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I am, of course, prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's figures.
The position is that, with the interruption of a General Election, the result of which has been most pleasing—[Interruption.]—a certain amount of time is lost for everyone. If one thinks in terms of time lost as a result of that event—although the time was well spent—12 days of legislation were lost to any Government that might have been in power at the time, the Opposition lost six days, and it is not unreasonable to ask Private Members to lose some time. In fact, Fridays were already taken up in the last Session before the Dissolution of Parliament, and this proposal gives an additional 24 in the current Session. That, plus half days, meant a net loss to back benchers of 5 Fridays which, as I say, is not, in the view of the Government, unreasonable having regard to the fact of the Opposition losing 6 days and the Government losing 12 days of legislation.
Since the Motion was put down, I have looked at it again, because I think there could be some injustice to private Members. That is as the result of the procedure of the House which means that no Ten Minute Rule Bill can be raised until such time as a Ballot for Private Members' Bills has taken place. The reason for that is that Members who are successful in the Ballot take precedence over everyone else, and other hon. Members who come in for Ten Minute Bills do not jump the queue.
What I would therefore propose, with the approval of the House, is that in order to enable Ten Minute Rule Bills to be moved after the Ballot, the Ballot should be taken reasonably quickly—perhaps within a week or ten days from now—that will require a new Motion on the Order Paper—and that immediately after the Ballot, with the new Motion, of course, stating clearly the dates on which debates will take place, there should instead of four Fridays between now and the end of July being allotted for Private Members' Motions, be two on Private Members' Bills and two on Private Members' Motions.
Hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House will appreciate, if they look at the calendar and consider the Whitsuntide Recess, that this is a much better arrangement. It will enable hon. Members who wish to use Standing Order No. 13 and to seek the leave of the House to bring in Ten Minute Rule Bills to do so. They will know their place in the queue and there will be no difficulty. I am proposing that the Motion as it stands should be approved. If it should be defeated on a Division, or if it were withdrawn, I am afraid that according to Standing Orders a Ballot would have to take place tomorrow, which would be quite unfair to hon. Members who have no warning whatever. If the Motion is approved, I propose within a week or 10 days to put down another Motion taking two Fridays for Private Members Bills and two Fridays for Private Members Motions before the end of July, thus allowing hon. Members to introduce Ten Minute Rule Bills if they wish in the normal way. This is a reasonable thing to do and the allocation of time is reasonable.
Before my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House sits down, will he explain to the House whether when he says that this will facilitate the possibility of the introduction of Ten Minute Rule Bills "in the normal way" we are to understand that he means the normal way—that is, the way before the present unfortunate experiment was adopted? The normal way, as he will know, is that it should be taken at a time when the whole House is sitting and not when its business has been despatched—
Before the right hon. Gentleman sat down, I wished to ask him to elucidate a little further what this means in terms of hon. Members wanting to introduce Ten Minute Rule Bills. Does it mean that those Bills may be introduced as from now but will take precedence after the Bills which have taken their place in the Ballot, or does it mean that they may not be introduced at all until the Ballot has been drawn?
The latter is the position because, after an hon. Member has been given leave to bring in a Bill, he has to give a date. Until we have passed such a Motion we cannot do anything.
I have selected for discussion the first Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr): in line 2, to leave out paragraph (1). With that Amendment we may take the hon. Member's other Amendment: to leave out lines 13 and 14 and add
for the remainder of this session as if for the word 'ten' in paragraph (2) thereof there were substituted the word 'fifteen', and as if for the words 'in each session to be appointed by the House' there were substituted the words '1st July, 15th July, 18th November, 2nd December, 16th December 1966, and 27th January, 10th February, 24th February, 10th March, 14th April, 28th April, 2nd June, 16th June, 30th June and 14th July 1967'; and as if in paragraph (3) thereof, for the word 'seventh' there were substituted the word 'tenth'.
(4) Paragraph 4 of Standing Order No. 5 shall have effect with the substitution of the word 'third' for the word 'second'".
I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out paragraph (1).
It is either a very rash and foolish man or a man holding a very deep conviction about his case who dares to cross swords with my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. I hope that when I sit down the House will feel more inclined to judge me the latter than the former.
In the 18 months which it has been my pride and pleasure to spend here, I have learned to think of the House as a corporate being, in that in matters such as this it takes it upon itself to decide as a corporate being, forgetting the conflicts of party interests. We are grateful for the very sober and helpful way in which my right hon. Friend made his case. I want to put it plainly to the House that this is first and foremost a matter for the House. If I may refer to the words which were used by a previous Member for Ebbw Vale when talking about a previous Leader of the House, he reminded that Leader of the House that the Leader serves the whole House and not just his colleagues on the Front Bench. It is in this spirit that I hope I may be heard and my arguments judged.
We are offered four days for Private Members' Motions. This is a welcome offer and one which my second Amendment does not in any way seek to reduce. However, my right hon. Friend's Motion denies to the House the opportunity to have its full meed of Private Members' Time. I accept precisely what my right hon. Friend said about a Ballot being held tomorrow. It was precisely with this in mind that I tabled what looks like a rather complex and forbidding Amendment. I must tell the House bluntly and happily that, had I not had it tabled for me with the excellent assistance of the neutral Officers of the House, I doubt if I would understand it myself. I cannot forbear to pay tribute to the very helpful way in which they are always approachable. My Amendment takes into account the fact that we should not defeat the Government's Motion tonight, because to do so would be to deprive many of my back-bench colleagues of precisely that right to take part in the Ballot which I am trying to defend here tonight.
It appears to me, to put it no more critically than this, a great pity that we could not have had the Ballot Book available to us until the Standing Order has been rescinded by Motion of the House. I hope that, if occasion arises in the future when a Standing Order is subject to Government amendment in this way, we shall at least proceed, until the House has decided to rescind that Standing Order, to act upon it.
I deprecate the way in which the Motion was put to the House last night, a matter of only 36 or 48 hours before the Ballot should have been taken. We were given only an opportunity to object, without the right to discuss, which in terms of our own Private Business is one of the most precious rights which we back benchers still retain in the House.
If my right hon. Friend's Motion is successful tonight, the amount of time available for private Members will be reduced. My right hon. Friend has acknowledged this fact. Let me make it quite clear that this is the Member for Wandsworth, Central behaving like a hoary old reactionary. I want to keep things as they are. I do not want to lose private Members' time. It is the Government's Motion which is taking us away from the existing state of affairs and moving against the rights of the back bencher.
We are offered extra time for Motions. I do not under-rate the value of Motions. Many of us remember with a certain amount of grief that it was a Private Members' Motion which nearly confounded the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill by bringing the debate away from Standing Committee and back to the Floor of the House. I shall return to this in a moment. I certainly do not under-estimate the value of Private Members' Motions. But the fact remains that there are certain Bills, certain enactments, which are always judged most suitable for private members to take up. Although the Government never deny themselves the right to participate in the discussions, it is left to the private member to table the Bills which are matters of conscience and of personal concern.
The House need only recall that if this Motion is agreed tonight, some men will go to prison having committed homosexual offences, the other place in detail and this House in principle having already determined that they should be spared that punishment. I am not going to suggest that if we had Private Members' Bills this would guarantee the reintroduction of a Measure of homosexual or abortion law reform. What I am saying is that if the Government Motion stands, it will guarantee that we will not have such a measure of reform. This is what I find so unacceptable.
I recognise that the Government need all the time which this House can grant them for the successful passage of urgently necessary legislation, to which I in common with all my colleagues on these benches are committed enthusiastically and to which we are looking forward. As a very junior Parliamentarian—and I assure the House that I speak with the utmost humility after only 18 months' service in this House—I am not prepared to accept that this is the only way in which the Government can find the time. The extra length of time which my Amendment proposes will permit more Private Members' Bills to reach the Statute Book. I am asking for these five days in my Amendment which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has suggested it would be equitable for back benchers to surrender.
If I may quote again from the debate in 1959, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said:
If we are to give more time for Private Members' Bills, we should also take greater care to assist private Members in getting their Bills through the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 221.]
It is these extra few months which are so precious. To suggest that we should start having Private Members' Bills in October or November means that we surrender these extra months during which the passage of Private Members' Bills through the very complex machinery of Parliament could be materially assisted.
I emphasise that I am not asking for extra time. I am resisting the Government's attempt to restrict Private Members' Time. If I may once again quote from a fellow back bencher, the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), in the same debate, he said:
The restriction on Private Members' Time is rather like the imposition of a new tax. It is always said to be temporary to meet some particular difficulty but tends to become permanent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 216.]
Mr. Speaker, I hope I shall be forgiven for quoting from a very recent but very relevant debate. If I may once again quote the words of Aneurin Bevan, he said in the debate in 1959:
… if we do not carry the Motion today, nothing very calamitous will happen to the Government. All that will really happen will be that Standing Order No. 4 will be at once put into operation. So the right hon. Gentleman must not pretend that in resisting it we are attempting at all to frustrate the activities or intentions of the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 212.]
The words strike me as most happily apt. The Government are always in a difficulty over legislative time. So far as I can foresee they always will be in difficulty over legislative time, because my information is that the Government's own Departments can provide enough Bills of their own making, without the Government's policy-making Bills to fill Parliamentary time. There is always pressure of legislative time. Therefore, if there is really an argument for increasing the time available for Government Bills let us have morning sittings. We had them last Session. I thought they were a great success. I discovered no particular difficulty among Ministers, among businessmen, or even, if I may say so with humility, among doctors in coming to the House in the morning and playing a full part in the proceedings taking place at that time.
If we are asked to surrender only five days of time, let us have five mornings or ten mornings to make up for it. If it is really a question of only five days of time to be surrendered, let us have five days less on the Recess. When we subject ourselves, as some of us have, to criticisms about Members' pay, it might be a little easier to resist those criticisms if the number of sitting days which the House occupied in the year amounted to even a little more than 160. Let us have 165 sitting days. This would not shorten hon. Members' Continental holidays very much. I urge on the House the conception that, with all this business awaiting us and much more which my right hon. Friend could discover for us to do, never mind the hectic time-table which he has set himself, we could well have an amendment of this rather outworn machinery. Let us have a look at it.
I do not share the rather naive views which exist outside the House and in the Press about it, but let us have a look at the possibility of reintroducing by Resolution Bills which have reached a certain stage in the last Parliament without having to go through all the lot again. It is the same general party structure in the House. Such Bills need not occupy so much discussion time. I think of the Road Safety Bill, which, as far as one car, see, will come back virtually unaltered, and of other Bills which had already reached an advanced stage.
If we could do it for Government Bills, might we not at least consider the possibility of doing it for Private Members' Bills? There were half a dozen lost when the election came upon us, some of them very valuable Bills. I stress this because it is essentially a non-party point. Some of the most valuable were tabled not by Members on this side but by Members opposite.
