Before I call the Leader of the House to move the Motion I thought that it would help hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House if I indicated at the outset of the debate which Amendments I have selected. The House will appreciate that the Chair has been faced with some difficult decisions in selecting which of the 52 Amendments for the Government's allocation of time should be called.
I should explain to the House why it did not prove practical to select certain of these Amendments. In any proposal to restrict the time of the House, put forward by the Government, it would seem proper to give the Opposition the right to oppose and, for that reason I have not selected Amendments of any Government supporters, especially as many of them would place further restrictions upon the Opposition.
Secondly, it is necessary for me to up-hold the rule of relevancy and to avoid, on a Motion relating to the allocation of time, calling any Amendments which might more properly be debated on the Bill itself. For that reason, among others,
That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Selective Emplyoment Payment Bills:
|5 1. The Proceedings in Committee on the Bill shall be completed in three allotted days, and shall be brought to a conclusion at the times shown in the following Table:—|
|Day||Proceedings||Time for Conclusion|
|First allotted day||Clause 1||7.30|
|Second allotted day||Clause 2 so far as not already disposed of.||6.30|
|Clauses 3 and 4||9.00|
|Clauses 5 and 6||11.30|
|Clauses 7 and 8||6.00|
|15||Third allotted day||Clauses 9 to 12||8.30|
|New Clauses, Schedules and new Schedules.||11.30|
|Report and Third Reading|
|20||2. The Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in one allotted day and—|
|(a) the Proceedings on Consideration of the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion at half-past eight o'clock on that|
|25||(b) the Proceedings on Third Reading|
With these two principles chiefly in mind I have selected the following Amendments: Amendment No. 3, with which we can discuss Amendment No. 6; Amendment No. 8, with which we can discuss Amendment No. 17; Amendment No. 10, with which we can discuss Amendment Nos. 11, 12 and 13; Amendment No. 51; and Amendment No. 52.
It may assist the House if I describe the course of the debate. I shall call the Leader of the House in a moment to move the Motion standing in his name. There will then be a general debate on that Motion and at some appropriate time during the evening I will then call on the mover of the first Amendment selected to propose his Amendment to the Motion proposed by the Leader of the House. Subsequently, after all the Amendments selected have been disposed of, the main Question will again be proposed and a decision taken on that.
|Extra time on allotted days|
|30||3.—(l) On an allotted day, paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted business) shall apply to the Proceedings on the Bill for one and a half hours after ten o'clock.|
|(2) Any period during which Proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after ten o'clock under paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) shall be in addition to the said period of one and a half hours (or in addition to any longer period for which, on a Motion made under paragraph (2)(b) of the said Standing Order No. 2 that Order applies).|
|Exclusion of Standing Order No. 43|
|35||4. Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committees) shall not apply to this Order.|
|Proceedings on going into Committee|
|5. When the Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any question, notwithstanding that notice of an Instruction has been given.|
|40||Order of Proceedings in Committee|
|6. No Motion shall be made to postpone any Clause, Schedule, new Clause or new Schedule.|
|Conclusion of Proceedings in Committee|
|45||7. On the conclusion of the Proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.|
|8. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, Proceedings on the Bill shall be made on an allotted day except by a Member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.|
|50||Standing Order No. 13|
|9. Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business) shall not apply on an allotted day.|
|55||10.—(1) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o' clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by the Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the|
|60||Proceedings on the Bill or, if those Proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the completion of those Proceedings.|
|65||(2) The foregoing sub-paragraph shall not apply on a day on which a Motion is made under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance.) and no opposed private business shall be taken on such an allotted day.|
|Conclusion of Proceedings|
|70||11.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall: forthwith proceed to put the following Question (but no others), that is to say—|
|75||(a) the Question or Questions already proposed from the Chair, or necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);|
|(b) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the order paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment or Motion is moved by a member of the Government;|
|80||(c) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and on an amendment so moved, or a Motion so moved for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the question that the amendment be made, or that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.|
|(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House|
|85||(3) If, at Seven o'clock on an allotted day, any Proceedings on the Bill which, under 85 this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion or before that time have not been concluded, any Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) which, apart from this Order, would stand over to that time shall stai[...] over until those Proceedings have concluded.|
These timetable Motions are never popular with the Opposition of the day, whichever party may be in power. But the House should consider very carefully before it assumes that all forms of time-tabling are automatically wrong. We no longer regard it as wrong to timetable Prayers or to timetable Money Resolutions. The House has been anxious in past months to revise its procedure and to find more efficient ways of conducting its business at reasonable hours. One obvious way to do this is to allocate available time—and time is always in short supply—so that the very best use can be made of it.
We shall, however, no doubt be told this afternoon that the Government are trying to stifle debate—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and to force through a Measure which has not been adequately considered by the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Of course, the cheers are the normal coinage of debates on allocation of time Motions at all times.
However, this Motion does nothing of the kind, because it does not skimp debate. It provides adequate time for discussion of a major Bill and, even more important, it ensures that the time available is directed to the most important parts of that Bill. It reflects little credit on this House when, for tactical, political reasons, or for any other reason, the time of the House or of a Committee is wasted by fruitless debates on procedural matters with the express object of preventing consideration of a particular Measure.
Timetabling, whatever else may be said of it, at least prevents such tactics and it discourages interminable and excessive discussion which will always tend to bring Parliament into disrepute. But the allocation of time to the Measure under consideration must always be reasonable and adequate, and, as I have said, in the Government's view this timetable Motion is both reasonable and adequate.
There is, I know, strong feeling in many parts of the House that the opportunities for delay which the procedures of the House provide, endanger the democratic forms as we now observe them. This is no new thing. In my researches on debates on former allocation of time Motions—and there are plenty of them—I was interested to read a quotation from our old friend Mr. Chuter Ede who said:
My experience of the House has been that under no Government of modern times has legislation been too swift. The danger to Parliamentary democracy in this country is not from the speed but the slowness of the forms that were used when this country was less populous than it is…".
Timetable Motions mean that there is concentration on selected imported points, and it is a matter for the Opposition of the day, within the timetable Motion, to select those important points. The unimportant and the less important pass through fairly quickly. They prevent a few Members from behaving in a dilatory manner and delaying our proceedings.
Within the last few years, when a debate on an Amendment to the Finance Bill, for instance, has been adequately debated and both Front Bench spokesmen have spoken and the House is ready to take a decision, we have become used to the habit and custom of Members jumping up in their places and starting the discussion all over again. This is acting in a dilatory manner and it delays our proceedings.
However, I need hardly say that no Government like to have such Motions. But the decision to have this Motion had to be taken in the context of a statement attributed to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod), that at least 10 days would be required in the House to deal with the Bill. Such a request is so obviously unreasonable that I am prepared to admit that he was probably incorrectly reported. If this is so, we should perhaps rest on The Times report of 1st July that the Opposition estimate was that at least three days would be required for the Committee stage of the Bill.
The Motion does no more than the Opposition were then suggesting. We shall have three full days of debate plus an extra hour and a half each day, which is almost the equivalent of another ordinary sitting day. But the Opposition now tell us that there are more than 300 Amendments to the Selective Employment Payments Bill and that this indicates the overwhelming need for generous provision of Parliamentary time. But the number of Amendments tabled, as anyone who has been in the House for any length of time knows, is hardly a criterion to apply and it is very often misleading.
The Bill is a short one, of 12 Clauses, so it is very easy to identify the major issues which call for debate. In drawing up the Motion we have tried, on expert advice, to apportion the available time to the Clauses and Schedules according to their importance. I made it clear on Thursday, however, during the exchanges on the business statement, that if within the time available the Opposition wished
There is a large number of Amendments to this Motion on the Order Paper. Mr. Speaker has indicated his selection of them. It might help the House if I were to say that I am prepared to recommend to the House that we look sympathetically at the last two Amendments which Mr. Speaker has selected—one which adds to the time table any time taken up at 3.30 p.m. by statements, and the last one, proposing the deletion of that paragraph of the Motion dealing with grave disorder. We know that these things happen very infrequently.
I think that the Motion before the House provides a reasonable and generous amount of time. If one analyses it, it amounts to about 10 sitting days in Committee if taken upstairs, or four days' debate in Committee on the Floor of the House, when one allows for one-and-a-half hours' additional time at the end of each day.
If one reads through the debates on timetable Motions generally one finds many quotations. Everything has been said on many occasions so felicitously that one is tempted to read out former speeches. I could have done this very easily, merely substituting a reference to this Motion for the reference to the Motion previously considered. It would be easy enough to replace references to this Motion for those made by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod), when he moved his last timetable Motion.
Perhaps I may be permitted to refer to just one quotation which was made by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, in the debate on the Allocation of Time Motion in respect of the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill. This in itself was a quotation from another former Leader of the House, so that hon. Members will see that I could go to great lengths on these lines.
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe said:
It was interesting to find how a speech that had been made by one hon. Gentleman who sat on the Opposition side, was answered by himself when he sat on the Government side, in the same terms as were used by the Member of the Government who replied to him when he was in opposition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1952; vol. 504, c. 51.]
In fact, every positive charge in this field is balanced by a negative. It is customary in debates of this kind for the Opposition of the day to attack the Government on the ground that what they are doing is without precedent for one reason or another.
This type of accusation and counteraccusation seems to have little profit in it. I have been looking at the precedents. Since 1945, 18 Bills have been guillotined, 15 under Conservative Governments and three under Labour Governments. In reading the speeches on these occasions, it is surprising to note the similarity of the arguments used. The plain fact is that on each occasion the Government have felt it essential to get through important business, and no one has questioned the Government's right to do that, which, quite properly, the Opposition have been doing everything in their power to oppose.
There is, therefore, very little new to say, and I am sure that all of us, with perhaps the exception of our new colleagues, who have been here a matter of a few months, will feel, in listening to me and to the speeches during the rest of the day, that we have all been here before. Bills have been guillotined before the Committee stage. The Transport Bill is a case in point, and it is certainly not without precedent for money Bills to be subject to an allocation of Time Motion. We are not yet sure whether this is a Money Bill. That is a matter for us to decide.
In the debate on the allocation of Time Motion on the Pipe-lines Bill, in 1962 the then Leader of the House fairly set out the position when he said:
We can wait to get the Bill in the time that the Opposition think right, which, in practical terms, the House will recognise is never; or an Allocation of Time Motion must be put forward; or—and no doubt this is the course which the Opposition would prefer —the Government could drop the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1962; Vol. 662, c. 977.]
Those words were spoken by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West.
Four Money Bills have been subject to the Guillotine in the present century. I do not know what happened in the last century. My researches have not gone so far as to show whether any have been guillotined before the Committee stage.
It is, in the Government's view, essential that the Selective Employment Payments Bill should receive the Royal Assent before the Summer Recess. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will make clear why. I know that the Opposition have no love for the Bill; but they should be clear about what the Bill does before they argue that its passage should be delayed. Provision was made in the Finance Bill for the Selective Employment Tax to be levied as from 5th September. As the House knows, provision is made in the Bill which we are discussing this afternoon for repayments to be made in certain cases. Whatever right hon. and hon. Members opposite may think about the policy at issue, I should have thought that it was common ground that repayments should begin as soon as could reasonably be arranged.
It is not only difficult, but almost impossible, for arrangements to be made so that repayments can begin until the final form of the Selective Employment Payments Bill, as it emerges after the Royal Assent, is clearly known. This is not to say that the Bill should not have full and careful consideration by the House. In the Government's view, the time available in this allocation of time Motion enables it to have such consideration.
It is not for me to anticipate whether this is a money Bill. If it is certified as a Money Bill, the amount of time spent in the House of Lords will be very little indeed, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, and the Bill will get the Royal Assent very quickly. If it is not certified as a Money Bill it will take much longer and repayments may accordingly be delayed.
It would be contrary to the public interest that the Bill should be delayed in Committee, or, as has been suggested, deferred until the autumn under that is absolutely necessary. Those local authorities, industries and individuals who have to wait as a result much longer before receiving their repayments would not thank the House, or right hon. Members opposite, for that.
I felt some diffidence about moving this Motion, because I did it in the presence of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, who was rightly called by The Times some time ago the Robespierre of debate because of his love for the guillotine. No Member has greater experience of moving allocation of time Motions, having moved three in one year. It will ill become him to express surprise or horror that the Government have decided that they must get their essential business through.
On a point of order. In moving the Motion, the Leader of the House referred to a concentration on selected important points so that the legislation should be passed quickly. As a humble back-bench Member, I am not aware who selects the so-called important points which should be passed quickly, but I, and no doubt many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, have had many points put to me by constituents and others which I, and no doubt other hon. Members, think of great importance.
If we catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, during the course of this debate, shall we be in order in raising these points to rebut what seems to me insufferable arrogance on the part of the Leader of the House in stating that the points which he chooses are the important points?
The hon. and gallant Member has been in Parliament long enough to know that the Leader of the House does not choose what any other hon. Member says in his speech. If, when he catches my eye, the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) makes remarks which are in order, he will be allowed to continue to make them. If they are out of order I shall stop him.
It is true that I have moved guillotine Motions on three occasions in the House of Commons although I have never moved one in such deplorable taste as that which the Leader of the House has moved this afternoon.
I hope that I shall not be thought unduly eccentric if I take from this Box today exactly the same view as I took from the Government Box. I can agree with the first sentences—and the first sentences only—of what the Leader of the House said. Indeed—and I am quoting from the guillotine Motion which I moved on the Commonwealth Immigrants and Army Reserve Bills on 25th January, 1962-I said:
…it is more than fifty years ago now since Mr. Asquith said that he had 'slowly and reluctantly come to the conclusion that you cannot carry on legislation here on large and complicated subjects without treating a timetable as part of our established procedure'".
That is true and nobody for a moment would deny it. But I made another quotation, reported in the same column of HANSARD, which is of great importance and which I think we ought to have in our minds. As I directed the attention of the House to this point as Leader of the House, perhaps I should do it when I speak for the Opposition on this subject. I said that the House was always jealous and critical of these Motions because—and I went on to quote these words from Erskine May—they
are the extreme limit to which procedure goes in affirming the rights of the majority at the expense of the minorities of the House, and it cannot be denied that they are capable of being used in such a way as to upset the balance, generally so carefully preserved, between the claims of business and the rights of debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January 1962; Vol. 652, c. 416–17.]
It is exactly that point which we discuss in this and in every time-table Motion which comes before the House. In one sense at least I would go even further than the Leader of the House went in his first few sentences. I have said this before when Leader of the House: I believe that one day, on great and contentious Measures—which this is—the time may well come when, on the Bill as it comes before the House, there will be a timetable, which, I hope, would be agreed between the two sides of the House. That is a long way in the future and, obviously, we have not got there at present, but when I was a member of the Conservative Government I looked forward to it
and I see no reason why I should not re-echo those words in opposition.
The general matter is not in dispute between us. No Leader of the House has to argue that there may be occasions on which a Guillotine is justified. What he always has to argue is that the particular Motion before the House is justified, and to that I address myself.
In my submission, there is one reason and one reason only for putting before the House the Guillotine, which is, as I have shown from Erskine May, the extreme case of forcing the will of the majority upon the minorities—there may well be more than one—in the House. The only justification is that of time. The Leader of the House must prove his case, as I shall attack it, on the ground of time. Let us see—it is quite easy to do this—what is the difference in time between us.
First, may I remind the Leader of the House that he again repeated some gossip from The Times of a few days ago. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put him right last Thursday and I do so again. We have never thought for a moment that it was conceivable that three days would satisfy us on this Bill. That has been the Government's thinking and somewhere along the line that quotation has become confused.
I have been quoted as saying something like 10 days, and I shall show in a moment how that can be reduced by late-night sittings—and nobody can say that I am unused to these or unwilling to put up with them. Hon. Members will find that what I said was closely in accordance with what we have put on the Order Paper.
Let us analyse the time. The Government are prepared to spend a Guillotine day today, three days in Committee and one day on Report and Third Reading, making a total of five days in the House of Commons. I am leaving aside for the moment the question of Lords Amendments. I want to come separately to the question whether this is a money Bill and what would happen if it were. The Government are prepared to give five days for the ordinary procedures in the House of Commons.
In the Amendments which you, Mr. Speaker, have said you will call, and which we shall be discussing later tonight or tomorrow morning, we have put down eight days plus two days for consideration plus one day for Third Reading, making a total of 11. This is the difference between us—five days the Government say they can find and 11 days we say we need. These six days can easily be reduced to, say, three or four. It needs perhaps only one very long or two moderately long late-night sittings to do that.
We are, therefore, arguing about three or four ordinary sitting days of the House of Commons—the inside of one Parliamentary week at a time when, in a few days, we are about to rise for a break which is normally—it may well be exceptional this year—10 or 11 weeks.
Let us look for a moment to the Guillotine about which I spoke—that on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. On that occasion the Guillotine was not introduced until we had already had three days in Committee. Many Members—especially the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman)—will remember the debate very well indeed. The hon. Member will know that his party at least has changed its mind a great deal on the subject since we debated that Motion; they will remember, perhaps some of the things they said to us then and some of the things they have done since.
That was a shorter Bill, a Bill less sweeping in its implications, although it was a Bill of the first importance, but on that Bill there were three days in Committee and then the guillotine Motion day—four days; three further days in Committee, and two days for Report and Third Reading, a total of nine. In other words, a debate different from that offered by the Government now and close to, not obviously dissimilar from, the offers we have put on the Order Paper. And Clause 1 had been completed. There were 170 Amendments on the Notice Paper. Now there are 350, more than twice as many; and yet we thought, nine days for 170 Amendments, and for 350 the Government suggest five.
Moreover, we knew then—and, as I say, they thought it honourable at the time, and I am not criticising this; I know how deeply passions raged then—that they were determined that we should not get that Bill if they could possibly stop us. That was the attitude they took up, and we knew after three days in Committee that within the limits of Parliamentary debate obstruction was there. In this case, of course, we have not even started in Committee on the Bill.
I said in that debate, and this is the last reference I shall make to it:
It is abundantly clear from the record and the progress of these Bills that they cannot hope to become law within a reasonable period of time. The choice before the Government is. in my view, absolutely clear and inescapable. Either we drop the Bills or we ask Parliament for the powers for which I ask today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1962; Vol 652, c. 427.]
If that were the case, if there were no other alternative before the Government except either to drop the Bill or to ask for Guillotine powers—although, of course, in opposition I would always oppose it—I certainly would, frankly, think it would be right to ask for Guillotine powers, but I have already shown, and I intend to go on to show in a little more detail, that time, here, cannot be the answer which the Government should put before this House; and yet this is not only the most it is the only reason, the only tolerable reason, for the extreme infringement of what Erskine May refers to as the rights of minorities in the House.
The Leader of the House says to us that the Government have allocated the time on expert advice. Whose? With respect, whose? Whose expert advice? Who is it who decides what time this honourable House shall allot—as between banking and financing—shall we say?—on one side, and the case of laundries and the Mrs. Mopps on the other? What genius is it who holds these particular scales? Or the scales between Scotland and china clay, or between bakehouses and development areas? [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Northfield laughs. I am sure he does. There is not a constituency in the country which is not deeply affected by this Measure. There is not an industry, not a trade, not a service in any constituency which is not affected by the Measure which is being guillotined by the House today; and the Leader of the House says that he has had expert advice. If we are to have a reply later to this debate I hope that we shall have a little more detail about exactly whose advice it was that led the Government to put this particular Motion on the Order Paper.
These refunds do not start till February, 1967, at the earliest. Why, then, should they become law in the first half of August? Why should they? When they took this decision the Government knew perfectly well that from his side of the House—I am not just saying this as a point to make on Thursday afternoon at business question time—we had proposed that we would sit in August or in September, or that we would come back earlier than we usually do from the October conferences so that we could finish the Bill. What we are asking for—let us have it in our minds all the time—is the inside of one Parliamentary week. That is all that is wanted, and that is the whole of the difference between us.
There is not the slightest need for the Bill to become law before we rise for the Summer Recess. True, it would be convenient for people to know as soon as possible, but they could know by the third week in August if we sat till then; or they could know in September, or they could know at the latest by early October; and that is plenty of time for the Ministry of Labour, whose Parliamentary Secretary is here—the whole House is sad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister cannot be here—to discuss this with us. But there is no need for the Ministry of Labour to have these powers as early as the second week in August.
Three or four Parliamentary days are what we are asking for. Yet what is to happen over some of these days? We are to have the Second Reading of the Iron and Steel Bill. We could use that, could we not, for this measure? We are to have the Second Reading of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Bill. We could use that, could we not, for this Measure? We have already had the Second Reading of the Prices and Incomes Bill. We could have used that very well for this Measure. There alone are the clays which we require.
I know, of course, that the Government want these rather tattered flags of steel and the rest to wave at their party conference. Of course they do. That is the
reason for this Motion, but they will pay a fairly heavy price for using Parliamentary time in this way. If I may just make one very short quotation on this from a Socialist economist who used to write for me when I was editor of the Spectator, and whom I admire very much as a person although I disagree almost entirely with his economic views, I will quote what he wrote last week in the Spectator about the compensation terms:
It will, I am afraid, be regarded as a chisel, not only at home, but abroad—and British government credit will fall in consequence.
It has done, has it not? And yet we are to discuss Measures like those that we are being forbidden the opportunity of having anything like a reasonable discussion of the Measure which is now before the House.
There is only one other Measure which I think is comparable, though infinitely smaller in its effect than the Measure which is in front of us now, and that is what was called the "pots and pans Finance Bill" in the autumn of 1955. That is the nearest analogy since the war to the Selective Employment Payments Bill, although, of course, it was much more limited in scope. It brought a number of items within Purchase Tax, but it did not correspond to bringing the whole range of services under tax as this Measure does. Yet on that occasion we spent six full days and one whole night in Committee—15th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd, 28th and 29th November, 1955. Why cannot we have at least as much for this vastly more important Measure?
I then come to the question over which the right hon. Gentleman skated. Is this a money Bill? He said that it is not for him to decide. That is not quite what he told the House on 12th May, 1966, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst), who had asked about the effect of having two Bills. This was the answer of the Leader of the House, and I hope that he will reply personally to the point at the end of our discussion, because he is involved in the advice that he gave. He said:
I do not think that there is anything valid in that point. I would only add that there is a further point with regard to the division of the two Bills. I hope that it is appreciated that if we have the repayments under the second Bill, the Ministry of Labour Bill, it
gives another place the opportunity of discussing them. I would regard it as unfortunate if it did not have that opportunity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 599.]
So there we have it from the Leader of the House. There are no "ifs" and "buts" in that statement. It is absolutely clear and specific, and I imagine that he made it, as he does on a Thursday, with full advice in advance. It follows that the view of the Leader of the House is not only that this is not a money Bill, but it is one which is appropriate to be discussed and should be discussed by another place.
We should ask ourselves for a moment what happens then. Clearly, there will be a special duty on another place to discuss matters which, for whatever reason, we in this House have left undiscussed. I would not have thought that anyone who follows constitutional and political history could dissent from that observation—even the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton).
