary the House, but I assure hon. Members that it is a Committee of considerable expertise.
I find it difficult to think that hon. Members seriously believe that an issue of this kind could more usefully and more fully be discussed on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for The Wrekin makes a perfectly fair point, but, with respect, it is only a debating point, because it could be made about any Bill. It could be made about every suggestion. One of our difficulties in political life is that everyone has different priorities of importance. Some hon. Members attach great moral importance to one issue, some to another, all with profound sincerity. There is a wide difference of view.
To return to the main argument, although I hesitate to do so, I think that I can speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne who is in charge of the Bill. I would say—I do not know whether I can give this promise on behalf of my hon. Friend; perhaps he will correct me if he sees fit—that if there is a real desire that we should sit in Standing Committee for a longer time, if, for instance, anyone would like to prolong the discussions beyond 1 p.m. into the afternoon, I am certain that my hon. Friend would receive such representations from hon. Members opposite with a desire to give all the time that we reasonably could and with a desire to introduce an Amendment which would provide extra time, if it were needed. But it is not true to say that there has been any manifestation of the need for extra time up to now.
The last time a Closure Motion was put, it was accepted by the Standing Committee unanimously and without dissent. That is an almost unprecedented event. I do not remember—I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends would be able to correct me—Closure Motions being put in those circumstances and being accepted in this way before. One could not have a more careful testimony to the fact that everyone who wished to speak had spoken, that everyone who wished to speak at length had spoken at length, and that the views of the Committee had been fully heard. It is not good enough for the hon. Member for The Wrekin to say "I should like to speak on everything" or "I should like to have the selection of all the subjects which I accept and put my name in the hat on every occasion." This is not possible for any hon. Member of the House under the present procedure. It has not been possible for any hon. Member during the 20 years that I have been in the House.
I am most anxious that any hon. Member should challenge me if I am wrong. I am not an expert on procedure, and do not profess to be speaking as an expert. However, I have never known back benchers organise a strike and say "We do not have enough opportunity of being on a Standing Committee." That is not true. If anyone has ever made representations to the Whips about his desire to sit on a Standing Committee, it has been considered not merely with sympathy and benevolence, but, in my view, usually with enthusiasm. What one meets is not a desire to frustrate us in this connection at all, but rather a desire to say "Go there, thou good and faithful servant; go and do thy duty according to thy limited lights."
The Standing Committee has what would normally appear to be a majority in favour of the Bill. We see hon. Members opposite sitting on our side of the Committee, and one assumes that they are at least with us on a number of the Amendments which may be accepted in principle—subject, of course, to listening to the debate.
We have taken a certain view. If hon. Members opposite will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings of the Standing Committee they will find—I claim a tribute on this—that we have rather gone out of our way to permit hon. Members who have a minority opinion to exercise the full right of any minority and to have the major portion of the time which is available to the Committee for expressing their views. I refer, in particular, to the hon. Member for Dorset, North. I known that he has no complaint on that score. I apologise that I have not always been present at the conclusion of his speeches, but I have always been within reach. The fact is that we have gone out of our way sometimes to accept a modest and temporary vow of silence in the interests of the full expression of the serious, but, I think, reactionary, views held on these subjects by hon. Members opposite. No one can say that there has been any attempt to restrain him or not to give him full opportunity. We have tried very hard indeed to give full opportunity to speak. It has been a very friendly Committee.
We sometimes hear complaints about difficulties here. With my limited faculties, I find myself perhaps more able to attune my limited talents to a consideration of a debate of the sort that takes place in Standing Committee than to sit here some uncomfortable distance from the Chair, with increasing deafness, trying to appreciate the brilliance and forcefulness of the speeches being made some distance from me in an assembly liable to suffer, very like the great sea, from a certain temporary turbulence which can sometimes divert us from a due consideration of the topic.
To turn to the speech by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, if we were considering a great moral issue of this kind and considering it in the presence of the public—we have had some very distinguished visitors to the Standing Committee, people who have come not merely to hear the debate but because they are interested in the subject being discussed and the views being expressed—
I am sure that the hon. Member ought to tell us which side was speaking when he was present, in order to give us an opportunity of expressing an evaluation of his views. When he referred to the views of 360 of his con- stituents, he ought to have said whether it was an all-party discussion or, virtually, the Primrose League in his constituency being called upon to express its views, which no doubt it has expressed with force on many occasions.
Having dealt with some of the minor points, I want to come to my main point. I have said that this is a Standing Committee of the House, that it was very carefully selected, that anyone who wanted to go on it had the right to express his desire to go on it, and that there is no record of any complaint—indeed, there could not be—about the procedure of the Standing Committee. It is a very strong Standing Committee, a Committee of 50 hon. Members, and it is as representative of the House as it can be. It has now been considering the matter for five consecutive sittings of 2½ hours each, which is pretty well equivalent to two full days' discussion in the House. It gives back benchers on the Committee a much greater oportunity of expressing their views than could normally be accorded to them on the Floor of the House where in debates some preference—perhaps I should not say "preference". I must, however, express myself with recognition of some of the ancient traditions of the House.
It has been said that in catching the eye of Mr. Speaker, proximity must inevitably have some relation to perception, and the Government Front Bench is so much nearer the Chair—no doubt it was designed for the purpose—that in discussions on the Floor of the House it is almost inevitable that someone who sits in the far corner will not so readily catch Mr. Speaker's eye as can be done elsewhere. Indeed, sometimes we say—and, I have no doubt, we should not so say— "It is expected that So-and-so will wind up the discussion", or, indeed, Ministers rise and say "In order to shorten the discussion I will now put the Government's view", and this is well in accord with the procedure of the House and generally with the desires of the House.
But with regard to the Standing Committee, it is difficult to consider the Motion so carefully moved by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West—I am sorry that the hon. Member has now left the Chamber because I wished to refer to something that he said—without feeling, even though the hon. Member may not have intended it, that in some way or other there is something inherent in the decision to table the Motion, and, indeed, in the decision by one who has had great good fortune—a good fortune which I have not had for about 19 years—to secure first place in the ballot, a ballot which allows one to raise almost any subject. Imagine the dilemma of the hon. Member when there comes to him this immense opportunity.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West could have discussed our overcrowded hospitals. He could have discussed penal reform, giving us a full day on the very questions which the right hon. Member for Ashford claims will not now be fully discussed. But the hon. Gentleman, applying his mind to questions of policy of every kind, decided that it was his duty to dismiss these great questions of high controversy, urgency and importance and to devote the time to discussing whether the Standing Committee should be dismissed—as far as I know, without any compliment, buried rather like Sir John Moore at Corunna, without a drum and without a funeral note—and the discussion of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill brought back to the Floor of the House.
But perhaps there are more implications about this. I speak with vicarious authority on this aspect, because I have taken advice. I understand that if the Motion is carried, and the Bill goes to a Committee of the whole House in the almost mutilated state in which it now exists, the discussion on the Floor will proceed from the point arrived at in Standing Committee. Indeed, without an additional Motion being formulated and carried, there may be some doubt as to whether decisions already taken on certain matters in the Standing Committee, fully discussed and voted upon, can be re-entered on the Order Paper of the House.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has expressed some doubt about this matter and the fact that so distinguished a lawyer does so raises the question whether the House is sufficiently informed of the consequences that would flow from this Motion being carried, however ably and carefully it has been moved. However, that is what I have been advised and I cannot think that any other procedure would be possible.
The Standing Committee was fully delegated by a Motion of this House, carried on a Division. It has been considering the Bill in detail. It has made decisions. I understand—and this is a matter on which I would be grateful for advice from the Chair—that those decisions will stand even if this Motion is passed and the Bill returns to the Floor of the House. However, there may be doubt as to whether decisions taken but not yet registered by vote could be brought up for vote in the House, or whether they would again be open to discussion.
My hon. Friend has reached a very important point. While I know that he is hurrying along, perhaps he could elaborate on this one, because it is causing concern to many hon. Members. The question is whether or not, if the Motion were carried, the proceedings that have already been taken in Standing Committee would stand or fall.
My hon. Friend says that he has taken advice. He should elaborate a little on the authority from which he took advice. This is an important procedural point. The Standing Committee has been acting on the House's instructions. It has arrived at certain decisions. Can those decisions be overturned in Committee of the whole House if the Bill comes back to the Floor of the House? Or should we need another Motion, quite apart from this one?
I am desperately anxious to answer that question, but, although this may, perhaps, sound contradictory, if an hon. Member consults the advice made available to hon. Members—and it is advice of which they are constantly in need—he does not attempt to particularise it, or disclose it, or even quote it. Nevertheless, I have explained what I understand to be the position. We had two Law Officers present a short time ago and we shall welcome their advice. Is there anyone in the House who can answer the question? I would willingly give way to hear the answer. This doubt is a demonstration of the fact that we are discussing a matter which has not been fully covered before.
It may be that the sponsors of the Motion honourably and properly tabled it thinking that it might have implications which, in fact, we now know it will not have. But I hope that we can establish conclusively, to the satisfaction of the House, that the Bill could come back to the House in its present mutilated form, that the decisions so far taken would be regarded as res judicata and that we could not go back on them in Committee of the whole House. Indeed, I again recall the example of the French guards at Waterloo. We are in a position for which we have to advance because it is impossible to retreat.
It is a rule of all Committees of the House—it sometimes seems to be an unfortunate rule, but it is done on the old legal principle—that one really cannot go on making the same point twice. We find ourselves in the difficult position that, if the Bill returned to a Committee of the whole House and we discussed Amendments subsequent to those already decided upon, we might find, if we made such subsequent Amendments, that we were leaving out something which should be retained, or retaining something that did not quite fit in the light of previous decisions in Standing Committee.