If I have learned nothing else in my time in the House, I have learned that this place essentially belongs to the private Member. [Laughter.] I acknowledge that that possession sometimes is a shadow of the substance we would all like it to be. But hon. Members who care to examine the whole development of Parliamentary procedure will, I am sure, share my view that the anchor chain of all that has ever been decided has been the anchor chain of private Members' privileges and private Members' Time. True, it is sometimes stolen away. We are all happy to think that you will stand guard over our privileges, Mr. Speaker, but only we, the back benchers, can, in fact, preserve them.
In conclusion, I dare to quote once more from that debate in 1959:
Let us make a good start. Let us decide that the Government cannot have their own way… Let us have a free vote on this issue. It is a House of Commons matter, and… if we decide to extend our privileges by the retention of the Standing Order, it will be to the advantage of the House and the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 227.]
Those words were spoken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).
This is an important debate, as the speech of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) has underlined. The reputation of the House among those outside it does not, perhaps, stand as high as many of us here would like to think it did. One of the reasons why it does not stand so high is simply that the business of the House appears to be so much in the hands of one or other of the Front Benches. There is a feeling that there is a kind of cosy arrangement between the two, they discuss what interests them, and what interests the ordinary back bencher is not discussed at all. Certainly, in the ten or eleven years that I have been in the House, I have seen this going on. The tentacles of the Front Benches have reached out for private Members' time. The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central has done the House a very great service by tabling the Amendment.
The Leader of the House, as he always does, charmed us all with the suggestion that a compromise might be available. I noted the terms of his compromise. He appeared to justify his original Motion on the ground that everybody else had given up a great deal of time and so private Members could give up five Fridays. But whereas the Government have given up 17 days and the Opposition 7 days, private Members have given up five days from a very much smaller total. The amount of time of which private Members have been deprived is a very large part of the total amount of Private Members' Time at the moment. I do not think that we can accept a situation in which we are not allowed to introduce Private Members' Bills until the autumn.
The Leader of the House has, very rightly, said that he will alter this matter in the near future, but has also pointed out that if the Motion is not passed tonight we shall be faced with an impossible situation tomorrow, something with which none of us would like to be faced. The fact is, however, that he justifies it solely on the ground that if we do not do this hon. Members' rights under the Ten Minutes Rule Order will be breached. I suggest that hon. Members' rights under the normal Private Members' legislation rules will be breached as well if we pass the Motion in its present form.
We had very little time to discuss Private Members' Bills in the last Session. Indeed, as the hon. Member said, a very large number of very worth-while Bills, some introduced from this side of the House, fell because of the Dissolution—though I doubt whether any hon. Member opposite would complain about that because of the result of the General Election. Nevertheless, they fell, and some were Bills that I should have liked to see on the Statute Book, and I believe that this applies to hon. Members opposite.
This problem is not solved simply by giving us two more Fridays before we adjourn for the summer. Nor is the precedent which the Leader of the House cited from 1955 a very good one. The House came back in 1955 very much later than it did this year, and for that reason more time is taken. I should like the Leader of the House to look at the matter again. I do not think that any hon. Member wants a Division on the matter tonight, but it is an important matter, one which affects private Members on both sides. Therefore, I would press the Leader of the House, if we give him the Motion tonight—as I suppose we have to, otherwise a situation will arise that we cannot get out of—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] As has been said, we cannot have a Ballot without anybody knowing what is going to be introduced. I trust that if we give the Leader of the House the Motion tonight he will be a little more generous. There are a very large number of matters of principle which a great many private Members wish to raise.
If the hon. Gentleman wants a Ballot tomorrow, I would happily join with him about it. I can speak with total impartiality on this matter. I have gone in for every Ballot in the eleven years that I have been in the House but have never yet won a place. So I reckon I have a right to speak on this matter which other hon. Members have not got. Unless the Leader of the House can give us some pretty firm assurances that he is prepared to go a little further, perhaps we ought to vote against the Motion. Nevertheless, I can see the problems which will arise. The basic point is that if the reputation of the House is falling, as I believe it is, that is because people believe that we have become the fools of our respective Front Benches. I have had the advantage of sitting on the Government Front Bench for a short time and I know the temptations that come to those who do. No doubt the same temptations come to those sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.
But it is nevertheless not good enough to say that the Government insist on having this time. What are they going to do with it? We know that Government business on a Friday is nearly always over by one o'clock, if it lasts that long, and then we all just go home. Thus, half a day is wasted. The Government can get the sort of business it wants on a Friday by putting it down for any normal sitting day.
We want firm commitments from the Government as to what they intend to do with the Fridays they propose to take. The hon. Member quoted extensively from the debate in 1959. I hope the House will not mind if I quote from it also, for it was a good debate and I have a particular interest in it because my predecessor at Saffron Walden, Lord Butler, was then Leader of the House. It will surely interest the Lord President that Lord Butler at the end of that debate gave way almost entirely. He gave way, I think, because of the speech made by Aneurin Bevan. In addition to the quotations given by the hon. Member, Mr. Bevan also said—and these words are important—
… I suggest to hon. Members that they ought to look twice at the Motion before they pass it. Now that we have a House of Commons with a large Government majority—we do not know yet how calamitous that is going to be for the country—it seems to us, and it must seem to people outside the House of Commons, that if we proceed with this Parliament for another four or five years after the conventional fashion of the last ten to fifteen years, it may be that a very considerable lessening of interest in our Parliamentary proceedings may take place, especially—I am sure hon. Members in every part of the House will not be angry if I say this—when it is true that in the course of the last half century, in particular, the growing rigidity of the party machines has expunged originality in the House of Commons itself.
Therefore, I would suggest, in an entirely non-party spirit"—
You will not be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to hear that at that point of his speech hon. Members said "Oh"—
I say 'in an entirely non-party spirit' because I am an established Parliamentarian and I am very anxious for the reputation of this House—that hon. Members opposite. especially new Members, must realise that there stretches out before them endless hours of infinite boredom, almost limitless stretches of arid desert, that will be almost unendurable unless we can put a few oases ourselves here and there"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 214-5.]
I did not often agree with Mr. Bevan, although I enjoyed the privilege of a slight acquaintance with him, but on that occasion I agreed with him more wholly than ever before. I believe that this is a matter that the House itself must decide. We cannot be dictated to by either Front Bench on this. It is a matter of very great importance. Mr. Bevan was right. We have to place these oases here and there because, unless we do, neither Front Bench is prepared to do it. For that reason I hope that the House will pass the Amendment, and I shall vote for it.
The Government's proposition is an astonishing one. It is that we should postpone any question of Private Members' Bills until the autumn. I find it astonishing, because it is being made at a time when we have heard so much of the persuasion of individual Members and when we have had rehearsed to us again and again the inadequacies of the facilities for those who sit on the back benches.
Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained last Thursday in his first speech of this Parliament that he was seeking to devise ways and means of being able to overcome the difficulties that were spelt out by Mr. Bevan in the debate in October 1959.
At a time when the rigidity of the party machines and the urgency always declared by the Executive to the passing through of legislation are well known, to come to the House in this cavalier manner and pre-empt our rights in the way suggested is to ask the House a great deal. It has been asked on the score that everybody must give up a little, that that is fair arid equitable.
But what is taking place here is part of a long historical process, the process of erosion of the rights of individual Members which has been going on for a whole century. Looking back at 100 years ago, one realises how then the individual Member could come to the House genuinely free to defy his own Whips, genuinely able to answer only to his constituents, genuinely compelled to answer only to his conscience, and one sees how over the years, through the centralisation of the Civil Service and the growth of the party systems, to what an intensity of the oligarchic system we have reduced ourselves almost to an anonymity which apparently causes some hon. Members to regard it as frivolous when an hon. Member points out that the House belongs to private Members.
I would say from my own experience that to postpone Private Members' Bills to the autumn raises a number of practical technical difficulties. No aid is extended to private Members by the Government when they attempt to put through legislation dealing with controversial issues and ofttimes the Bills are bandied backwards and forwards from Lords to Commons with a series of Amendments, so that the private Member seeking to steer his Bill through finds again and again that he is watching the timetable and wondering whether all his work will simply be a complete waste of time.
I can recall, when steering through divorce legislation, that after it had shuttled backwards and forwards from the other place to here it was clear to me that there was an ambiguity in the Bill which was almost vital and which had not been raised in any stage of the proceedings. I remained concerned but quiet while Amendments from the Lords at the very last moment went through this Chamber, not daring to mention the ambiguity, which was afterwards settled only after considerable litigation in the courts, because I knew that if one in any way impeded the Bill all would fall.
There are many reasons why postponing Private Members' Bills until the autumn can jeopardise much effective private Members' legislation. But, more than that, the Executive is taking the view that it must eschew a whole range of social legislation of great importance. Rightly or wrongly, it is saying that many issues which impinge on human relationships are such that the Government must contract out of them. They are not small issues. They affect millions of people. They are issues, such as those raised in the last Parliament dealing with abortion or illegitimacy or homosexuality, within the social life of the country. It is because they are large and important issues and because they are often neglected that there are compelling reasons why private Members should have the maximum time available to them to deal with such matters.
The private Member fights these issues with his hands tied behind his back. He fights them without draftsmen, without Government aid. It is unfair to suggest that we can lop off the time of Private Members because the private Member is supposed to be on equal terms with the Government. It just is not true, and we all know it is not true. It is leading to a serious situation.
One hon. Member referred to the Homosexual Reform Bill. It is a serious matter that we now have the situation in the country where the police are being required to enforce a law which says that men who conduct themselves in private in the way delineated in legislation may receive a sentence of life imprisonment. Yet both Chambers have passed a Resolution to the contrary. This is a serious matter, for here is what I regard as a vicious piece of criminal law which is being enforced and which the police have the duty to enforce despite the expressed will of both Chambers of Parliament. To suggest that an issue of this kind must be postponed because some drainage Bill or other must be hurried through is not good enough.
It is not good enough to suggest that there is some compelling legislation which must be got through. I do not know what particular legislation the Leader of the House has in mind. He has not indicated to us which Measures he so urgently requires. Some hon. Members would, had we heard that the Steel Bill was being introduced tomorrow, probably have been a little quieter. Others may have been angrier. But the fact remains that there is this wide area of legislation clamorously needed but being dodged and neglected by the Executive.
If we tonight just acquiesce in what the Leader of the House is asking, we shall be abandoning the whole of our rights. We shall be confirming the process that has gone on without check for a century. We shall be saying that we are content to be Lobby fodder, and that is not what we really want to be.