What will happen then? The Leader of the House says, "In that case, we will not get the Bill in time for the House to rise in the ordinary way for the Summer Recess." But, as soon as he says that, he concedes the whole case to us. That is exactly what we say. If we sit one more week, the whole problem does not arise.
It is true, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will remember saying in the Third Reading of the Finance Bill last year, that any Opposition can wreck any Finance Bill if they want to. There are Clauses which one could discuss and there are Schedules which one could discuss. One does not, and one would not, and that is true of this Measure.
If the Leader of the House was right in his pledge—and I do not use the word in the sense of giving us a promise; but he gave us his clear understanding of the position—it is inevitable that there should be discussion in Parliament going beyond the ordinary time in August when we rise, and I am thinking for the moment of the two Houses together. If that is so, why should not the more important of the two House have that time for discussion of this Measure? That, again, is what we are asking for.
The right hon. Gentleman was asked about precedents for guillotining Finance Bills. He replied that there are four this century, though he was very careful not to give the dates. However, I think that I am right in saying that the last one was in 1931. There has been no guillotining of a Money Bill for 35 years. So we are in the position that, if this is not a Money Bill, it will be discussed in Parliament well into August, and we might as well do the discussion if we regard ourselves as the senior House in these matters. If it is a Money Bill, there are no precedents for 35 years for applying this sort of Guillotine to this sort of Measure.
In either case, the arguments which the Leader of the House puts before us become intolerable. Again, last Thursday, he said:
I am not accusing the Opposition of deliberate obstruction ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 1722–3.]
I should think not. We have not started the Committee stage of the Bill, and it is only when people know that there is great opposition, as they knew, for example, on the issue of transport nationalisation, that both sides of the House put on a Guillotine in advance of the Committee stage. They knew in advance that the whole Bill was utterly repugnant to the philosophy of the party on the other side.
This is a very different Measure. In two instances, first, in 1961, actually in the Finance Bill, and, secondly, in our election manifesto this year, we put forward the idea of a payroll tax so that it should be easier for us to link ourselves eventually to the Community in Europe. There is not the gulf that divides us and always has divided us on great nationalisation issues.
I want to deal for a moment with the point which was raised during business questions last Thursday by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig), who I see in his place. He asked if it was not true that, if we took this by 3.35 p.m., as it were on the nod, we could discuss the Committee stage of the Bill. I suppose that that is true. If we took on the nod what we regard as an intolerable and arbitrary interference without protest, we could have less than a day's discussion, because there is no Motion on the Order Paper for the Committee stage of the Bill, apart from the allocation of time Motion for extending the time. So that we could discuss it whenever the House wanted to stop it from ending until 10 o'clock.
That is a very poor point, if I may say so, and I am glad that the Leader of the House did not bother to put it forward in his speech. Neither would I have done. Leaders of the House always put it on the Order Paper, but they know that it is no more than a gesture. We rather hope that we shall be able to continue for some time beyond 10 o'clock. discussing the guillotine Motion which is in front of us and the Amendments which you have said you will call. Mr. Speaker.
I return to the question of time, because it is at the heart of everything. Whoever these mysteriously experts may be, the time allotted by the Government to this Measure is ludicrous. To take Clause.2 as an example, there are 127 Amendments to it. As I have said, every trade and business and every constituency is affected. There can be grouping, of course, and that is a matter for the Chair. But seven hours are allotted by the Government for the Clause and, with 127 Amendments, that means a little under three minutes each. It takes 10 minutes to divide the House on any matter on which one feels strongly against the Government. So that it is simply not possible for an Opposition to operate as we would wish to do, searchingly and well, but not at length, within the limits of this Guillotine.
I think that I have proved that time is not the real reason why the Government have brought this to the Order Paper. Over these past few weeks, they have choked the House of Commons with financial and other business so that we cannot digest what is in front of us now. Whether the second is declared to be a money Bill or not, we have two Finance Bills to deal with this year, even though the Budget was a month later than usual.
The sadness of skimping some of the points in this Bill is something which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will know very well. She knows that her chief could scarcely get the words between his teeth as he moved the Second reading of the Bill. She must know that he loathes the Bill, and I have enough regard for her to be fairly confident that she loathes it as well. It is no business of the Ministry of Labour to concern itself with matters like this which will adversely affect the disabled, the part- time and the elderly. It is against everything that it has stood for, and I cannot understand why the hon. Lady has lent herself to this manoeuvre, because her name appears in support of the guillotine Motion.
The real reason is quite simple—a storm is coming in the Chiltern Hills, and the Government are running before that storm. They want to reach the harbour of the Summer Recess as quickly as they can, the want to stay in it as long as they possibly can, so they want to deny the House the opportunity that we have adequately to discuss the Bill. In an incautious moment last Thursday the Leader of the House gave the game away. He said:
…I would like to be able to offer the House, particularly those hon. Members who have children and who want to get away for the Recess, some firm dates, but I cannot possibly do so at the moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 1732]
So would I like to get away. I, too, would like a holiday.
I think that the House will recognise that I have put in more hours at this Box than any other Member during the last few months, but I am more than ready to stay for this Bill, in August, or in September, or in October, whenever it may be, because—I know that the merits of the Bill can only be referred to in passing—these proposals by the Chancellor, or whoever else it was, have been riddled ever since Budget day.
Ever since then feeling against the Selective Employment Tax has been building up all over the country, and unless these matters are fully discussed —and I have shown that it is impossible to do that under the allocation of time that we have—there will be no answer available to all the problems which the Bill will pose to industry.
Let me illustrate that with one or two examples. Who knows what is an establishment, or what a premise is, or what access is, or what a unit is? All these terms have been used, and unless we can spell these out in debate—I assure the House, not out of any desire to obstruct —the Government are heading for a disastrous mess as the Bill begins to operate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head. With his experience of last year's Finance Bill, he ought to know that first drafts are not necessarily the best and that they have frequently to be amended by the free play of and discussion in this honourable House.
In the circumstances which I have outlined, I submit that it is intolerable that the Leader of the House should tell us —and this is what he said last Thursday—that time is up, that only a few days are left, and we should go away and play. It is because we believe that the Bill is one to which the House can and ought to devote its full attention for the number of days that we suggest in our four Amendments that we shall resist this Motion with all our strength.
Having listened to similar speeches on many occasions, I was wondering what the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) would offer by way of argument on what is a very difficult Motion to debate. By the rules of the House we are limited to the Motion itself, and I imagine that if the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), who raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker, were to debate what he wants to debate, namely, the merits of the different Amendments, or his point of view of certain aspects of the Bill, he would be out of order, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman had to rely on Erskine May.
The right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that I might be out of order in debating points which have been put to me. That is not quite what I put in my point of order. In his speech the Leader of the House suggested that the Motion enabled the House to concentrate on selected points. My point is that it is a matter of opinion which points are important.
I follow that, but I think I can imagine the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of important points, and, having heard Mr. Speaker's reply, I came to the conclusion that if the hon. Gentleman debated at any length the points which he had in mind he would be out of order. However, I am not in conflict with the Chair, although I suggest that the hon. and gallant Gentleman may be later.
Perhaps I might come back to what I was saying about the right hon. Member for Enfield, West having to rely on Erskine May. We all know that Erskine May is a profound authority on the rules of debate in this House, but he wrote at a time far removed from the times in which we live. The right hon. Gentleman admitted by implication that there was a case for some sort of Guillotine, imposed in some sort of way—I gather through the usual channels.
If the right hon. Gentleman casts his mind back to the origin of the Guillotine, he will realise only too well why it was introduced into our procedure. It was brought in because in those days a minority did its best to obstruct the House, and the authorities realised that if the Government were to be supreme, and were to get their business through, they must limit that obstruction by rules which would prevent some of the methods which were being used by the minority for a different purpose.
If the right hon. Gentleman's main point is that there should be adequacy of debate, I am with him. So long as Parliament is able adequately to debate the issues that come before it, and especially taxation issues, I think that the purpose is served, but it has to be served in a way which does not lead to the possibility of the Government being obstructed in an important matter such as taxation.
The situation today is not like that in the last Parliament, when the Government had a majority of three. The country has clearly expressed the view that it is this Government that it wants. The country may not have expressed a point of view on different aspects of taxation, but it has expressed confidence in the Government. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but the only way to unseat the Government is to win by-elections. It may be said that one by-election has just taken place, but hon. Gentlemen opposite must do far better than that if they are to show that the country has lost the confidence which it had in the Government a few months ago, when we won the General Election.
I suggest that Erskine May is very much out of date, and that this has been recognised by various Select Committees of the House which have attempted to alter our procedure. There are some aspects of the Selective Employment Tax which I do not like. I, too, have had representations about its effects. I wish that we had dealt with this matter in the Finance Bill, because that is the proper place for it. Nevertheless, for adequate reasons, the Government have introduced a new Bill for which the Minister of Labour is responsible, and we are in a somewhat anomalous position in that this Bill is, as it were, running parallel with the Finance. Bill. I can, therefore, understand that we have to get this Bill out of the way before we can agree to the Third Reading of the Finance Bill.
It is one thing for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that they want more time in which to debate the Selective Employment Tax—a legitimate request—but the right hon. Member for Enfield, West knows from his years of membership of the House and the various Committee stages of Finance Acts—and I have been a Member through the passage of more than 30 Finance Acts—that without transgressing the rules of order there is often considerable repetition amounting, in effect, to obstruction. The right hon. Gentleman gave a clue when he indicated that he and his hon. Friends will oppose the whole principle of this tax to the utmost limit.
I said that we would oppose the guillotine Motion to the full extent of our strength. I also pointed out that in another context, relating to poll taxes and variants of them, my hon. Friends and I have been responsible for suggesting them.
Nevertheless, I have the suspicion, even if the right hon. Gentleman did not dot the i's and cross the t's, that the Opposition wish to use their legitimate powers under the Standing Orders of the House to oppose S.E.T.
At any rate, what is the difference in the end? If the Opposition accept the principle, then we return to the question of there being time for adequate debate. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Opposition wanted four more days for this debate, presumably at reasonable hours and without the need to sit throughout the night. He therefore admitted that that would be sufficient time to discuss, if called, each of the several hundred Amendments which the Opposition have tabled. We know from previous experience that that is really not the purpose.
The right hon. Gentleman said that about three minutes would be available for each Amendment. I suggest that three minutes is adequate for some Amendments, remembering that there are certain matters which many hon. Members would like to raise if there were time. We must recognise, however—especially in view of the present economic situation—that priorities must apply, even to the amount of time available for debate.
Considering the amount of invective the Leader of the Opposition uses against my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, one would have thought that the Opposition would be more concerned to have the main debate on the further measures which my right hon. Friend will announce on Wednesday. Does not the Leader of the Opposition wish to allow himself and his hon. Friends time in which to debate some of those measures, which, I suspect, will be much more serious in their purpose than S.E.T.?
Apart from the Opposition wishing my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to allow more time to debate S.E.T., hon. Gentlemen opposite must be aware that the Government must get their taxation business through in time. Leaving aside the question whether the House rises for the Summer Recess at the beginning or in the middle of August, hon. Gentlemen opposite must also remember that the Government have a sufficient majority to get their Measures through without steamrolling the Opposition. Hon. Gentlemen opposite equally know that it is not necessary extensively to debate each and every Amendment they have so far tabled, many of them involving principles which could be argued on the various Clauses stand part.
Having said that, and considering the terms of the speech of the right hon. Member for Enfield West, I am bound to reflect on the propaganda aspect of his speech—that is, if we are to believe what we read in the Press about people demanding more militancy from the Opposition Front Bench. Whether or not that is so, I trust that hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that all these matters, particularly the financial ones, must be taken extremely seriously.
Any hon. Member who has read his political history will know that in times more stormy than these, in times when greater principles have been involved, it has been common form for the Opposition to try to beat down the Government of the day, particularly when debating taxation policy. However, the Opposition will not succeed on this occasion. All the exhortation on the part of people outside for the Opposition to be more militant has not so far achieved anything from the present Opposition. That is true. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West has been editor of a periodical which he evidently still reads. He knows only too well of the castigation which the Leaders of his party have received from respectable publications, perhaps even from the Spectator. He knows that far better arguments than those so far adduced must be advanced in the House on this Motion before he and his hon. Friends will achieve success. The vehemence displayed by the right hon. Gentleman so far is not an adequate way of debating these matters.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) put forward two new propositions, both of which, I should have thought, were unattractive and untenable. The first is that Erskine May is out of date because Erskine May died a long time ago. If the right hon. Gentleman is to apply that doctrine to all our accepted authorities in the sphere of law, we will get into a very difficult position indeed.
All the original learned authors of text books that may be cited in our courts of law are dead. One may not cite them unless they are. But it does not mean that the works are out of date because competent contemporary editors produce new editions ever reflecting the up-to-date position and the movement of modern ideas.
I take issue with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, not on any matter of law—he is much more learned than I am in that respect—but to ask him if it is not a fact that, in spite of the authorities now dead, modern law in Britain is based mainly on case law?
It is a mixture of case law and statute law. Case law, which is evolved by the wisdom of the judges, is nearly always good. Statute law is good sometimes, when it is the product of a Conservative Government, but less good when it is the product of the Administration which the right hon. Gentleman supports. However, I must not spend too much time on the heresies of the right hon. Gentleman. He has been long enough in the House to be allowed the luxury of an occasional heresy, but two in one speech is going too far.
The right hon. Gentleman's second proposition was almost graver—the proposition that because a Government have a working majority, or perhaps even a substantial majority, they therefore have a built-in right to curtail Parliamentary discussion. That is not only a novel doctrine, but a dangerous and totally unacceptable one. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect, in the watches of the night—and he will have abundant opportunity to do so without moving far from where he is at present sitting—and will repent on those two propositions.
I would certainly agree with what was said both by the Leader of the House and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) about our attitude to the Guillotine in general. Of course, no one in this year 1966 can say that the use of the Guillotine is never justified. Mr. Asquith put it very well in the words we have heard from my right hon. Friend, and that was some time ago. There are abundant precedents on both sides of the House for its use.
In certain circumstances, therefore, we must concede that the use of the Guillotine is justified. It would, however, be very wrong to proceed from there and say that the use of the Guillotine can ever be justified save as an exceptional measure, because it is the ultimate limitation on the rights of Parliamentary discussion, and inevitably arbitrary and unselective in its operation. It is, therefore, right that in each case the onus should be fairly and squarely on the Government seeking to use the Guillotine to establish on the facts and circumstances of a particular case that its use is appropriate as an exceptional measure within the principles that should govern these things.
We do not have any set of principles formulated in writing for the application of the Guillotine, but I would suggest that they are clearly to be deduced and that they are really enshrined in three tests. The first is: is it necessary as a remedy for obstruction? The second: does it arise from imperative difficulties in the Government's timetable which the Government could not reasonably avoid? The third: are there some special considerations arising in the context and circumstances of the particular Measure? I submit that those are the principles by which the House has to judge any proposal to, take from it its fundamental right and duty of Parliamentary scrutiny and discussion, and that, on analysis, this Bill fails on each and all of those tests.
I put obstruction first, because it is the primary—and some would say the indispensable—element in a justification for the Guillotine. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw referred to the origins of the Guillotine-80 years ago in the context of the Irish obstruction; but that was obstruction of a sort not paralleled in the House in later times. It was not obstruction in the sense that we understand it today—merely the imposing of delay on a single Government Measure. It was obstruction so comprehmsive, so organised, so determined and so unremitting, as was designed to arrest the whole conduct of Government business until the policy of Home Rule was imposed on the Government. That is the origin of the Guillotine.
That being so, I would submit that, even today, obstruction must be so intense, so organised, so effective, as to defeat all the normal safeguards against obstruction. And there are safeguards. The Leader of the House referred to one of them, but there are at least three safeguarding Standing Orders. Standing Order No. 22 deals with irrelevance and repetition; No. 31—the Chief Secretary shakes his head, but we have the three Standing Orders; 22, 31 and 33. They are provided to guard against repetition and irrelevance; to give the right of the Closure in proper circumstances, and to give the Chair the right of selection of Amendments. It is only when, in a particular case, the capacity of the Chair, properly exercised, cannot, by the use of those Standing Orders, prevent obstruction that the Guillotine has any right even to come on the horizon.
In this case, there is no obstruction. How can there be? The Committee stage has not yet started. Erskine May says that an "Allocation of Time order" is often not moved
…until the rate of progress in committee has provided argument for its necessity.
Here, there is no Committee stage; no argument for the necessity; no obstruction; no reasonable apprehension of obstruction. There is no case at all. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw points to my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, but my right hon. Friend made quite clear the distinction between this and, for example, a nationalisation Measure. He said that on nationalisation Measures the positions were such, were so fixed, as to be able to give a reasonable apprehension that there could be obstruction. That cannot conceivably apply to this Measure, which is a new Measure in which the House has not taken up a previously fixed position as on nationalisation.
I suggest that the second consideration is difficulty about time. My right hon. Friend has dealt extensively with this consideration, but it would be a remarkable thing if the Government could make out their case under this head. We are in the first Session of a Parliament, a Session nearly 50 per cent. longer than an average Session. Clearly, any Government are under a duty to manage their business so as not to curtail the legitimate rights of Parliament; to cut their legislative coat according to the Parliamentary cloth. There is, of course, a temptation for a Government to use the Guillotine to get through more legislation than they ought, and it is a temptation to which Labour Governments are perhaps particularly susceptible.
A Labour Government changed the procedure in 1947 with the avowed intent of making the Guillotine a more accepted and general concomitant of our Parliamentary business. What was the result? They forced on to the Statute Book a vast mass of hastily drafted, undigested legislation, so guillotined that great parts of those Measures reached the Statute Book without detailed discussion either in Committee or on Report, with the necessity that they have had to be subjected to very extensive amendment since. That is what happens when a Government seeks to use the power of the Guillotine to deny to Parliament the right of scrutiny.
There is here no rigid framework for the timetable which could justify this action. It might have been different if it were in the context of the financial cycle because, as the House knows, financial Measures have to be on the Statute Book by, I think, 5th August. That does not apply to this Bill. It is not to come into operation until February. The Government having, for their own reasons, decided that it is possible to get the machinery for tax collection into operation by September but to defer the payment of premiums until February, they have obviously put themselves right out of court for any argument on the score of urgency in this matter. It may be that, for reasons I can understand, August is inconvenient—so what? It could be done in late September or early October, and still leave plenty of time without giving rise to any administrative difficulties.
I submit, therefore, that there is nothing in the timetable to justify the Guillotine in this case, no consideration of time—unless it be matters that will impinge on the timetable by reason of the economic crisis which the Government have promoted. But that is not a proper reason for denying the House its fundamental rights.
I come to the third aspect—the content and circumstances of the Bill. It cannot be said that the content of this Bill is one that justifies this procedure. It cannot be said that this is a matter in which the general principle has been well canvassed over the years and the details are unimportant. Just the contrary is the case. As the House knows, this is a Bill concerned with putting concerns into three categories—the fortunate, the less fortunate, and the very unfortunate, all dependent on fine distinctions and nice calculation. Therefore, it is necessary to frame the Bill so that the circumstances are given proper weight, not approached on a rule-of-thumb or hit-or-miss basis.
My right hon. Friend referred to some of the difficulties which arise in these matters. We know the difficulties which arise when we seek to put concerns and commercial and industrial undertakings into categories. We know of this in town planning, we know it in rating and in all these matters. The Government are using the Bill in a rule-of-thumb way when they try to cut out discussion and improvement as it goes along. The Amendments to which reference has been made cover a wide and varied range of national activity, but they are all individual cases, individual cases with their own idiosyncratic features and demanding their own individual discussion. If they do not get this, it is not a Bill; it is a lottery.
What consolation, for example, is there for the film studios if the case of the confectioners is argued and theirs is not? What consolation is there for the milk bottlers—if I may take the Amendment put forward by Co-operative Society hon. Members on these matters —if the case for the management consultant, is argued and theirs is not? What would we think if in the courts a plaintiff were told by a judge, "I do not propose to hear your case for damages for negligence for personal injuries in your factory. No, I have spent a long time hearing another action for damages for negligence in a motor collision case. It is all the same and I have other matters to consider. I have a crowded list and we must go forward. You must be content with justice which has already been done."
Whether this be a money Bill or not, the content of it is such that it cries out for proper Parliamentary scrutiny and discussion. We do not know, as the Leader of the House said, whether this fits into the definition of a money Bill under the Parliamentary Act or not. It is not for us to say. It is for Mr. Speaker to certify before it goes to another place. I say that it is not for us to say, but in fact the Government have said. The
only difficulty is that they have said it with two conflicting voices. What the Leader of the House said in May as quoted by my right hon. Friend had the irresistible implication that this is not a money Bill, but what the Minister of Labour said in June on the Second reading was:
Quite clearly, the Bill is primarily a financial Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June. 1966; Vol. 730. c. 932.]
If it be a money Bill, of course on the right hon. Gentleman's own confession he is doing something for which there is no precedent in modern times. We would have to go a long way back into Erskine May, with the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw, to find a precedent.
What about the circumstances attending the Bill? There is nothing in the degree or quality of preparation of this Bill to negative the need for Parliamentary scrutiny. Of course there is not. This is the Bill which should have had full factual, statistical information since it is based on the rule-of-thumb application of the standard industrial classification evolved for another purpose. Has it had it? We know it has not had it because, fortunately, the right hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Cousins) has raised the veil and afforded to the House a fascinating glimpse of how these matters work under this Administration.
This is what he said on Thursday last:
Another mistake we have made is that we have done too much guesswork. We talk rather loosely about productivity and production; but there are no figures.
He went on to say:
If this is so, we must recognise that when you make declarations without them there is a possibility that you will be wrong.
More than a possibility here, a very strong probablity indeed.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to make some candid avowals of the conduct of Government policy. He said:
I suggest that the policy we have followed during the past two years has not done even what we are now saying it has done. It has not protected the lower-paid, it has not given them a new era to look forward to, it has been unselective in its responses, it has picked people out and they have been picked out on all sorts of queer criteria," [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 1790 and 1793]
There is this Bill defined for us in advance by the right hon. Gentleman who was
at that time a Member of the Administration.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman said about the Prices and Incomes Bill that he was told not to worry about it, that everyone knows it will not work. That was what they were telling him in the inner councils about the Prices and Incomes Bill. Heaven alone knows what they must have said about this Bill. I think that the most probable and most charitable explanation is that the Government have entered upon the Bill in total unawareness both of what they were seeking to do and of what was likely to be its effect. It was said in the First World War, of a Measure brought forward by Mr. Lloyd George's Government, "Only God and the War Cabinet knew what this was supposed to mean and now only God knows." The Government are in a worse case. At least, Mr. Lloyd George's Government originally knew what it was supposed to mean, but this Government are denied even that knowledge.
This lack of preparation, of information, of understanding reinforces the case against the Guillotine which fails on every count as I see it. The Government may feel that they have a duty to their programme and their timetable, but they have a higher duty. They have a duty as law makers. They have a duty to see that the measures that they put on to the Statute book are as free from error of form or substance as parliamentary consideration can make them.
Over 400 Amendments to the Finance Bill, 1965, were proposed by the Government presumably because they thought that those Amendments made it a better Bill. Why are they denying a similar opportunity to make this a better Bill? In so denying they are in breach of their duty to the nation and to the House, which, by its vote, should restrain them from their declared intention.