It is, once again, the case of the tailor's bill. A man had judgment made against him for the cost of a suit. Later, he found that he had paid the account in the first place, but when he produced the bill he was told that he could not reopen decisions, that they had been made and could not be challenged even with new evidence—except, of course, that there is now provision for such challenges in very special circumstances.
The Standing Committee has already registered decisions on a number of profound and controversial issues which were previously the subject of discussion during the passage of the Homicide Act, 1957. Those discussions have been recorded. They will, of course, be subject to review and alteration when the Bill comes back to the House on Report. If we were to have the rest of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, every hon. Member would be charged with the duty of reading through five days of proceedings in Standing Committee. These five HANSARD Reports are no light documents. They contain about 240 columns. Hon. Members would have to read all this to ascertain what has happened upstairs. So many distinguished Members have taken part in the Committee proceedings upstairs that it would be reasonable for less experienced Members to familiarise themselves with their views.
Hon. Members—all of them—would have to study carefully all the HANSARD reports and all the documents provided for the assistance of hon. Members. If these were reports of proceedings of the House, it is true that the decisions recorded could be found in black print or inset. But one has to read through 10 or 20 columns of HANSARD reports of Standing Committees to find out what decisions have been made.
If one reads quickly, it is all too easy to overlook a decision and find oneself embarked on the next discussion without realising from the argument what, in fact, is being discussed. It is not a criticism of the arguments in a wide discussion on a narrow series of Amendments on Clause 1, but I think that no hon. Member will think it inappropriate for me to say that, in a sense, there must inevitably be a certain amount of repetition, a certain amount of refreshing of memory, a certain amount of discussing the question from that point of view. It will be a very hard duty for hon. Members.
I confess that when I came here this morning, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I had no intention of catching your eye, and I am to some extent inhibited by that fact, but, again, we should be told of what happens about future events. Does the Notice Paper come to this Chamber in its present state? Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will realise that if, which I anticipate will not happen, the hon. Member who moved the Motion succeeds in his main argument of getting an early discussion here, those hon. Members who deplore tabling an Amendment in the Committee will have to read through 1,240 columns of HANSARD before they can table Amendments, and may find their Amendments are too late to be starred for selection in this early discussion. Although the procedure of the House permits selection of late Amendments, and although it does, in exceptional circumstances, permit the moving of manuscript Amendments, this would hardly be the sort of procedure that would commend itself to the House in discussing a great moral issue of this kind.
It is important to discuss, and if it is permissible for me to do so, I should like to discuss, the effect of such a thing on public opinion. What would be the effect on public opinion of carrying this Motion? It would be said that the House had come to the conclusion that the discussions in Committee had been inadequate or insufficient; or that the Committee had been inattentive or lacking in diligence. What a thing for the House so lightly to say when we have had the presence, almost throughout, of the right hon. Member for Hampstead, with all his experience of these matters. The right hon. Gentleman has held the office of Home Secretary, not always, as I have said, to the universal satisfaction, but he bore the burden and responsibility of grave and difficult decisions—on problems so difficult that he may not always have provided the right answers—
Would the hon. Member consider this point? I am sure that he is most anxious that he should have a reply to his arguments, but some of them were delivered so long ago, and have been repeated so often that unless he shortly gives us an opportunity to reply to them he may reasonably be charged with deliberately limiting the debate to himself. I am sure that that is the last thing the hon. Member would want, so perhaps he might consider summarising his arguments, so that we might shortly reply to them.
In that case, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps I may raise a point of order, since my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has the Floor. As he is asked to wind up a very brief but interesting speech merely because hon. Members have already forgotten his earlier arguments, it must mean that if the Bill were to come back to the Floor of the House we would need to have all the arguments made weeks ago.
However, I must direct my attention to this reproach, and I do apologise. I know that with increasing years I find it increasingly difficult to summarise arguments succinctly, and no doubt it is consciousness of this that has led me not to speak during the five sittings of the Committee. I have listened to the arguments, and have confined myself to an impatient or petulant intervention. This is the first time in five and a half weeks that I have broken my vow of silence, and I beg hon. Members opposite to assist me with their learning.
I have said that we could come more rapidly to a conclusion if we knew what we were deciding. I could bring my argument very much more quickly to a conclusion if I had an answer, and could say to the Committee, "We shall be able to go back on the whole discussion"—which itself might be a little unfortunate—or, "We are bound by the discussion" which, in the circumstances, would be equally unfortunate. Nevertheless, I should have thought that these were matters on which it was eminently desirable that the Committee should have some expression of view.
The second point in the intervention made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet was a request, with which I shall be happy to comply, to recapitulate my argument, as it were, in summary form, but as I apprehend that the Chair has already suggested that I had, perhaps, for the moment, like the golden eagle in the park, returned a little on my tracks, I would feel somewhat inhibited if I tried to accept the generous, kindly and well-meant invitation of the hon. Member.
I therefore come virtually to a conclusion—
I am grateful to the Committee, and if I have, for once, had to ask for the exercise of a little patience, I am sorry. As I say, I find it difficult, with increasing years and blood pressure, to remember all the whole long series of arguments that I wish to put in chronological order.
I must return to the speech of the right hon. Member for Ashford, to which I have already paid tribute. The right hon. Gentleman said that there were so many more important matters of discussion, and a considerable amount of discussion left on Clause 1, and that a request had been made to the Chair—and, of course, I appreciate that in intimation of selection is not binding on the Chair—with the consent of both sides to indicate in advance what was in mind for future selection. That indication has been given. It will clearly be within the experience of hon. Members that such a decision is not likely to be altered unless it is the subject of new and impressive arguments or discussions. We must, therefore, spend a little time in considering what remains to be discussed. Among the many documents and papers I have brought with me, I have, at least I thought I had brought, a copy of the Notice Paper relating to the proceedings on the Bill in Committee. I think that I had it a moment or two ago.
Yes, but it does not matter if I cannot find a copy, because I think that I can recollect them.
We have discussed in Committee at some length many Amendments on most of the major questions relating to capital punishment or its abolition. The right hon. Member for Ashford spoke about decisions which have been taken in the House during the last 21 years on this topic. I am pleased to inform him that the first hon. Member for Oldham, West voted for the abolition of capital punishment in the House in 1838. It is not quite fair, therefore, to say that this issue has not been fairly fully before the public for a considerable time.
We are at present discussing in the Committee upstairs the question of murder by shooting or explosion. The Amendment on this which we are discussing is obviously not particularly wide and therefore we do not have a very wide ambit for discussion. On several occasions the Chairman has given rulings calling attention to the ambit of the Amendment, although there are other Amendments being discussed with it.
I presume that the hon. Gentleman is taking this issue seriously and has no desire to mislead the House on a matter of extreme importance to every hon. Member and the public. I am sure that he will recall that the Committee upstairs has dealt with murder by shooting and is now dealing with murder in the course or furtherance of theft.
To refresh my memory, I sent out with a request for the Notice Paper of the proceedings in Standing Committee C. I realise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. I have not been present throughout the Committee's discussions and it is always difficult to be sure which and how many Amendments have been discussed. What I had forgotten was that the next Order Notice for the Committee's proceedings will not be prepared until later, so that it is ready for next Wednesday's sitting.
I have been supplied, of course, with the Notice Paper relating to last Wednesday's sitting, which is the only Notice Paper available. I see that there were on the Notice Paper before last Wednesday's sitting 13 Amendments. I do not have my own marked Notice Paper with me but I recall that the Chairman said at last Wednesday's sitting that he intended to call a number of Amendments for discussion.
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. I should, perahps, make it clear that some of the Amendments which were on the Notice Paper to which my hon. Friend is referring have already been discussed, though some of them may be voted upon separately. Bearing that in mind, my hon. Friend will see that very few Amendments remain still to be discussed and that, of those which remain, many of them will be taken together in the same discussion.
There is no great disparity between what I said and my hon. Friend's remarks. I said that there were about a dozen Amendments left. The Chairman has already told the Committee that he intends to group a number of the Amendments together, with the possibility of having separate votes on them. Thus, we are now in the position where it is abundantly clear that the Standing Committee has already performed the major part of its duties.
We have had a considerable discussion so far, yet no hon. Member has suggested that there has been any lack of care, any lack of attention or any lack of diligence in pursuing the Amendments on the Notice Paper. The Notice Paper as originally presented when the Committee first met contained so many Amendments to a single Clause that it is hardly possible to conceive that there remain on the Notice Paper so few Amendments.
Leaving that subject aside, let us consider the Bill itself and realise that we have only got the second half of Clause 2, which is virtually non-controversial, before—
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the Committee having served very well. Does he realise that to date, both this morning and in the Standing Comittee, no hon. Member who is not a member of the Committee has had a chance to express his views?
The hon. Gentleman must have arrived late. The Motion we are discussing was moved by an hon. Member who is not a member of the Standing Committee. I say frankly and bluntly to the hon. Gentleman that however this is interpreted it will be judged as a Motion of censure on the members of the Standing Committee. It cannot be otherwise, for we are spending a whole day discussing this Motion.
The hon. Gentleman could not have been here at the time when Mr. Speaker ruled that such an observation is not only improper, but is also irrelevant and out of order. The one thing that has been made clear, time and again, from eleven o'clock this morning onwards is that we cannot reopen the decision taken by the House. What we are discussing today is whether the House, five or six weeks after that decision was made, should take a different view and whether the circumstances are such to justify a reconsideration of that decision. It is only in that limited ambit that we have the privilege to discuss the matter at all.