My right hon. Friend was a most able and distinguished Whip. He is a man with great understanding, and I understand that as a Whip his efforts to deal with Parliamentary business were commendable. But he is now Leader of the House. He now has obligations that are above those of a party manager. He has obligations to us all, and when I see that even on matters like the Ten Minutes Rule he has already indicated that what he asked for temporarily in the last Session he now wants to make permanent, I fundamentally distrust this suggestion that we should forfeit a sacred right—our right to have a Ballot and get on with the work of private Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) was right when he said that we should let the Leader of the House have this Motion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "]—if he will give a firm undertaking that this is merely to save embarrassment with the Ballot tomorrow, that he will reconsider his whole attitude and that he will restore to private Members their full time for discussion.
Why should it cause the right hon. Gentleman embarrassment when hon. Members will be able to read in the newspapers tomorrow and hear on the wireless that any hon. Member who wishes to do so many enter the Ballot?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that question. The answer is that it would be preferable for us to get from the Leader of the House what I am asking for; an understanding that he will restore to us in this Session enough private Members' days to give us all the Bills we missed in the last Session and the Bills to which we are entitled in this Session. In this way the right hon. Gentleman would be saved any embarrassment tomorrow. If he does not take this course, I hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have courageously contributed to this discussion will combine to defeat the Motion.
We are indebted to the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr). I was not absolutely sure that the examples of the Bills which had lapsed were quite the best calculated to elicit the support and sympathy of some of my hon. Friends. But never mind. I am in favour of Private Members' Bills in principle even if I may be against individual ones in practice. I suggest that we do not mourn too specifically Bills which some hon. Members may be glad to have seen lapse.
I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central say that somehow it was bold of him to cross swords with his right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. The right hon. Gentleman is here in his capacity as Leader of the House. If the hon. Member felt that it was bold of him to cross swords on this issue with the Leader of the House, I am sorry. It would have been more becoming to say that it was the Leader of the House who was bold in crossing swords with the House on an issue like this.
I am glad that we have had support from the other side of the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will take to heart the words spoken by his two hon. Friends who have spoken, who have reminded him that he is the servant of the House in guarding the rights of the House and that he should not be party to a process of steady erosion of private Member's rights. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make his tenure of office memorable in any worth-while way, it will he as a Leader of the House who has played a part in restoring private Members' rights.
If the Government have had to give up some time because of the General Election, and so on, the priority in restoring time should be given to Private Members' Bills. All the time should come out of Government time. It is only by grace of private Members that right hon. and hon. Members on the two Front Benches are able to monopolise the time. I do not see why we should be such worms as perpetually to pander to the desires of right hon. Gentlemen in arranging the business of the House.
The first priority is that the private Member should have his rights respected by the Leader of the House and upheld by hon. Members in all quarters of the House. I am sorry to see that the Leader of the House is bearing so plainly on his forehead the mark of Cain, which has been put there by his long service in the Whips' Office. I hope that he will not set a precedent by playing fast and loose with the time of the House. This is a very poor augury for what may be a long Parliament.
I should not at all look forward to the prospect of Bills, which hon. Members in all quarters of the House might want to bring forward, being held up because the Leader of the House has the idea that Government business is all-important and that only Government business is important. There can be no measures which the Government have in view that are so important that they justify sacrificing the time of Private Members which they have lost through the General Election.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) was thwarted by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing a Bill. Owing to the delay that has elapsed since then, 50,000 old people have died without having the benefit of the Bill that my hon. Friend would have introduced. How many more will die similarly if Private Members' Bills are held up by the Motion which is being debated tonight?
I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who have given support to their hon. Friends who have spoken to this Amendment will not hesitate to go into the Lobby and vote against the Motion, unless we have an assurance that every Friday which we lost in the last Parliament will be restored, and we shall have every one to which we are entitled in this Session.
I must confess at the outset that I make a short contribution to this discussion with a good deal of diffidence. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend realises what a great strain his Motion puts not merely on my loyalty but on my gratitude. I cannot take part in the diatribe against the Government for their tyranny and their oppressiveness or their desire to elevate into a dominant position their legislation as against anybody else's ideas of what legislation is appropriate or important or urgent.
I have the greatest possible personal reasons for not taking part in any such accusation. A year or more ago I did not take part in a Ballot for Private Members' Time. The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, which I am glad to remember became an Act of Parliament, did not arise out of a Private Members' Ballot. It was moved, it went through all its stages, and it passed the House of Commons and another place only because the Government sacrificed their own right to take up the whole of the time of the House in order to afford facilities for a Private Member's Bill.
I shall always remain grateful to the Government for having done that. I can see no other way in which that Bill, to which I gave a certain proportion of my energies throughout my public career, would ever have reached the Statute Book, and I therefore do not feel inclined to participate in a general attack on the tyranny or the oppressiveness of the Government. In my case, it certainly is not true. Not merely did they afford facilities for the Second Reading and for all subsequent stages, but when difficulties were created for it after it had done two-thirds of its work in a Committee upstairs because the House decided that it would begin the Committee stage all over again on the Floor of the House, the Government provided the time to enable that to be done. They proposed and carried through the House a Motion to enable it to be done by having, for the first time in the history of this assembly, morning sittings. I must remember all this.
I should like to go on for a moment, and then I shall give way.
I must also remember that when the House exercised its right—and I am not complaining that it did—to submit that Bill to the closest and longest possible scrutiny in Committee and on Report, there came a time when it was very doubtful whether the time factor alone would enable it to pass this House in time to be dealt with in another place. If time had not been found to enable that to be done, all the work which the House had done on it over the whole year would have been lost, and we would have had to begin again in this Session. I therefore recognise that I am not entitled to complain that the Government are oppressive or tyrannical about their claim on the time of the House of Commons.
Having said that, I must recognise also that I cannot put myself in the position of even seeming to say that, having got my own Bill through, I do not care two pins for what happens to anybody else's Private Member's Bill.
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is very important, in this sense. It has been disputed in the country from time to time that the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill was a Bill for which the previous Labour Government must take responsibility. Would I be right in thinking, in view of what he has said, that the Labour Government do deserve a high degree of credit or otherwise for that Bill?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him into a rather pettifogging and bad-tempered intervention. All I am saying is that I am the last Member of this House to join in a complaint against the Government on the grounds that they are too tyrranical in their claims on the time of the House at the expense of private Members. Other hon. Members may be entitled to say that, but I am not so entitled and I do not say it.
I do say, however—and I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand why I say it—that it is just because I recognise a sense of loyalty and gratitude to the Government for the facilities which they afforded to my own Private Member's Bill that I feel very dubious about supporting them in a move to which no longer affects me, because the Bill in which I was interested is now a part of the Statute Law of the country, to prevent other hon. Members without the Government facilities but merely in the ordinary course from exercising their own rights in that way. It is this that places me in so great a difficulty in my approach to my right hon. Friend's Motion.
I hope that hon. Members will recognise that I am trying to take a fair-minded and honest approach to what is undoubtedly a very difficult problem—[Interruption.] I do not know whether hon. Members would like to make an audible intervention. It so, I will readily give way and try to deal with any intervention. Otherwise, it would be more helpful if interventions by hon. Members were made audibly and standing up, rather than by a series of mutterings on the back benches.
In that situation, I should like to appeal to my right hon. Friend to look at this matter again. He has made a valuable concession. The situation with which the House is now faced is not quite the situation with which it looked like being faced yesterday or the day before. A serious concession has been made. I am not saying that the House ought to be content with it: I would not be content with it, and if the House is not content with it, it is within the rights of the House, in a matter which is plainly one for the House, to decide for itself whether it wishes to accept the Motion and accept the offer made, or whether it wishes to reject it and go on with the position as it at present is.
I see no reason why a Ballot should not be taken tomorrow, just because a great many hon. Members are interested in preserving their rights on a Friday. It is no hardship to ask them to make a sufficient sacrifice to attend on a Thursday to enter their names in a book, which would enable that a Ballot to take place. I see some difficulties in the way, but no insuperable difficulties. The concession which my right hon. Friend has made reduces the difference between the Government's original proposals and their present proposals to a very narrow margin. Surely it is worth while for the Government to consider whether they really need the extra two or three days which the amended proposal would give them. It is not unprecedented for Governments to say, "We have so much to do that we need all the time". They could have said it last year. They did not say it. The Government between 1945 and 1948 did not say it.
What I am suggesting to my right hon. Friend is that there is still room to reconsider the matter and to see whether the importance of their retaining the whole of the time which they propose to retain is worth the dissatisfaction and anxiety which it occasions in so many quarters of the House. If the Motion is persisted in, I shall certainly not vote against it. I would not vote against the Government's advice in favour of my hon. Friend's Amendment.
There is an old Army saying about "ifs" and conditional events which the hon. Member no doubt recollects but which it would be out of order for me to repeat. I remind him of it.
All I am saying is that I would not think it worth while or right to support my hon. Friend's Amendment if the Government on reflection think that it is worth their while to retain the whole of this time against so much articulate opposition shown in the debate. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to have another look at it to see whether he needs to have this Motion passed tonight and whether he needs to deprive private Members of the very, very limited opportunities which, in the development of Parliament, have remained to private Members to get legislation of their own choice passed on their own initiative on a free vote of the House.
I am sure that the House is very grateful to the Leader of the House for the fact that by the concession which he is prepared to make he has shown that he realises the feeling of the House in the matter. The concession does not go far enough, but it shows that he realises that there is a very strong feeling that private Members are being deprived of time quite unnecessarily.
He would have had to give far more than the two days he is now suggesting had there not been a General Election. More than that would have been spent on private Members' legislation in the next few months. It is not just a question of time lost; it is a question of Bills lost. This means that a whole year of Private Members' Bills have gone. I expect that this is the first and last time in our political lives that the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) and I will agree. I support his amendment. He said that about half-a-dozen Bills would be lost. I took the precaution of getting the list of the Public Bills for the last Session, and I find that there were 36 Private Members' Bills lost by the election, five of which had reached Committee stage. As for the Bill in which I was interested, my National Sweepstake Bill, the Government were apparently so frightened that a Conservative Member would get such a wise Bill through the House that they dissolved Parliament the day before it was to come up for Second Reading.
It is ironical that if one is a local councillor one has far more chance of getting a Bill through the House than if one is a private Member, because both Houses passed a Resolution keeping alive Private Bills from local authorities. I picked one up in the Vote Office just now—a small Bill of about one page: for the Huyton-with-Robey Urban District Council. [Laughter.] I am not suggesting that there is any favouritism about this, but here is a piffling little Bill to turn a piece of parkland into a football ground—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—perhaps to commemorate the days when the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister played there without his boots. Here is this little Bill which Parliament has solemnly said shall remain alive from one Parliament to the next, yet other important Bills, Private Members' Bills, which had reached the Committee stage—the Estate Agents Bill, the Protection of Birds Bill, the Sexual Offences Bill, the Doorstep Selling Bill and the Justices of the Peace Bill—all were well on the way to getting on the Statute Book had it not been for the General Election, are lost. The fact now is that all Private Members' Bills of this year, 1965–66, are lost. I am not frightened about the precedent of 1955. If the right hon. Gentleman has looked it up, he will know that that Motion was not debated at all, but tonight we are debating the Motion, and the Leader of the House can now appreciate the feeling of the House about it.