I come as a traditionalist to take part in this debate. I must be one of the very few hon. Members on either side of the House who would be happy if the House collectively had the power to stop the Executive on certain occasions. I am one of the few who would like the House to be able to say, like the American Congress, "Thus far and no farther until we have scrutinised."
Hon. Members may not believe me, but I came to this debate interested in what the spokesman for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) would say. I wanted to be convinced, but what he did—I followed his arithmetic, because I had done it myself before—was to point out that we are no longer in the position in which the House collectively, or the Opposition, can stop the Government. The Government will get its way on this Measure, as we all know. The issue then becomes whether the Bill will be discussed for five or 11 days.
What I wanted to be convinced of, and what I thought the right hon. Gentleman should have tried to convince us of, was that this Measure would be a better one if it were discussed for 11 rather than five days. I regard arguments about days being used for other Bills, for the Iron and Steel Bill and so forth, as party histrionics. We would all like debates on things which could be discussed over several Sessions, but the question is: will this Bill be better if it gets an extra four days' or four nights' discussion which the right hon. Gentleman wants it to have?
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) did a service to teachers of British history who carry on as if what happens on the Floor of the House is of tremendous importance—the Whig theory of history. If the right hon. Gentleman was correct in saying that things are discussed only if they are discussed here. then, clearly, the longer the better.
As we all know, for two and a half months interests have been battering away at the Chancellor of the Exchequer and at the Cabinet. Deputations have been received. I have tabled an Amendment. This is the tip of the iceberg. We have written letters to The Times. We have sent in petitions. So, if the Motion is carried, the result will not be that the matter will be discussed here for only four or five days. That discussion will be only the culmination of a very long process.
If the cases of interests which have failed—after all, the cases of interests which had succeeded will not be advanced —were advanced for 11 days rather than for five days, would the Bill be made significantly better? I doubt it. I cannot see that this would be so. During the short period that I have been a Member of the House, the most effective occasions have been when the debates have been short and crisp, and speeches have been to the point. I came here this afternoon expecting to find a House seething with indignation at the restrictions imposed on it. I have come into the House two or three times, and there have been barely 50 Members here., one of whom was asleep.
I should like to see indignation on both sides. I have found, especially in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East, a routine set of jokes about the Government and routine ripostes from this side of the House.
We shall not produce a better Bill if we have these extra days, because I cannot think that the Minister concerned does not know the arguments by now.
This is a good point. We must discuss these things; but do we do any better by repeating arguments in 11 days when they could be made succinctly in five days? I ask hon. Members to think of the prestige of the House. Did it do the reputation of the House any good to sit for the number of hours we did on the Finance Bill, or could we not have put all those points crisply more succinctly for the Press, and with more public effect in half the time?
Last year the House was occupied for many days on the Finance Bill. At the end of that time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who himself had taken up a lot of that time on his own Amendments, thanked the Opposition for all of theirs. This year the Chancellor had to introduce Clause after Clause, resulting from arguments which we advanced on last year's Finance Bill.
I take that point. Those of us who sat through the Bill knew before it began which Amendments were to be accepted and how it would go. [HON. MEMBERS "Really?"I Do hon. Members imagine that Members change their minds on the Floor of the House?
No. I gave much better advice than this when I was lecturing in this country. I should be interested to know how often any senior Minister has accepted Amendments or changed Clauses as a result of decisions taken on the Front Bench. I know of only one recorded instance of this. I should be grateful to learn of more instances, if there are any, for future editions of my book. The only instance I know of is when Disraeli accepted a minor Amendment to the second Reform Bill in 1867 without consulting his colleagues on the Floor of the House.
That is not my point. My point is that the agreement on these arguments is achieved privately after the arguments have been put and they are not decided here on the Floor of the House. My main point is that the changes which are made are the result of a continuous process of consultation. I have yet to receive any evidence that the changes would be more substantial or more effective if all-night type of discussion went on for 11 days as opposed to five days, which is the issue on which the Opposition are attacking the Government at the moment.
May I give the hon. Gentleman an instance? The other day the Secretary of State for Defence decided that his policy was not to sell arms to America, unless they were not to be used in Vietnam. He took this decision on the spur of the moment, while sitting on the Front Bench, under very heavy pressure from his own side.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have recorded that instance. It is a valuable one. It reinforces my point because this happened in a short, punchy exchange, in a confined time when the Minister was under pressure.
The debates on the Selective Employment Payments Bill will be better for being timetabled. They will be better for being short and concise. The interests will come quickly to a head; the points will be made quickly, the answers will be made quickly. I do not think that any critical issue of liberty is at stake, because we are to have a short, fairly swift debate.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West said that there were 127 Amendments to Clause 2 and that the Guillotine allowed roughly three minutes each. I have studied these 127 Amendments. As far as I can see, they boil down to three major points which can be made fairly swiftly. They are arguments which have been canvassed in the Press. One of them is my point about regional development and the importance of varying the tax from region to sub-region. These points can be made quickly and effectively.
We already know that we have pressed behind the scenes. We shall get our answers. This makes for the best and most effective sort of argument. If we could hold up the Government permanently, it would be another matter. However, as we know that the final answer will be decided by the Government and carried through, this seems to be the method of debate which gives most prestige and most effect to the House.
In conclusion, I want to touch on the question of reforming our timetable of business. The Guillotine is one of the things which has brought up the whole question at this moment. I cannot see why we would not get a more effective timetable if we timetabled all major Bills and if this matter were handed to a small committee, composed of Members drawn from both sides of the House, so that we knew what time we had.
I repeat that I cannot see that the House gains any prestige, or that Members of the House are really effective, from having dreary all-night sittings on Clause after Clause and from repeating point after point. We should get straight to the Selective Employment Tax question; we should ask our questions and make our points: and, if they are conceded, I think that the decision to concede is already in Ministers' minds. If we can influence them in the allotted time, so much the better. I want to see Parliament powerful and effective. The synthetic indignation expressed by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West about this curtailment has not moved me at all.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) began by saying that he was astonished that there was not more indignation in the House about this proposal. I am sorry to see that the Leader of the House is leaving, because I want particularly to refer to his remarks. I want very rapidly to make good the deficiency noticed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian, although I thought that the case advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) was a devastating one.
However devastating the case that can be made against a guillotine Motion may be coming from the Front Bench, it can never be quite so convincing as the one which can be made from the back benches. All Governments know the difficulty of getting their business. Anyone who ever expects to be on the Front Bench, particularly on the Government side, is always subconsciously reserving a right for the future—" One day we may have to justify using the Guillotine ourselves. Therefore, we must not go too far in our opposition to this Government using it ".
I have always seen the force of this point of view. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of it from the point of view of back-bench Members, particularly those in opposition, which requires saying and repeating, and repeating yet again. Gov- ernments ought to remember more frequently than they do that the hardest hit by the imposition of a guillotine Motion are Opposition back-bench Members.
The moment any Government introduce a guillotine Motion, that is almost the go-ahead for as many Government back benchers as can possibly rise to get up and use time. This is an open invitation to Government supporters to take part in debates, whereas if they are free debates they are very often prevented from participating in them by the Chief Whip. Therefore, inevitably the Members who suffer from the Guillotine are the Opposition back benchers.
I do not recollect any Bill that has ever been presented to Parliament since I have been here which has produced more differing and outspoken resistance from the electorate. If Opposition back benchers have any duty, surely it is to voice those sorts of views which are put to them by their own constituents in opposition to what the Government are trying to do. It is this which makes this particular guillotine Motion so absolutely pernicious.
Here we have an anticipatory Guillotine—not a Guillotine which comes as a result of a protracted series of debates in Committee; oh, no, the Committee stage has not yet started. But the Government are so frightened and terrified of what will be said by the Opposition, Clause by Clause, on this iniquitous Bill that they are deliberately going to try to curtail the time taken to express the views of our constituents about the Bill. This is tyranny writ large.
When I consider whom the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian succeeds, I grieve deeply at the rapidity with which he is becoming caught in the snares of Socialist conceptions of tyranny. This is the most tyrannical act that I have ever heard the Leader of the House propose. It is the most tyrannical action that he has taken to date. I believe it was once said by Lloyd George that Parliament would only continue to work so long as both sides were agreed on the really fundamental principles on which to conduct their business. We are passing very rapidly from that state of affairs.
There is talk today outside the House about coalition. The only hope one will get of coalition in this country is when everybody is agreed on the fundamentals as to how to solve a given situation. Has the cleavage ever been deeper than it is today'? So in our procedure in this House, unless we have a basic agreement as to the fundamentals on which we are to proceed, heaven help our proceedings in the future.
I cannot conceive how any self-respecting Opposition, especially their back benchers, could possibly condone this Motion for the Guillotine. I believe that the Leader of the House and I first came into 01,-; House on the same day, in 1945. Over the years I have always thought him to be very zealous in upholding the rights of back benchers. I say to him that he is letting down very badly indeed those in whose minds he built up that reputation. I believe that he is confusing the necessity of publishing the Selective Employment Payments Bill so that we could know what is in it while debating the Finance Bill, with the necessity of getting this Selective Employment Payments Bill before the Summer Recess.
As has been pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), the Bill does not come into force till February of next year. It is true that it would have been monstrous for us to have had the Finance Bill as it was originally intended by the Government without our knowing what was going to be in this Bill, but the necessity for getting the Finance Bill does not carry with it the necessity for getting the Selective Employment Payments Bill at the same time, or even this year. It is perfectly possible that it could be deferred till after the Summer Recess.
I must say to the Leader of the House that, in the point of order which I sought to put during question on business today, I hope I did not mislead him or the House. What I was seeking to find out was whether the right hon. Gentleman had, in fact, approached the Chair before he made his business statement, namely, that we would be able to go wider than usual on the Third Reading debate of the Finance Bill. If the Government are now short of time to enable a proper debate to take place about the economic state of the nation—-and goodness knows, it needs debate—-and if they are short of time in getting their Finance Bill along with all the other stuff that they are trying to throw at the people and at Parliament, the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West is a complete answer to it. He provided all the necessary days that the right hon. Gentleman needs if he wants to go ahead with his Bill. I would suggest a much easier way of making this Guillotine unnecessary, and that would be for the Finance Bill to be represented and amended so as to take out the Selective Employment Tax altogether. Then we should not need this Bill.
That would be the simplest way. Bearing in mind the appalling chaos that is being caused by the Selective Employment Tax prospects throughout industry today and throughout the whole of our economy, about the best thing that the right hon. Gentleman could possibly do would be to advise the Chancellor to amend the Finance Bill, take out Selective Employment Tax altogether and think it out properly before it is reintroduced, if ever.
I suggest that the Government have some obligation to take account of changing circumstances. Whatever may have been the circumstances when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his Budget this year, I do not believe that even the Chancellor or the Chief Secretary would pretend that the circumstances have not changed a little since then. I remember Sir Winston Churchill saying often that he always attributed much of his greatness to the fact that when circumstances changed he was prepared to change his mind.
The trouble with the Socialists is that they never change their minds. Socialists are so fixed with certain dogma that once they have done something they are too terrified of altering it for fear that they should be thought weak. They go blundering on day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year with legislation and measures which become worse and less relevant to the needs of our time.
Here we have circumstances having changed for the worse so dangerously rapidly that no one knows where the economy of this country is going. Yet we have a Government and a Chancellor of the Exchequer blundering on with one of the most irrelevant, ill-thought-out, asinine Finance Bills ever presented to the nation. That is where the time saving should be made. Let us get the Chancellor to come to this House, revise his Finance Bill and thus make this Bill that we are about to debate in Committee absolutely unnecessary.
I know that Front Benchers are in a position of very great power, but the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian is wrong in one thing that he said. Front Benchers can still be stopped by those who love Parliament, by those who believe that some things are more important than party loyalties. Governments can still be stopped if their back benchers say to those Governments, "You are going too far and we shall not support you if you try to do it any more."
Although, obviously, it is upon the Opposition that the greatest duty lies in opposing Measures of this kind, and although it be true that the people who suffer most, from a Party point of view, if such Measures are introduced and carried by the Government are the Opposition back benchers, the duty on Government back benchers—goodness knows where most of them are this afternoon—is quite as great if they are to uphold Parliament and the rights of hon. Members.
I am quite prepared to believe that the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian meant what he said and genuinely wishes to look after the rights of individual Members, but I can only say that it comes ill from that side of the House for it to be suggested this afternoon that all power has gone to stop the Government doing things which are alien to the freedom of our people and the rights of the individual.
We should be more likely to support the hon. Gentleman if he argued about the freedom of back benchers instead of indulging in a rather general and blundering attack on the Government.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to go on, I am quite ready to do so. As he gives me the opportunity, I shall go on for a short time.
The Amendments down on the Order Paper cover a very wide range of different interests. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East made an extremely important point when he spoke of the attitude of those who suddenly found that Amendments put down on their behalf had been ruled out simply because Amendments put down on someone else's behalf had been debated. This is the inevitable price of having the Guillotine. Never have I known so many different people write to me saying that they are thoroughly dissatisfied with a Bill, and never have I known so many people with such a diversity of interest make their protests.
The price of having the Guillotine on a Bill like this is, inevitably, that a great many people's interests will not be heard. We are put in an even worse position by what the Leader of the House has told us about whether the Bill is a money Bill or not. It is all very well to say that we must get the Bill back from another place before the Summer Recess. If it is a money Bill, the other place will not have much chance to do anything about it. There will be little chance of filling in the gaps which we shall leave because of the Guillotine.
On the other hand, if the Bill is not a money Bill and the other place has ample opportunity to suggest Amendments, we shall, presumably, have to consider Lords Amendments which come back to us here. The Leader of the House will leave us in a far worse position than when he began. He says that he knows that those of us with children want to get away on holiday and he would like to give us a date, but he cannot do so now. This is treating Parliament with contempt. Moreover, it is treating those who serve Parliament with considerable contempt.
I have no wish to be demagogic about it, but we all recognise that more than our own convenience is involved in this matter. There are a great many people upon whom we rely every day if this place is to work at all, people who are not Members but servants of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is being less than fair to them as well as less than courteous to us. It does not become him well to be discourteous. He has been so polite all through his life in Parliament that I hate to see what is happening now. He is betraying the great trust which many of us, on whichever side of the House we sit, have put in him.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to give us the following assurances. First, will he assure us that he will again discuss with the Chancellor the possibility of providing the necessary time for the Government to complete their business by so amending the Finance Bill as to make this Bill unnecessary? Secondly, will he as soon as possible get a Ruling formally, in the open, from the Chair on whether this Bill is a Money Bill. Thirdly, will he get a firm Ruling on exactly what is to be the form of the debate permitted on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill? Fourthly, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will advise those who will be in charge of the Bill that they ought to accept many of the Amendments which have been put down both to this Motion and to the Bill itself.
I hope that this will not turn out to be a case of university lecturers in politics thinking together, but I am somewhat disturbed that the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) to back benchers opposite has not been taken up.
I understood my hon. Friend to say—and this I echo—that, if we are today discussing the question of Parliamentary control. or the lack of it, over Executives of any kind, Conservative, Labour or even Liberal, this is one matter, and one on which we should agree with a good number of hon. Members opposite.
If, on the other hand, this debate is to develop into a slanging match about whether the Socialists have done more or less than the Conservatives and about whether the Selective Employment Tax is good or bad, no proper debate of that kind will happen, and during the hours to come we shall all proceed dutifully into our Division Lobbies and, in those circumstances, the Government will be certain to win. If back benchers opposite want to get anywhere in this debate as distinct from letting off steam, they would do well to follow the advice given by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian.
I was flattered by being referred to by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) in his reference to a point I had made at Question Time last Thursday. The point I then made, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred somewhat cursorily, I thought, was that at the moment we are not exactly performing a useful function. It is clear to anyone of any intelligence at all that, at the end of today, or tomorrow morning, the Government will have their guillotine Motion. In fact, as soon as they tabled it, that was equally clear. What, then, are we doing now in debating it? Why are we not taking this day to start now the Committee stage of the Bill?
The Opposition Front Bench may say that it is the Government's fault, and the Government Front Bench may say that it is the Opposition's fault. I am not interested in arguing about whose fault it is. All I say is that, if there are four days available between now and the end of the Committee stage on the Selective Employment Payments Bill, it is a pretty poor show, when on both sides of the House we are talking about increasing productivity, to devote a whole day to arguing about whether the debate is to end in four days and doing nothing about the Bill itself at the earliest opportunity. It is really quite absurd.
What is at stake today is the procedure of the House. We must face the fact that our procedure here—
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong when he says that proceedings on the Bill must Finish on the day the Government want. It may be true that they will finish in that way, but there is no "must" about it if there are any guts on his side of the House.
I am talking about political realities. If hon. Members opposite wish to ignore them and make fancy constitutional points, that is their right. I am simply observing as a matter of fact that, at the end of the three Committee days allocated, the debate will end. That is the point at issue, though hon. Members may argue about constitutional niceties.
I had referred to the procedure of the House, and this is important. We are here discussing the moot point whether we are to have three or more days for the Committee stage of the Bill. In due course, on the first allotted day, the House will go into Committee. When I was lecturing in politics, I never did quite see what was the point of a Committee of the whole House. I should have thought that, by definition, a Committee was part of the whole, but here we show our belief in the uniqueness of this place by having a Committee of all of the whole. Once again, a group of Members will assemble and earnestly debate, until late in the night, whether particular Clauses of the Bill should or should not stand part. It seems to me to be ludicrous.
First of all, we are spending a whole day debating whether there should be three days for the Committee stage when there are a great many things which ought to be dealt with, and dealt with quickly, by the House. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to say that the Government are in a legislative mess. This is because they have to do in five years what the Tories did not do in 13 years and left over. There is a great mass of legislation to be done, and the legislation affects ordinary people in the street.
So the first thing that the House ought to do if it wants the country to become more modern and increase productivity is to push up its own productivity, to stop having Committees of the whole House meeting at all hours of the day and night on Finance Bills and so on. Instead, it should send Bills for their Committee stage to a small Standing Committee which can look at them in detail, sitting at civilised hours, and then, when it has done the work, send back the Bills to the whole House, which can then consider them and either give or not give them a Second Reading.
What worries me is that I do not believe that the Opposition are really interested in the ability to change the Government's mind. They seem to see opposition purely in terms of whether or not they can delay matters. This seems to me to be a particularly unhealthy state of affairs. From all that I have seen since I became a Member of the House, things are stratified. There is a procedure. The Leader of the House said today that we have "all been here before ". No doubt a majority of hon. Members have
It seems ludicrous to me that every so been, but I have not had that privilege. often the Government table a timetable Motion, and the Opposition, whether Labour or Conservative, explode in a mass of indignation. What happens in the end? Nothing happens, because the Government get their way. I suspect that the kind of opposition that we have today suits the Government's book adequately. The Government know that they will win; they know what will happen in the end. What any Government, whether of this side or the other side, would not like would be specialist standing committees with power to call for persons or papers and the same group of people looking at all Bills on a certain subject. It would mean that Parliament might really have some power to control and alter what the Government do. My belief is that if hon. Members are angry at what the Government are doing, what they should do is to seek to find ways to change what the Government are doing, not purely ways in which they can obstruct.
The public are not very interested in this debate. No one will have seen masses of people queueing up to listen to the debate. No one will see people rushing tomorrow morning to get their newspapers to see what was said here. Indeed, in most newspapers there will not be reports of what is said today. Yet hon. Member after hon. Member opposite says that the liberty of Parliament is at stake. Three hundred years ago that was a very important rallying cry when half the nation was rallied against the other half over the issue of the liberty of Parliament. But today it sounds rather like a joke. I suspect that the people talking about it today often regard it as a joke. It is a joke because one knows what the outcome will be. We know that if Parliament was really concerned about its liberties and powers to control the Executive it would do things other than it is doing at the moment.
I regard the way in which this Motion is being opposed as a joke.
Hon. Members opposite, as well as hon. Members on this side, know that the Government's timetable Motion will be passed. We may be up all night, but it will not make any difference. Hon. Members opposite, as is the case with some hon. Members on this side, fight shy of a real reform which would give all the back benchers real power of control over the Executive.
Parliament sits because it is the body which can control and check the Executive. The question at issue is whether, at the moment, Parliament is doing it as well as it might. My contention, and the contention of some of my hon. Friends, is that Parliament is not doing its job as well as it might. Parliament is not doing its job well when, on the Government putting down this kind of Motion, there are explosions of synthetic anger from an Opposition who are not prepared to advocate the only fundamental changes which could give the members of the Legislature greater power over the Executive.
We have these synthetic explosions of indignation about the liberty of the House. From what I have seen so far in this House, it seems very unfortunate to me that the subjects which arouse the greatest excitement and the greatest Parliamentary scenes are inevitably those connected with turgid points of procedure which are supposed to relate to the liberty of the House. Let us remember that the liberties of the House are important not in so far as they relate to constitutional niceties from lawyers long dead, but only in so far as they relate to the liberties of the people of the country. It is extremely unfortunate that we spend all our time discussing constitutionally nice points about our liberties, but very often find no time whatever to discuss important matters which relate to the liberties of our citizens.
Today, there is an opportunity for the House to get down to a fundamental point which ought to be of great concern to everybody, and that is whether the future of this country is to be one in which the Executive gains more and more power at the expense of the Legislature and whether Parliament is to become a bore, a show-piece, something for tourists and nothing more, or whether we are to have a different course of events in which Parliament can, by debating Motions not so much on the Floor of the House but in small Committees, gain more control over the Executive. I submit that that should be the objective of both sides. I hope that no one will suggest that my desire for control over the Executive is less when it is my party which is the Executive, because this is not so. Here is a matter for all Members of Parliament to look at.
My suggestion is that the rest of the debate tonight—I hope that it will not go on all night, because that is equally pointless—should be concerned with these great issues and not some kind of slapstick circus in which arguments which have been put forward for 20 years on guillotine Motions will be repeated ad infinitum, so that in five, 10 or 15 years' time the Front Benches will exchange jokes about what was said on this occasion. Let us get down to the fundamental issue. Then, I think, some of the back benchers on the Opposition side who are complaining about us will find that we on this side are most interested in the whole cause of the Legislature against the Executive.
We have had two lectures, both pretty bad ones. Certainly the way to make Parliament a bore is to have it full of lecturers on politics who know nothing about the House of Commons.
When the previous lecturer was speaking, he committed himself to the statement that there is never any result from a debate on the Committee stage in the House of Commons. That is absolute nonsense. Many hundreds of thousands of times we have seen Amendments accepted. Thousands of times Ministers have said "I agree with your point. I will bring in my own words on Report ". I have done it again and again as a Minister.
The logic of the argument of both lecturers was that nothing said in the House of Commons really matters. That is a very dangerous doctrine. If the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) wants to control the Executive, I will give him some advice. He should vote against his Government. The truth is that politics as an academic subject is one of the great growth industries: it is sailing ahead. Anyone who has been in the unfortunate position of being lectured by one of these lecturers will have found their ideas insane. The truth is that they have not the faintest idea of what it is all about. I should like to see all faculties of politics abolished. Let them teach history instead. What will happen to these lecturers? Surely there are many vacancies in our borstals.