In view of the intervention of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams), would my hon. Friend consider the implications of a vote today which resulted in the Motion being carried? Would such a vote, carried by a much more limited number of hon. Members, be more or less democratic than the previous vote to send the Bill to Committee upstairs, which was taken when the House had a much fuller attendance?
I have already said that the weather conditions are such that perhaps some hon. Members have not been able to get through the snow. I understand that it is always out of order to refer to the number of hon. Members attending the House because one might find that by chance one is referring to the presence or otherwise of a quorum.
It is not a strong argument to suggest—as was suggested to me earlier; although this is one of my first interventions for a considerable time—that I should sit down because there are so many others who are passionately waiting to speak on this subject. I agree with my hon. Friend that many Members are not present today, but—
I am obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It is a constant dilemma that one naturally, out of courtesy, wishes to reply to an intervention, but that one equally naturally, out of deference to the Chair, wishes to remain within the bounds of order. Here one gets the horns of a dilemma, whatever that means. The humble hon. Member who is speaking is in danger of going out of order. Bowing to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will continue—not come back, because I had not left it—with my discussion of the Motion; the course I was pursuing before I was diverted from it.
I am grateful to you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I must be mistaken, but I thought, from what my hon. Friend said earlier, that you had ruled that the discussion of something might be out of order—a discussion on a topic like the snow, for example—if it related in some way to the fact that there was a rather thin attendance in the House today and that—
I heard what my hon. and learned Friend said and I am grateful to him for saying it. I hope, however, that he had not quite correctly heard what you said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because in dealing with an argument directed to the question whether a very large number of hon. Members were being deprived of the opportunity of discussing the Bill at all—or, if the House prefers to say, at all effectively—by the fact that it had been arbitrarily taken upstairs, I had not understood you to say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it would not be proper to say in relation to that argument that the attendance does not manifest upon the part of many hon. Members a passionate desire to participate in discussion on the Bill in Standing Committee upstairs.
Although I concede that the subjects would be to some extent different, by the courtesy of the Chair some hon. Members opposite were, I thought, permitted, very properly, to go quite widely into the matter. A number of questions have been raised and the right hon. Member for Ashford movingly and sincerely dealt even with Amendments which have not been discussed upstairs, although I had thought that we should be limited today to the procedure which had occurred upstairs rather than with intelligent or unintelligent anticipations of the possibilities of future procedure.
I am sorry if I have to conclude still in doubt about the effect of a decision that we might take today. It is a most important point. It is rather sad that, apparently, no one appears to know. In a sense, I suppose, this is a tribute not only to the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, who moved the Motion, but to the fact that his ingenuity has devised a procedure which does not seem to have many precedents and certainly, as far as I am aware, has no precedent in the 20 years that I have been here.
It has been said, and said quite fairly, that the decision to send the Bill upstairs was the subject of a serious challenge, that there was a serious Division and that there was a substantial minority. How far is it now in accordance with the dignity and with the almost universal respect in which this House is held—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member does not think so, I will give way to him. It is the sort of thing that one says here; it would be unfortunate if we did not. We ought at least to be confident that we command some respect.
The hon. Member is doing his best to destroy the respect of this House by the people. On a serious subject, one hon. Member after another on the hon. Member's side of the House is giggling and laughing about a problem which confronts the people and about which they are appalled.
I should be extremely sorry if anything I said caused heat, but it was caused not by anything that was said by me. I referred to the honour and dignity of the House. I had an interjection from the benches opposite to suggest that this House did not have honour or dignity. The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams) has made more ample use of Fridays than most. He usually rises at five minutes to four o'clock and objects time after time to little social Measures which I have introduced to try to deal with some of the grievances of the community. The hon. Member is a constant attender at four o'clock. Let him be the last hon. Member to talk about preserving the dignity, the respect and the honour of the House.
If I may refer to an ecclesiastical commentary, I must say, "Such is my desire".
I was interrupted a little unnecessarily. I shall stop giving way at all. My speech has been constantly dragged out five minutes after five minutes by interventions from hon. Members. It was out of sheer courtesy to them that I found myself constrained to speak rather longer than I planned or anticipated. I was, however, concluding. Indeed, I said so a little while ago, and I now say it with more confidence.
I have come to the one point which is important and on which I want to conclude. I ask hon. Members seriously to consider whether they think it right that they should seek to reverse a major decision of the House, made with 600 Members present, made in gravity and deliberately, by tabling a Motion for a Friday morning, when the Standing Committee is halfway through its work, and by tabling a Motion, which does not appear likely to be carried by what Cromwell would call a rump of the House, sitting on a Friday when weather conditions are adverse and when so many hon. Members, by their labours of the last four days, have found themselves deprived of the necessary energy to come today and share in our deliberations.
On that point, I will, out of generosity, respond to the invitations from the benches opposite and give way to other hon. Members to continue this interesting debate.
I confess to a great affection and admiration for the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). I recall a lot of his great speeches in the Parliament before last and in the last Parliament, and I recollect his interventions on this issue when it was debated in 1956 and 1957. I say frankly to him—and I heard all but ten minutes of the hour and a half which he has given to the House—that I thought his speech today was totally unworthy of him.
What was much more unworthy was the conduct of some hon. Members who treat this matter, as, I think, it has been treated by the Government of the day, with frivolity in the course of the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West which was very regrettable. It may, I suppose, be said by some hon. Members opposite that one should not be too pompous about these matters and that one should not take them so gravely. But on an issue such as this, which has come back to the House for it to take a decision, for the hon. Member to go on speaking for an hour and a half when there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak was taxing the patience of the House.
With regard to the right hon. and learned Member's charge of alleged frivolity and fun on this side of the House, would he not agree that no hon. Member on this side showed frivolity during any serious passage but rather at the wit and humour of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West on incidents apart from the main principles of the Bill?
The hon. Member is also well known to us and he also carries the affection of many hon. Members, but we know perfectly well what was happening. I only hope that comparison will be made between the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who followed him on this issue, which has been brought back to the House for discussion by the luck and good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), who introduced it this morning with a skill and gravity which the matter deserves. Perhaps it may be old-fashioned, but I do think that on this issue, in which the country and our constituents are very gravely concerned, at least we should give an opportunity for as many as possible to express their views.
I am serious and I am perturbed at the charge of frivolity being levelled at these benches, but can the right hon. and learned Gentleman really be surprised, because most of us consider that the Motion itself is very frivolous indeed and has nothing whatever to do with the merits of capital punishment but is introduced merely to upset the Government's timetable?
I regret having given way in view of the character of that intervention. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is true."]
I wish to say upon this Motion that I personally as a Member of this House, as, I know, do many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who would disagree with the view I have taken on capital punishment, feel very strongly about this issue having been treated in the way in which it has been.
Our criticism—and I know that the Leader of the House is going to inter- vene in this debate—is that the Government on this issue, which is an issue of conscience, have, in effect, made party politics of the Bill. It seems to many of us that the object was to conceal that it was the Government's decision and Government policy to abolish the death penalty. So be it. There are many Members of the party opposite who will agree with it, but they do not seem to me to have had the courage to come out with it and say that this is the policy, that this is a Government Measure. They wanted to have it both ways. The result is that they have been led into a shabby political manoeuvre, from which I totally absolve the promoters of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), for whom, though we have our clashes, I have the highest respect, and other hon. Members who from this side have supported the Measure.
I am extremely obliged to the right hon. and learned Member for what he has said about me personally, but I would remind him that this is not the only occasion on which the Government have been generous enough to offer Government time for the discussion of this matter. The last occasion on which it was done was by the late Conservative Administration in 1956. I do not see that it can possibly be fair to call one of them a shabby political maneouvre and the other a generous act on the part of the Government.
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that what happened was that the Conservative Government recognised this to be an issue of such importance that it should be taken on the Floor of the House, and I would say that I think that this was a shabby political manoeuvre, which I very much regret, by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who presumably, must have been a party to it, the blame for which I attach principally to the Patronage Secretary.
The history of the Bill is, as has been said, that it was in the manifesto of the Labour Party, and no doubt it had the sympathy of members of the Labour Party. It was contained in the Gracious Speech, and there was set out in the Gracious Speech the attitude of the Government towards it. Fair enough. That was a proclamation which was being made by the Labour Government and the Socialists as to what their view should be and what the law ought to be. The Bill was drafted by Government draftsmen and handed to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. Quite right that they should have done him the honour if we were going to use this way, as they were, to produce this Measure on the Statute Book. Time was provided by the Government, as it was said it would be provided. They must, therefore, accept the responsibility for the position into which the House has got on this particular issue and the Bill. There followed the Second Reading debate, which hon. Members will recollect only too well. It took place on 21st December when on a Division, it was carried by a substantial majority of this House.
I like to think—I may be wrong—that Members of the Opposition, of the Conservative Party, really did divide on conscience, really did divide according to what they really believed, having listened to the arguments, and what they in their hearts thought was the right thing in this matter. But it is quite interesting to note that the division which took place within the Conservative Party did perhaps reflect the division in the country, whereas the party opposite—we can at least comment upon it—the rugged individualists of the party opposite—I well appreciate there was no Whip on the issue of Second Reading—they voted, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney)—solidly in favour of it. I say "honourable" as my own position is perfectly clear, and I would therefore welcome opposition to the Bill.
That was a massive vote indeed and certainly did not reflect what may be thought to be outside public opinion. It may be right or wrong, but it certainly did not reflect the vote, for instance, of some Young Socialists who, according to a Derby paper just presented to me, decided they would keep hanging. So of the Young Socialists—it is very significant, is it not?—among the phalanx on the Government benches, not one voted against the Bill. Was it really a division of conscience based upon the beliefs of individual members acting individually and not at the spur and influence of their party organisation?