There is no difficulty about the Ballot tomorrow. If I read it correctly, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, would, if accepted, merely postpone the Ballot from the second Thursday to the third Thursday of the Session. We could therefore hold the Ballot a week tomorrow and have a further five days of private Members' legislative time before the autumn. Surely the Government do not need just three more days so urgently. The Leader of the House is prepared to go to 12 days for Private Members' Bills—he shakes his head—
I understood from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that there would be the normal 10 days plus 2 days, but now it appears that there will be only the 10 days for Private Members' Bills. This is even worse than I had thought. I thought that we were to get another two days for Private Members' Bills, but even if it is 10 days against the 15 days in the amendment, is it so vitally necessary that the Government should have those five Fridays which could be put to very good purpose by private Members—one only has to look at the list of 36 Bills which died because of the General Election. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to go a little further with his concession, and please the whole House in so doing.
What concerns those of us on this side who want to see Parliamentary reform and the reform of this Chamber is to find that whenever during the last 18 months any alterations have been made we have had to defend the status quo in order to protect our rights. First, there was the transfer of Ten Minute Bills from 3.30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and now there is the reduction in private Members' time. I am convinced that all of us on this side want to see Government legislation go through and are all prepared to provide the time for it, but in the present case we could meet on Wednesday mornings when other Committees were not meeting. We did that for the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill—and I am very sorry that we are not carrying my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) all the way with us on this present issue.
It is a little ironical that this debate comes after we have gone through a week of pantomime when four days were wasted in archaic procedures and ceremony taken up by swearing-in and all the flummery which goes with it, which could easily have been done outside this Chamber. There is no need for this. If we are to have any Parliamentary reform, hon. Members will have to fight for it in this Chamber. We have to fight against the tendencies of the Executive to say that they need time, possibly before they have examined how much detailed time they actually need.
In the type of society in which we live, a highly industrialised society with tremendous stresses and strains, which have an effect on the individual as well as on society as a whole, there is greater need than ever for social reform, not necessarily introduced by political parties, but by individual hon. Members to be brought to this House and put on the Statute Book as the law of the land. As a very new hon. Member, I find that we are often told, "You make the laws", but we do not get enough opportunity to make social legislation. I took great pleasure in voting for the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. There was the Bill dealing with homosexuals for which I and a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House voted, but which has now fallen. There were Bills like that dealing with reform of the law in relation to abortion. There are Bills of a less contentious nature. They are of great importance to sections of the community. If we cannot protect the rights of such people, we are failing in our duty as Members of Parliament.
I find it very contradictory to read statements in the Press to the effect that the Government would like to find fruitful and useful work for back-benchers and then to find that the Government wish to take away possibilities of using those opportunities fruitfully. I suggest to the Government and to my right hon. Friend that it is not good enough to take away the opportunity to introduce Bills in time for them to go through the complication of being, rightly, discussed in detail in this House and another place and finally passed. It takes a long time to get legislation on to the Statute Book. I had thought, and I still hope, that this will be a memorable Parliament. It will not be if rights of private Members are taken away.
I am trying to help the hon. Member's argument. In the "bad days" before the war, this House debated Private Members' Motions every Wednesday and Private Members' Bills every Friday—two days of Private Members' Time every week. In those days Parliament was a much more lively place than it is today.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but we are hoping for far more social legislation to be introduced by the Government now. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that we should not worry about what divides us on this issue. What unites us as back-bench Members is far more important. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does not represent just the Government or the two Front Benches who, on issues like this, tend to get much closer together than they do with the back benchers of their own parties. The Leader of the House should have another look at this question under the pressure that is being put on him tonight. He should concede the point, allow the matter to go forward and let us have a Ballot tomorrow. Like most hon. Members, I attend this House every day. I cannot see the difficulty in having a Ballot tomorrow.
I ask my right hon. Friend to do as I suggest, and if he experiences difficulty in finding time for Government legislation let him come to the House and we will give him the time. But I ask him not to undercut and reduce private Members' time, which I believe is more valuable today than it has ever been in the history of the House.
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Keer) is very sensible indeed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) pointed out, that would advance the Ballot by a week and would give plenty of time for the advertising of the Ballot.
The offer made by the Leader of the House, although better than his original Motion, is not at all generous. There are no fewer than 12 Fridays left between now and the end of July, omitting those in Whitsun, and I should have thought that to have only two Fridays out of those 12 for Private Members' Bills was very bad indeed, particularly having regard to the fact that no Private Bills have been advanced since November. In addition, even with these two Fridays that have been offered, it does not seem that any Private Members' Bills will get through by the end of the summer. Therefore, we shall have one whole year in which no Private Members' Bills will have been passed at all. They perform a very valuable service, as has already been said.
The Times stated the situation very well this morning when it said that Private Members' Bills include
small measures of general insignificance which matter a lot to special interests or the supporters of special causes. It also includes moral-legal-social fields where Governments have shown themselves reluctant to take the initiative …
They fill a very valuable gap. It goes on to say:
It is questionable whether an attitude of cold or benevolent neutrality towards legislation in some of these matters is the right attitude for Governments to adopt.
Of coures, the original Motion of the Leader of the House is very bad indeed. I do not know how he had the face to bring it forward. I had three Private Members' Bills. Two were on the Order Paper before the Dissolution and both were non-controversial. One has been on the Order Paper for 18 months and was accepted in principle by the Home Office. That was designed to give local authorities some control over the teen-age clubs. The Home Office said that it intended to bring forward its own Bill. Another of my Bills was designed to adapt the law relating to taking away motor cars to the taking away of vessels and yachts, the sort of Measure of which everybody approves. Again the Home Office considers it to be non-controversial, and said that it would accept the Bill. Those Bills have "gone for a burton".
I have another Bill which is a little controversial, relating to the restriction of polls during General Elections. But, as the hon. Member for Crosby has said, there are a large number of non-controsial and excellent Bills which have been lost.
I ask the Leader of the House to tell us now that he will be more generous and give us more than those two out of the 12 Fridays which are left. Unless he does so, we must accept the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central and vote for it as a very sensible proposal.
Every Member of the House who has listened to the debate will agree that it was quite right that my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) should have moved the Amendment, and we are extremely grateful to him for having done so. He has performed a service to the whole House. It is right to remember also that, if the matter were to be pressed to a Division, it would be as a House of Commons matter, not a matter affecting the parties in any sense at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) underlined the point, which he stated perfectly fairly, that it is a false charge against the Government to say that they have been contemptuous of Private Members' Time. My hon. Friend gave instances, of which he better than any other hon. Member can speak, of how this Government, in the last Parliament, went further than, probably, any other Government we can remember in order to cherish Private Members' Time. I assure the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip that all of us who were associated with my hon. Friend's Bill and who supported it appreciate what the Government did, not only because of the merits of the Measure itself but because of their recognition of the rights of private Members in this House.
It would be quite wrong, therefore, if the House were to debate this proposition on the basis of saying that this is a tyrannical Government who have no care for private Members' rights, who are not interested in them, who brush them aside in a contemptuous manner. It would be quite false for anybody either inside or outside the House to say that. Many of the newspapers never report properly what happens in the House, and, if they were to examine and apply their minds to what happens here, they would discover the fact that, over the past eighteen months, despite all the difficulties which they had then, the Government showed the greatest consideration for private Members' time.
Therefore, when we criticise what the Government are proposing now, we are not criticising them on the basis of saying that they are a tyrranical Government not interested in these matters. They have paid very great consideration to them, as is proved by the facts. We on this side of the House—this is certainly my view—are not prepared to accept from any hon. Members opposite, particularly from those who hardly attended the place during the past eighteen months, the suggestion that this is a Government who brush aside any consideration of private Members' interests [Interruption.] Some hon. Members have spoken in that sense, or have indicated it, but we are not prepared to accept it. It is simply not so. For as long as I have been a Member, there has been no Government who have paid more consideration to private Members' time than the Government over the past eighteen months.
That is not a ground for denying what I have said, that, despite all the pressures en Government time during the past 18 months, the Government have behaved with great generosity to Bills introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne and by hon. Members opposite—and, I think, very properly. That was what I was acknowledging in the first place. I do not think that anybody could deny it. I do not think that the instance that the hon. Gentleman cites in any way overthrows the proposition that I am making.
What the hon. Gentleman may claim to have been the activities of the Paymaster-General on that occasion is not generally acknowledged. There are many arguments about it. If the Bill in which the hon. Gentleman is so interested was so passionately supported by that side of the House, it could have been introduced as a Government Measure during the previous 13 years. When they had a Government in power which was in charge of private Members' time, they could have provided all the facilities.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who is so avid and eager in his support for private Members' time, is not here tonight. I do not know where he is. Apparently, he is so eager to support the proposition that he is not here at all. He is not here tonight, and was not here for 13 years. He was here only for an intricate moment when he wanted to put a proposition before the House when he thought that it would embarrass the Government. So we are not concerned with that.
No. I have given way already. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] If the hon. Member for Abingdon was so eager to press the matter, he might have been here tonight. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is."] Those of us who are here tonight are here because we are interested in protecting private Members' time. The hon. Member for Abingdon, who pressed this matter so strongly, has not turned up at all.
There is nothing at all to withdraw. What I said was that those of us who are here tonight to engage in this debate are interested in protecting private Members' time, and when I said it I said that the hon. Member for Abingdon was not here, as he was not.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Abingdon in a moment. It has always been my custom in this House that, if I want to engage in a debate, to come in at the beginning, to listen to what is said and to take part if I happen to think I am entitled to. On that basis, if the hon. Member for Abingdon has been here from the beginning to protect private Members' time, as some of his hon. Friends were saying in his absence, then I have never known him before to be so lacking in vocal capacities.
Perhaps I can refresh the memory of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon had not been here for thirteen years, but in fact during that time my hon. Friend served with great distinction as a Minister of the Crown and was often seen in the House.
I did not say that the hon. Member for Abingdon was not here for thirteen years. I said, and it was perfectly well understood by every other hon. Member, that if the hon. Member for Abingdon had wished to raise the subject of his Bill during the previous thirteen years he could have done so.