I express indignation—not synthetic—about the Motion. What is happening to the Government is that they are gradually being led on to the use of force and to the disregard of the traditions of Parliament. I do not think that they want to do this, although quite a lot of their back benchers do. But the Government are led on in this way simply because of their lack of judgment and their amazing technical incompetence.
When we get our statement this week it will be the 21st since the Government took office 21 months ago in which restrictive measures have been announced —and this from a Government who knew how to get away from "stop-go". In the week in which this Motion was announced, we had the classic instance of technical incompetence.
On Monday we were told that everything was all right. On Tuesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered a question about the credit squeeze. In the evening the Prime Minister made a great speech about "moaning minnies". What a wonderful gift he has for coining a phrase; that is why all hon. Members opposite are so proud of him. On Thursday the Prime Minister elbowed the Chancellor of the Exchequer out of the way and announced an increase in Bank Rate and special deposits and said that sometime, when he had thought up something, he would announce something more. On every single occasion the run on the £ has accelerated. On Sunday we were informed that the Prime Minister would announce his moves a little earlier. The run on £ the accelerated again. I have not always been able to conceal my opinion of the present Treasury Ministers —they are the weakest lot ever to moisten the Front Bench. My opinion of the competence of the Prime Minister is almost as low as my opinion of his character. But when these professors of politics are talking about this House they should bear in mind certain things.
I imagine that they both belong to "Wilson's young eagles", but when they stop mewing and squawking about Parliament they should remember that they have never been in opposition and have never served under a competent Government. These troubles simply arise from the fact that the Treasury is not competent. Dr. Kaldor treats the Chancellor rather like a naughty child with a doll swinging it around and smashing its head on the floor. The Selective Employment Tax is an example. It was thought up, as everyone knows, in a matter of days and already has been fundamentally altered in respect of agriculture, horticulture, charities, extractive industries and so on.
Hundreds of point of immense importance to all our constituents have not yet been worked out nor even thought out, and they require discussion. It is all very well to say that if each of us only spoke for a quarter of a minute we could do the job but some of these problems are of immense complexity. There are enormous problems and it is wrong that we should not discuss them. I have no doubt that our constituents do not mind a great deal about this debate but they do mind being messed about as they will be.
The drift to force and the disregard of the traditions of the House come about through lack of purpose and courage by the Prime Minister. He is all over the place. One day he will not negotiate with the traitor Smith and then he will. One day there is to be no more "stop-go" and next day there is a permanent "stop ". One day there are to be no rises in wages and the next day there are. I am reminded of a certain commanding officer during the war known as "Kipper" by his men on the ground that he was two-faced and had no guts. Unfortunately we have a kipper as our Prime Minister. I believe that, with the help of some of the professors opposite, we may be able to turn out a kipper Government who are degrading our country.
I am sure that at least on this side of the House we cordially enjoyed, as always, the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) but I want to come back to the essential procedural point being debated. Tribute has rightly been paid to the position of the Leader of the House. I have always thought that he did one of the most courageous acts a man could do when he was Opposition Chief Whip. The right hon. Gentleman, as Opposition Chief 'Whip, stated in evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure that it would be a good thing for the House to move to procedures which could allow for a permanent timetable. This was a very courageous thing for an Opposition Chief Whip to do but the right hon. Gentleman did it.
But two things have subsequently greatly disappointed me. The first is that we have seen astonishingly little action on that front since then so that, once again, we are debating a makeshift timetable Motion for a particular Measure. I am certain that one day the House will move to a permanent Standing Committee which will discuss a timetable on an agreed basis for major legislation. Of course it will be coupled, and will have to be coupled, with a time limit on speeches. I want to refer to that again, because there is an ugly development on that aspect.
The second profound disappointment to one who holds the right hon. Gentleman in personal admiration is that there have been instances where, clearly, he has not been in command of the House. I have in mind, for example, the particularly squalid episode in the last Parliament when a Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave).
Very well, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I have recalled the incident to your mind. It was clear on that occasion that the right hon. Gentleman was not in command of the House. In terms of this Motion, there is a particular development to which I want to refer which indicates exactly the same thing. The point is that if we are ever to move, as I believe we can, to a permanent timetable procedure coupled with a time limit on speeches, it will be, rightly And properly, done by agreement across the Floor of the House in a way with which we are all familiar. It will mean that this kind of Motion will fall into the past.
It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that each Opposition of the day is apt to complain—and not always unreasonably—that anything of this kind is an imposition on its freedom. It was done when we limited ourselves to what we now call the Ten o'clock Rule. The right hon. Gentleman gave the lead when he was in Opposition. It seems singularly regrettable that nearly two Parliamentary years later we are still in precisely the same position.
That it might improve the quality of our debates I have no doubt, if it is done by agreement. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) referred to a particularly good debate, as he felt, when we were brisk and short and worked on a voluntary timetable. Having listened to his excellent contribution on that occasion, I am certain that he was referring to a debate on the universities. If the record is studied, it will be seen that no hon. Member spoke for longer than 10 minutes, by voluntary restriction. But that was done by consensus of opinion across the Floor of the House. It unquestionably improved the quality of our debates, and there is much to be learned from that example.
But that is wholly different from imposing upon the House, before the start of a Committee stage, without agreement, a timetable Motion of this kind, particularly as in normal circumstances the tax, which is the central point of the Bill, would never have been in a separate Bill at all. Everybody knows the reason. Senior Treasury Ministers are decidedly indiscreet when they lunch in City boardrooms and elsewhere about the way in which this tax was introduced very quickly as far as they were concerned. These things get round. We should never ever have been having a tax in a separate Bill, or a large part of it in a separate Bill, if it were not for the accepted and acknowledged fact that the Inland Revenue was and is grossly overworked and that we are close to breakdown in important sections of the Revenue and that for that reason we have had to employ the wholly foreign concept—and that is not meant as a joke in this context—of using the machinery of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the Ministry of Labour for tax purposes. Had it been, as it would have been if it had been properly planned and properly thought out and properly prepared, in one Finance Bill, we should never have been having this discussion.
The plain fact, too, is that prolonged discussion can go against an Opposition. Intelligent opposition does not permit a discussion to get to the limit of prolongation so that public interest is lost and the point and the pith of the argument are evaporated. That is the balancing factor between the two sides. I sincerely believe that if an approach had been made, certainly if the proposals had been incorporated in only one Bill and an approach had been made publicly, for a reasonable measure of agreement between the two sides for discussing the enormous range of interests involved, that would have been capable of achievement. I am very regretful that the Government have not taken that step.
I quite understand the technical reasons which have made them introduce a separate Bill. It is just as well to remember how close to breakdown we are. I do not propose to give any details in public, but I have had interviews with senior officials of the Revenue about substantial sums of tax being lost because of the problems of overwork by the authorities. I propose to give no sort of clue as to where these lie, but it is a fact and officials will confirm what I say. We are grossly overworking officials in important sections of the Revenue. That is why the tax is in two Bills and that, in turn, is why we are having this discussion at all.
The reasons for this Motion are not difficult to see. First, the Government are under immense pressure to get to the harbour of the long recess. The summer is always a difficult time for any Government. Tempers get rather bad and Ministers trip, or are apt to trip—these trip more frequently than most—and it is a difficult period. One can understand the Prime Minister's anxiety to get quickly into harbour. If those matters about which he is to talk to us on Wednesday require legislative action, obviously he will have said to the Leader of the House that the right hon. Gentleman must have his legislative desk clearer than it is at present. Some very good and constructive ideas have been given to him for achieving this.
On this subject I will give just this one word to the Leader of the House: if he consults international banking opinion, he will find that one of the things which surprises it most is the Government's determination in present economic circumstances to proceed with steel nationalisation. It is surprising just how strongly this has impinged on our creditors abroad. I must go no further than that and I say that only as an aside. It may be that one of the things with which Ministers are now wrestling is just how to present to their back benchers that this measure has to be dropped. We shall see. [Laughter.] The laughter may be double-faced on Wednesday; we shall see. Meanwhile we have the Prime Minister making strong efforts to get into the haven of the Parliamentary recess.
Coupled with that we have immense pressures from back benchers. I do not think that I would ever have believed that a feeling of joyous confidence at winning an election could evaporate so quickly as I have seen it evaporate on the Government benches. I do not think that I have ever seen disillusion set in so fast in any body of men and women. It is one of the most remarkable features of our present Parliamentary set-up, which is remarked on by neutral observers who have no political affiliations and who watch our processes with other eyes. One of the Prime Minister's problems is to get this unhappy band into the Parliamentary recess without any too great further damage being done. Hence the immense pressures for the timetable Motion which we are now discussing.
I am one of those who, without apology and quite firmly, have always maintained that the House is better served by having in it a certain proportion—I do not say all—of men and women with outside interests. It is a good thing for there to be men and women in the House who make and lose money in the same way as other people whom we represent.
You are cutting me off from saying how I lose money outside the House, Mr. Speaker. I hope that there is relevance in what I am about to say. I merely wanted to make the point that if the Leader of the House is concerned about the willingness of hon. Members to work into August, if he wishes, or to come back earlier, if, for example, he is courteously considering the interests of those, like myself, with outside interests, then let it be said quite clearly that every hon. Member, in whichever party he sits, always regards his service to the House as his overwhelming and primary duty. There are no doubts about that. Thus to be anxious to get out our buckets and spades and pattipans and be off to the sea, or wherever we go. in the economic state of the nation as it is at present, and with a Bill undiscussed, would be to make a mockery and a farce of Parliament.
I have no qualifications whatever to give the academic analyses that we were lucky enough to listen to earlier on. We were clearly benefited by the weighty contributions made. I know, as an ordinary practical back bencher of this House, that one of the things that breeds discontent in the country is the feeling that many of the matters which are deeply ingrained and felt by our constituents are not properly discussed here. There can be very few better examples than a tax of this kind which affects every single one of our constituents in one particular or another.
If the feeling gets about that we have not adequately discussed this tax it will do more in one single step to breed a growing disillusionment with our procedure than anything else that we can do. All this leads to a devastating case against the imposition, without any attempt to get agreement, of a timetable Motion on a Bill which would never have materialised if it had not been for the gross overworking of the Inland Revenue.
There is one final and, I think, sinister aspect of this matter. I frankly believe that one of those who has a very powerful say behind the scenes—and it is always behind the scenes—in our timetable here is the Paymaster-General. There is a very unhappy rumour going around—if one wants to find out what the Paymaster-General is doing one has to devil in the same sort of way as he does—that precisely because we are going to have a timetable Motion it will be so organised that a substantial amount of time, he would hope over-substantial, will be taken up by an organised corps of Government back benchers.
I shall be grateful if the Leader of the House would pay attention to this. In ordinary circumstances I would never dream of paying the smallest attention to the tittle tattle of that level. But, having lived through some of the Paymaster-General's activities in this House, I attach considerable importance to this particular manoeuvre in conjunction with this timetable Motion. I want to make it clear that I still do not believe that the Leader of the House would lower himself to tactics of that kind—I have far too great a personal respect and regard for him. But he must pay attention to the activities of one of those at least metaphorically alongside him and the damage that this does to the understandings upon which this House works.
To draw the threads of my argument together—[Interruption.]—I am happy to think that a number of hon. Members opposite are ready to contribute to this debate, because they will add considerably to its value. We should like to hear a number of supporting speeches in favour of the guillotine Motion and I am sure that we will not feel that they will be depleted by the fact that practically no hon. Members opposite have been in the House until about half an hour ago.
This was an unnecessary Bill, and a hybrid Bill. It would never have been so had it not been for the over-working of the Revenue. This meant that it had to be done in two parts. In time this has resulted in a timetable Motion being imposed without any attempt at agreement between the two parties. This could lead, and I have an uneasy feeling that it will lead, to pretty sinister manipulations of our proceedings. In the modern vernacular it is N.S.D., and it ought to be thrown out hook, line and sinker.
When I came into this House this afternoon I had not the slightest intention of taking part in this debate, and I would not have attempted to do so had it not been for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). It was his speech which prompted me to participate, and I will refer to some of his remarks in a moment. First, I should say that I agree entirely with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), that it is most discourteous for an hon. Member to participate in a debate, without having heard the previous speeches. For that reason, among others, I would not have taken part in this debate, but for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, West.
His speech was one which certainly entitled us on this side of the House to make our comments upon it and that is what I proceed to do, whether I have his permission, or the permission of anyone else. The second reason why I want to participate in the debate is that, when I saw the massive number of hon. Gentlemen opposite getting up to continue the debate, I thought that I would rather listen to myself than listen to any of them, and I therefore decided to proceed.
I hope that this point will also be understood by the hon. Member for Wokingham. He said that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General has been engaged in some form of sinister conspiracy, because he has allegedly been suggesting that if a guillotine Motion is passed, then it might be arranged for some hon. Gentlemen from this side of the House to participate in the debates as well as hon. Gentlemen on the other side. I have not heard any of these rumours and I do not subscribe to this new doctrine that I hear goes round the House which is epitomised in the phrase, "Walls have wigs". I do not accept this doctrine and I conduct my affairs as if this did not occur.
It would not be an extraordinary procedure if, under a guillotine Motion, it were easier for supporters of the Government to participate in debates than if there was no Guillotine. This development has occurred, so far as I can recall, whenever a guillotine Motion has been introduced. It happened when hon. Gentlemen opposite were on this side of the House. They introduced more guillotine Motions, as we were informed at the beginning of this debate, by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in the past 13 years than in almost any other period of British Parlia- mentary history. It is only right to underline this afresh. When they did so we saw this development: immediately, some of their supporters who had been completely silent before, became vocal. If this occurs on this occasion it will not be due to the influence of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General: it will be due to the natural course of events.
Some people, not myself, may say that this is an argument for the Guillotine. It makes the argument less one-sided and in that sense it could be argued that hon. Gentlemen will be able to hear more fully what is the view of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. I do not think that there can be any quarrel with that suggestion. It is the most innocent accusation that has ever been made against the Paymaster-General. If he was doing nothing else but that for all of the time well—[Interruption.]—I am glad to carry the House with me so far.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, West was not speaking to a guillotine Motion at all, and he knows that very well. He intervened in the debate in order to let off some of his vicious epigrams about the Prime Minister, some of them even new. He thought that this was a proper occasion. He might have saved them up until the Third Reading of the Finance Bill. They might have been a bit more relevant then. However, he thought that he would get them in now and that is the way in which he has used this debate.
He started off by saying that his indignation about the guillotine Motion was not synthetic and then he never mentioned the guillotine Motion again. He merely went ahead to discuss the Prime Minister in his usual terms. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to recapture his one moment in Parliamentary history. Everyone in this House knows that the one thing for which the right hon. Gentleman will be remembered for all of his political life, by his party—[Interruption.]—no, it was not his removal from the Treasury bench, or his withdrawal; it will be for none of his contributions to the nation's finances. This is not what he will be remembered for. It will be not his casual conversations on the grouse moors or his evidence to the Bank Rate Tribunal—
Unlike the rest of the House, Mr. Speaker, you had the good fortune not to hear the right hon. Member for Flint, 'West. I am replying to him directly. The one moment in Parliamentary history for which he will be remembered by his own party and by all of us was when his Prime Minister was in great difficulties—
I was saying that, in my opinion, the speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West, illustrated how little the Opposition were concerned about this Motion, partly because he did not refer to it and partly because, instead of revealing the indignation of the Opposition about the Motion, he used the occasion to make a vicious personal attack on the Prime Minister—this from a man whose one achievement in politics was to stab his own leader in the back in the middle of the Profumo crisis.
On a point of order. I had the misfortune to listen to the speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and after the exhibition, with manifestations of bitter venom— [Interruption.] It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Flint, West to snigger. He does not like the reply. I think that we should have a reply. I should like to make it myself —and God help the right hon. Gentleman if I do.
I am all in favour of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell) making his reply, but I wish that he would not make it in my speech. He should choose some other occasion. Perhaps he can get into the debates which we have in other places. I cannot, so I have to come here to make my speeches. I will be making an appli- cation to my right hon. Friend at some future date.
I am sorry if my speech was not as precisely in order as I always desire my speeches to be. I got into these difficulties because I wanted to reply to the speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West. No one who heard his speech could doubt that the opposition of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to this Motion is bogus. No one who heard this speech could question that they are using this occasion merely for the purpose, as they think, of prosecuting their political animosities rather than for arguing the Parliamentary question of whether the Guillotine should be imposed in these circumstances. That is my judgment of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I would ask for the support of every hon. Member who heard his speech in my belief that he did not use his time to apply his mind to the Motion. But I will.
The hon. Member for Wokingham said that one of his objections to the Motion is that the Finance Bill is, in effect, two Bills and that this is one of the reasons why we have got into these difficulties. He says that the Government introduced financial measures which could not be put in the Finance Bill and therefore we had to have a second Bill on which the Government had to introduce an allocation of time Motion. But this has been done on many occasions. It may be regrettable that Governments, particularly Chancellors of the Exchequer, do not always arrange in advance that all their budgetary proposals are put in one Bill. It may be objectionable; but it has been done on many occasions.
I can remember that the Guillotine was imposed when a Budget was introduced in the midst of a financial crisis and when the previous Government, at the same time as they introduced their Finance Bill, introduced measures which imposed charges on the Health Service. That happened on two or three occasions. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) was responsible in previous economic crises for imposing charges on people who had to buy surgical boots, and the rest, which makes us rather dubious about his lamentations of interest in the hardship imposed on disabled people by these measures.
Yes, and it is most deplorable. They should be taken off. The right hon. Gentleman led me astray with his speech. He is now trying to get me out of order with his interruptions.
As I was saying, previous Governments, of which the right hon. Member for Flint, West was a member, on many occasions did not introduce all their budgetary proposals in one Bill. They often had to have two or three Bills, and the example which I quote is relevant. On those occasions we had a separate Bill introduced under which charges were imposed on the Health Service and those measures were driven through the House under the Guillotine. All the measures which I can recall imposing fresh changes on the Health Service were pushed through under the Guillotine. Therefore, the hon. Member for Wokingham must not talk as if it is a novelty for the Government to resort to this device, however much we might hope that Chancellors of the Exchequer could put all their measures in the one Bill.
There is another aspect of the discussion which should be considered. When we started our proceedings, Mr. Speaker, you stated the reasons why you had called certain Amendments and had rejected others. I was rather dumbfounded because I had not heard a Speaker give his reasons for calling particular Amendments in such detail. I am not altogether certain whether it is the wisest course for Speakers to take. If Speakers are to give the reasons why they have selected certain Amendments and rejected others, those reasons should be open to discussion. Up to now, they have been open to discussion only on a Motion about the Speaker. I am opposed to Motions about the Speaker. I believe that Motions about the Speaker, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means or Officers of the House should be tabled only in extreme circumstances.
I mention this because the matters in this Motion about which I am concerned are excluded from direct discussion under the Amendments, although I should obviously be in order in discussing them under the main Question. Many of the Amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) are very good Amendments which should have commanded the support of many hon. Members opposite, according to their professions.
Some of his Amendments propose that extra time should be given to the discussion of the Bill in the mornings. I gather that that is what the hon. Members opposite want. My hon. Friend, in his usual accommodating mood, is trying to help hon. Members opposite. If my hon. Friend's Amendments were all called and passed, then I understand that in certain cases some extra time would be provided for discussion of the Bill. I very well recall remarks made by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West last Thursday when this debate was announced. He then said that he would be prepared to sit longer into August to discuss the Bill or to sit in the morning.
Not only did the right hon. Gentleman say that but every one heard him say it. I rose at the time and said that he had said it. The right hon. Member for Flint, West can speak for himself but he cannot speak for the rest of hon. Members opposite. Indeed, I do not suppose that he can speak for any of them. His right hon. Friend said that he was prepared to sit in the mornings as one method of providing extra time to discuss the Bill.
I thought that I had passed that point fairly successfully. When my hon. and learned Friend is skating over thin ice at Hampstead, even he had better be careful not to fall in, even though he can swim. As an aside—and most speeches from hon. Members opposite have been asides in the debate—I was saying that I thought it open to discussion whether it was advisable—
I was not questioning the selection. I was referring to the point, Mr. Speaker, that you had given some reasons why you had selected some Amendments and rejected others and I was animadverting that this is not necessarily the wisest course for Mr. Speaker to take, because if Speakers discuss the reasons why they are selecting certain Amendments it will be necessarily so that hon. Members will wish to discuss them, too—
I was not seeking, and it would be most presumptuous of me to suggest it, to take away from Mr. Speaker in any sense his right to select Amendments. I was merely saying that if Mr. Speaker gives certain reasons why he is not selecting Amendments, then necessarily that is a different situation from that in which Mr. Speaker merely says, "I have selected certain Amendments and rejected others ", particularly when he is rejecting Amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West who indicated, I think in too generalised manner, that Amendments from this side of the House were bound to be rejected in any event.
I will certainly leave the matter. It is my belief that the House should discuss on this Motion whether we could not have dealt with the Bill better by allocating some time in the mornings for discussion.
I very much object to guillotine Motions. I do not think that they are good for the House of Commons. For the reasons which have been given by some hon. Members opposite, they are inclined to deaden debate. When it is known by the Government Front Bench that the end of the debate is to be reached by a certain time, some of the flexibility and spontaneity of the debate is necessarily lost. It was most churlish and ungenerous of the right hon. Member for Flint, West in the course of his remarks—again it was an illustration of how little he was in earnest about the main subject—to attack the Treasury spokesmen on the Finance Bill. I think that everybody in the House except himself, whether they agree with the policies or not, agrees that the exposition of the Government's case has been extremely good. Indeed, that has been acknowledged by almost every hon. Member opposite. We do not expect it from the right hon. Gentleman. He thinks that he is the only person who should sit on the Treasury Bench, and that opinion has never been shared by anybody, particularly by his own Prime Minister, which was no doubt the reason why he pursued his particular vendetta with such enmity against the man who sacked him.
Well, it was unanimous.
The House should be extremely chary in resorting to guillotine Motions. I propose to vote for this one partly because I wish to see the Government go ahead with many Measures which I want to see on the Statute Book as quickly as possible. I understand that one of the reasons why the Opposition want eight or ten days for a discussion of this Bill is that they want to hold up some other Measures, for example, the Steel Bill. I want to see the Steel Bill on the Statute Book as quickly as possible. It surely would have been on the Statute Book years ago but for the quite undemocratic intervention of another place. I should like to do away with them, too. We could apply the Guillotine very effectively there.
I therefore have very good reasons for voting for the Government's Motion. I want to see all these Measures proceeded with. I well understand the Government's case; if they have to spend eight or ten days on this Bill, or whatever it is the Opposition are demanding—they have not fixed a figure—then many other necessary Measures will be killed. That is a substantial reason for the Motion.