The Tellers of that Bill on that occasion were my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway), who is unfortunately unable to be here because he is out of the country, but who has expressed to me the fact that he would have been supporting my hon. Friend's Motion if he had been here, and the hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas). In consequence, after that Division, the Bill was passed by a resounding majority.
Let me tell the House that those of my hon. Friends who sincerely supported the Bill, who are abolitionists, themselves believed that the Bill would go to Committee of the whole House. They had the authority of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, North for thinking this. I ought to tell the House that they believed this because of what has happened in the past, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne has said—and obviously, because this is an issue which is a matter for individual judgment, a matter on which all Members would wish to express their views, whether we agree with them or whether we do not agree with them, so that the whole of the procedures of this House should be laid open openly for every single Member to come here, if he so wishes, to make his contribution whichever way it may be, and whether reflecting public opinion or not, and, nevertheless, have the opportunity and chance so to debate upon the Floor of this House.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not believe that there are some issues which are of interest to some Members and some which are of interest to others, but the argument which he is developing is that every single Bill sent to Committee should be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House?
No. I do not think so. I think that it is ingenuous of the hon. Gentleman to say that. There are certainly issues, as he knows, about which every previous Government have always decided that they should be debated on the Floor of the House because they are matters of judgment, because they affect not particular interests, not particular specialists, as he suggested, but every single member of the community. That is why this is an issue which it seems to me should be debated on the Floor of the House.
As has been said, there were two main issues arising. For the abolitionists there was principally the great interest of what should be the alternative. It was interest not limited to abolitionists because retentionists are vitally interested, too, as everybody is, in what might be the alternative to capital punishment, and these are questions for serious debate, a technical debate by some people, but, nevertheless, they are matters of judgment in the end. Secondly, having listened to the arguments of the retentionists, it was up to the abolitionists to say whether they would make any exception to the general principle which had been accepted by the House.
In any event, there is not a single Member there today, or any single Member of this House, who would not accept that this is a matter of importance. If they do not think it is a matter of importance then I do suggest they consult their constituents, because there is not a single man or woman who does not think it a matter of importance.
As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne pointed out, when his Bill received a Second Reading, with a majority of 24, on 12th March, 1956, he, as the promoter, moved that it should go to a Committee of the whole House. Did we then have the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House of the Conservative Government denying that right? We certainly did not. It went to a Committe of the whole House. It took up the time of the House. It stopped, and put back, the business of the Conservative Government, but it was the duty and the responsibility of a proper Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House to do that because they knew that these issues were important enough to be discussed.
When we had the Homicide Act a few months later, after it received an unopposed Second Reading on 15th November, 1956, the Government Whip, Mr. Edward Wakefield, as he then was, moved that it should go to a Committee of the whole House. That was not opposed or objected to, and it was taken on the Floor of the House.
I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples). His researches, which have gone back to 1874, show that these issues have always been discussed on the Floor of the House in order to give every Member the opportunity of contributing to the discussion if he wished to do.
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I understood you to rule that we could not go over and reconsider the correctness of the decision of the House in sending this matter upstairs. That seems to be the very thing about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been talking for the last five minutes.
I do not know what has happened. I have no recollection of so ruling. After all, the object of this Motion, on the face of it, is a substantive Motion to effect a reversal of the decision of the House about it.
With respect, Mr. Speaker, no. What the Motion seeks to do is to bring the Bill back here. I am sorry if my recollection is wrong, but I thought you ruled at the beginning that, while we could discuss what had happened since we originally sent it upstairs, and those things which had altered circumstances so that it could come back, we could not discuss the validity of the decision to send it up their originally because that was not being reversed by this Motion.
What I said will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I do not wish to trouble the hon. and learned Member with it now. I did not rule in that context. This is essentially a Motion on which one must be able to discuss the merits of the decision to send the Bill upstairs, because it invites the House to say that the Committee should be discharged from further consideration of it.
I think that what the hon. and learned Member has in mind is my telling an hon. Member on my left that he could not discuss the merits of the Bill by reference to events which had happened since, but that he might discuss the merits of this proposal to bring the Bill back to the House by reason of things that had happened since the House decided to send it upstairs.
Before the hon. and learned Member for Northampton raised that point of order, I was about to say that the Conservative abolitionists believed that those precedents would be followed. It may be said that they should have taken more active steps to discover the intentions of the Government. All I can say, and I direct my words specifically to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, is that that is what they believed in good faith, and I accept that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne so believed. I happened to be in conversation with the supporters of the promoters of that Bill that evening and I know that it was their view that the Bill would go to a Committee of the whole House.
I inquired who would move that Motion, and they went off to discover from the promoter of the Bill who was going to move that the Bill should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. The message that I received was that that was the understanding, and it was only because I happened to check with the promoter of the Bill, who heard it himself only at that moment, that I learned that that was not going to be the case because the Goverment whips and the Party managers wanted it go upstairs. I learnt this from the promoter of the Bill, and so we had the Motion for committal directly following the Second Reading of the Bill.
The Patronage Secretary is rarely here, but in any case I prefer to see the Leader of the House, because the Patronage Secretary's temper boils so quickly. I am sure that it is better to have the Leader of the House here, because I know that he will give close consideration to the comments that are being made.
I can appreciate the dilemma of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. He believed that the Bill was going to a Committee of the whole House. On being presented with the fact that it was not going to a Committee of the House, what was he to do? I accept what was said earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, that this is a Measure with which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has been intimately connected for a long time. It was reaching the stage when it was apparent, from the people pouring through the Division Lobbies, that he was going to get an overwhelming majority for his Bill. The Government had said that they would provide time for it. In those circumstances, whatever he thought was right or wrong, how could he intervene? He put the principle of his Bill first, and I do not blame him, but I blame some other hon. Members, because what happened was that the non-party whips were taken off and Government whips were put on for the second Division. The Tellers on that occasion were the hon. Members for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock), and Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay).
There was no opportunity for debate. There was no opportunity for consideration. There was no opportunity for those who had recently arrived in the House to know what had happened in the past. There was no opportunity to consider the precedents to decide whether it was right that this should go to a Committee of the House. I know that because of the procedures of the House there was no possibility of doing that, and I make no complaint about it, but that is the situation, and that is why I ask the House to think about this matter today.
Is there one hon. Member who does not know in his heart that this matter of life and death should not be considered by a limited selection of Members? Is it right that this matter, which is of the gravest importance, should be discussed by a limited number of Members? The Selection Committee has to make its selection, and I make no criticism about that. It has been said that there are a number of specialists on the Committee. There may be, but is not this one matter where specialists are not especially needed? Is not this one of the matters on which we require the voices of the Members of this House to be expressed freely, without any fear of the Patronage Secretary breathing down the back of their necks. That is what the Motion is about. The Patronage Secretary is not here, but perhaps I am glad of that.
I am glad to hear that. Perhaps I might ask the Leader of the House a similar question: Are the Government Whips on today? I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants me to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] It might assist what I have to say if the right hon. Gentleman is able to intervene to tell us whether the Whips are on.
I am very grateful. It is typical of the state to which the House has got on this issue that I have had to obtain this information from my hon. Friend. The Leader of the House refuses to give it. Why? Is he ashamed of it? I suggest that he should be if he has the Whips on. This is a question on which the Whips should not be put on.
What are the other Bills that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to send upstairs? There have been about 12 of them. Is it the importance of the issue which decides the Patronage Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman whether a Bill should be dealt with on the Floor of the House or go to a Committee of the House, to be decided by a few fortunately selected Members? The Ministers of the Crown Bill—changed from the Machinery of Government Bill —was dealt with on the Floor of the House. Of course it was important, but was it really that much more important than this Bill, which is now in Committee? The Science and Technology Bill; the Travel Concessions Bill; the Protection from Eviction Bill and the National Insurance Bill were all regarded as important enough to allow every hon. Member to take part in the debate in Committee. But not this one. This was sent upstairs.
We are more than a little concerned about the treatment of the House of Commons by the Government. The Prime Minister walks out in the middle of speeches, or walks in after the beginning of speeches; the First Secretary is not here to answer Questions, and we have no confidence whatsoever in the Patronage Secretary. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on his position as Leader of the House and not as a Minister of the Government. Will he tell the House that this Bill is of such importance that it should be taken on the Floor of the House, or will he tell it that it is quite competent to take it upstairs in Committee? Will he tell us frankly what he thinks?
He has been a Member of this House for many years, and has been proud to be a Member. I ask him whether it is right that this procedure was taken? That is the burden of my criticism of the conduct of the Government during the whole course of the Measure. I am fortified in what I have to say not because I am a retentionist, or disagree strongly and sometimes passionately with the views of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne; I am fortified because I know that on this matter my hon. Friends are absolutely united, whatever their view on abolition or retention.
When we discuss that part of the Bill which deals with the alternative to capital punishment it cannot be brushed aside as unimportant. It is certainly not unimportant to many abolitionists. It affects the position of the Executive, the judiciary, and law and order. It is something which, if the House of Commons does not care to take seriously, the country will. I hope that we shall have some advice from the Leader of the House which will reverse the very ill-judged and unfortunate decision that was taken, in an attempt to use party politics in relation to a matter which should never have been the subject of party politics.
I listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) —a 55-minute speech containing a great deal of interesting material. It was not until the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) spoke that I saw what was behind the use of this private Member's Motion. It now is obvious that this Motion was moved with the object of gaining some party political advantage out of the Bill.