I assure the hon. Member for Abingdon that in his absence I did not raise any question of his presence or absence. It was raised by other hon. Members who referred to his Bill. All I said in reply, as I was entitled to, was that if he had wanted to raise the subejct of his Bill during the many precious years he was in the House he could have done so.
The question of private Members' time is not only one that affects the rights of private Members. There are many occasions on which a Government can say, "We are entitled to claim all the time that is available to the House of Commons". If the Government told us that they have such a pressure of public business that they must have all the time, or almost all the time, of the House, and if, having looked at their Measures, I agreed with them, I would consider that they had a powerful claim. This was the claim made by the Labour Government in 1945.
It has, therefore, been claimed by both sides, and it is a perfectly respectable claim. Private Members have an absolute right that we must protect, but we must never get into the situation of saying that private Members' rights are absolutely opposed to Government claims. We are here because we support many of the Measures proposed by the Government; we would not be here otherwise.
The Government have every right to say, "We have claims upon the time of Parliament and these are the claims we make because we wish to see our business proceed." I do not quarrel with the Government on that score. If they were to say that this was the only way in which they could get their business through, it would be very difficult for those of us who support the Government and who have worked for it and tried to see it returned to power and who have been successful in so doing to oppose such a proposition.
But there are some factors to be taken into account by the Government which they have not sufficiently taken into account. First, there is the proposition advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) which was reinforced by the views stated by the Home Secretary in an interview which he gave to the Sunday Times last week. He was asked what were his views about abortion and homosexual reform and many other matters with which many of us are concerned, and he said that they were matters better introduced into the House by private Members. That is a view with which most hon. Members would agree. Some of us might prefer that the reform of the law on abortion, for which many of us think that the case is overwhelming, should be introduced by the Government, and I would strongly support the Government if they did that. But I can understand the Government saying, although I would disagree with them, that they would prefer a reform of this kind to be introduced in much the same manner as that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. The matters to which the Home Secretary referred are matters in which he is particularly concerned, although other Members are also concerned. His answer is that these things are best done by private Members.
If the Government say that and if that is their considered view of the proper procedure, they have all the more responsibility for providing time to do it and to provide that time not merely next autumn, but now. Many things can turn sour in a few months. If the Government are elected in March and many Measures which people want to be introduced are not introduced until the autumn, things can turn sour in the meantime. Why do we have to wait so long? Why cannot we proceed? Why can we not have these matters introduced and discussed and have more time for them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) says?
Why do we have to be bound by previous restrictions on time? The Leader of the House may disagree with me about some of these matters of procedure, but I think that he is strongly in favour of altering the times of sitting and I think that he would support such a change. He has been urging it in many quarters. He would probably like the House to sit in the mornings. I am not saying that I am committing him, but I think that that is his general attitude towards it. It is not fair to say that he is opposed to the House reforming itself, but this is one of the ways in which that could be done.
Why should we not have many more of these measures? What could excite Parliament better? We have the many major Bills coming forward which were mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but alongside them we could have the major measures of liberal reform, instead of holding back until the autumn with everyone wondering how long they will take. Why not proceed with them now and say that we will do it a little faster? Would it not have been an exciting thing for the country if the Leader of the House, instead of moving this Motion, which is orthodox, had said that the Government were not content with that and wanted also to find time for the House to deal with these matters, which are not novel but which have been piling up for years? Many of these Measures have already been passed by the House of Lords and we are trailing along behind.
I plead, I urge, the Government with what little power I have at my command not to think in the old terms. Think in the new terms. Think, "Why cannot we do it swifty? Let us excite the House of Commons. Before this summer we will be discussing all these matters which young people throughout the country want discussed".
We all have different ideas about what should be discussed. That is what the House of Commons is for. That being so, let us have all these ideas, these Measures, piled in. Many of us would prefer to sit longer hours if only we could do that. It is April. By the end of July we will have the Finance Bill. The country can be bored to tears by a Finance Bill, even a good one. Why not have some of these other matters brought in as well? Why do not the Government think in these terms?
I am not asking my right hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion, although I hope he will decide that the whole thing should be taken away and looked at afresh. My complaint is that the new Government have not torn up all their old briefs and started afresh. This is a new Parliament. Let us start afresh and work on this differently.
I do not agree with some of the reforms proposed by some of my hon. Friends, although they have every right to propose them. Indeed, I do not agree with all of those proposed by the Prime Minister. Some of his are most reactionary. Do we want to stuff the House of Commons into a pigeon-hole again? The House of Commons is a most flexible place. This Motion could he withdrawn tonight and another introduced tomorrow or the day after. It was said by somebody that the House of Commons was like the trunk of an elephant; it could pick up a pea or fell an oak.
That is what the House of Commons can do. Why does not the Cabinet say tomorrow that it will put at the top of its next agenda what I am saying? This could all be done because one of the virtues of this place is its flexibility. If the Government want to change something they can do it overnight. Within 24 hours certain matters affecting Rhodesia were passed through all the procedures. That could be done for Private Members' Bills. The Government could say, "We have listened to what has been said. We believe that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members in this new Parliament think differently from the old ones. They want us to deal differently with these matters. The item will be placed at the head of the Cabinet's agenda next week and then we will make different propositions to the House." Who says that that is bad? Would it do the House any harm or cause injury? Who thinks it would?
I am not saying it is bad, but I think that there is a little difficulty because the House of Commons procedure is not quite as flexible as all that. If the Motion were withdrawn tonight, a Ballot would take place tomorrow. Thus, what my hon. Friend is suggesting, and which I fully support. would just not be possible.
Many hon. Members are extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling the Amendment. He has done a great service to the House. I assure him that the House is much more flexible than he thinks. I am inclined to vote against the Motion. I am not urging, exciting, any other hon. Members, but that is my inclination, although I appreciate that a lot of people do not take my advice. I do not complain about that. But whether or not we vote the Motion down, the Government could deal with the matter differently.
It is all very well for the Leader of the House to shake his head and say that this is flexible. If we defeat the Government today, the Ballot would go ahead. That would not be the end of the world either. It would be a quite amusing situation.
I am not quite sure whether that is the case. If it is, I am interested to hear the proposition; my right hon. Friend might persuade me not to vote against it. I presume that he will have a chance of putting his case again. But I do not think that that is really the case.
What the Government could do, if they wanted, whatever happens to the Motion tonight, is to come to the House next week and say that we will have more time for Government business between now and the end of July and more time for private Members as well. If the Government cannot decide that, they are not fit to govern the country. They could decide that perfectly well. They could decide it by shaking up some of the old customs, by changing the times when we meet and by saying that they will alter immediately the kind of ways in which the Government operate their business. That is the kind of way in which it could be done.
My right hon. Friend could find time within a matter of hours to get through this House Measures for dealing with Rhodesia. He could do it within a few hours through this House and another place, even though a lot of people did not like it. If he says to me that a Government which can do that cannot find much more time to provide all the available facilities for private Members to do what they want, I do not believe it.
The whole thing must be shaken up. The whole perspective must be altered. A lot of people say to me that I am an old reactionary because I am not in favour of transferring the affairs of this House to a lot of committees elsewhere. I am not in favour of doing it because it is one way of destroying effective business in the House of Commons. Of course, I am in favour of altering the business of the House of Commons so that we can get things through much more efficiently and effectively. Of course it could be done.
I therefore plead with the Government not to go on in this old stodgy fashion, which is what they have been doing since the beginning of this Parliament, coming back as if everything is the same. Things are not the same. We have a 97 majority for one thing. We have a different Parliament. It is not a laughing matter. That is what people voted and campaigned for. A lot of people who voted for this party voted principally because of its major measures about international and economic affairs, but they also voted for it because they say, with every justice, that it is a Liberal Party in the proper sense of the term.
For ten years, hon. Members opposite voted against any reform of racial discrimination laws—not the Liberal Party; they voted on our side. The rest of them, however, voted against the Measure introduced by my former hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough, the then Mr. Fenner Brockway, year after year. But we have had an abortive measure for dealing with that. Let us have a proper measure for dealing with it, the Measure introduced originally by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool for protecting the rights of people in private, preventing them being subjected to intolerable tyrannies. Why should this go on?
Why should we have to wait for people to be subjected to tyranny because we say that we have not got time in the House? Of course we have time. Why do not the Government make time? Change the procedures to get the time. We are not content that the Government should say that they are going to proceed with all the Measures which they produced before, and they will give only a slight concession so that half the time will be given to Private Members' Bills.
It is ridiculous even to suggest that half the time should be given to Private Members' Motions as compared with Private Members' Bills. Bills are better than Motions. Let us get the Bills through. Let us not merely get them through, but let us have an assurance from the Government that they will reexamine the whole method of private Members' time. Let us have proper guarantees that when Measures are passed by the considered opinion of this House on a Second Reading—Measures such as we have had to liberate individual people in this country from tyrannies and from police action against them—they will become law. According to this House it is just that people should be liberated from those actions, but the procedures of the House of Commons say "No". We are not prepared to tolerate people being denied their rights, so change the procedure.
We are now merely asking in moderate terms, but as the weeks go by we shall demand, that the Government change the procedures so that the things which are agreed by this House shall be translated into law, so that the liberties of the people of this country shall be properly protected, so that the opinions of the majority of the elected representatives of this country shall be translated into law. That is what we want to see, and we want an assurance from the Leader of the House that he will go back to the Cabinet and tell them that this is what the House of Commons wants. In my opinion, that is the way we should vote tonight, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will get up and respond to what I have said.
I am a supporter of the Government, but I want to see this great Government proceeding much faster. I want to see them change the procedures. I am not content with the old methods. I want to see them putting things into law day after day and week after week to show the people of this country that something is happening in this House of Commons. I say that, above all, because I believe in this House of Commons. I believe that that is the right way to govern people.
If we are to be told that the old procedures say, "Oh no, you cannot do it that way, you have to wait until the autumn", that is the way to destroy what I believe we have here, which is democratic government. This is what we want to protect. I am prepared to fight for my political rights, and therefore I trust that the Government will get some sense of urgency into the way in which they deal with these things, and will have some sense of responsibility for the people who are injured by the kind of laws which we still maintain, and the old methods which we maintain. Let us clear them up. That is what we voted for. That is what the country voted for. That is why my right hon. Friend is there, so let us see that we do it.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) began, I thought, as the fugleman of the Executive, but later in his speech he turned to become the tribune of the plebs, and I found him much more agreeable in this rôle. I cannot help thinking that when the hon. Gentleman commenced his speech he was at least accusing the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) of not being present, but later he said that this was not the case. I doubt very much whether he can reconcile that with his remarks. In so far as the later part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to an attack on his Government for their failure to move with the times and for their failure to respond to the mood of the House, I wholly agree with him.