If we are to avoid the futility of this kind of debate on the Guillotine—and I am occupying the time at least as well as hon. Members opposite; that is the best I can say for myself—then we must reform the procedure of the House of Commons. I am strongly in favour of it. I was put by my right hon. Friend on the Select Committee on Procedure to help in that purpose, but when I got upstairs I discovered that there were certain of my hon. Friends who said that the urgent reform of the House was by setting up a whole series of Select Committees. With the assistance of Mr. Redmayne—for personal reasons, although not for political reasons, I am sorry that he is not here—I put down a Motion stating that if the Select Committee on Procedure wasted all its time discussing that, it would hardly discuss anything else. What I then said was right. Day after day, week after week, the time of the Select Committee on Procedure was wasted discussing this distracting subject of whether we should set up Select Committees.
What we should have been discussing was how we could set reasonable timetables which would not be subject to the absolute limit of the Guillotine but which would be more flexible. That would be a very intelligent reform, and we should get ahead with it. We should be getting ahead with the question of changing the times of sitting of the House, a suggestion supported by a great mass of hon. Members. But we have not been able to get near this because we have had all these other proposals cluttering up the way. We should sit at a different time. I think that the only way in which this will come about is by backbench Members on all sides forcing their will on the Front Bench. That is the only way in which we can change the procedure, because as far as I can see the Front Bench are adamant in their objection to this change.
I thought that this was a very good opportunity for it, on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West. We could have made the change and, incidentally, have had the advantage of calling the bluff of hon. Members opposite. If they were as eager as they say to discuss the Selective Employment Tax in greater detail—
He says he is. All right, let him persuade his own Front Bench to put down a Motion saying that there shall be sittings in the mornings. Let him do that. We were told they would do it. Let us start that way. Till he and his hon. and right hon. Friends do that, I hope they will not expect us to take them seriously.
If we were to ask the 'Opposition Front Bench to accept sitting in the morning, which would be a very great hardship to many of us, but which, I am certain, we are willing to accept, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to get his hon. Friends on the back benches and his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, too, to sit to 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning as well if need be.
It was a very problematical proposition which the hon. Gentleman put to me, for I have no influence with my hon. Friends at all. All I am saying is exactly what I think. If the Opposition were to make proposals for sitting in the mornings, combined with the Government's proposals for limiting the time on the Bill, I think that that would be a proper matter to be considered, but it should have been considered already, for that is what the Opposition wanted, and the usual channels have been operating throughout this period.
I am sure that when my right hon. Friend met the Opposition, through the usual channels, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West, could have said, "Well, speaking for the official Opposition I think that we should have, instead of three days, four days—two of them including the morning ". I am sure my right hon. Friend would have been prepared to consider it, but I do not suppose that the Opposition put that forward at all, but till they do let them not come to us and say that they are eager to have more time devoted to this matter, and let us have no more crocodile tears on the back benches, or Front Bench crocodile tears, either, with protestations that they passionately want these matters to be further debated, because we know, and the country knows, that they apparently are more eager to transact business in the mornings than to come here to discuss the business of the House.
Therefore, the real test of the sincerity of hon. Gentlemen opposite is whether they will use their influence to have put upon the Notice Paper Amendments of the kind my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West has put down and which, unfortunately, for some obscure reason, Mr. Speaker, have not been selected. This is how they could have brought this debate alive. This is how they could have proved their sincerity. Because they have not done so it seems more sensible that this debate should end right now.
I do not propose to go into the question of timetable Motions in general, nor do I intend to ventilate political animosities, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has accused some of us on this side of doing. All I would say on the hon. Member's statement about morning sittings is that it entirely ignored the duties of Scottish Members of the House, who are sitting in the mornings in any case.
The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) happens not to be on the Scottish Standing Committee which is at present sitting, but most of us are occupied in the mornings. I think that the hon. Member will recognise immediately that if the Scots were to be unable to attend debates in this Chamber because they were dealing with Scottish legislation—as they are doing—in Committee in the mornings, then we should, naturally, greatly object.
I intend to speak on the Motion which is before us now, and about its effect on Scotland. When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House announced it in the House, on Thursday, it seemed incredible that a timetable should be imposed on this kind of Bill, and that only three days should be allowed for the Committee stage. It is on that that I wish to speak. The Selective Employment Payments Bill is a phenomenal Bill. It is a system of taxation which is quite unlike any other which has been brought forward.
One of the phenomena is that for many it is not to be a tax at all. Many are to receive premiums instead of paying tax. Under the Finance Bill which we have been considering all employers are to pay the tax on their employees; it is to be levied on them; but to a great many the tax will be returned, and to others it will be returned with a premium. It is the basis of the selectivity of the tax which is vital.
Although, under the Finance Bill, everybody is to make a forced loan to the Government for a number of months, it matters a great deal to different kinds of industry and to different categories of person whether they are in the categories which will be refunded or to whom the premiums will be paid. It is the S.E.P. Bill, which is the subject of this guillotine Motion, under which repayments can he made, and under which it is to be decided to whom the repayments and the premiums are to be paid. The Bill is, therefore, an essential part of the tax, and I agree entirely with all those hon. Members who have already spoken and have pointed out that the S.E.P. Bill is part of the Finance Bill. It is the S.E.P. Bill which will decide upon whom the full burden of the tax will fall, and for whom, in contrast, handouts, a bonanza, will be paid.
The House will not be surprised when it hears that I am concerned particularly with the areas of Scotland where the burden of this tax will fall most heavily because of the absence of manufacturing industry, the kind of industry which is to receive the premiums—which is to be not only to be paid back, but to receive something extra; in fact, not to be affected by the tax in any other way than that of being forced to make a loan, and then to receive back more than it paid.
The Scottish figures which the Treasury gave about seven weeks ago made it clear that once payments of the premiums had been made, the tax would fall more heavily, per employee in the Highlands and Islands, the seven crofting counties for which the figures were given, than anywhere else in the country.
When I asked the Leader of the House, on Thursday last, if he could make sure,
before tabling this timetable Motion, that there would be adequate time for consideration of those problems in particular, he replied:
The…. Bill is not concerned with the raising of the taxation, but with the repayments ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1966; Vol. 731. c. 1730.]
But the whole point about the Bill is that, till it is decided how and to whom the repayments are to be made, including the premiums, it is impossible to assess how heavily the tax will fall on different categories, and different areas of the country. When it is proposed, as it is under this system, that about three-quarters of all the money to be collected is then to be paid out again, paid back, the incidence of the tax depends entirely on the question of who will receive those repayments, and that is what is to be decided under the S.E.P. Bill.
I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman's answer to me on Thursday last showed lack of basic comprehension of the position in which we are now placed. It is the Bill to which this timetable Motion refers which will govern the weight with which the tax will fall on different areas, and the figures which the Chief Secretary gave in a Written Answer seven weeks ago show that it will fall very heavily upon the Highlands and Islands —and is likely to fall similarly on the North of Scotland as a whole.
In my speech during our debates on the Finance Bill, I christened the S.E.T. the "Scottish Emigration Tax"—
Mr. Speaker, it is because of the effects on the area about which I speak that we wish to be certain that there will be time under the timetable for these points to be raised.
The Government are always very keen on plans. We are told that any collection of proposals which they put forward is a plan. Sometimes we are told that it is purposive planning. I can assure the Government that their Selective Employment Payments Bill will soon be called in Scotland the "Scottish Emigration Plan".
Since the Bill was published, the Government have already made several changes, as a result of arguments which they have heard and which have been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), in favour of charities, the extractive industries, agriculture, forestry, and so on. In all those cases, the tax is to be levied under the Finance Bill, but the question of an industry's exemption depends upon whether it is to be repaid. In all those cases, the Government have said, "We will make sure that they are repaid in the Selective Employment Payments Bill"—
I intend to relate this to the position under the Finance Bill and the Guillotine, Sir.
I was going on to say that the Government have already heard some cases and changed their minds, and, unless they have an opportunity to listen and he persuaded about other cases which hon. Members raise, there can be no chance of similar arrangements being made for repayment under the Bill. Under the Finance Bill, all are to have the tax levied on them. What really matters is who is to have it repaid under the guillotined Bill.
Morning sittings have been suggested, but my proposal is that we should sit on further into August. I am not against the idea of timetable Motions in general, though I believe that they should be used very rarely and with great care. In this case, we should be given more time, and we should be able to agree upon the number of days in which the business could be dealt with. [Interruption.] In response to that remark, made from a sedentary position, I would say that, as Scottish Whip for the Government, and when I have been in opposition, in the Scottish Committee and in the House, I have often been able to reach agreement amicably as to how far we should get on a particular matter by a certain time. From remarks which have been made today, both sides of the House agree that that is the kind of objective at which we should aim.
To say that all the Committee stage of the Bill should be concluded in three days, when we could take a few more days into August on what is a very important matter, is quite unjustified. This is much too important a matter on which to spend so short a time, and it is one which especially affects everyone who is in business or in employment in areas like the North of Scotland.
If anyone doubts my sincerity, I can assure him that it will be more agreeable for me to be discussing the Bill in August in the House than to spend August and September at home in the North of Scotland among those who will bear the burden more heavily than elsewhere, because of the little in the way of repayments due to them under the Bill at present having not had the full opportunity to persuade the Government to make the necessary alterations.
When the history of the decline and fall of the nation comes to be written, this debate will merit at least one small footnote, because I cannot imagine any greater lunacy than spending the whole of one day discussing how we should spend a few more days. There is really no limit to how far we could go. We could have a Motion to limit the time that we spend discussing today's Motion to limit the time we spend discussing today's Motion to limit the time we spend discussing today's Motion, and so on.
I know that longer-serving Members than I get hot under the collar when new Members criticise the House, but when we talk in our constituencies about time-wasting procedures, how can we keep a straight face when constituents point to today's futility?
It would have been far better had some arrangement been made between the two Front Benches, with the participation of my own party, to take part of this debate on the Selective Employment Tax in the mornings. I would remind the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) put forward the suggestion during Questions only last week that we should have morning sittings on the Selective Employment Payments Bill.
The Government seem rather surprised by the great number of Amendments which have been tabled. On the first Clause, there are 63 Amendments, 13 of which are in my own name. As the timetable is scheduled, we shall not even have time to debate all my own Amendments, let alone those which have been put down by other hon. Members on both sides of the House. The fact is that many of the Amendments are of immense importance to all constituencies. Although the Government may be surprised to find that there is greater opposition to the Bill on this side than on the benches behind them, it is because this is the first tax which has been angled for a political reason.
It is statistically true that the Conservative and Liberal-held seats will bear a much greater part of the burden of the tax than Labour held seats. I believe that this is probably the first time that a tax has been calculated for political reasons.
I stand corrected on that, Mr. Speaker, but the major point which I am trying to get across is that the reason why we are angry—and we have been accused of synthetic anger—is because it affects our constituencies very badly.
There has been some reticence on the Conservative benches about obstruction. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said that he would not practise obstruction on the Bill. But I want passionately to obstruct it for as long as I can, and that is the reason why I oppose the Motion. There have been several major changes made to the Bill already, and the longer we can delay it the more chance there is of getting a few more.
The whole of this discussion, and the debate on the Selective Employment Tax, when it comes, will be entirely irrelevant. The Government cannot honestly introduce this major deflationary measure in the autumn on top of the measures which it will be introducing later this week. It will heap deflation upon deflation, and the most appalling crisis will occur. It would be far better if the Government were to postpone the Bill entirely—to rewrite it, preferably—until they know the likely effects of those other measures which they intend to introduce.
I would remind the Government that, however much they accuse some hon. Members on this side of synthetic anger, they cannot in my own case. In my constituency, there are two towns which, on a statistical analysis of this tax, are the two hardest-hit in the whole country. The measures which the Government are to announce later in the week will hit my constituencey very hard, but this tax will hit it even harder, and chronic unemployment will occur.
I believe that the Government should take back the Bill. If they cannot take it back, they should allow sufficient time for its proper discussion. It is not a good Bill now, and it will not be a good Bill, not matter how long we discuss it. But we may make it just a little better.
Mr. Speaker, I was very sorry that during the initial stages of the debate, when you ruled on the Amendment which I had tabled, I was engaged in another part of the building in a Committee, and so was prevented from being here, because I would have attempted, rightly or wrongly, to make some kind of protest, not at your selection, but at the fact that my Amendment did not happen to be selected.
I am glad that the hon. Member puts it so charmingly. He cannot possibly protest at the selection made by the Chair. This is a responsibility which the House gives the Chair.
I understand that, and I have made my point.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that in principle everybody in this House opposes timetable Motions. As a guardian within certain limitations, of the rights of back benchers, I think that any move which increases the power of the Executive over the rights of back benchers is to be deplored in general terms. I think that a timetable Motion wholly favours the Executive. All that the Executive does is to sit tight and watch the clock. It does little more than that. It need not answer the arguments. It need not even listen to them. It just watches the clock.
All parties are guilty of this kind of thing, and the very fact that every Government have on occasion to introduce a guillotine Motion is a reflection on the absurdities of the Parliamentary timetable in general. We have too little time, and too much to say and to do. This is the argument put forward by all Governments, but it must be very difficult for the public to understand this argument when they know, and we know, that some time in August maybe, we shall get out of this place and clear off for September and the greater part of October, and this at the time when we are calling on trade unionists and everybody outside for increased productivity, and asking them to get their noses nearer to the grindstone than they have them at the moment. It is very difficult for people outside this Chamber to understand this point of view, which is put forward by successive Governments.
I listened to the synthetic protests of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) last Thursday, when he spoke of his willingness to sit on. He presumed to be speaking for his party, but he should have seen the faces of his hon. Friends when he said that. Had he done so, he would have modified his views somewhat. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman having said that he was prepared to sit on through August, September and October if need be, I was very surprised, on looking at the Order Paper, not to see an Amendment by either the Conservative or the Liberal Party to provide for morning sittings. If the Official Opposition had tabled such an Amendment, presumably Mr. Speaker would have selected it for debate, and the House would have got its way against the Government Front Bench. It was precisely because they knew that that would happen that they did not table the Amendment.
I hope that before long the Select Committee on Procedure will put before the House a proposal for morning sittings, at the very least for an experimental period, then we will see whether the Conservatives really want them. The fact is that they do not, because they have business interests outside which they want to look after in the mornings. They are therefore fundamentally opposed to any attempt to bring the hours of sitting more into line with practice outside, and more into conformity with common sense.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the case for sitting in the afternoon when the House would otherwise be on holiday is different from the case for sitting in the morning when a substantial number of Members are in Standing Committees upstairs?
The hon. Gentleman is not as naive as that. He knows that the basic reason why Conservatives do not want, and never have wanted, morning sittings is because they have business and commercial interests outside the House, and they do not want them interfered with. They take priority, and this House is a secondary consideration.
I think that that is probably true, but my hon. Friend knows that they were very reluctant to have morning sittings. They objected to them in principle, even though it was a very important Bill.
I can understand the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) being angry about this tax. It is a new tax. The Bill widens the tax base, and anything revolutionary in this regard is opposed by the Conservative and Liberal Parties, despite all their arguments and protestations to the contrary.
The important point to remember is that the arguments for and against this tax have been debated ad nauseam on the Finance Bill. If the official Opposition got their way, they would only repeat the arguments which have already been put forward. The right hon. Member for Enfield once again did his little sums. He divided the number of Amendments by the amount of time allocated, and said that it was equivalent to five minutes per Amendment. He was assuming, of course, that all the Amendments would be called. If one went through any Bill, be it a Finance Bill or any other, and added up the Amendments and said, "All right, we will allow an average of half an hour per Amendment", we would get half a dozen Bills in the whole Session. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is therefore fallacious.
I think that the timetable is adequate for rational and sensible discussion of the Bill. I think that it is an arguable proposition—and I am sure that many hon. Members on this side would agree with me—that where there is a major controversial Bill there is a sound case for the two Front Benches getting together to see wheher they can agree a timetable.
My proposition for a Finance Bill would to some degree relate to this Measure. It is simply that one takes the number of hours spent on the Committee stage over the last 10 years, and the Government then say, "The Finance Bill next year will have as many hours devoted to it in Committee upstairs as have been devoted to it on average over the last 10 years". If a timetable for highly controversial Bills such as this were agreed by the two Front Benches, the debates on them would he much more fruitful than they are at the moment.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North, said that had a timetable not been introduced he would have obstructed the Bill. He is entitled to do that, but, equally, the Government are entitled to safeguard their position, because, rightly or wrongly, they think that this is a good Bill, and they have been elected to govern. During the Second Reading debate I said that it was basically a sound tax, but that it had rough edges. I see that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North is trying to intervene, but I know what he is going to say. I believe that it is a good tax. But, even if I do not, the Government think that it is a good tax, and they have a right to get their legislation through the House. Thus, if the Opposition and the Government do not agree a timetable, the Government have every right to impose one. That is what they are doing now, but I regret that they did not include morning sittings, and that they did not make provision to go on further into August than they have done.
I will not comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) about morning sittings, or the arguments for and against this type of taxation, because I do not believe that that is what the debate is about. I was astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the timetable was adequate for a sensible discussion to take place. Perhaps, on reflection, he will let us know what we are to discuss. I do not know and that is one of the main points I wish to raise.
I was disappointed at the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who shaped up to make what I thought was a speech taking an independent line. The hon. Gentleman frequently argues strongly and on this occasion I agree with him about the importance of bringing power to the Floor of the House. He spoke about the need for back benchers to force their will on Front Benchers and he objected to the Guillotine Motion. However, he quickly added, in effect, "Not this time" —simply because it suited his side. Entertaining though his speeches always are, on this occasion his contribution was nothing more than a cloud of hot air.
Earlier, two of the colleagues of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale chided my hon. Friends and said that if we appealed on behalf of the rights of back benchers we would have more chance of convincing hon. Gentlemen opposite and of getting their support. I was surprised to hear that, because what is this debate about if it is not about the right of back benchers to speak? After all, we know that the Front Benchers will speak. They always do. On this occasion, it will be the back benchers who will be cut out, and I intend to test that position shortly.
I understand the position of this or any other Government in wanting to get their legislation through as quickly as possible. However, "as quickly as possible" is a relative term. It might mean a very long time. When a Government are trying to get their legislation through as quickly as possible, and with as little discussion as possible, that is a totally different proposition.
No hon. Member can deny—and least of all the Government—that S.E.T. is a revolutionary tax which, rightly or wrongly, is causing vast discontent, and that there are many anomalies. Those anomalies are precisely what we want to discuss. In these circumstances, it is sanctimonious hypocrisy for the Leader of the House to suggest that this guillotine Motion will improve the standing of the House of Commons.
The Leader of the House suggested that we were going to waste time debating procedural matters. But we have not even started debating. With over 400 Amendments on the Notice Paper, including many from the benches opposite, it is surely an insult to say that back benchers intend to discuss only procedural matters. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Motion and the timetable would enable Parliament to concentrate on selected important points so as to get the legislation through quickly. I want to know who decides what are the important points. Is it entirely a matter for the Government? Is it done through the usual channels? Certainly, I have not been consulted as a back bencher, nor, I suppose, has any other back bencher.
What are the important points? As we know, these things are not always apparent. Sometimes one spends a great deal of time trying to do things that seem really worth while and important and often one gets nowhere. The little things often turn out to be the most important.
I presume that after today's debate there will be a vote and I will, having judged the issue, cast my vote. I also suppose, although I am not certain, that the Leader of the House or another responsible Minister will reply to the points raised during this debate. Whoever replies may satisfy me about the important points that will be debated. Perhaps his views will agree with mine. If so, then, logically, T will have no base for voting against the Government. However, that cannot be done unless I give some examples of what I think are the important points, so that whoever replies will be able to clear my mind on these issues. I will give only half a dozen examples, and in doing so—
May I seek your advice on this, Mr. Speaker? In making his speech the Leader of the House said that the debate would concentrate on the important points in the Bill. Until I hear just what are those important points, I cannot decide how to vote and the Minister who replies cannot convince me —that is, unless I put to him the points which I consider to be important.
I accept your Ruling Mr. Speaker, but with the greatest respect to the Chair, it seems that in today's debate I am prevented from putting forward the points which I think are important and to which the Government should give an answer and that, when the Bill is debated—considering the timetable—it is highly unlikely that I shall get a chance to do so then. I can only describe this as tyrannical and dictatorial and the logical outcome of Socialism. I have no alternative, therefore, but to conclude now and to withdraw from the Chamber in protest.
I intend to adopt the apparently unusual course of endeavouring to discuss the subject of the Motion before the House, having listened patiently to remarks about the woes of the North of Scotland—which I am sure exist in the minds of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have made those comments—and to speeches on similar topics.
There is an important principle underlying this Motion and guillotine Motions of this sort. On the one hand, the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) described this debate as an utter waste of time because, he said, we could hardly explain it to our constituents. At first sight, that is so. I say "at first sight" because all hon. Members are aware that the Opposition —any Opposition—feels that their rights are being curtailed—as indeed they are—when a Motion of this character is presented, and any Opposition are bound strenuously to oppose any guillotine Motion.
That is what is happening now, and what will probably continue to happen all night—-or may continue to happen—[Interruption.] With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I am not responsible for the time taken by the Opposition. That is a matter for them.
The practice of all Oppositions in these circumstances is to oppose guillotine Motions—and quite rightly. In principle, from their point of view, these Motions are bad. But it seems to me that it is almost impossible to explain the reasons for them—and here I think that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North had a point —to the average member of the public. What I am greatly concerned about is that the resultant division of opinion between constituents—irrespective of party—and Members of the House—who do know what is going on—is one of the things that is tending to bring this House into disrepute. About that, we should all be gravely concerned, irrespective of which side we sit on now or may be sitting on some other occasion.
We understand the reasons for this debate, but what we should be considering now is not when we should be going into the Summer Recess, or morning sittings—though such subjects are worth consideration—hut why we have this timetable Motion. The reason for the Motion is that 300 or 400 Amendments have been tabled for discussion during the Committee stage of the Selective Employments Payments Bill. It has been suggested that that is a tactic of Opposition, but it could be suggested that, bearing in mind the number of industries affected by the Bill, many of these Amendments would be justified. The Motion, however, is to enable the Government to get the Bill through in three days instead of the many more days that would be required to discuss such an enormous number of Amendments.
It is here that I part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who says that we want all the time to bring matters on the Floor of the House. To my mind, we have here Government and Opposition struggling with a procedure that is bad. We should be able reasonably to discuss Amendments to this Bill in Standing Committee. Nearly all our legislation, including the Finance Bill, should be discussed in Standing Committee, and should never be taken on the Floor of the House at all—
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for giving way, because I do not disagree with a good deal of what he says. I assure him, however, that had this Bill gone to a Standing Committee, after about three days the Government would have brought it to the Floor of the House and we should have been discussing this Motion, because they would have wanted the Guillotine procedure.
The reason for that is precisely my next point. Why do we discuss the minutiae of legislation on the Floor of the House? Our Standing Orders recognise that the Committee stage ought to be dealt with in Standing Committee—a positive Motion has to be moved to have the Committee stage taken on the Floor of the House.
In principle, the detailed amendment of Bills is not a subject for this Chamber. What we want to discuss here are major issues of principle, major issues on Bills —perhaps the principles of really important amendments. We do not want detailed discussion of the minute details of amendments to Bills which face us with consequences of which this Motion is one. We cannot do that in this House, because our Standing Committee procedure is in itself bad. I suggest that it would be well worth the Select Committee on Procedure considering not whether and how it can take four minutes off the time necessary to divide the House, but the basic function of the House of Commons.