Every speech, until that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, dealt with some aspect of the Bill—with the question whether or not, at this stage, it should be taken on the Floor of the House. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman spent most of his time in pure party politics. This is a private Members' day. This is a Private Member's Motion. [Interruption.] I have already told the House that if it will give me the opportunity I will reply in my own time to the question whether we have the Whips on.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West used a Private Member's Motion to put forward a purely procedural point. There is nothing wrong with this, but I doubt whether there is a precedent for it. There is nothing wrong with it, however, or it would not have been approved by the Clerk of the Table. But what the hon. Member is seeking to do as a result is to set aside a decision of the House to take the Committee stage of the Bill upstairs.
The hon. Member is entitled to do that, as I have said, but let us see where we have got to on this matter. It has been suggested that Her Majesty's Government introduced the Bill by a backstairs method because they were afraid to bring it in on the Floor of the House. If there is thought to be any validity in the argument that we were afraid to introduce this subject I would point out that we need not have given any time for its discussion. It could have taken its chance as an ordinary Private Members' Bill and, like many other Private Members' Bills, would probably have suffered the fate that many of them suffer in never reaching the Statute Book, or never even being discussed.
Her Majesty's Government nevertheless did give time, and I will tell the House why. Many months before the General Election, in a speech which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made—I believe that it was at Stowmarket, but I will stand correction on that—he said that there were many occasions in our parliamentary life when matters arose which were non-party, but which ought to be discussed and decided on a free vote of the House. This is one of them.
One may ask what other Measures would be likely to follow this pattern. The right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke), a former Home Secretary, set up the Crathorne Committee to consider the question of Sunday observance—a tendentious and always difficult matter to handle. He nevertheless set up the Committee. That Committee has reported, and we have debated its Report.
I accept that. But the Committee was set up. It is not a party matter. I have said that it is a non-party matter. I contend that that Report is the sort of question which, if legislation arises from it, should be treated in this way, with a free vote of the House.
That is the sort of thing that we feel should be considered in this way. That is why the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill was treated in this way. That is why the Queen's Speech—incidentally, it was not in our election manifesto; it was the Queen's Speech—said:
Facilities will be provided for a free decision by Parliament on the issue of capital punishment.
Is anyone in the House prepared to say that there is not a great deal of interest now—as there probably has been during the last 100 years—in the question of capital punishment? We take sides. Sides are taken in every constituency on the matter. Wherever people gather together, this question is discussed. There are abolitionists and retentionists.
That does not mean that Parliament should run away from it, that it should never be discussed. We provided time, as we promised—for a Private Member's Bill not a Government Bill—to discuss this matter. The suggestion has been made that help was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) in drafting the Bill. It may be that that is true. Is this the only occasion on which a private Member has been given help in the drafting of a Bill? I would much prefer to think that all Private Members' Bills had the help of Parliamentary Counsel in their drafting. Unhappily, this is not possible.
However, this Bill was debated during time provided by the Government, and on no occasion did the Government, or either myself or the Chief Whip, say to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, or to anyone else, that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House. I accept at once that that view may have been held on both sides of the House.
Yes, my hon. Friend said that this morning. He rightly assumed it, but the point that I am making is that he was never told by any member of the Government that time would be provided on the Floor of the House for the Committee stage.
I should like to make it perfectly clear that as far as I am concerned my anticipation that the Committee stage would be taken on the Floor of the House was not derived from anything said to me by my right hon. Friend or by any member of the Government. I had never consulted them about it and they had never given me any assurances. The expectation was based purely on remembrance of what had happened on other occasions.
That is what I said. There is no reason whatsoever why, because similar Bills have been discussed on the Floor of the House previously, the Government of the day should be required to provide time on every occasion that a Bill similar to this one is introduced for it to be discussed on the Floor of the House.
May I go back to the type of legislation which will arise out of the Crathorne Report? Is anyone saying that if we have legislation arising from that Report it should always be discussed on the Floor of the House?
On the question of the discussion of the Bill upstairs in Committee, I understand that the work of the Committee is more than half over and that there has been no delay and no filibustering by hon. Members appointed to the Committee by the Committee of Selection. The Bill has been discussed and more than half of the Amendments have been dealt with.
I would like to make one point in passing. It has been suggested on one or two occasions—the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said this in his opening speech—that, in fact, the discussion of a Bill in Committee is something very different from the discussion of a Bill on the Floor of the House. The only difference is that the Committee is smaller than the whole body of the House, and there cannot be any occasion even when a Bill is discussed on the Floor of the House when there is an opportunity for every hon. Member to speak. Every hon. Member knows that. It it a question of who is fortunate enough to be called.
In Committee, there remain, possibly, two or three more mornings' work to be done, but there is no reason why the Committee should not have decided at some point, had it so wished, to sit two or three days a week. It could have sat twice on Wednesdays instead of only once. This is a matter for the Committee to decide, and any suggestion that the Committee of Selection selected those hon. Members which it did to sit on the Committee upstairs with the view of excluding others—and that suggestion, also, has been made this morning—ought to be deprecated by every hon. Member. We shall be in a very difficult position if, because someone who wishes to sit on a particular Committee has not been put on it by the Committee of Selection, it is suggested that that person has been kept off for a purpose.
Is this not surely the whole nub of the argument? It is a Bill about which very strong feelings are held both one way and the other. The difficulty of taking a Bill on the Floor of the House is that every hon. Member has to sit through every day of the Committee, but he has the chance of putting his point of view. With a Committee limited to 50 hon. Members, it means that only one-tenth of the House has the possibility of expressing a point of view. I think that the right hon. Gentleman, who is usually very fair, is not being quite fair as Leader of the House.
Even if the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House there is no opportunity for every hon. Member to speak on every occasion that he wishes. Of course, I accept that there are greater opportunities if the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain in a little more detail how he reaches that conclusion? In the Committee, on which I have the honour to serve, 12 out of every 13 Members have no possibility of being called. It is quite true that even on the Floor of the House not everyone can speak, but all have the possibility of being called.
This is an argument for taking the Committee stage of every Bill on the Floor of the House. The result of that would be that no Government would get through their legislation.
Let us have a look at what actually happened in this case. The normal procedure for a Private Member's Bill, or, for that matter, for a public Bill, is that after its Second Reading it automatically goes upstairs to Standing Committee. That would have happened on this occasion but for the fact that an hon. Member opposite, whose name I have forgotten, moved that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House. This was his entitlement and was in order, but the House rejected it. The House has taken a decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "On a Whip."] On a Whip. Why on a Whip? Because the allocation of time is a matter for the Government. That is why the Whips will apply today to a procedural Motion altering the time, because it is Government time.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. I wonder whether he could enlighten us on one point. He now concedes that the second vote, namely, as to whether the Bill should be heard in Standing Committee or not, was taken on a Government Whip, and this was presumably a Whip circularised to his own supporters some time in advance. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It must have been circulated in some way. It could not have been done orally. [HON. MEMBERS: "How was it done?"] If that is the case, the Chief Patronage Secretary operates in a slightly bizarre way.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) was under the impression at 8.45 p.m. that evening that the Committee stage of the Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House. My name happens to be the second on the Bill and I had the assurance of the hon. Member that he thought that it was absolutely essential for the Committee stage to be taken on the Floor of the House. If a Government Whip was issued—I suggest it must have been issued—before 8.45 p.m., it is surprising that the Treasury Bench should have left the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne in such total ignorance as to what its intentions were.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know perfectly well that the term "Whip" means two things: first, the document which is circulated among hon. Members; and second, the hon. Ladies and Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench as Whips. What happened on this occasion was that there was no notification or document sent to Members on this side that a Division would take place. Official Tellers were put in, which makes it an official Whip. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is the clear explanation.
The Government assumed that there would be no objection to the Bill going to a Standing Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Unwarranted."] Oh, yes. It was only when an hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House—the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) himself—moved that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, that a decision was taken to put in official Tellers.
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend again, but the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkley) has just said something which I must repudiate at once. He said that I assured him that I thought it was absolutely essential that the Bill should have its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. I told him no such thing. I certainly told him that I intended to move a Motion to that effect but the words "absolutely essential" were never in my mind, and were never communicated to him. I never thought that it was absolutely essential and I do not think so now.
I do not wish to intervene between the abolitionists. I am one myself. I think that it ought to be made absolutely clear that the Government must have control—any Government must—of their own time on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee—[Interruption.]—if we consider a Bill dealing with steel or any other Bill.
If we get away from that, what are we doing here, anyway—[HON. MEMBERS: "Exactly!"]—any of us? This is a question of Government and Opposition. When the people of the country have made a decision, they expect the Government to govern, and they expect them to govern in their own way, using their time as they think best. That is why the business of the House has always been at the disposal of the Government of the day. It is true that exchanges take place through what is known as the usual channels on business—the parties try to accommodate one another—but, on occasions, any Government must say, "That is impossible, we must work this in our own way."
The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolph Dudley Williams) had an early day Motion on the Order Paper seeking to bring the Bill back on the Floor of the House after Clause 1. After Clause 1, there is very little left at all. I think that there is one Amendment on the Notice Paper as it is at the moment. Let me remind him that if this were to happen—that the Bill came back after Clause 1—that is one exercise. As I understand, the Bill would continue from that point.
In reply to the point raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), I am advised that if the Motion were carried all the work which has gone before in Standing Committee falls and the Bill starts afresh in Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think that I am entitled now to ask hon. and right hon. Members who will support the Motion—in the Division Lobby, if necessary—whether their desire is to bring the Bill back to the Floor of the House, or whether they just want to destroy it.