I believe that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) was right in saying that there are many matters of personal and social importance which can best be dealt with by individual Members. But I go further than either of the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the House has to think again fundamentally about its whole rôle, which is to take part in the decision-making process of government before decisions are made, and I wholly support this attempt tonight to stand up for the rights of individual back-bench Members. Looking at the Front Benches, it is very notable that, on the Government Front Bench, there is a preponderance of people who are engaged, either as Leader of the House or as Chief Whip, in maintaining a certain discipline in their party.
On the Opposition Front Bench, there is a notable gap, if I may point to it, between the Chief Whip, who is a most admirable man, with a certain duty to perform—though that duty does not embrace encouraging back benchers to be particularly resilient or independent—and the far end of the bench. Half of the Conservative Party is missing, because there is a conspiracy, an agreement, nowadays between the Front Benches against the rest of the House. It is convenient, as everyone knows, for the Front Benches to maintain the view that we are the patient oxen, that our duty is to troop through the Lobbies voting with our feet but not with our heads.
Perhaps this is convenient, but it is certainly the death of Parliament. I am not certain whether tonight is a suitable occasion for deploying the whole case for a fundamental reappraisal of the rôle of the House of Commons in the 20th century, but it is certainly a suitable occasion for standing up for the view that Parliament at least has the duty to maintain its position against that of the Executive, that it should be better informed, that it should have more opportunities for raising matters which are inconvenient to the Executive.
Many of these matters, which have been mentioned earlier—abortion, homosexuality and the whole question of capital punishment—are matters which were rightly raised by back benchers. If we had waited for an official pronouncement on these matters we should have waited a very long time.
Therefore, whatever may be said about whether we are now being presented with only a minimal diminution in our traditional amount of time in this House is irrelevant. I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that it is not a question of harking back to what happened in the past 10 or 15 years. It is a question of looking forward to what we ought to be doing in the next 5, 10 or 15 years. In this period we should be reasserting the view of this House that it has a much bigger part to play in the general government of this country than it has been allowed to do up to date and, in particular, that it has a right to an increased amount of time in which back benchers may draw attention to these matters which, if they do not deal with them, will not be dealt with at all.
I am afraid that we are deluding ourselves if we suppose that, if we give up our time or accept the minimal amount now allowed, the Government will deal with these matters. They will not, because they are unpopular matters: they are matters on which it is difficult to get agreement between the individual parties in the House and are therefore matters which cut across parties and on which we can get a consensus only by having a coalition not among the parties but among the individual Members.
Therefore, I hope that we shall, tonight, maintain the view that the House of Commons has a much more important rôle to play in government than it has been allowed to play up to now. Tonight we are arguing in theory about a very narrow issue, but, although on this issue our rights are not being greatly infringed, they are not being extended and it is extension of our rights which we want.
What we want tonight is to affirm the view that the individual Members of the House—elected by constituencies and not by parties—are here to raise issues of importance not only, possibly, to the great majority of people but to big minorities in this country who recognise that they should be raised and debated in the House. Therefore, I am very glad to be here tonight. I am very glad to be here as a back-bench Member of the House, maintaining the rights of the House as against the Front Benches. At the end of the day I hope to vote for the point of view that we should not simply accept what was good enough for the last 10 or 15 years but should look forward to the next 5, 10 or 15 years.
In that relationship we have to think of an entirely new rôle for the House. If we go on as at present, not only shall we lose the respect of the country but we shall be defeating the whole purpose of electing a House of Commons. The whole purpose is that the House shall raise matters of all sorts of importance to our constituents and shall not simply be a rubber stamp for whatever Government are in power. We shall be expected to bring informed criticism to bear on the Government and to take into our own hands to a greater extent than has been possible in the last 15 years the atmosphere and the general outlook of politics in this country. That can be done only by allotting more time than is now possible to the rights of private Members.
It may be convenient if I reply to the debate at this point. One or two things which I say may be of some help. In the first place, may I take the point made by the Leader of the Liberal Party about the usual channels. I should not like it to be thought for one moment that the usual channels do anything other than a service to Parliament, while at the same time serving their parties. It comes rather amiss from the right hon. Gentleman because he knows as well as I do that he is very anxious that his party should get into the discussions through the usual channels.
May I make a general point on hours of sittings, which is not perhaps concerned with this Motion. The Prime Minister said in speaking in the debate on the Gracious Speech, and it has been said on another occasion, that it is our intention to ask the Select Committee on Procedure to continue their discussions in this matter. They made some researches to see what could be done about hours of sittings. I am not suggesting that this means morning sittings, or late finishing. It simply means hours of sittings. I hope that they will undertake this research pretty quickly and report to the House so that we may see what can be done—and for debate in the House. I hope as a result not only to provide rather better hours for hon. Members generally but additional time.
We have heard a great deal during the debate about the curtailment of the rights of back-bench Members and about taking away the rights of back-bench Members. Without seeking for one moment to be controversial about this I remind the House—and this applies to hon. Members on both sides of the House—that the rights of hon. Members, whether Government or Opposition, whether back-bench or Front-Bench Members, are contained within our Standing Orders. Private Members' time is governed by Standing Order No. 5, which makes it clear that the amount of time available in a Session is 20 days, 10 for Private Members' Bills and 10 for Motions. It is wrong to talk about curtailment when in fact the Government have offered—I have offered this on their behalf—an increase in that amount of four days. It may be argued, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) in his Amendment, that this is not sufficient time, but it is not accurate to say that there has been a curtailment.
The point was made that between now and the end of July there are 12 Fridays available. There are not, because if the Ballot took place tomorrow, under the Standing Order Bills could not be presented for about four or five weeks. This is to give hon. Members who are successful in the Ballot an opportunity of choosing their subjects. Further than that, there is contingency and essential legislation—not necessarily party legislation but the sort of Bills that any Government have to get through. They have to be through the House by 31st July, and certain Fridays will be used for this purpose.
Let me make it absolutely clear what I have offered to the House. I said—I hope frankly and clearly—that although the Motion on the Order Paper does not do it, I have had second thoughts, and what I am offering to the House, as I said at the beginning, is not an additional overall number of days—the Government must adhere to that figure—but, to help hon. Members—and I hope, to help the Government, because some Private Members' Bills are of great help to the Government, too—some emanate from Government Departments, as has been said—two Bill days and two Motion days shall be taken before 31st July. This is the maximum we could possibly get in.
That does not mean that one would then have to wait—as my Motion says—until the autumn for the Ballot. It means that the Ballot could take place within 7 to 10 days. Within the prescribed time, the Bills could be presented, and there would then be two Bill days before the end of July, and two Motion days. In addition, hon. Members could, after the presentation of the Bills, begin in the normal way to introduce their Ten Minute Bills. This, in my view, is the best we can possibly do at the present time.
On the question of the overall position of the Government, perhaps I may be allowed to say this. It may not give much help or pleasure to the Opposition, though I am sure that it will to the Government benches, but I have more than enough legislation for five years, not one Session of Parliament—
If there are four days available, and since I think that most hon. Members would prefer Bill days to Motion days, would my right hon. Friend make it four Bill days instead of two and two?
I am prepared to look at that suggestion, if the House wishes, but I would remind the House when we got towards the end and there were a number of Fridays on Motions, it might then be felt that more time should be devoted to Bills, but we should already have taken a decision on 10 Bill days. If therefore, we take four days before the end of July—and, as I say, I am quite prepared to look at that idea—it will leave only six—
May we have this quite clear? Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he will take four days from after the Summer Recess and put them before the Recess, but that the amount of net gain to the private Member is precisely nothing?
The amount of net gain to the private Member is precisely what the Prime Minister said it would be—four Fridays in addition to the 20 days within Standing Order No. 5. That is certainly less than would be provided by the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central, but it is four Fridays additional to the normal allocation of private Members' time in the normal Session.
I am not quite sure that my right hon. Friend has grasped the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) a moment ago. The point is that many of us on this side—and, I believe, on the other side—would be prepared to do quite a lot to assist my right hon. Friend with regard to losing Private Members' Motion days if we could have them replaced by legislation days. What we want is a difference in the proportion—not merely four days brought forward and replaced by four Private Members' Motion days after the Summer Recess, as my right hon. Friend says, but the four legislation days instead of the four Motion days.
Perhaps I could, in addition, put a question to the right hon. Gentleman, because we would like to get this matter clear. He says that he is offering the House four extra days, but this, surely, means four extra days in a Session which is one and a half times as long as usual, and we have lost a whole Session's Private Members' Bills already. Therefore, on balance, the private Member is worse off.
There are occasions, of course, when private Members are much worse off than this, as I indicated when I moved the Motion. One occasion was in 1955 and another was for three years, from 1945 to 1948 in the first Labour Government after the war when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) pointed out, there was no private Members' time at all.
I am quite prepared to look at the question of the allocation of Bills and Motions within the figure of 24. I think I would be in some difficulty if we went too far with Bills because many hon. Members also regard Motions as important. I am prepared to look at that as I am prepared to look at the question of how many Bills we can take within the four days before the end of July. I cannot go further than that, and I hope that we can now come to a decision.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's concessions are at all good enough. I do not think that he has gone far enough. It has been pointed out that 36 Bills were pending in the last Parliament and five had reached Committee stage.
I hope that all in favour of private Members' time and rights being safeguarded, including the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) who made a startling speech against the Government tonight, will vote against the Government on this issue. This is a very important occasion. I hope in particular that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will vote against the Government in support of his own speech. I did not intend to intervene in this debate except for two points raised by the hon. Member when I was temporarily out of the Chamber. During the course of his speech he appeared to suggest that I had not attended this debate. That is quite untrue. He is usually a very courteous hon. Member. As he was completely incorrect, will he withdraw the suggestion?
If the hon. Member was here when I said that he was not here, of course I will withdraw. If I suggested that he was not attending the debate when he should have been, I am prepared to withdraw, but I did not raise the Question. It was raised by someone else and I looked to see if the hon. Member was in his place. I did not see him there and made the comments which I thought at the time were perfectly justified.
The hon. Member admits that he was incorrect and I accept what he said.
I attempted to introduce a Private Member's Bill in March, 1965. It might have been introduced 13 years ago. I quite accept that and I wish it had been introduced before, but no hon. Member opposite attempted to introduce a Bill on the subject of non-pensioners. The Government deliberately blocked that Bill on 26th March by a frustration of private Members' rights on the blackest of Fridays we are ever likely to talk about. It was very dangerous indeed that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale should have referred to my Private Member's Bill of all Bills. It was the only Bill deliberately filibustered by a Government for a very long time.
There may be others who wish to introduce Private Members' Bills in future. For that reason, the sooner we have the Ballot for Private Members' Bills, the better, so that a Private Member's Bill on the subject of non-pensioners can be introduced again.