Our basic function is to legislate. We are now trying to Provide a time-table for action to be taken on the Floor of the House which should not be taken on the Floor of the House at all. It would be much better if the Committee on Procedure were to consider legislative procedure in Standing Committee so that such circumstances as we now have could never occur again. Quite frankly, as I am sure that hon. Members opposite would wish as well, it would be better if we were now discussing at greater length the Selective Employment Payments Bill—or other Bills that come before us—rather than such a Motion as this. The Opposition should have their right to deal effectively with Amendments, and we should be able to bring to the Floor of the House major amendments of principle, and the whole principle of the Bill itself.
That is precisely how the American House of Representatives works. In conversation, we often quote the American Senate—where there is not even a proper Closure—but we should quote the House of Representatives, which is a body much more similar to our own House. The House of Representatives sends Bills straight to a Committee and they have much smaller Committees where Amendments can be sensibly discussed, but Representatives are allowed to put Amendments even though they are not members of that Committee. That is an important point. The Bill is then brought to the Floor of the House, where Amendments of major principle may be rediscussed. Had we followed that procedure last year with the Finance Bill, we might have had, for example, on the Floor of the House, an Amendment on the principle of the Corporation Tax and on the Capital Gains Tax, but we would not have dealt in detail with every sentence, word and comma of the Bill. The House of Representatives then discusses the principle of the Bill.
It would be much better for us, and for the repute of this House outside, if we had a more sensible legislative procedure rather than that—for reasons which we all understand in this House—we spent our time in what people outside would consider to be rather futile discussion of the time we should take to discuss something.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has emphasised the procedural aspects of the debate, but I shall not follow him or any of his predecessors into a discussion on procedure as, for me, this is a matter that concerns my constituents very considerably. That is that fact that makes this timetable Motion perhaps rather different from some others. One thing that any time spent in a Government Whip's office teaches us is that the Government are under a necessity to get their business, particularly at this time of year. That I fully accept. The difference here is the gravity of this type of legislation, and the care with which its details need to be examined.
Two kinds of Bill can be subject to the Guillotine. In the one case, the subject matter may not be important but happens to be a vehicle for party conflict. The conflict develops in Standing Committee where, perhaps, the Opposition are seeking to obstruct for purposes not solely connected with the Bill. The need for the imposition of a timetable is then perfectly clear, and the Government use their majority.
There are, however, other Bills which, by their very nature, touch many different interests and will quite clearly have very wide and unpredictable repercussions. Such Bills give rise to many Amendments, and often during their passage more arid more difficulties come to light. The Government of the day are faced with the problem of trying to get the Bill, while the Opposition have a very great number of points that need to be discussed. In this case, it is important to get consensus if we can, through the usual channels, not as to fact of the timetable—because the Government can insist on that—but as to what is a reasonable time to cover the great amount that will have to be discussed.
I can remember in the last Parliament but one the question of a timetable for the London Government Bill. I remember thinking as a Whip that the sooner the timetable started, the better because so many interests were concerned that the balance of debate would be better achieved for hon, Members on both sides who wished to make important constituency points and points dealing with many subjects and Departments. The only essential matter was to decide in advance to make the timetable as generous as possible so that there should be no question of truncating and excluding matters which needed discussion.
I should have thought it manifestly obvious that the time suggested by the Government is unrealistic. The Leader of the House, in opening the debate, mentioned that we have accepted limitations on our procedures in different ways. He instanced the Prayer procedure in which discussion of a Prayer is limited usually to one and a half hours. There are 31 Amendments suggested to this Motion, where we seek a definite allocation of time to various grouped discussions which cover some of the subjects and interests which have been raised with us by constituents or which are obvious under the circumstances of the Bill. Looking through the grouped lists, it does not seem that anyone could say that each was not fully worth the amount of time usually given to a Prayer. In the 30 or more subjects there we have a potential need for 40 hours' debate, which would be perfectly proper. If the Government were to make their answers that would be the minimum time required.
The Amendments we have put down are not necessarily exhaustive. Neither are the Amendments to the Bill itself, numerous as they are. For example, to the Bill itself we have put down only one Amendment dealing with a subject which I know is dear to your heart, Mr. Speaker —education. It would he perfectly possible to put down a whole string of Amendments to cover important aspects of that great field. The effect of the Bill will go most unevenly across the field of education. It is the same with various other Amendments. I know of several important points which need to be decided but which are not yet the subject of specific Amendments.
It may be that all this would take time if it were properly discussed but the Government have only themselves to blame if they find themselves in grievous need of time now. It would have been perfectly possible to bring in this type of tax by taking power, if necessary, to be selective, but simply to start with a flat rate. The Government could have got its yield and it would have had a marked deflationary effect. Because they are seeking suddenly to provide all these variations which make up the whole theme of this Bill, we are faced with so many anomalies and difficulties. The reasons for extending the time are overwhelming.
I should have thought that the first requirement we as Parliamentarians ought to have in the front of our minds is the quality of the legislation we pass. A Labour Government seem to judge their productivity by the sheer volume of legislation put out and not by its quality. From some of the remarks made this afternoon it would seem that once a Bill has got the Royal Assent, the Government can wash their hands of it and consider that that is another milestone passed. One knows that in fact that is only the beginning of the story, and usually the beginning of the trouble.
The Leader of the House quoted Mr. Chuter Ede as saying that in his opinion legislation could never be too swift. Recent events have shown that that is a very dangerous maxim to follow. We have had some legislation in these last two years which has blotted the Statute Book and from which we are now getting a great deal of trouble. In passing, I refer to the current effects of the Finance Act, 1965. This year we did not have enough time even to discuss some of the matters arising from last year's Finance Act which urgently need consideration and decision.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said, the Inland Revenue is immensely overburdened at the moment. There is evidence of that at high level and low level. The burden of this method of tax collection and operation has had to be transferred to another Government Department. The legislation is itself not clear, and many decisions and rulings have not been publicly given. An enormous volume of inquiry will be directed at the Ministry's local branches but no answers will be obtainable on the record to guide the officials concerned or the members of the public making inquiries.
If when this great brainchild was born—as it may have been, after dinner —even the humblest Parliamentary delegation had been present to have the idea put to it, I am quite sure that any group of Members chosen at random could have set out many of the anomalies and difficulties which were likely to arise and for which there was needed careful preparation and decision. Now this process is having to be done in this House, and largely at the instance of the Opposition.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this tax was welcomed generally throughout the country. If he really believes that, he has a shock coming to him. It may be that there was some relief after the Budget Statement when it was known that there would be no direct impact on the voter's pocket. There may have been a sigh of relief, but what the voter may not have realised was that the Chancellor had put a time bomb in that pocket which will go off later in the year. This must concern employers and people who have to plan and manage business. They are anxious to know exactly what their position will be.
The result is that most of us have had a large volume of detailed correspondence in respect of this Bill. It is not a mass of correspondence all saying the same on the same point. Far from it—usually the letters raise cases of anomalies which one would not otherwise have suspected because they arise in, and are special to, some calling or occupation. Most of them have been practical questions which need answering.
If the guillotine Motion is passed in its present form, it will operate, not to shorten debates against the principle of the tax, but to prevent Parliament from doing its proper job of examining and improving the legislation. That need has been admitted by the Government. In winding up the Second Reading debate the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this:
As to marginal cases that are left. I want to go into those very carefully.
There is not much time to do this under the proposed programme. If the points are not raised and answered in Parliament, doubts and uncertainties will go out from here unresolved. They will clog up the administrative machine and the processes of commerce.
I do not want to be a party to adding to the burden of unproductive work which the Government are piling upon civil servants and on business and professional people. Another group of important officers may well be asking for a bonus for overtime they will have to put in trying to understand, not perhaps the Bill. but its implications. If they can get no guidance from information the Government present to the House, it means further delays and uncertainty for them.
If professional advisers in response to their business clients' inquiries have to say that there is no answer yet, good or bad, the clients will not be able to make decisions as to how to conduct their business. More and more time will be lost by their wondering how to organise or reorganise their business so that they do not expose themselves to some severe tax from which their competitors may escape because of the ill-drawn and vaguely defined borderlines of the Bill. Some are more affected by the Bill than others.
A tri-focal view of the Bill has been presented by someone who, as a Director of the Bank of England, will pay the tax. who, as a member of the National Coal Board, will presumably get it refunded, and who, in a private capacity as a printer, will get the premium. I refer to Mr. King who, if he is anyone's darling, is less the darling of the Right than of the Left. Mr. King described this tax last week as "ill-thought-out and as causing a ludicrous distraction of business effort". This is how confidence is eroded, because in this respect nothing fails like failure. People do not know where they are. They lose all inclination to press ahead with the things they should be doing. Decisions are not taken. Instead, there is a harvest of disappointment, friction and frustration, with little progress. That is what is happening because of some of the defects of earlier legislation.
I am anxious that sufficient time should be given to the Bill to ensure that we do not set up that process again in the constituencies on top of what the last Finance Bill did. If the muddle is added to through a badly finished Bill, the result will be a paralysis of decision. This is the worst possible state to be in if it is desired either to increase productivity or to fight an economic crisis.
The economic situation is changing faster than the Government can react. The Prime Minister keeps giving himself weeks when he has only days for decision. This will affect the Bill. The economic crisis is hound to add to the matters which need arid ought to be discussed as the Bill goes through its later stages. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said this on Second Reading:
As regards bank loans, we had a discussion in the course of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill the night before last. I have nothing to add to what I said then. I said it was too soon yet to give an indication."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 23rd June, 1966; Vol. 730. c. 1049.]
Last Tuesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in reply to a Parliamentary Question that the commercial banks will not be given any general dispensation to increase lending in September when the Selective Employment Tax will take about £100 million per month out of the economy and transfer it to the Treasury. The Economist made this comment:
Very sough though this measure could be, it managed to offend against all three canons for sound present policy "—
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to show that that situation has its impact upon the Bill. It raises points that ought to be discussed. The fact that new points are added means that still more time ought to he available.
Since last Thursday when the Guillotine was announced not inappropriately on 14th July—the situation has changed for the worse. The economic storm is growing quicker and harder than the Prime Minister estimated. Yet the effects of the Bill may be on our economic standing as decisive as they are unpredictable. If one could predict what was going to happen, it would be so much easier, but we cannot. As matters stand, as the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) pointed out, under the Bill the Government will be committed to very drastic deflationary action on what we hope will be the farther side of the immediate crisis. This merits more time for the discussion of the Amendments which are relevant to this feature.
Last, but certainly not least, some regard should be paid to the difficulties of the Chair. With the time allotted, it is asking too much of Solomon himself to group all the Amendments which have been tabled so that they are adequately discussed, in principle, at any rate, and so that opinions can be expressed if desired through the Lobbies.
It could be done with the extra days that we propose should be added. They could be provided. Perhaps the Government would lose a little face if they postponed the Second Readings of the Steel Bill and another Bill—not to the next Session. In the ordinary way we in Parliament are concerned to finish our business by the Summer Recess and avoid overspill, so that we start the new Session in the autumn. There is no question of that this year. We have a whole Parliamentary year ahead of us. There is plenty of time to take any Second Readings, even of the most controversial Bills, after we return and to complete them without difficulty.
There is not time, of course, to get ready in time for party conferences statements that the nation agrees to this and that in principle, but that is not a worthy consideration this evening. What the Government are asking us, or rather the Chair, to do, is to try to put a gallon into a pint pot. It just will not go. If It is a Money Bill, the Government themselves will lose any chance for their own third thoughts—and they will need some third thoughts. They can have second thoughts on Report, but very often the Government themselves need a stage in the House of Lords and they may well do so in this case with a very quickly-changing situation. They will need an opportunity of further amending the Bill.
If they cannot have that opportunity because this is certified as a Money Bill, surely it is all the more important that we should have spent an adequate amount of time getting the Bill into the best condition possible, if we are the last people to have anything effective to do with it. Whether or not it is a Money Bill in the technical sense, it is certainly a Money Bill in that it will greatly affect people's pockets, their jobs and their lives. It seems to me that unless the Government meet our request, we cannot properly discuss the anxieties and grievances that constituents are putting before us. They are not frivolous or vexatious. They are the anxieties of people who have jobs to do and responsibilities to carry, and they do not know how to order their affairs not only in their own interests but, no doubt, in the interests of the people whom they employ.
As I say, their anxieties are very detailed and practical. They are not airy-fairy. They want answers in order that they can make decisions. Indeed, even an unfavourable answer is to be preferred to no answer at all. They do not even know the worst. If one does not know the worst, one cannot really produce an effective policy. A few days given now would result in a better Bill. It would result in the Government having time to make statements that would guide people in coming to very difficult decisions. More time given now would save much more time later on for many people—perhaps millions. That is why I hope the Government will accede to our request.
I find it somewhat difficult to believe that this opposition to the Motion is an Opposition back-bench revolt. In fact, it is organised by the Opposition Front Bench. and I do not believe that we are to take too seriously some of the speeches from the other side of the House. They are the sort of speeches which one expects when the Government of the day introduce a guillotine Motion.
In all frankness, I say that I am not surprised. I am trying to be as honest as possible. If we on these benches sat on the opposite side of the House, no doubt our reactions would be more or less the same. Nevertheless, I find it extremely difficult to believe that this whole campaign against the Motion is organised by back benchers who feel that their time will be too limited to enable them to speak on the Selective Employment Tax. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear during business questions last Thursday, the Opposition Front Bench had already made up their minds that they would oppose the guillotine Motion.
Is the hon. Member saying that he has not got a whole volume of important practical matters which have been sent to him by his constituents to which he looks like being able to give no answer?
I think that it would be true to say that nearly every hon. Member has got various matters concerned with the Selective Employment Tax and other matters which have been the subject of correspondence, but is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that every hon. Member who has views on this subject should be in a position to speak? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] If hon. Members will listen to me, they will find that I have some comments to make on the inability of Members to debate various matters, and not just the Selective Employment Tax.
What will happen tonight is that we shall have a very long sitting; no doubt, it will go on till the early morning, and afterwards the Opposition will consider that they have been doing a very fine, effective job as an Opposition. They will be patting themselves on the back as we all go home at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. But the people outside this House will not be impressed one little bit.
I have been here for only a short time, and I confess my inexperience compared with that of others who have been in this House for a long time, but one of the dangers and weaknesses of this institution, the House of Commons, is that we tend to live in a sort of closed political community. We believe that those things which tend to impress us, the victories and the defeats, have some kind of symbol outside the House. I regret to say that to a large extent this is not so.
Sir D. Glover rose—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. What I do not understand is his theme that it does not matter if there is no publicity attached to it. We have a job of work to do in this House, whether there is publicity or not.
It is not a question whether or not there is publicity. T am sure that hon. Members can get their speeches reported in the local Press. But that is riot the point. We tend at times to be so impressed by certain victories and defeats and other matters in a very closed political community like this House that we believe that it has some effect on people outside. This is not so. I believe that many people find it extremely difficult to understand why we have all-night sittings, or near all-night sittings. They are not particularly impressed by us going home at 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning, or even later.
Many people are extremely worried especially by Press articles and editorials and television coverage about our economic situation. This is understandable. People are worried, to whichever political party they belong, or whether they belong to no political party at all. What they expect—and this is what I would expect if I were not an active politician—is that the House of Commons should be debating the economic situation, and should not be involved in a long procedural wrangle concerning the length of time certain matters should be debated. Perhaps this is the fault of people outside, but they find it extremely difficult to understand many of our procedures and the ways in which we involve ourselves in debates which cause a great deal of controversy, which I stress seem to have very little effect outside the House.
On the question of time, I have found, for example, that on very controversial matters, whether it be a foreign policy debate on Vietnam or a debate on our incomes policy, many Members who want to speak cannot catch Mr. Speaker's eye, certainly through no fault of Mr. Speaker. One hon. Member who intervened when I began my speech said that hon. Members should have an opportunity to discuss various problems concerning the Selective Employment Tax. I made the point that it was not possible at the best of times for hon. Members who wished to raise various matters to speak.
What was the position when a number of us wanted to speak in the recent debate on Vietnam? We had a debate. Mr. Speaker announced before the debate started that about 70 Members wanted to speak. Of course, we found that very few back benchers were in a position to participate in the debate.
No. The hon. Gentleman is in a state of great confusion. On the occasion of our debate on Vietnam, Mr. Speaker announced that 70 Members wanted to speak, and before the debate last Thursday on the Prices and Incomes Bill Mr. Speaker said that there were 70 Members who wanted to speak. The hon. Gentleman ought to know the difference between the debate we had on Vietnam the week before last and the debate on prices and incomes last Thursday.
No, I shall not give way again to the hon. Gentleman.
In common, I am sure, with a number of hon. Members on both sides, I wanted to speak both on Vietnam and on prices and incomes. What is so disturbing—[Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman may laugh, but it is not amusing that on such important issues so few hon. Members can have the opportunity to enter the debate. Many hon. Members opposite are up in arms because, on account of the timetable Motion, they will not be able to speak on the Selective Employment Tax, but, equally, we should be as greatly concerned that on Vietnam and on prices and incomes so few back benchers were called.
This is why it is necessary, when considering the present Motion, to look at the wider implications of the way in which we organise our debates. It is understandable that a number of hon. Members deeply concerned constituency-wise, perhaps—and political-wise as well—about the effects of the new tax on their areas wish to take part in the debate. But we need to look at this matter not just in the context of the Selective Employment Tax and this Motion, but in the wider context of the many other important matters of home and foreign affairs on which so many Members cannot catch the eye of the Chair purely because of the limitation of time.
I tabled a Question to the Leader of the House a week ago—[HoN. MEMBERS: "0h."] It is not just hon. Members opposite who like to table Questions. Some of us like to avail ourselves of the opportunity, too. I have tabled a Question to the Leader of the House—I hope to have the support of hon. Members opposite—to ask whether, on the Second Reading of important controversial Measures, we can so organise our time that hon. Members have greater opportunities to speak. In my view—I have made the point in my consituency, and I hope that it is understood—when 70 Members want to speak on Vietnam or on prices or incomes, it is rather unfortunate, to say the least, if the end result is that, by and large, eight or 10 back benchers at the most on each side are able to catch the eye of the Chair.
Not everyone, either on this Measure or on anything else, can have an opportunity to speak—it would make a mockery of Parliament—but there ought to be greater opportunity to take part in our debates on various matters. What I find rather deplorable is that hon. Members opposite seem to be concerned only with this particular matter and not with the wider importance of giving more time to Second Readings on important Bills, foreign policy debates and the like.
Here, perhaps, I differ to a certain extent with some of my hon. Friends. I cannot see that the solution lies in morning sittings. There may come a time when morning sittings will be accepted and for certain subjects there might be a case for the odd exception, but, in the short time I have been here, I have found mornings extremely useful to attend to constituency matters, dealing with correspondence, and seeing people. I am by no means certain that morning sittings would provide the solution to our problems. Perhaps hon. Members opposite are concerned not so much with constituency matters in the morning as with dealing with their financial and business affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There are many hon. Members opposite who have business interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "And on the Government side."] Some time must be devoted to business or financial affairs. I find it difficult to believe that hon. Members opposite, who have such substantial holdings in various companies, devote Saturday afternoons and Sundays to their business interests. I am sure that a lot of time during the week is devoted to business affairs. As someone with no business interests outside the House, I have found that my mornings are fairly well occupied in dealing with constituency matters.
If there were a test to show which side had the more business interests, there would be no doubt that the winners would be on the Opposition side. Does anyone deny that for a moment? Hon. Members opposite should be proud of their close connection with the financial and business world.
Before extending the line of my argument at that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was about to conclude by saying that we need a thorough reform of our Parliamentary procedure. We must understand that so much of what we discuss here and so many of our victories and defeats have very little impression on people outside. If Parliament is to survive as a live institution respected by the vast majority of people in the country, we must understand and accept the need for change and modernisation not only outside but in the House of Commons itself.
I shall return to the subject of the debate and leave the symposium on Parliamentary reform to which, apparently, we are being treated by hon. Members opposite. This debate today is one of which the House will, in retrospect, be ashamed. It will be ashamed because only three days are to be allocated to the Committee stage of the Selective Employment Payments Bill. [Interruption.] I hope that I may have the hon. Gentleman's attention for a moment I think that he will be interested in what I am saying.
We ought to be ashamed because only three days are to be spent in Committee on a Bill which, more than any other I can remember, touches the working, lives of everyone engaged in any kind of business or commercial occupation except, perhaps for the self-employed. Yet, although the Bill touches all our constituents, only six back benchers on the Opposition side had the chance to take part on Second Reading—only six on a Measure which affects so many of their constituents.
If the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly that only a few Members were able to speak on this Bill, does he feel equally strongly that on the Prices and Incomes Bill only a very few out of the 70 who wanted to speak were able to take part?
I gave way thinking that there was to be a relevant interruption in connection with the Motion we are discussing, not the Motion on Parliamentary reform, a matter which I should be very willing to discuss with the hon. Gentleman at any other time. It is interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman, who so recently came into the Chamber, is taking part in the debate.
This brings us to another fact which is worthy of note. Throughout the afternoon, there were not more than 12 Members on the benches opposite, except during the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot)—and now mine. I am glad to be considered among that "First XI" of Parliamentary speakers. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale spoke for 33 minutes. Some have wondered why his intervention was so long. It is of interest that he gave notice to his colleagues on the Government Front Bench that they were not to reimpose National Health prescription charges in the measures which they are proposing to announce on Wednesday. This was a clear warning, and I believe that that was the reason why he intervened.
The Bill touches every kind of business, every commercial firm, all people who work for an employer, the old and the young and the strong and the weak. Our constitutents will be shocked at the very little detailed consideration, Amendment by Amendment and Clause by Clause, which can be given to the problems of their own businesses as they affect them. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking-ham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said that it is a criticism of the House that not enough of our debates are on matters which affect the everyday lives of our constituents. The House and the Government will be blamed because insufficient time has been given.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) put forward the argument that one can just bundle together different trades and professions and auction them in one lot. That is not good enough for the people whose own immediate livelihoods are touched upon by the Bill that we shall be debating. They will be angry about it. The Government know that they will be angry but have taken the clear decision that it is better that the anger of our constituents should be focussed on the Government because insufficient time has been given for the debate rather than that time should be given and the thinness of the arguments of the Government have to be deployed in each and every case.
Many of us when we speak in the House are disappointed that not enough is reported of our speeches on detailed matters. But in this case when Amendments were discussed about the effect of the S.E.T. on different industries, detailed reports of the debate, clearly and concisely, would be shown and would be read throughout the country, and the reasons which the Government give for including or excluding companies as manufacturing companies, to which they give a bonus and which are to suffer, would be given in much greater detail than can be given now since the Guillotine is to be adopted.