Reference has been made to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams). It will be within the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman that another Motion appeared on the Order Paper with rather different effect, in the names of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) and myself. Why was no response made to that?
I must make my speech in my own way.
There have been a number of early day Motions on the Order Paper. I referred to the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West and the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Exeter. The hon. Member for Exeter put what was I thought a reasonable proposition. I did not agree with it. I should have voted against it and urged my hon. Friends to oppose it. But it was reasonable in the sense that it did not destroy that part of the Bill which has already been discussed in the Standing Committe.
The hon. Member for Exeter takes a great deal of interest in Private Members' Bills, usually on a Friday. In fact—I know he will not object to hearing this—he is affectionately known on our side of the House as "Man Friday". His efforts in this direction are unusual on this occasion, because he is seeking to expedite the passage of a Bill. Usually, he seeks to do something quite the opposite.
There was a point made about which, as Leader of the House, I am slightly worried and concerned. It is the only point which worries me. My conscience is quite happy about the decision to take the Bill to a Standing Committee, but I am slightly worried about the effect on Bills which are in the queue to be considered by Standing Committee C. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West raised the point, and I have had researches made. At this date, early in March, I find that, in fact, there are fewer Bills in the queue at present than for many years. This is probably because more Bills have been objected to. Nevertheless, there is no great danger at the moment on that point. I can give the House this assurance, that if the Bill we are now discussing still remains with Standing Committee C, and there is a danger for the Bills following behind it in the queue, we will take remedial action and set up another Committee to deal with them.
Standing Committee C has decided not to sit on additional occasions. I think that I am right in saying that there has been one vote on this. The Committee could do so if it wished, but I must say quite firmly that the House ought to reject this Motion on a number of grounds. The first, and perhaps the most important, is that the House has already taken a decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "With the Whips."]—and the second is that the Bill has been allowed a free vote of the House, in which there was a two-to-one vote in favour of it. Therefore, by far the greater majority of hon. Members would wish it to proceed.
I think that we ought to allow the Bill to proceed. It ought to proceed in the Standing Committee, and the Government will, of course, provide time for a Report stage—if there is a Report stage—and for Third Reading. What happens subsequently is not for the House to decide. I am sure that the House would be making a great mistake if, this afternoon, on a private Member's Motion, it decided to alter procedure which has been carried out correctly. I therefore ask the House to reject the Motion.
At this time, when crimes of violence and murder are greatly on the increase, the general public is extremely dissatisfied that the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill has even been contemplated. In view of the situation the public consider it completely monstrous that the Committee stage should be taken in a Standing Committee, particularly when nearly all the hon. Members on this side of the House clearly understood that the Committee proceedings would take place on the Floor of the House. It is this arrogant attitude of the Government which has offended so many people outside this House.
The Bill, if passed, will affect the lives of every man, woman and child, and they demand that their views and our views should be made quite clear on the Floor of the House. Many people at present are going in fear of their lives. I ask the Leader of the House, why should not the parents of a young girl who is brutally raped and then murdered not have the chance of sitting in the Gallery and hearing what a Committee of the whole House has to say on this matter?
This seems to me a common point of mistake. Apart from the natural distaste which I should have thought any such parents would have in listening to such a debate following such circumstances, it does not appear to me likely that the person who assaulted their daughter would be subject to hanging under present legislation.
The Bill will undermine the whole of our police and prison forces. Why should the children of the old lady who has been robbed and brutally murdered be precluded from sitting in the Gallery and hearing our debates on the Floor of the House?
No, I will not give way again.
Furthermore—and this is a very serious point—why should not the widows and relatives of the police and prison officers be given the opportunity to hear the point of view, which many of us on this side of the House wish to put forward, that the ultimate penalty must be reserved for that kind of murder where those officers are pursuing their arduous and often dangerous duties?
On a point of order. May I ask whether it is in order to have a Second Reading debate on the Bill when we are discussing something which is entirely different, which is whether or not the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House?
The hon. Member's second point does not raise a point of order and it is not for me to make pronouncements of fact. They would inevitably be disputed if they were made.
As for the hon. Member's first point, I repeatedly ruled this morning that we could not discuss the merits of the Bill on this Question. It does not seem to me that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) was doing that. He was discussing, apparently, the distinction between the accommodation available for visitors in Standing Committee and in the House.
I should also like to refer to Press reporting. I ask hon. Members not to think that I am casting aspersions on the Press. Nevertheless, everybody will agree that reports of the Committee stage of the Bill upstairs are nothing like as lengthy and full as reports of Committee proceedings on the Floor of the House. I therefore feel that reports on this vitally important matter, which affects so many lives, should have the widest Press publicity, which they could have only if the Committee stage were taken on the Floor of the House.
If there is all this agitation and excitement and anxiety, is it not illogical for the hon. Member to suggest that the Press are not sufficiently interested to go and listen to what happens in Committee?
Surely the hon. Member has enough knowledge of the working of the House to realise that whatever the importance of a Committee stage upstairs it is not given the same publicity as a debate on the Floor of the House. I think that that goes without saying. Many hon. Members have put forward reasons today whey the Committee stage should be taken on the Floor, and for the reasons which I have just put forward I demand that it should be taken on the Floor. If the Government do not agree to do this I give this warning to the Leader of the House. When we come to the Report stage, my hon. Friends and I will table numerous Amendments. I am quite prepared to sit up night after night if need be to see that this dangerous Bill, this murderer's charter, is amended so as to protect the people who need protection.
For these reasons, I sincerely hope that the Leader of the House will change his view and see that the Committee stage of the Bill is brought to the Floor of the House.
The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) evidently does not come from the "Bromsgroves of Academe". The demand which he has made was couched in terms which have been expressed with different levels of violence and passion and different levels, perhaps, even of sincerity, if I may say so without offence to anyone, during the debate. The hon. Gentleman began by making the oft-repeated reference to the daughter who was raped and murdered and suggested that the parents should have the opportunity to sit in the public gallery to hear our debate.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I should deplore the idea that any parents who had suffered in that terrible way should then see fit to subject themselves to an audition of this kind.
I agree that it would be very painful for them, but I know that there are many people in this country who, because they have suffered the sort of bereavement to which I referred, are quite determined to see that more justice is available in the future and that the same type of crime is not committed against others.
We had better have one matter quite plain. When such people are aware of their own wish to witness our proceedings, the possibility of their doing so upstairs in Standing Committee is in no way less than it is here. Hon. Members have repeatedly referred to the interest which is displayed in our debates when the House itself goes into Committee, but I remind them of the difficulty of securing admission tickets to the Public Gallery on such occasions, particularly when matters of great public concern, as we all agree this Bill is, are before us.
On the other hand, if anyone wishes to listen, to the debates in Standing Committee, it is the easiest thing in the world to go upstairs, go into the Committee room and find an empty chair. Virtually all the chairs have been empty during the five sittings which we have had in the Committee until now. I know of no barrier save that of lack of interest among the population at large which prevents people from taking interest and direct participation, so far as that is available to them, in the consideration of this Bill. I deny that there is any lack of opportunity for the population as a whole to come and witness the proceedings of the Standing Committee which is now considering the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman spoke also about the Press reporting of Standing Committee proceedings. I wonder whether we have our wires a little crossed on this question of what the Press finds reportable, interesting, journalistic or fascinating for its readers. Could it be, perhaps, that, after many years of experience of this honourable House and its procedure, the Press has discovered that the nature of our deliberations in Committee tends to be of the more thoughtful and less passionate kind. They tend to be more factual, to be a consideration in depth rather than a consideration of principle. For this reason, inevitably, our proceedings in Standing Committee attract much less attention from our journalistic friends than do our proceedings on the Floor of the House.
This, surely, is the reason why Committee work generally finds less place in our newspapers. But there is a remarkable contrast so far as Standing Committee C and its consideration of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill is concerned. The striking thing is the amount of very careful reportage which so many of us have managed to observe in our newspapers and which some of us seem to have overlooked. This is the contrast. The fact is, as hon. Members opposite have repeatedly stressed, that the interest in our deliberations is such as to make even the Standing Committee's deliberations worthy of reporting at considerable length in the national Press.
I want to hark back to make a few very humble observations. We have had the guidance of Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy-Speaker, guidance which, if I may become poetic for a moment, is the towel which wipes the wetness from behind the ears of the new boys. We have had guidance which suggests, first, that this debate, quite properly, is not a debate on the substance of the Bill. We have had guidance, too, which suggests that our deliberations today would very properly be ruled out of order if, either directly or indirectly, we made reference to the deliberations of the Committee in such terms as to imply criticism of its Chairman. I am, of course, delighted to accept such guidance. I am, however, a little befogged. Up to now so much of what we have discussed has been a matter of procedure that in my ignorant way I thought that once or twice we were perhaps stepping dangerously close to criticising the findings of the Select Committee on Procedure. But this apparently is not out of order. It seems that we are considering the Motion in those terms.
This has, however, given rise to one or two rather curious observations. I would refer, first, to the reference by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to the canvass which he conducted. Apart from the technical problems of such a canvass, it throws up the whole question of the relationship between public opinion outside the House and the responsibility of this House, first, as a corporate institution, and, secondly, as one composed of a number of individual members. If I have time, I hope to be able to express some views about both considerations, which I hope the Chair will accept as very strictly relevant to our consideration of the Motion.
The whole idea of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West knocking diligently at door after door and demanding of his constituents an answer to a question which I cannot conceive will evoke an intelligent answer, is really almost derisory. I wonder whether, in the course of his own private opinion poll, the hon. Member saw fit to ask, for instance, what the attitude of his constituents was to the rôle of Mr. Speaker. Perhaps many of them—mistakenly, I hasten to add—thought that Mr. Speaker was so named because he does most of the talking. Most of our experience proves the contrary.