It seems that a deal of hypocrisy is sometimes talked about Private Members' Motions and Bills. It is legitimate to say that over the years Governments of all parties have been cutting down private Members' time, but it is not fair solely to blame Governments for the erosion of private Members' time. Not least responsible are back benchers who put their names in the Ballot without having any idea of the Motion or Bill they would put forward if successful. Not least responsible are back benchers who put forward Bills they have obtained from the Whips on this or the other side of the House.
I heard many cheers for the admittedly admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), but those cheers often came at a point when he was criticising an item in the Motion which exactly followed precedents set by previous Governments, many of them from the party opposite. The reasons for the suspicion, if one may put it that way, that has been aroused by the original terms of the Motion are simple. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central said, without the guidance of the neutral Officers of the House, he would never have been able to find his way through the tangle of procedure. However, I cannot follow my hon. Friend all the way when he said that he hoped my right hon. Friend would take the Whips off. The Whips were never put on. If they had been, there would have been far more notice given. This Motion has had the shortest possible period of notice that could be given. This is not fair on back benchers, irrespective of who puts the Motion down.
The second point about this original Motion is that it gives additional time. My right hon. Friend is quite right and, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central, I think he is incorrect. If there was not a Motion there would not be any extra time. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is right in that. But what excites our suspicions about the original Motion is that the whole of the period before the Summer Recess related to private Members' Motions. Even if one wholly accepts, as most hon. Members on this side of the House would accept, the proportions of time that should be devoted to Government business and to private Members' business, I have to ask: why should the whole of the proportion devoted to private Members' business before the Summer Recess be devoted to Motions and not to legislation? Could it possibly be because legislation is, as it is rightly described, an Act of this Parliament that affects somebody, whereas a Motion is merely a piece of publicity and propaganda?
I am glad to see that the Leader of the House has offered some concession on the point that I have just mentioned. But if the proportions of private Members' time as between Motions and legislation were to be as they have been suggested originally, why put all the Motions at the commencement of the Session? The important point is that some Bills should get their Second Reading so that they can go into Committee and not be blocked for shortage of time. Why put all the Motions at the beginning of the period? Why not put the legislation at the beginning and at the end for the final passage of Bills, and put the Private Members' Motions in the middle?
This Motion as originally constructed was designed to ensure that this House passed as little private Members' legislation as possible and to use such private Members' time as there was for idle discussion of issues which would not result in an Act of Parliament. This has excited a little suspicion amongst many of us.
I am glad that the Leader of the House, with his usual adaptability, has said that he will take these points into consideration. If he does, I think the House will be willing to give him the amount of time he requires. The question of the 24 days is not so much the issue here. The real point is that we should be able to do something useful with those 24 days so that, as hon. Members have said, we should be enabled to assist our constituents by passing legislation that affects their lives.
I am not anxious to detain the House for very long at this hour, but I confess that the second speech of the Leader of the House did not seem to me to go so far as back benchers on both sides of the House would have liked it to go. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was clearly right when he said that if the Government really wanted to do this thing, if they really care as much for private Members' legislation as they do for the least measure of their own legislation, they would get this matter organised like a shot. They never have any difficulty about arranging things to get their own business through, and they could arrange it for the convenience of private Members if they really wanted to do so.
It is always a little discouraging having to be beastly to the Leader of the House because he always manages to give us the impression that, though he is an ex-Chief Whip, his heart is in the right place, and we do know that he is anxious to help us. But if he would be a little more anxious and a little less despondent about the prospects of doing it, I feel sure, as did the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, that he could do it.
I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that the most alarming feature of the Government's proposals is that we are being given no chance whatever to get Bills through Second Reading and into the pipeline at an early enough stage to avoid a very long postponement of any effective private Members' legislation.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) both tried to provide alibis for the Government in this respect by talking about the amount of time given to the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill in the last Parliament. But this is not a relevant argument today. That was, incidentally, a Bill which the party opposite was committed to, it was forecast in the Queen's Speech, and it was to all intents and purposes a Government Bill. I supported it myself, and I am making no party point here. But the fact that the Government gave their own time to a particular Private Member's Bill and they found it more convenient to let a private Member pilot a controversial Measure through in their own time does not absolve them now from giving private Members their rights in legislation during this Session.
Various hon. Members have spoken of great measures of social reform which only private Members can carry through. Some of these are extremely controversial, for instance, on capital punishment, homosexuality and abortion, which in some of its aspects can be a pretty controversial subject. But what I urge on the House and the Government is that there are many measures which do not arouse any of the passions which some of those arouse but which are of enormous importance to very small minority groups and to individuals in this country. There are measures for the protection of consumers. There are small measures which will never get into Government business, which may be in a Department's pigeonhole for five or ten years, but which the private Member can get through and, sometimes, get through quite quickly.
We are not talking here only of Bills which have a controversial Second Reading debate and a long Committee stage, perhaps being voted on at both Second Reading and Third Reading. There are many Bills which can be got through with virtually no Amendment, except on quite small technical points in Committee, but which make minor reforms for which small minorities or voluntary organisations have been campaigning for years. We are now discussing our only opportunity for doing these things. The Government, naturally, cannot and will not find time for these very small things. But they should not take away from us the chance to do it. Whatever they may have done for the Bill to abolish capital punishment in the last Session affords no excuse for trying to whittle away our rights today.
In a Session as long as the Government are promising us this time, 24 days for private Members is not enough. We lost all our Bills in the last Parliament. We are to have an enormously long Session, and we are being given only four more days in this time. It is not adequate compensation. One can understand the Leader of the House saying that it is all very embarrassing for the Government. But we must reply, as private Members, that we are not responsible for the Government's embarrassment in this respect. They chose the date of the General Election. It was they who decided not to have a Ballot tomorrow. None of this is our fault, and it is up to them to arrange matters to give us our rights and to enable us to get our Bills under way in proper time. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said, they could do it if they really wanted to enough. I hope that they will show that they do want to enough. If they do not, I hope that the House will show them in the Division Lobby that they ought to.
Along with other hon. Members, I profoundly regret that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House found it necessary to introduce his Motion. I am not so much concerned as to whether we are given two extra days for Bills or four for Motions or Bills of private Members. I oppose the Motion on the ground that it attacks some of the fundamental rights of back benchers.
Not so many days ago the Prime Minister, in opening the debate on the Address, recognised that back benchers are not being made use of, that they ought to be given greater and better opportunities. Within a few days of that recognition, something for which right hon. and hon. Members had fought for years, the Leader of the House comes along with a proposition treating private Members' time with utter contempt, his attitude being "If something has to go, let private Members' time go, almost first, for a burton".
As a new Member of Parliament in the 1964 Parliament, I remember being immensely shocked to discover how little influence a private Member has upon Supply—the amount of money that we vote for the Government. I was shattered to discover that a Supplementary Vote for £60 million was going to be passed by the House on the nod. When I made inquiries about how this was, I was told that that, too, was arranged through the usual channels. Unfortunately, I have not had time to make inquiries as to when it was that private Members—who were elected in the first instance to make sure that the Supply for which the Government ask is really needed—gave up that right. Was it also on this kind of procedural Motion one day that private Members lost that right of controlling Government Supply?
At a time when reform of Parliament is seriously in the air, and at a time when the Leader of the House is anxious to help back benchers play a bigger and better rôle in national affairs, can he not be big enough to admit that it was utterly wrong to introduce a Motion of this kind which takes some of the few rights and prerogatives that private Members have? If my right hon. Friend is unwilling or unable to withdraw the Motion, and should he cause my hon. Friends on this side to divide the House on it, then I shall, with the deepest regret, have to vote against it.
I would briefly offer to the Leader of the House one or two new thoughts at this late stage. I feel that he started off in the wrong frame of mind when he tried almost to mislead the House in suggesting that we are in a comparable position with 1955. He talked about the election taking place in the spring. It was high summer—24th May—when we fought our campaigns and the country went to the polls.
I want to put to the Leader of the House some figures about the number of days that have been offered. What he is offering, even at his most generous, is 24 instead of 40. With regard to the Bills which were lost in the last Session, I put it to him also that he could find the extra days for which we have all been asking by being a little more helpful about some of the Bills which reached an advanced stage—Government Bills, contentious Measures—in the last Parliament. If he were prepared to be a little graceful and open to some of the Amendments that have been tabled, those Measures need not take so long passing through the new Parliament, even though the Government have what they are pleased to call a steam-roller majority.
If we are to have the present Session messed up, as the last Session of this Parliament will probably be messed up, there will only be three decent Sessions for private Members' legislation and that is a poor state of affairs. We have heard from the Prime Minister that various Parliamentary reforms are mooted, including such things as morning sittings and push-button voting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "hear, hear", but who will benefit from this streamlining? It will be the Government—not private Members. In making our proceedings more expeditious it will be the Government's business that will go through more quickly. It will help the Government and not private Members. It will make it easier for the Government to proliferate legislation.
I want to put a thought to hon. Members who care as much as I do about private Members' rights. Perhaps it is not procedure that needs modernising or altering. Perhaps it is rather the case that private Members are not skilful enough in using the existing procedure. One has only to look round to see some hon. Members who are very skilful. Whenever they wish to raise a matter they nearly always find a way.
For example, there are the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). One recalls how the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) on a Supply day got in before the Front Benches and made his point. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) is also skilled in using our procedure, as are some of my hon. Friends—and I am too modest to mention so many on this side of the House. It is hon. Members who are often at fault. Let us move cautiously on suggestions that we should tinker with our procedures. Let us, rather, look more clearly at what we have.
This debate has taken place on the assumption that the Government are seeking to take private Members' time for ever. The Motion does not say so. It asks that the Government may take private Members' time up to the Recess. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot)—that this is a great Government.
I invite my hon. Friends to recall that the Government have a great plan and that the object of the Motion is to give the Government time to implement it as far as possible before the Recess. For that reason I ask my hon. Friends to realise that the National Plan is a great plan and that the Government desire to implement as much of it as possible before the recess. I ask them to support the Motion.
Does the hon. and learned Member recollect what he said in 1955 on a similar Motion?
Today the Prime Minister made the shocking announcement that private Members' time is to be taken by the Government from now until the Summer Recess."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 138.]
It is all very well for the hon. Member to refer to what has been said in the past. I have made it clear that this Motion is designed for a special purpose. The Government are asking to take private Members' time only up to the coming Recess. I draw the attention of the House to the first paragraph of the Motion and—
The exchanges which have just occurred between my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) illustrate that there is an inexorable routine about this Motion to which I would be the first to subscribe. I would willingly agree that it is a Motion liable to come from any Government and to be opposed in a certain way by any Opposition. None the less, despite the very courteous speech from the Lord President of the Council in answer to the debate, I still remain in sympathy with the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr).