It was said this afternoon that the last time the Guillotine was applied to a Finance Bill was in 1931. I want to quote a paragraph from the debate in September, 1931. These are the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition in connection with the opening speaker who had proposed a guillotine Motion. The first part is rather chestnut, but the second part is very apposite to our position today. The Leader of the Opposition said:
When he was speaking, there came into my mind the lines of a hymn that I used to try to sing when I was a boy. It is a very good hymn, and I rather think the right hon. Gentleman is fully familiar with it. The words are:
'God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.'
The words came into my mind when I was trying to unravel the right hon. Gentleman's logic, because a few day's ago the urgency of this Motion, the urgency of passing the Economy Bill and the Finance Bill was that it might thereby prevent the flight from the pound."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th September, 1931; Vol. 256, c. 1,424.]
History is repeating itself in an extraordinary way. As at this day, the last time that the Guillotine was applied to a Finance Bill the country was in a deep financial crisis and a Labour Government one month before had thrown in the sponge because they were quite unable, with their Socialist policies, to get the country's economy into a proper position. It is sorrowful for the country that we find ourselves put by another Labour Government in the same position today.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) seemed to regret the fact that what he called a symposium on Parliamentary reform had begun to dominate our discussions today. I shall disappoint him, because I shall return to that theme, and I do so without any apology. What pleases me about the debate today—like my right hon. Friend, I have listened for 15 years to the same speeches made on these Motions, from both sides of the House, and I am fed up to the back teeth, as he is—is that. thank goodness, instead of that somebody has begun to look behind it all and ask whether we are not behaving stupidly and whether it is not time that we stopped the necessity for these things arising. I do not think that we should apologise for seeing this piece of daylight at long last.
I want to go a little further along the road and say that I welcome the guillotine Motion because it may well lead in the autumn or perhaps in the coming year to our considering timetable Motions for legislation as a normal course of events. It will he a very good thing for Parliament when that happens.
I was started on this track today by the remark of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) when he said that he thought that there would arrive a time when every Bill would come to the House with a timetable attached to it. He said this with great approval but added that, unfortunately, it would be long in the future before that would happen. I am sorry about the latter part of his remarks, because that is not necessarily so. If instead of putting that in as an afterthought with obvious approval he would say it more loudly and be willing to say it through the usual channels, none of the difficulty that we are in today would have arisen and we should get out of the trouble more quickly than he ever envisages.
The second reason why I intervene after the right hon. Gentleman had started on this track was that, most astonishingly, nobody has referred today to the suggestions made by the Select Committee on Procedure for getting us out of this sort of jam in respect of Finance Bills. Less than a year ago the Procedure Committee suggested a set of reforms which, as a package deal, was rejected by the Government. But inside that package deal was one item which I would have thought carried a great deal of approval, judging at least by what I have heard people say.
This was the suggestion—which has had an echo here today—that, whether the Finance Bill was sent upstairs to Committee or kept on the Floor of the House, we should consider setting up a business Committee which would timetable it through all its stages, having heard representations from both sides about the amount of time needed. This is the way forward to reform. The Committee suggested that, instead of there being a Government-imposed timetable, as on occasions like this, a high-minded and impartial Committee, composed mainly of Chairmen of Committees and hon. Members selected by Mr. Speaker, would listen to evidence from both Government and Opposition about the time each thought was needed. The Committee would then try to strike a middle path and recommend a fair amount of time.
The package deal was rejected by the Government for technical reasons but that part of it should be kept in mind and revived not only in dealing with the Finance Bill but with other Bills as well which cause great division in the Chamber and country. That would be a sensible way out, because it would not allow us to complain that the time of the House was so obviously dictated by the Government and nor could the Government complain that the Opposition were able to talk a thing to death. It would mean that an attempt would be made seriously to find the middle way in consumption of time.
Quite differently from the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, I do not believe that this is a long way in the future. I hope that it is on its way. The Select Committee on Procedure usually finds its Reports adopted six years later. Perhaps we might speed the process up in this case.
I would say, further, that this is nothing new. The extraordinary thing is that Standing Order No. 43 very largely facilitates this whole procedure because it deals with the setting up of a "business committee". It even refers to that committee in similar terms to those used by the Select Committee on Procedure in that it would consist of members of the Chairmen's Panel and hon. Members nominated by Mr. Speaker. Standing Order No. 43 says that the Committee may, if it thinks fit, timetable a Bill in respect of which a Minister of the Crown reports to the House that agreement on total time has been reached between the usual channels. Why do we not do that now?
It should have been possible on this occasion for the Government and the Opposition to meet and say, "It looks as though we can agree on seven or eight days". The obvious way to facilitate this is to use Standing Order No. 43 (b), bringing it into operation for the first time. We should begin to get somewhere in proper and free discussions towards a fair arrangement of total time as between both sides of the House.
This debate has become a symposium on Parliamentary reform. The Select Committee on Procedure tried to point the way forward in the last Session with its report on the Finance Bill. This experience will hit many new hon. Members as extraordinary. They will be amazed that we should spend a whole day like this and, indeed, a night as well. I am sure that more hon. Members will join those of us who wish for reform and say, "This is the kind of way forward to avoid such occurrences as this debate in future".
What would be lost by such a new procedure? The Government would lose some control over the House in the sense that the amount of time to be devoted to Committee or Report stages would not be what the Government said it should be. It would be what the business Committee, having heard both sides, assessed would be fair. What would the Opposition give up? It would give up one important thing—the idea of using the weapon of time, of wearing Government supporters down by physical pressure in being kept here all night and every night. But I think we are moving in that direction already. The Opposition would be giving up a weapon which, they would agree, is not as big as it used to be, is probably not as appropriate as it used to be and is worth giving up in a deal in which the Government would also give up some of their present position.
Giving up this weapon is a continuing process. When we decided that Prayers should take only one and a half hours. that was the biggest change for a long time towards accepting the idea that wear and tear were no longer a legitimate weapon to be used by an Opposition. What I suggest would be only a further stage along that road which we started when about 10 years ago we limited Prayers to one and a half hours. There would be something to be given up by both sides in this proposal for timetables to be more readily agreed and set out by an elder statesmen timetabling Committee
There remains one other consideration. I say this tentatively, because we are all trying to think aloud in these matters of reforming Parliament. These things are much more difficult than my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) thinks. One of the difficulties is that we all want reform to come, but none of us can agree precisely what the reform should be. There are many snags surrounding every alternative version. However, there is one thing which we could do to facilitate this process of timetabling.
If the Opposition are not going to be more willing to accept voluntary timetables on the lines of Standing Order No. 43, perhaps we could move along the road to making Government-dictated timetables a little less difficult to get. I do not want the Government to be given enormous powers and I do not want them to have the powers of dictation, or to make it too easy for them to be able to get timetable Motions; but perhaps we could have timetable Motions, such as we have today, tabled with the Second Reading of a Bill when there have been no agreements between the usual channels. Such a Motion could be taken for two or three hours after the conclusion of the Second Reading debate. The Government would then more easily get a dictated timetable and, as a result, the Opposition would be more willing to go with the Government into the process of getting a voluntary timetable. That would be the result of making it a little less difficult to get a Government-imposed timetable.
I realise that the hon. Member is Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure and that he has great knowledge of and interest in this matter, but he must relate his argument to the question of having a timetable on this Bill.
I was not speaking as Chairman of the Committee, but only as one hon. Member who is puzzled by the need to reform these things and who has spent all day listening to a debate which has in fact become a debate on procedure.
Today's debate has had a salutary effect. It will turn our minds constantly to finding a true reform to end the farcical procedure on Guillotines as we now know them. I hope that it will not be in the distant future that we shall get round to this, as the right hon. Member for Enfield, West suggested. I hope that within a couple of years at the most we shall get a sensible reform such as he mapped out and for which the Procedure Committee showed the way when it reported on the Finance Bill during the last Session.
It has been a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) speaking from his great depth of experience, especially after the extremely brash university lectures from which we suffered earlier in the afternoon. They were boring and presumptuous in the extreme and it was a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member's forward-looking aims and views of the problems which face us all.
Despite his experience I wish that he had listened more closely to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). My hon. Friend mentioned the functions of a back bencher, and, in particular, back benchers on the Opposition side. Even a voluntary timetable of the sort that the hon. Member has outlined will immediately take away from the fundamental rights of the back benchers the ability to question the legislative proceedings of the Government.
If I had had more time I would have dealt with that point, but my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) dealt with this very effectively when he said that the right place for this is in Committee, not on the Floor of the House.
I listened very closely to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said, and I go a long way in agreeing with him. Although I do not want to incur your wrath Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not think that the American simile of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West was entirely accurate.
To turn to the Motion, every hon. Member would agree that undiscussed legislation is bad, and most of our constituents would agree that nearly all legislation is bad. One has only to go to the Library and to look up Statutes Revised to see that Statutes passed only a few months ago have been revised and altered very rapidly. There is no Statute which remains unrevised for very long. There is a very strong argument against allowing any legislation to go undiscussed. Here is a Motion in which we are proposing to sandwich this important Committee stage into three short days.
The hon. Member for Northfield in discussing the possible timetabling of this, under a notional idea under Standing Order No. 43, said seven or eight days. Yet the Government Front Bench are forcing us to do it in three days. This shows the sheer impracticality of what the Government are suggesting tonight. Not only is undiscussed legislation bad, but one has only to look at the way in which the Guillotine has been used in recent years, for example, in the nationalisation Measures of Lord Attlee's Labour Government, to see that such legislation has been altered and churned about since. To go further back, perhaps the item which has generated more nonparty political steam is gross immorality between males. The Labouchere Amendment slipped undiscussed through this House late at night nearly a hundred years ago.
The Selective Employment Payments Bill, which we are being asked to get through Committee in three days, has in my constituency alone generated more constituency correspondence than any other Measure. I have had interviews with tailors, bakers, electrical contractors, horticulturists, horticultural co-operatives, horticultural spray manufacturers and a score of other sectional interests. All of these sectional interests have Amendments put down, not only by my hon. Friends, but by hon. Members opposite. There are a mass of sectional interests, very reasonably putting forward their claims in the thick volume of Amendments to the Bill.
How can we get through the Bill in three days? I realise that the great bulk of the matter is in Clause 2. Looking at the timetable, I see that the Government propose that the debate on Clause 2 should go for a whole day, and, presumably, a whole night, and until 6.30 p.m., that is, through the rest of the next day. That it should be got through as rapidly as that, with all of the Amendments to it is extremely unlikely. On the selection of Amendments, one of my hon. Friends has said that this would place an intolerable burden upon the Chairman of Ways and Means. They said that he was not Solomon. It has been all too obvious that he is not Solomon.
I hope, therefore, that between now and whenever this debate comes to an end the Government will have second thoughts about this timetable and will accept one of the Amendments lengthening it It is a national disaster for this unattractive Measure to be timetabled before its Committee stage has started. Many of my hon. Friends have stressed, and I cannot repeat it too frequently, that it is the bringing forward of this rigid timetable before the Measure has started its Committee stage which causes us on this side of the House such offence.
The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) has made what I would describe as a reasonable speech in the context of this debate. I hope that during my remarks I shall deal with some of his arguments.
I should like to comment on a speech made by an hon. Member opposite who said that this was the first time that the Guillotine has been imposed on a Finance Bill. It is right and proper to point out that we are not discussing the Finance Bill. That Bill has already gone through Committee and will come up for its Third Reading quite soon. We are discussing a consequential Measure which deals with the payments to be made in response to a tax already discussed in detail for many days and approved by the House.
That point has been made many times, even on the Finance Bill. It has been made a thousand times. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads the debates in detail, he will see that that is almost literally true—that that point has been made a thousand times in the last few weeks. As one hon. Member opposite said, too much discussion does a disservice for the Opposition, and there has been too much discussion on many aspects of this matter.
The hon. Member for Maidstone referred to nationalisation Measures introduced by the previous Labour Government. We had one of the most notable examples of the use of the Guillotine on this type of Bill under a Conservative Administration. I refer to the Transport Bill of 1952, which was guillotined and programmed before it started. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) pointed out, there are many precedents for Money Bills being guillotined by Conservative Governments.
Great point has been made about the rights of back benchers. Does the House consider that debates at 3 o'clock in the morning reflect the rights of back benchers? We have had many such debates in recent weeks. How much notice does the public take of them? How much respect does the public have for a Parliament which sits for hour after hour in the middle of the night? Who listens, and are these debates much good? Do debates at 3 o'clock in the morning reflect much credit on hack-bench Members, or even Front-Bench Members? We talk about the contempt which people may have for Parliament.
People say that this is a disgraceful day in the history of Parliament, because we are discussing the programming of a Bill. There are many people outside the House who think that we make ourselves look much more ridiculous by the way in which we carry on many of our debates through the night and for many hours, as we have done on the Finance Bill in recent times.
I may not have been in the House in opposition, but I spent many years trying to get into the House long before I succeeded. I recollect when the Labour Party were in opposition. I read many debates long before I set foot in the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman need not give me any lectures on what it feels like to be in opposition. There were many years when I was not only not in opposition but was not even in the House and when I felt that I should like to say something on a great many Amendments.
We have been told that under the Bill we are discussing a new tax. We are not. We are discussing repayments consequential upon it. Hon. Member opposite said that they want to discuss the tax. They have already discussed it for many hours. When people talk about undiscussed legislation and about the Labouchere Amendment, they should remember that long before we had guillotine Motions, legislation or parts of legislation went through the House without being discussed.
Hon. Members talk about finance. Everyone knows that one of the scandals of government is that hundreds of millions of pounds of expenditure go through the House frequently on the nod. This is a far greater scandal than any scandal which has been unearthed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite during this debate. Some of us on these benches feel that we need a real discussion of money measures.
This is one of the purposes of the Amendments put down in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and myself. We feel that the Government are giving too much time to the discussion of the Bill. They are giving three days and we should prefer them to give two days. In fact, that proposal would lose only three-and-a-half hours, but we should save a day, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend thinks that a day of Parliamentary time gained would be valuable.
While what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Committee stage may or may not be true, may I ask whether he has looked at the second part of the Motion relating to the Report stage of the Bill? Does he realise that it provides only four-and-a-half hours on Report, in which the Government may move any Amendments consequential on undertakings which [They have given in Committee?
I was discussing the Amendment in relation to the Committee stage and I shall come to the question of the Report stage later. The Opposition have a strange idea of the urgency of public business if, having spent eight days in Committeee, they feel that they need a further two days on Report. That seems a very odd use of Parliamentary time.
But I was talking about the general principles behind the Amendments put down by my hon. Friend and myself. We believe that Members should be full-time Members. I know that it has been said by hon. Members opposite, and that this view is held by some of my hon. Friends., that it is useful for an hon. Member to have other employment. Maybe it is consequential on having a small majority, but I would not know. Certainly, however, my hon. Friend and I believe that membership of this House should be taken much more seriously, and to [he extent that it becomes a full-time job; and this is one of the purposes of our Amendments. After all, it is a reply to the invitation from the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Madleod), who wanted to meet in the mornings. In our Amendments we have taken care of that invitation.
We also support the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), who suggests that speeches on the Bill should be limited to 10 minutes. This is something which, I am sure, will be. widely welcomed. Certainly, when one thinks how many speeches have been made by hon. and right hon. Members opposite on various Clauses of the Finance Bill, 10 minutes each surely ought to be adequate for dealing with many of the points which may be made
The other general principle we would lay down by our Amendments is that this calls for a complete reform of the discussion of money Bills in this House.
Exactly. Perhaps if I had not been interrupted so much by the Opposition I would not have been speaking quite so long. The other day I was being told off for not giving way. As the hon. Member may read, if he cares to, I said on that occasion that it was because I wanted to make a short speech that I did not want to give way. Today, I have been very generous in giving way, and, in consequence, perhaps I have spoken a little longer than I wished to do.
I would like to see money Bills discussed by a Select Committee upstairs. I think that we would get much more expert discussion if we did.
Another point is that debates on the Finance Bill are so long and so drawn out that the number of back benchers who wish to speak is strictly limited. I have no doubt that a Select Committee of 50 would include all the Members on either side who normally speak in Committee on the Finance Bill, and so there would be no limitation on the rights of back-bench Members. One may ask, for example, how many back benchers will speak in Committee on the Selective Employment Payments Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West wondered how many Members spoke in debate in Committee on the Finance Bill. I direct the same question to the Committee on the Selective Employment Payments Bill, and I have no doubt that the number will be one which could be counted on the fingers of one's two hands.
We should like to see, as a result of this debate, a much more radical reformation of the discussion of Money Bills than has been put forward either by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House or by hon. and right hon. Members on the other side. That is the purpose of our Amendments. We want more effective criticism, we want more informed criticism, the sort of criticism which will be respected outside the House, because I have no doubt that many people outside regard our present way of discussing money matters as a matter for regret.
I want to make a couple of points about the speeches which have just been made from the other side of the House, and firstly, that made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). I agree with virtually the whole of his speech; I go a very long way with him. I, too, would accept the proposition that one should timetable every Bill which comes before the House, but I do not think it is a proposition which is ever likely to gain very much ground, especially if we have timetables in the sort of unreasonable terms in which this timetable is proposed.
The hon. Member suggested that there should be a compromise between the views of the Government and the views of the Opposition. This can be claimed to be no sort of compromise at all. It is simply dictation by the Government of the amount of time in which they are going to steamroller through their Measure.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) was rather scathing about middle of the night debates. When I have been here a little longer, perhaps I, too, will lose patience with them. In my short experience of the House, frequently I have found debates late at night, when the hon. Members in the Chamber are made up of those who have a real interest in the legislation under review, to he extremely stimulating and to the point. The moles who come up from the bowels of the building in order to sustain the Government of the day and who never listen to the debates find night sittings a little tedious, but the select and not unhappy band who sit through and seek to contribute provide very stimulating debate.
When I had finished the contribution which I was lucky enough to make on this tax on the night of 29th June, I said that it was a tax which lacked both economic logic and common humanity, and that the Amendments which the Opposition were seeking to introduce, while they would not make it a good tax, could give it a little of those two attributes. That is the object of the exercise in which we are engaged on the Selective Employment Payments Bill.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) made two points about today's debate when he said that it should contribute both to the prestige of the House and to the improvement of the legislation under review.
However, I think that they are one and the same point, because nothing would diminish the prestige of the House more quickly than that it should pass half-baked legislation. Prolonged scrutiny of legislation, particularly of financial legislation, improves its quality when it is finally passed.
As a fairly new hon. Member, I have seen right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench listening to sustained argument building up from the back benches, after which they have promised to have another look at the Clause under review and come back with Amendments. It may be that it is possible to argue that all the points can be put succinctly and quickly in a couple of speeches from each Front Bench. But that is not the sort of process which I have seen have any impact on the Government Front Bench. It is the sustained building up of argument, sometimes from both sides of the House, which makes a Minister have second thoughts and agree to go away and think again.
If this Motion is agreed to, it will inhibit that sort of build-up of feeling on both sides, and it is for that reason that I propose to vote against it. I do not think that anyone asks that we should have unlimited time to talk ad nauseam. We ask that we should have enough time to subject the Bill to searching examination.
When the Leader of the House made his business statement last Thursday, he said:
I think that the House will probably agree that we have done what I promised to do, provided adequate time."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 14th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 1723]
I do not believe that there is anyone on this side—and the sorts of estimates that we had from the other side just now suggest that there are some hon. Members on that side who share the view —who thinks that the right hon. Gentleman has lived up to that promise and provided adequate time for discussion.
I can understand that members of the Government have no stomach for this fight. They know that they have a bad tax which arouses passionate controversy in the country, and they have decided to get their heads down on a very bad wicket and bash on through in as short a time as they can. If they have no stomach for this fight, my advice to them is to depart from the field of battle and let somebody else take over.
From experience in my constituency, I know that it is impossible to overstate the depth of feeling which this tax has aroused across a wide section of the electorate. On the night of 29th June, and indeed the morning of 30th June, to which I have already referred, there was no speech on either side of the House which gave unqualified support for the tax, and there were only one or two which gave it any support at all.
We were told that the details of this tax could be discussed when the Bill was presented to the House. It was presented as a concession that we would be able to consider the tax on the Floor of the House, and now we are presented with this sort of Motion which means that the Bill will be given less consideration than if it were considered upstairs in Committee.
Like other hon. Members, I have been inundated with cases, some good and some bad, of the impact of this tax on different interests, and it needs arguing out on the Floor of the House. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to have great faith in the wisdom of the Chancellor to look at all these arguments in abstract in the Press, and in the correspondence that he receives. I do not share this faith. I want to see this thing hammered out on the Floor of the House, because I believe that in this way we can knock some sense into the tax, and into the Government, and perhaps get some sort of improvement in both.
I re-emphasise the point which has been made by many of my hon. Friends about the importance of preserving the rights of back benchers. There are many groups of people in my constituency upon whom this tax will have a considerable interest. The hotel industry will be faced with a £ 20 million impost, and this is an industry which contributes greatly to such economic strength as this nation at present possesses. But whether the tax is imposed on hotels, or on part-time workers, or on married women going out to work, or whether it is a question of considering the relative fairness of competition between nationalised industries and private enterprise, all these things should be argued out on the Floor of the House, and argued out in particular by back benchers, otherwise back-bench Members are reduced to the level of Lobby fodder, and we might as well have a House half or one-third the size of the present one.
I have a particular grievance in that I have put down an Amendment to Clause 4, which is highly contentious and controversial. That Clause has been lumped together with Clause 3, and we are to be allowed only two and a half hours to discuss them. This is scandalous. if the Clause is passed unamended, a real injustice will be done to a vital section of the community. This tax must be improved and amended.
In a review of the economy, the Christian Science Monitor of 16th July said:
What is one to conclude? Perhaps that if Britain now is only one step from bankruptcy in its international payments, it is at the same time but one resolute heave from affluence.
This tax in its unamended form is a positive obstacle to us giving that heave which can secure us affluence and take us back from the brink of bankruptcy.
We cannot now hope for the withdrawal of the tax, but I wonder whether it is too late to hope that we can, in this House, give it much more sustained and considered consideration, and that perhaps it may leave this House in a better form than that in which it comes to us.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) was an admirable and complete answer—it was the complement, counterpart and contradiction, to put it another way—to the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). I nearly called the hon. Gentleman "my hon. Friend", and he will understand why. I also dislike contradicting him here, because I have to catch his eye in another place; and he understands what I mean by that, too.
The thesis of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West is that the S.E.P. Bill has already been adequately discussed in principle because of the debates we have had on the Finance Bill. Such an argument completely distorts the realities underlying the provisions of the S.E.P. Bill. For example, I draw the attention of the House, particularly hon. Members who have not followed what might be called the race card in the Amendment table, to the extraordinary number of Amendments which have been tabled by the Government. Perhaps the hon. Member for Woolwich, West has not noticed that the Government have been tabling not only Amendments but Amendments to Amendments since the relevant part of the Finance Bill was discussed. Such is the Government's total lack of real understanding on their own Measure.
The hon. Gentleman has not spotted the real truth which underlies my point, which is that Amendments have been tabled to Amendments since the debate on the Finance Bill. I will give a few examples. The Government tabled Amendment No. 224 on 7th July. I notice the hon. Member for Woolwich, West searching through the Order Paper. He is wasting his time, because he will not find that Amendment on the Paper any longer. It has been dropped and another has been put in its place. It disappeared, because so misconceived was it that the Government had to table Amendment No. 327 to replace it a week later. Thus, a week after attempting to amend the Bill, the Government had to amend their Amendment.