It is at least conceivable, however, that many of the constituents approached by the hon. Member may have held similar misconceptions. Perhaps they thought that all Members of Parliament were forced to parade at attention before the Serjeant at Arms. Whatever the misconceptions held by them, I can imagine that few of them could have been more confused about anything than the relationship between the House going into Committee and Standing Committee work.
Are we really asked to believe in the reality of a canvass taken of nearly 400 people who were asked a question—I accept that it was not loaded, but how it was unloaded I have yet to discover—about our practice in this House? That, however, is what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West is asking us to do. I hope to deal later with national opinion polls, but there is another feature of this sort of personal canvass. Apart from the question of selection, the question of the question asked in the canvass must arise.
I am grateful for your help, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was not discussing national opinion polls but was dealing with the particular inquiry made by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West of 400 of his constituents. I was examin- ing whether, in any reasonable terms of sounding public opinion as a whole, such an inquiry could be considered influential upon us as far as the working of this honourable House is concerned.
My submission is that it cannot. I was going on to put forward reasons to substantiate my point of view. I hope that, in the light of my explanation of what I intended, you will allow me to present this argument as being different from the line criticised in your Ruling. I was not concerning myself with the general consideration of national opinion polls.
However, it seems that I have been able to make my point adequately. Sometimes, in trying to unravel all the workings of this House and the relationships of its different parts, I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. That was until I went upstairs to Standing Committee C when, I must confess, I felt like Eric, or Little-by-Little.
It has been claimed that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) expressed himself, sincerely and honestly, as expecting that the Bill would be considered on the Floor of the House. There seems to be some confusion among hon. Members opposite. My hon. Friend told the House that he expected that the Bill might have been taken on the Floor of the House. He will correct me if I am wrong. He did not say—although the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) quoted him as saying it—that he wished the Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House.
I am prepared to accept that the right hon. Member for Ashford had no wish to impute on my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne the wish to have this Bill taken on the Floor of the House. I appreciate that this distinction between expectancy and wish fulfilment is a fine one, but I thought that right hon. and hon. Members opposite would be able to appreciate it. It seems to me that the whole of their attack on the substance of the Bill is based on the fact that, while some of them may expect to be hanged, none of them wish to be so. That is, perhaps, an easier point for them to appreciate.
Complaint was made that the words of my hon. Friend, in some way or other, either by wish or expectation, seemed to support the terms of this Motion. On his behalf, I would like to repudiate that. I do not think I have ever heard any reference by him which might conceivably be construed as putting his weight behind a decision which, with all respect to him, I say was never his to take and on which it was not proper to seek his advice. Nor was his the view to be canvassed when the decision as to where the terms of the Bill should be discussed was taken—
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) is known in the House for his long knowledge and understanding of our procedure, and also for his long interest in Bills of this nature. He was, therefore, quite right to assume, without expressing any opinion to anyone, that this Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It seems quite proper to observe that with all my hon. Friend's knowledge and experience, it was quite right to assume that he might be wrong. I know of no decisive matter in which he is invariably right; I think that he would acknowledge that himself.
I fully accept that, but the point need not arise on this Motion. At the time of, and immediately after Second Reading, I had formed no opinion at all as to whether the Bill would be better taken on the Floor of the House or in a Standing Committee. I thought that possibly the previous practice would be followed, and I thought no more than that. I did not ask anyone about it or consult anyone about it, but even if I had wanted it to be on the Floor of the House on 21st December, 1964, I would certainly not want it to be brought back now.
It seems that—as, indeed, the House would expect—my hon. Friend and I are in full agreement over this point. I would at this stage merely com- ment on the high selectivity with which my hon. Friend's views are judged. At times it appears that his views—for example, his anticipation that this Bill could be taken on the Floor of the House—are lauded; at other times, his views seem to have less welcome on the other side.
At the same time, I hope that all hon. Members who had the pleasure and privilege of listening to my hon. Friend this morning will join me in paying tribute to the loyalty and affection with which he treats the proceedings of this House, and the high esteem in which he holds it. This evidently comes from long years of work inside the House; of feeling its tensions and of knowing its capabilities. I am a lot newer here, and it might not be any great surprise to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I felt slightly less imbued with my hon. Friend's admirable spirit. That he should speak in such very loyal terms and should go so far as to avoid criticism I regard as a great tribute to his place in the history of this House
Turning to the relationship of the Standing Committee to the work of the House—
Would not the hon. Member agree that there was misapprehension as to whether the Bill should be taken in a Standing Committe or on the Floor of the House? What does he say of a Government which wait until the very last moment, knowing that that misapprehension exists, before they declare their intention? That is nothing short of sharp practice?
That intervention allows me to take up a point that I hoped to mention later—the very vexed question, raised repeatedly, of the propriety of the Government deciding whether the Whips should be on, and whether they were on. This has been discussed in Standing Committee, when the assurance was given—and, I understand, accepted—that the Government did not whip their members into the Lobby on that night—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Since hon. Members opposite place such great importance on whether or not the Whips were on, perhaps I will be in order in making a few observations on this subject. First, I repudiate absolutely that there is anything improper in the Government putting the Whips on at any time and if, in fact, they did put the Whips on, which they did not—
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is only one means of telling whether or not a vote is officially whipped, and that is by the identity of the Tellers? There can, therefore, be no possible doubt in this case.
I was about to explain that in the process of being educated in the procedures of Parliament it has seemed to me that the essence of being whipped into the Lobby is what is likely to happen to one if one disobeys. I am not prepared to make a party matter of this, but I have noticed that hon. Members opposite also have their disciplines; their exits, if I may put it that way.
On the night of 21st December, advice was certainly offered—I regarded it as very proper advice; advice relevant to the whole consideration of the Motion before the House today—to me and, since I can speak only for myself, when I inquired about the Motion to bring the matter to the Floor of the House I was advised that if the Bill came on to the Floor of the House not only would the time for its deliberation be considerably shortened but that, more particularly, it would so obstruct a heavy legislative programme—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—that the Government, who had by that time agreed to the consideration of the Bill, might find themselves in great difficulty in time-tabling the matter. It was implied that I could use my discretion in the matter, and this is the essential difference between having the Whips on and having advice given to one. In any case, what are hon. Mem- bers opposite complaining about? Do they not have advice?
In which case I can only assume that, being older and wiser than I am, they do not need it. I regard myself as a new baby in the House. I am happy to use my discretion on the basis of the advice given to me. I assume that hon. Members opposite used their own discretion. The result, on a very convincing vote of the House, was to take the matter off the Floor of the House and send it to Standing Committee upstairs.
Both the hon. Member and the Leader of the House have said several times that it was decided by a vote of the House to send the Measure upstairs. Nobody doubts that a free vote took place on the principle of the Bill. That was carried by a two to one majority. Nevertheless, would he or the Leader of the House, or both, care to speculate what would have been the result had the Whips not been on?
I have been interested to hear about the spontaneous movement among hon. Members opposite which took place without advice having been given to them. If hon. Members opposite observe the Division list they will find that in the Lobby which voted for the Bill to be considered on the Floor of the House went hon. Members not only from this side of the House. They will see there the names of Members of the Liberal Party. It is interesting also to observe that among them one finds the hon. Baronet the Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer), the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), the hon. Baronet for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), the hon. and learned knight the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster)—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) for drawing my attention to the fact. If the gravamen of the comments of hon. Members opposite is that they acted in this way without advice and wrongly, as seems to be the point of what they are saying, surely this is a grave charge upon the Parliamentary skill and knowledge of the hon. Members named by my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court. Is it not a fact that we all have a measure of responsibility in these matters?
Is it not at least as profitable a speculation as I have just been asked to make that the hon. Members who have been named by my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court, who walked into the Division Lobby to take the Bill away from the Floor of the House, were fully aware of what they were doing? I am prepared to give them the benefit of any doubts which might exist. I am prepared to assume that their wish as expressed that night and in that way was that the matter should come off the Floor of the House. If that is the case, the basis of the charge levelled by other hon. Members opposite—that the voting took place as it did because Whips were put on for that Division—falls to the ground.
Those who voted in the Lobby which decided to send the Bill upstairs were not guilty of anything but the right to make up their own minds and to vote in a certain way. The hon. Members named by my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Count sit on the benches opposite and are not subject to the discipline of the Whips on this side.
I hoped that I had dealt with that point, but I am happy to repeat what I have said. Even if the Whips were put on effectively and in a disciplinary way on this side of the House, the fact that hon. Members opposite none the less came into the Division Lobby with us shows that they were exercising a discretion on which one has to give them the benefit of the doubt. [Interruption.]
I do not understand this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have been asked to believe that in exercising their discretion the hon. Members who came over from the benches opposite and voted to send the Bill upstairs, were all intelligent and wise, and that because, on this side, the Whips happened to be giving us advice which we took, that makes us wicked, sinful, unintelligent and stupid.
I hope I will not be considered impertinent if I say that the hon. Member is putting himself forward as a specialist on procedure after only a very short time in the House. As to having a free vote, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), who is always very fair in these matters, said that he was not sure but that he felt from previous procedure that the Bill probably would be taken on the Floor of the House. If there had been a free vote, it is quite likely that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne would have voted to ensure that the Bill was taken on the Floor of the House. He found, however, that the Whips were on There was, therefore, a great difference between the two sides of the House. I hope that I have succeeded in putting the point which we have been trying to put all day.