The single point which I want to make to the Leader of the House is that on the whole there are reasons why this Amendment is more in his favour than he thinks. But, before I illustrate that, I must take up a matter raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) who implied that the record of the Government in the last Parliament had in some way indicated some indulgence towards private Members and the use of their time. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) has made it quite clear that the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill is the worst example which hon. Members could use to illustrate their point. On the other hand, it is probably the best illustration which I can bring forward for mine.
That Bill was mentioned in the Gracious Speech of the time and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne had made it part of his own policy, but it was given to the hon. Gentleman very conveniently for very good reasons, and it could not possibly be said to fall into the category of Private Members' Bills within the terms in which we are discussing them tonight. On the other hand, it indicated—and this is the point I want to make to the Leader of the House—the great value to the Government of the day of private Members' legislation.
On that account, there is no doubt from all the statistics that the private Member is the loser from what the Leader of the House is proposing, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that. He will be the loser if not in time then in terms of Bills, because those Bills which were running up to the time of the election are now lost, including a Bill which will be memorable to all hon. Members and which I opposed, which we may not see again for a considerable period, but which many will regard as a loss. There is no way of arguing round this. The fact is that in terms of Bills, private Members have suffered a deprivation.
What hon. Members on the back benches have resented most in the course of the debate is the feeling that legislation which they may propose is expendable and that what they have to offer the House is something which the Leader of the House and the Government of the day may treat with a certain indulgence if they feel so inclined, but which is expendable if the Government's commitments are such and such. This is something which private Members feel is to be not only resented but unjustified by fact.
I do not want to enter the argument about whether we do better with more days on Bills and fewer days on Motions. My own inclination is that Private Members' Bills are more valuable than Private Members' Motions. I would say that Motions were more embarassing to the Government and that Private Members' Bills more often were helpful. I would therefore have thought that the Government would plump for the Bills. But without altering the balance, and we must be careful not to alter precedent for future occasions, I would have said that this was a finely balanced argument.
In the end, the Government will be the loser by this Motion, because the Government have a great use to make of private Members' legislation. Every hon. Member knows what happens when he is fortunate in the Ballot. He may have a good idea of his own or may have one offered to him. But, failing anything else, he can have recourse to a Government Department which has a wide variety of miscellaneous Measures, some very useful, some very small, which would wait for years unless a private Member took them up, sometimes doing something of great value not only for the Department but for society at large.
This has been the history of many Private Members' Bills in recent years. But beyond that the Government are often able to use private Members for Measures which the Government are not themselves anxious to introduce. I will not illustrate this because it might show prejudice against certain Measures which have more recently been introduced. However, illustrations have been given where both Governments have thought it advisable for private Members to advance a cause to see what would happen. In respect of both miscellaneous Measures which lay dormant in Government Departments year after year until private Members take them up and Measures which the Government funk, to put it crudely, the private Member has an invaluable function to fulfil and a function closely identified with the interests of the Government.
I beg the Leader of the House not to allow us to think that we are, in a sense, an expendable factor in the use of Government time but to acknowledge that if there is to be a loss incurred, it will be shared with private Members by the Government. I believe that before the next 18 months are out the right hon. Gentleman will have cause to regret the Motion.
Unusual though it may be, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider speaking briefly for a third time to clarify the undertaking which he gave. When I interrupted him during his second speech he said that he would look at the proposal of rearranging the four Fridays so that instead of having two Bills and two Motions we could perhaps have four Bills.
Since then, what appeared to be an extremely valid point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) when he pointed out that it is much more important to get Bills started early in the Session because of the process of legislation. We could then perfectly well have Motions later in the Session. Would my right hon. Friend comment on that suggestion?
said that I was prepared to look at the suggestion that we take the four days before 31st July for Bills—all of them for Bills. At the same time, I remind the House that if we do that we will have six days left after the Summer Recess for Bills and hon. Members will be in a difficulty which must be faced. It is that when one has taken those six days, there will be no opportunity for Bills. That comes under Standing Order No. 13—Ten Minute Rule Bills getting into Committee. This is one difficulty of taking all Bills together, but the House may be prepared to face that.
|Division No. 1.]||AYES||[12.44 a.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Albu, Austen||Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Anderson, Donald||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hynd, John|
|Archer, Peter||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dewar, D. C.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Ashley, Jack||Dobson, Ray||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Doig, Peter||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Dunnett, Jack||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Barnes, Michael||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Judd, Frank|
|Baxter, William||Eadie, Alex||Kelley, Richard|
|Beaney, Alan||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Bence, Cyril||Ellis, John||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Ensor, David||Kimball, Marcus|
|Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Finch, Harold||Lipton, Marcus|
|Binns, John||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Bishop, E. S.||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Loughlln, Charles|
|Blackburn, F.||Ford, Ben||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Forrester, John||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Boardman, H.||Fraser, J. D. (Norwood)||McBride, Neil|
|Booth, Albert||Gardner, A. J.||McCann, John|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Garrett, W. E.||MacColl, James|
|Boyden, James||Garrow, Alex||MacDermot, Niall|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Macdonald, A. H.|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Gourlay, Harry||McGuire, Michael|
|Brooks, Edwin||Gregory, Arnold||McKay, Mrs. Margaret|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Grey, Charles||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Hannan, William||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Buchan, Norman||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||McNamara, J. K.|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'bum)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||MacPherson, Malcolm|
|Cant, R. B.||Haseldine, Norman||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hattersley, Roy||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hazell, Bert||Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Coe, Denis||Henig, Stanley||Manuel, Archie|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hilton, W. S.||Marquand, David|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hooley, Frank||Mason, Roy|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Howie, W.||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hoy, James||More, Jasper|
|Davidson, A. (Accrington)|
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Murray, Albert||Robinson, W. 0. J. (Walth'stow, E.)||Wallace, George|
|Norwood, Christopher||Rose, Paul||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|O'Malley, Brian||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Whitaker, Ben|
|Oram, Albert E.||Ryan, John||Whitlock, William|
|Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Sheldon, Robert||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Palmer, Arthur||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Silkin, John (Deptford)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Pavitt, Laurence||Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Pentland, Norman||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)||Slater, Joseph||Winnick, David|
|Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||Small, William||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Snow, Julian||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)||Spriggs, Leslie||Woof, Robert|
|Probert, Arthur||Swingler, Stephen||Yates, Victor|
|Randall, Harry||Symonds, J. B.|
|Redhead, Edward||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Reynolds, C. W.||Tinn, James||Mr. George Lawson and|
|Rhodes, Geoffrey||Urwin, T. W.||Mr. Alan Fitch|
|Richard, Ivor||Varley, Eric G.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Gresham Cooke, R.||Neave, Airey|
|Awdry, Daniel||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Bessell, Peter||Hunt, John||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Braine, Bernard||Iremonger, T. L.||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Taylor, Edward M. (G'Gow, Cathcart)|
|Cooke, Robert||Jopling, Michael||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Crouch, D. L.||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Kirk, Peter||Worsley, W. M.|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Younger, Hn. George|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Macmillan, Malcolm (Farnham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fortescue, Tim||Maude, Angus||Sir Charles Taylor and|
|Foster, Sir John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Mr. Graham Page|
This, surely, is the most extraordinary display of pusillanimity that we have ever seen in this House. We heard the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) move his Amendment with great eloquence, and receive support from both sides of the House, only to find that he not only did not support it in the Lobby, but, I believe, voted against it. He has apparently suffered a change of opinion on account of the noises made by the Leader of the House in his speech. But those noises simply consisted in advancing two days for Private Members' Motions from the part of the Session after the Recess to that before the Recess. There will be no total increase in time, and those two days will give the chance for only one or two Bills to get through during the whole of the calendar year 1966.
When one considers the eloquence with which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) amused the House, his passion for Parliamentary reform, his impassioned plea to his right hon. Friend to adopt the Amendment, to accelerate the progress of this vital legislation through the House, and then we see the whole of the party opposite trooping through the Lobbies like some great stage army—
I would not wish to delay the House at this stage except perhaps to remind the Leader of the House, on this question of the Motion, of some of his own words. I have here the election address of the right hon. Gentleman at the last election. He said in it:
It has been impossible to govern with such a small Parliamentary lead.
It goes on:
… but the small Parliamentary majority is a great handicap to our work.
Now he has his large Parliamentary majority. Now he has the chance to give the House the opportunity to have the reforms which all his supporters want and he puts before the House tonight a Motion which virtually squeezes out any
chance of one single Private Member's Bill of any dimension becoming law in the calendar year 1966.
I believe that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was right on the principle. I do not agree with all his selection of the various Bills, but it is extraordinary that, having been given this opportunity for which the right hon. Gentleman appealed in his election address, he can do no better than this.
In large red letters at the end of that address, he said:
It is people who matter.
Yet what are these Bills about? They are about people, about people who might be affected, about non-pensioners, about people who might be guilty of homosexuality unless such Bills were put forward. If the Leader of the House really believes that it is people who matter, he would do well to withdraw the Motion and bring forward some other Motion tomorrow which would still be in time and which would have general consent—
Does the hon. Gentleman want me to withdraw the Motion tonight? Does he really want that, with the result of a Ballot tomorrow, the presentation of Bills in five weeks—full stop, with no allocation of time for Bills or Motions unless the Government take subsequent action?
It seems to me that, the right hon. Gentleman having voted against that Amendment, which I do not want to debate, this puts the House in an extremely difficult position, because we cannot now express our wish to have more time for private Members. The Leader of the House has put us in a position where we virtually have to accept his Motion, which has been condemned by no fewer than 20 hon. Members. Only one spoke in favour of it—the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), who has proved to have changed his opinion from that quotation of his views in an earlier debate, given by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page).
The Leader of the House has led us into an impasse. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman to get us out of it. It is not for me. I cannot tell him whether to put down a Motion tomorrow. But he is well aware of the feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House, for 19 out of 20 who have been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, have condemned the Motion, half on this side of the House and half on the other side of the House. The Leader of the Liberal Party, who has left us, was of the same opinion.
I hope that before we leave the subject the Leader of the House will bring forward some suggestion which will appease the very just and proper desires of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I leave with him the final words of his own election address, that it is "people who matter".
I believe that the Leader of the House may have left out of the Motion one word, the omission of which would mean that no Private Bill could be introduced into the House—including local authority Bills—until after the Summer Adjournment. The Motion reads,
save as provided in this Order, Government business shall have precedence at every Sitting until the Summer Adjournment and no bills other than Government bills shall be introduced.
I think that he meant to say "no Public Bills other than Government Bills," but the wording of the Motion is that no Bills of any kind may be introduced. Is it his wish that no Private Bills shall be introduced until after the Summer Adjournment? I should be delighted to listen to his reply.