I am reminded, by what to others may have been an audible intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard), of the fact that there were a number of Members of this side of the House who abstained from voting, and the question, therefore, of disciplinary whipping scarcely arises—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who abstained?"] I accept what the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) was saying, and I simply ask the indulgence of the House not to represent myself as an expert on procedure but certainly to exercise my right to offer some observations about what went on in my experience.
Further to the point my hon. Friend was making a moment ago about those who abstained, I wonder whether he has in mind the fact as he referred to the wicked Members on this side—I cannot recall what the adjective was in relation to hon. Members opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wise people."]—and wise people—there were also, I think, 170 or thereabouts of hon. Members, that is to say, more than one in four, who did not regard this question we are now debating at some length as being sufficiently important for them to record their votes at all.
Does he not think that it is somewhat surprising, in view of the fact that hon. Members opposite have made such a point of the importance of this subject, surprising also having regard to these observations, that about one-fifth or one-sixth opposite did not consider it necessary to vote on the main issue, that proportion including some very distinguished Members of the House, and notwithstanding all that has been said about the necessity of debating the issue on the Floor of the House?
It was a long question, I must admit. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) will forgive me if I do not attempt to give a long answer to this, because it seems to me that we have already covered a great deal of the ground on this question of the mysterious happenings of the night of 21st December. I am aware, of course, that the matter we are discussing tends to become something of a detective story, and I shall have something to say about that in a moment.
I began by observing that the Ruling which, Mr. Speaker, you have given about commenting on the proceedings upstairs, was a Ruling which, of course, I accepted, and I would not dream of attempting in any way to upset it. Indeed, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), a speech in which he appeared to be the Phidippides of the House, I thought came very close once or twice to an accurate description of what happened, came dangerously near to the truth of what has been going on in Standing Committee C. At the same time, I think that the House should bear in mind that time is of the essence when we are considering the issue before us today.
The Government now have probably more than four and a half years to go, and they are bound to take into consideration the effectiveness of their time-table. One of the extraordinary omissions from today's debate, and possibly it is an omission which has arisen, Mr. Speaker, from your Ruling in this matter, has been any reference to the actual content of the debates in the Standing Committee. Hon. Members have pointed out—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Hon. Members opposite must not call me to order till I have committed a breach of order, when, no doubt, you, Mr. Speaker, would be the first to put me right.
I submit that the content of our debates in the Standing Committee has a considerable relevance when we are being asked to bring the debate to the Floor of the House. The advice, although it conflicts a little as between my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, appears to be that were this Bill to come back to the Floor of the House, we would have the dubious pleasure of beginning once again from Square One. As the House has been told several times this afternoon, we have had five mornings of debate on the Bill. We have dealt with a number of Amendments—nearly all the Amendments categorised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne—dealing with the actual crime of murder and its punishment by hanging.
Surely it is proper to examine the terms of the debate? I assure the House that I am not criticising these. Indeed, the reverse. The point that I am making is that the debates in Standing Committee have been full, fair, deliberate and detailed. If, after five weeks in the Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West asks us to bring the Bill back to the Floor of the House and start all over again, is it not at least proper to ask him what is wrong with the debates which have taken place, what considerations have been omitted in the Standing Committee which could properly have been put on the Floor of the House, and what is missing from our deliberations? These are matters on which he could have made a contribution himself if he felt that they were omitted at the time.
If the House is being asked to support a move which will mean starting all those debates again, with all the detailed consideration that we have already had in the Standing Committee, I submit that there must be some implied criticism of what has already been said, and there would have to be a detailed and discursive account during the course of this debate to point out the omissions which would be put right if the Bill came back to the Floor of the House as from next week.
As far as I am aware, no one on the benches opposite has made any reference to the content of the debates in the Standing Committee. I speak now with all the awareness of my unskilled and inadequate presence here, but, as a new Committee member, I have found on occasions that the reiteration of detailed points in the course of debate has satisfied me that no point could have been omitted, and satisfied me, too, that I have learned by rote where I might have been expected to deduce by rational process. This is perhaps a matter of complaint, but not a matter of any criticism of the Chairman, who has suffered along with the rest of us on these infrequent occasions.
The Standing Committee still faces some weeks of consideration of the Bill. I speak as someone who is not as well acquainted with procedure as is the hon. Member for Ormskirk, but I am informed that this is a very large Standing Committee, and one which can reasonably be supposed to contain a proportionate representation of the views of the House. As you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, were it to be supposed to contain anything but a proportional representation of the views of the House it would rightly be held that the Committee of Selection was subject to criticism.
That being so, the whole House will doubtless agree that this unusually large Committee contains a reasonable number of people who represent the whole diversity of views of the House. If there were any other representation to be put before the House in the course of deliberating today's Motion, I have not heard it. I have every reason to suppose, further, that if anybody had
The fact is that 50 Members have deliberated for five weeks in great detail. The contents of their deliberations have not been subject to criticism. They have not even been described in today's debate. If there is anything wrong with the five weeks' debate in Standing Committee, the mover of the Motion and those who support him are implying the gravest criticism of the ability and responsibility of themselves and their friends, they having had the opportunity upstairs to put all the points they wish to put and which they say could be better put on the Floor of the House.
Now I turn to another consideration. It is an axiom among many of us who work outside the House that the best committee of all is a committee of one. It is perhaps a matter of debate that the Select Committee on Procedure has not yet seen fit to adopt this axiom for action. Meanwhile, as one of the members of the Standing Committee said, stirring up the cauldron until the millenium arrives—I hope that this will find its way into the Parliamentary scrapbook—perhaps this is the right attitude for us to adopt. Perhaps, over a period of time, it will lead to the right answer, and establish the basis of a Parliamentary democracy.
|Division No. 72.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m.|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Box, Donald||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Corfield, F. V.|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Braine, Bernard||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony|
|Astor, John||Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Crawley, Aidan|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Crowder, F. P.|
|Balniel, Lord||Bryan, Paul||Curran, Charles|
|Batsford, Brian||Bullus, Sir Eric||Dance, James|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Buxton, R. C.||Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Carlisle, Mark||d' Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.|
|Bessell, Peter||Cole, Norman||Doughty, Charles|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Cooper, A. E.||Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Elliott, R. W. (N' c' tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Kitson, Timothy||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Fisher, Nigel||Lambton, Viscount||Royle, Anthony|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Foster, Sir John||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Sharples, Richard|
|Gibson-Watt, David||McLaren, Martin||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John|
|Glyn, Sir Richard||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mathew, Robert||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Teeling, Sir William|
|Grant, Anthony||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)|
|Gresham-Cooke, R.||Miscampbell, Norman||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon,s.)|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Mitchell, David||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||More, Jasper||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Murton, Oscar||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Neave, Airey||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Maccles'd)||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Walters, Dennis|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Onslow, Cranley||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Whitelaw, William|
|Hawkins, Paul||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hiley, Joseph||Peyton, John||Wise, A. R.|
|Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Hunt, John (Bromley)||Pym, Francis||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Johnson Smith, G.||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Mr. Forbes Hendry and|
|Jopling, Michael||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Mr. Channon.|
|Albu, Austen||Horner, John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Atkinson, Norman||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Padley, Walter|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Howie, W.||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Paget, R. T.|
|Beaney, Alan||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Janner, Sir Barnett||Parker, John|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Jeger, George (Goole)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Bradley, Tom||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W.Ham.S.)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Kelley, Richard||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)||Kenyon, Clifford||Prentice, R. E.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Randall, Harry|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Lawson, George||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Darling, George||Leadbitter, Ted||Richard, Ivor|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Ledger, Ron||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lipton, Marcus||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Dodds, Norman||Loughlin, Charles||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Doig, Peter||Lubbock, Eric||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Driberg, Tom||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Dunnett, Jack||MacDermot, Niall||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mackle, John (Enfield, E.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|English, Michael||MacPherson, Malcolm||Snow, Julian|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Stonehouse, John|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Manuel, Archie||Swingier, Stephen|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Mapp, Charles||Symonds, J. B.|
|Ford, Ben||Maxwell, Robert||Taverne, Dick|
|Freeson, Reginald||Millan, Bruce||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Molloy, William||Tuck, Raphael|
|Ginsburg, David||Monslow, Walter||Wallace, George|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Warbey, William|
|Gregory, Arnold||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick(SheffieldPk)||Weitzman, David|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Murray, Albert||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Newens, Stan||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Hale, Leslie||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip(Derby, S.)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Norwood, Christopher|
|Hazell, Bert||Oakes, Gordon||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Ogden, Eric||Mr. George Rogers and|
|Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||O'Malley, Brian||Mrs. Harriet Slater.|
|Holman, Percy||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham S.)|
|Division No. 73.]||AYES||[4.7 p.m.|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Glover, Sir Douglas||Onslow, Cranley|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Glyn, Sir Richard||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Goodhart, Philip||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Astor, John||Goodhew, Victor||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Grant, Anthony||Peyton, John|
|Balniel, Lord||Gresham-Cooke, R.||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth|
|Batsford, Brian||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Pym, Francis|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Berry Hn. Anthony||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Bessell, Peter||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Maccles'd)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Box, Donald||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Boyd-Carpenter Rt. Hn. J.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Braine, Bernard||Hawkins, Paul||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Royle, Anthony|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hiley, Joseph||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Bryan, Paul||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Sharples, Richard|
|Buxton, R. C.||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cole, Norman||Johnson Smith, G.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cooper, A. E||Jopling, Michael||Teeling, Sir William|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kershaw, Anthony||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon. S.)|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Kitson, Timothy||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Crawley, Aidan||Lambton, Viscount||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Curran, Charles||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Dance, James||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||McLaren, Martin||Walters, Dennis|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.|