This is of great significance, because the Amendment which the Government further amended relates to an aspect of the Bill which was not dealt with until the amended Amendment was brought forward—to a crucial and highly relevant economic aspect of the Bill in that it brings in the much vexed question of research and training. Yet even the amended Amendment fails to deal with the basic activity in the economic sphere, to which the Bill makes no reference at all—namely, management training. This is the root of all our prospects of increased productivity. Despite that, it has been left out. Perhaps the amended Amendment will be further amended.
Much of the time that will be available for discussing the S.E.P. Bill will be occupied in discussing Government Amendments. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that my hon. Friends and I will have time to discuss our Amendments, but what about Government Amendments? The fact that the Government have found it necessary to amend their own Amendments proves not only that their proposed Amendments have been unsatisfactory, but that we will not have sufficient time to discuss these matters.
To give another example, Amendment No. 225 was tabled on 7th July by the Government. That has been sunk without trace and its place has been taken by Amendment No. 329—another amended Amendent of the utmost significance. What has happened to the Amendment which has been replaced by Amendment No. 332, which now appears on the Notice Paper? The hon. Member for Woolwich, West will note that that Amendment has been increased by one-third and that a crucial new subsection has been inserted introducing far-reaching provisions affecting associated companies.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, West cannot say that these matters have been discussed on the Finance Bill because, the Government having amended their own Amendments, flaws have appeared that were not known even to the Government when we discussed the Finance Bill. The hon. Gentleman's argument that the debate on the Finance Bill provided adequate opportunity to discuss the S.E.P. Bill is, therefore, entirely specious. The truth is that the Government do not know their own Bill, and that is why both sides of the House need more time to consider it.
The fact that there has been a lack of research done by the Government into this whole matter is proved by an appalling lacuna in the Bill—the inapplicability and irrelevance of the Standard Industrial Classification. It will hardly be believed by hon. Members when I say that the Standard Industrial Classification has no category dealing with exploration for oil and natural gas. Would you believe, Mr. Speaker, that we now have to discuss a Bill in which the most far-reaching and fundamental industrial development since the Industrial Revolution, and the application of coal to iron ore—I refer to the exploration for natural gas and oil—is not an industrial activity in the Standard Industrial Classification? Is all this exploration a premium activity, a refund activity, or nothing at all? It is not even in the Classification. Yet the hon. Member for Woolwich, West is supporting a Motion to truncate the amount of time for debating this basic instrument.
The situation is ludicrous. What are we to do without proper debate on the application of this Bill to the activities of the oil companies here and in every quarter of the globe? The Government have not even thought of it, but I have no doubt that they will produce yet another Amendment.
There are other points relating to the kind of qualification which hang very much on the fact that the Government have not thought through the implications of what is in the Bill—not even in their amended Amendments, not even in the total lack of examination of the Standard Industrial Classification to see whether it applies to some industries.
Other parts of the Bill require examination, and perhaps I may quote a parallel example of where adequate examination has not been given. The Industrial Development Bill is the natural complement to the Selective Employment Payments Bill, and has all sorts of interrelated provisions attached to it. I would remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the Industrial Development Bill hangs a great carrot in front of the industrialists to move to the development areas. Will the Government tell us why that feature in the Bill is in many ways negatived by some of the provisions of the Selective Employment Payments Bill?
In the Industrial Development Bill, not only did we have the most extensive discussion on the whole subject of exploration for natural gas and oil, and whether or not that was a qualified manufacturing process for grant but, as a result of discussions through the usual channels as to a time limit for discussing the Bill to let it get to the Statute Book in reasonable time, we had over 30 hours for the Committee and Report stages, and Third Reading.
We were allowed over 30 hours on a Bill that proposed to redistribute £ 250 million of the taxpayers' money, yet it is now proposed that we should have only seven or 12 hours on the crucial Clause 2 of this Bill, a Bill which deals with, perhaps, £300 million or more of the taxpayers' money. Why should our debates be truncated? On this crucial Bill, why should we be allocated only a tiny, miniscule, amount of time? It is quite illogical. The truth about the Industrial Development Bill is that the C.B.I. investigations of the intentions of industrialists under that Bill showed that over 90 per cent. of them had no preference between the old provisions and those in the new Bill.
On the other hand, the Selective Employment Payments Bill is one out of which those affected cannot opt. They cannot make up their minds to act independently of Government legislation. Those at the receiving end, either as consumers, who will pay higher prices, or as employees, who may lose their jobs, or as employers, who will find it very much harder to keep their businesses going, cannot get out of the provisions of the Bill yet here only a tiny amount of time is allocated by the Government. The Government could easily give more time and they know it. Only the other day they published—
Will the hon. Member assist us by letting us know whether he has formed any estimate, and if so by telling us what it is, of how much time would be required if we did not have a timetable Motion and the 400 Amendments had to be decided before the Government could make progress with this Bill?
That is quite easily done. The hon. Member asked a specific question and I will give a specific answer. We have tabled Amendments in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) and others of my hon. Friends which ask precisely for six extra days. The Government want five days overall and we want 11—six more, or the inside of a working week. Yet it is claimed that the Government cannot afford this time. What are they to do in August? They have published lists of Questions for 18th August so presumably we shall sit until 18th August. Yet they are refusing a request for simply an extra week.
It cannot be said that the Government are so anxious to lay their hands on the £s. d., because if they gave us these extra days they would still get the money The tax will not begin to bite until September. In any case it will raise only £ 250 million odd in the interval before repayments start and the Government could easily get that on the regulator. The fact is that the Government panicked. They do not know the inside of their own Bill so they seek to prevent holes being shot in it. They have panicked and will give a day for steel nationalisation but not a day longer for this critical Bill affecting millions of consumers and taxpayers. They do not know their own Bill, they are frightened of it and want to rush it through.
I appeal to hon. Members opposite who have been criticising the procedures of this House on the basis that the great British public pay no attention to this House or draw the conclusion that we are a lot of idiots spending a lot of time on irrelevancies. But we should not worry too much about the public's view of Parliament. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) wrote about Beatrix Potter's diaries, recently, and pointed out that her view of Parliament in 1866 was far from flattering. But the publicity effect is not the point. The point is that we discuss and formulate and put into cold print on the Statute Book laws which will affect the people. Although they may not pay much attention, the cold steel enters the legislation which affects them years afterwards. There is no excuse for not giving extra time. Not only this House but the whole country is with us in asking that we should have the extra six days which we want.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), who has deployed with great force and eloquence unanswerable arguments against this Motion. Earlier in this debate we were treated to a number of observations from hon. Members opposite which made me feel that I understood for the first time what Sydney Smith meant when he wrote of someone being
preached to death by wild curates".
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) and the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) are not in their places. If I may include a minor canon in the ecclesiastical gallery, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is also absent. This, I suppose, was a diverting contribution to the debate, but it reinforced my long-held view that politics is too serious a business to be left to university lecturers.
Since we are debating a proposition brought forward by the Leader of the House that we should change the rules in the middle of the game, which is something to be deplored in any field of activity, but particularly in this one, it rests with the Government to put before the House much stronger arguments in favour of the Motion than anyone has so far deployed from the Government benches.
We have heard much generalisation on the subject of the inadequacies of our procedure. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) treated us to his usual arguments in this regard. But we have not got down to the real business of the Motion. We have heard no contributions on that matter from the Government benches, which I am glad to see are now marginally fuller than before.
I am glad to hear it.
Four arguments are advanced against the opponents of the Motion. Rather than being advanced in support of the Motion, they are advanced against its opponents. The first is that the Bill is urgent. This is a curious view. Events during the last few weeks have made the Bill increasingly irrelevant. The purported objective of securing some free disposition of employment is perhaps all to likely to be achieved by other developments which have taken place since this interesting gimmick first flashed across the Chancellor's firmament.
Secondly, we are told that other urgent legislation is coming on—such as the Iron and Steel Bill. The events of recent weeks and days have made that piece of legislation even more irrelevant, unnecessary and undesirable than it has been throughout its long, unnecessary and undesirable history.
Thirdly, we are told—perhaps this is the argument advanced with the greatest fervour—that it is necessary that hon. Members on both sides of the House should be able to get away from here and take their families to the seaside. Speaking for myself, I do not ask a Government—I do not expect a Government—to show any particular solicitude for myself and my family. This is up to me. I will take all the care I can of them. I do not want the Government of the day to pat me on the head paternally and say, "My boy, you ought to be off with the bucket and spade brigade". What business is it of the Treasury Bench whether I go and build sandcastles or not? I regard my business as being here. The Treasury Bench would no doubt be much better employed making mud pies than they are in their present occupation.
Fourthly, we are told—this is another curious argument—that our opposition to the Motion is in some way insincere because we ought to be sitting in the mornings. I have no doubt that we shall find ourselves sitting into tomorrow morning. I would not mind if we sat into some other mornings, starting at 3.30 and going through. My guess is that we should get more time for debate if we used the mornings in that way than if we marched up here only at 10.30, by which time the sun has been up a long while.
This argument again ignores the inconvenience which would be caused to Scottish Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) mentioned this—and to Members serving on Standing Committees. I do not believe that we are all that long way through the Land Commission Bill. There is work to be done on that Bill on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. That Bill could well be dropped. It it were, we might well take a slightly different view of sitting in the mornings. But the Bill is there and we have to oppose it in Committee. That is our duty.
The Government's arguments are only sham arguments. I believe the truth of the matter is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash has said, that the Government are scared stiff of being forced to defend the Bill in detail against critical, sustained and incisive questioning and attack. It is a Measure of which the Government have become increasingly ashamed and which they have come increasingly to regret. I believe, also, that this is true of back bench Members opposite.
I do not suppose that hon. Members on this side of the House are unique in having received on this Measure more correspondence from their constituents than on any other Measure, certainly in my short experience in Parliament and probably in the experience of hon. Members who have been here much longer.
The point is that we have a Measure on which our constituents, whose views, I imagine, represent all political parties, write to us and point out the consequences of the Government's proposals and asks us to oppose them. We have consituents who have been caused real concern and distress, and in some cases something near despair by some of the proposals embodied in this Bill.
Our duty as Members is to speak for them, to put forward their points of view and to defend their interests. If we are not allowed to do this because it suits the convenience of the Government, because the Treasury Bench want to get off to the Costa Brava or wherever it is, this is a negation of democracy, and no attempt to juggle with imaginary difficulties of the timetable can convince me that this Motion has justice on its side. It has not; the Treasury Bench knows it has not, and the country knows it has not. On any and every possible occasion we shall proclaim that it has not, and we shall fight against it as hard as we can.
I have sat through the whole of this debate without moving from my seat because when I came into the Chamber this afternoon I was extremely puzzled as to how such a debate could last for so long. I must confess that I am far more puzzled now than I was when I came in. I have never experienced a guillotine debate before and I must say that I have no experience of university lecturing, so that I do not presume to have any great knowledge of the procedures of the House. But I am puzzled now not as to how such a debate can be kept going, but as to why the Committee stage of the Selective Employment Payments Bill was chosen for a guillotine Motion debate.
The Government have at their disposal a large number of other Measures which I would have thought they could far more easily and willingly have guillotined. The fact that they have chosen the one Bill which has not been supported in any way by anybody at any time would lead a more cynical person than myself to suppose that the reason was to stifle debate. This perhaps cannot be so, and so I am still puzzled about the real reason behind their thinking.
I am the more puzzled by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who seemed to suggest that there was something more discreditable in the fact that hon. Members on this side of the House, and for all I know on the other side as well, seek to contribute something to the national interest in the mornings as well as attending the House in the afternoons, than there would be in going away for one's holidays a week earlier than would otherwise be the case. This, also, is very puzzling to me. I can only tell the House that I am proud that I earn my living in the morning as well as in the afternoon and evening.
As I see it, the difficulty in accepting this Motion is that, because of the broad scope of the Bill and the enormously wide effect it will have on the nation as a whole, it has not been possible, and it certainly will not be possible, for many matters of great importance to the national interest to be discussed in the truncated period available for us. I shall take two examples from my own experience, and I have no doubt that, within the experience of other hon. Members, there are hundreds of other relevant examples.
In my constituency there is a large company engaged in manufacturing and distribution. Last year, it amalgamated its distribution interests with distribution interests of another company, and it reckoned by so doing to save itself about £100,000 a year. This would be the direct result of making its distributive work more efficient. The effect of the Finance Bill and this Bill will be that it will have to pay Selective Employment Tax to the tune of £130,000 a year. This company intends, therefore, to abandon its more efficient arrangements and thus save £30,000 a year.
To this firm, it is a matter of principle, and it is a matter of principal generally which ought to be discussed in full in the House, and our discussion ought not to be truncated. There are many occasions and many ways in which the tax will work against the national interest and not just against the interests of individuals, which hon. Members opposite seem to regard as of so little importance.
My second example is the milk industry, about which hon. Members opposite have put down an Amendment. The milk industry is one of the largest in this country, with a turnover of about £ 500 million a year. Milk is a very emotive product, too, as anyone who has ever sought to resist the embattled and em-bottled mothers of this country will know. I believe the Bill to be the first attempt that anyone has made, at least for many years, to impose a tax on food. It is certainly the first occasion on which a tax has been imposed on essential food. This is a matter of the gravest importance. Taxes on food have in the past led to revolutions, and in the present they can lead to the fall of Governments. But under the Guillotine we are to have no right, as I see it, to discuss the rights and wrongs of the principle of taxing food directly for the first time in our history.
Those two examples, if nothing else, should convince the House that this is a pernicious Motion which should be opposed
I hope that it will be convenient now to reply to some of the speeches made during this debate, a debate which has been by no means too long because it deals with what is of fundamental importance to every right hon. and hon. Member, the right to speak, the right of free speech, which we all hold dear, particularly the right of back benchers and especially Opposition back butchers, and even more particularly the right of idiosyncratic Opposition back benchers, to say their piece. Everyone knows the view of the average Member, the orthodox Member. We want to know the view of the unorthodox Member, so I, for one, certainly take the view that a guillotine Motion should not be introduced unless it is necessary and that the onus of proof of its need rests upon the Government introducing it. On that, we are on common ground.
We have had a long debate and some of my hon. Friends, coming into this kind of debate for the first time have felt that it would not be very fruitful unless we drew—I say so, I hope, without offence —more helpful conclusions than the mere "You're another" kind of comment, more fruitful conclusions than merely saying, "When we were sitting there we did the same thing, but, of course, we had full justification, whereas the present Government have no justification at all."
In that context, I pick up straight away what the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said, that they thought that we ought to endeavour to make progress considering agreed timetable Motions. By "agreed timetable Motions" I mean timetable Motions which nave been discussed through the usual channels, I imagine, but certainly between the three parties and put before the House for the approval of hon. Members, because, of course, the House must decide finally. I should have thought that there was a great deal to be said for that kind of consideration, because surely by now—the debate has made this absolutely clear—both sides accept that a guillotine Motion is on occasion an essential part of our democratic procedure but that it is one that has to be used with care and only when one is driven to that extremity.
I am very interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, because I agree with most of it, but the problem that I have not been able to solve is that shown up by the Finance Bill last year. We agreed to a timetable Motion, but then the Government produced 400 Amendments. How are we to find the time for that sort of thing? This is a problem which the House should take into account in considering an agreed timetable Motion.
I was going on to say that I hoped that this idea would be further discussed, because it did not seem to me such an extraordinary extension of the things that we already do. I have never been a part of the usual channels, but we all have an idea of what goes on. I would understand that, for example, the business of the House is, while not necessarily agreed, discussed between the usual channels before it is announced.
I would go further—I hope that I do not embarrass any right hon. Gentlemen opposite—and say that when one is discussing, for example, a long Finance Bill —it happens from time to time—there are times when there is a quite unofficially accepted, rather than agreed, timetable on parts of it which the House sees fit to adhere to, which is part of the co-operation which Oppositions of all parties extend to the Government of the day when dealing with Finance Bills. Therefore, I say that this is not an unusual extension. I would hope that one could pursue that matter. I will come to it again in a few moments.
First of all, I would deal more specifically with the responsibility or onus for justifying this timetable Motion. It is common ground that this is an accepted principle between the two sides of the House. Both parties have made use of the procedure. The Labour Government over a period of seven or eight years have used it three times, and the Conservative Government over a period of a little over 13 years, have used it 15 times. In case anybody is tempted by these figures to think that we are inclined to use it more frequently than the Conservatives, the arithmetic is that the Conservatives have used it since the war three times as frequently as we have when in power.
If the principle is common between us, my responsibility and that of my right hon. Friends is to demonstrate the absolute necessity to get the Bill through on time. There are two arguments about this which have not been fully put forward. The first is a strong argument and the second is conclusive.
First, the Ministry of Labour needs the Bill through in the time allotted so as to be in the position of ensuring that the machinery is ready to begin payment in early January. The Ministry assures me that that is the case. We have gone into this very fully and the Ministry is satisfied that it cannot have the machinery ready unless we have the Bill through in time.
What is a very powerful argument and much more relevant is that the employers themselves who will be paying the tax from September must know at that time whether they are to pay, whether they are to pay and get a refund, or whether they are to pay and get a premium. This is of direct relevance to their accounting, and one must consider their modern accounting machinery.
They must know at the time they make payment whether it is to be payment for money spent or for indebtedness or future repayment. They cannot know this without knowing what the Bill provides. Unless the Bill is ready, they cannot have received in time from the Ministry the forms indicating the method by which they will be able to reclaim repayment, if there be repayment, either by way of refund or by way of premium, whichever is appropriate in their cases.
We are very much up against time and it is absolutely vital for the employers to know well before September what their position is so that they can make the necessary arrangements and so that they can be duly informed by the Minister where they stand and what forms they are to use. I cannot see how they can be in a position to carry out these responsibilities unless the Bill is through in the time allotted.
The second factor I have to demonstrate is whether the time allowed for discussion of the Bill is reasonable. I know that there is an Amendment on which we shall discuss this in more detail but it is appropriate that I should refer to it now in broad outline. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to the close relationship between the Selective Employment Tax and the Selective Employments Payments Bill. They are, of course, two halves of the same overall process and that is why the Opposition requested that they should be discussed contemporaneously. I remind the House of the number of occasions on which the Finance Bill and the S.E.P. Bill and the principles of the details involved have already been discussed.
First, there was the debate on the Budget. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made extensive reference to these matters both in his opening and closing speeches. I myself dealt with them at some length. Then there was the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, when they were again dealt with at considerable length. Indeed, most of the speeches from both sides centred on the S.E.T. The Second Reading of the S.E.P. Bill dealt with nothing but these matters.
In Committee on the Finance Bill we spent no less than 33 hours 10 minutes on Clause 42, dealing with the S.E.T. and related matters, some details of which are repeated in the Amendments put down to the S.E.P. Bill. The same matters are, however, involved. On the Report stage of the Finance Bill, we spent a further 2 hours and 20 minutes on the same details. Thus, we spent a total of 35½ hours on the details, apart from the Budget speeches and two Second Reading debates on the principles. That is what has already happened on the subject matte' of this Motion.
The timetable Motion provides virtually five days for the remaining stages —three days in Committee, one day for Report and Third Reading and on each of the four days an extra 1½ hours, a total of six hours, making virtually five days in all.
The right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that not one speech from the Government back benches was in favour of this Measure, which is highly controversial on both sides of the House.
I am not disputing its controversiality. I am claiming it. It is only a very controversial Bill for which the Government are entitled to put down a timetable Motion. In practice, it is only a controversial Bill which gives rise to such a Motion. The hon. Gentleman is helping me with my case.
I have claimed that it is highly controversial. I have listened carefully to the speeches which have been made today and I have looked again at the Division lists to make sure whether the Government carried the Second Reading on a Division, and my review indicates that they did. The suggestion which we are making is that on the Committee stage there should be virtually four days for what in effect are 10 Clauses. This is a 12 Clause Bill, two of the Clauses being the Title, and so on, so that there are 10 effective Clauses for which we are allowing four days in Committee.
Let me remind the House of some precedents in that connection. The Army Reserve Bill, 1962, had two days for eight Clause, an average of four Clauses a day. These are timetable Motions put down by the Conservatives when in Government. On the Television Bill, 1954, for 20 Clauses there were five days, an average of four Clauses a day; on the Transport Bill, 1953, 35 Clauses, seven days, an average of five Clauses a day; the National Health Service Bill, eight Clauses, one day, an average of eight Clauses a day. If those are added together, there is an overall average of five and a quarter Clauses a day, exactly double the number of Clauses, or roughly half the time which we are proposing to allot.
The figures which I have had given to me are eight Clauses with two days allotted for Committee stage. I would be more than happy to omit that in case I have not been given figures accurately enough, because that example was the least advantageous to my argument. If one omits that, one gets a rate of progress which is not twice as great as what we are proposing, but much more than that.
Having conceded the first item on his list, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am right in what I said and he is wrong, would he now recall that the last time a Bill was guillotined, before it went into Committee, was in 1952 and that therefore, with one exception, all of the illustrations that he has given to the House are wrong?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's interruption, because it has given me time for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to remind me of the circumstances, which were that one Clause was in discussion in Committee before the timetable Motion and had not been completed. Therefore, the number of days allotted for the Committee stage was correctly described by me as being in respect of eight Clauses.
If the right hon. Gentleman says that the only precedent is the National Health Service Bill, there we have eight Clauses in one day, as opposed to the present proposal, with a very similar-sized Bill, of 10 Clauses and virtually four days. The argument that I was trying to make was that we were being twice as generous when we were in Government, but the right hon. Gentleman prefers to have it put rather specially, that we are being four times as generous.
Whichever way it is, the precedents show quite clearly that although we have already discussed for 35½ hours the principle and details and the very matters which are remaining for discussion and we did not discuss the Army Reserve Bill for 351 hours before it was guillotined—we are still proposing a period of time for the discussion of the Committee stage which is roughly twice as generous as anything that has been offered previously.
Will the right hon. Gentleman, with his habitual courtesy, give way? [Interruption.] One reason is as good as another. Would he be good enough to deal with this point? Even assuming his statistics to be correct, surely the difference is that the matters to which he refers in these other Bills, although highly important, are concentrated into a relatively narrow sector. The matters which are being dealt with here extend right over the whole range of commercial and industrial activities. That difference is reflected in the number of Amendments. Does that not invalidate the comparison which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to make?
I could not accept that point of view at all. Several of the Bills which have been guillotined affected citizens all over the country. I am thinking in terms of the health charges. This affected people in a way which we regarded as very vital indeed. So far as this Bill is concerned, although the details are of some importance, the Chancellor and the Government generally have made their views known on the matters which are to be debated. As several of my hon. and right hon. Friends have said, the Bill could conveniently be dealt with in four or five major debates by the Amendments being collected together and dealt with under one group, because the principle involved keeps on coming up time and time again.
I have to do more than demonstrate that we are being more generous than the Opposition, I have to demonstrate that this timetable Motion, which is essential is also unavoidable. I can demonstrate that it is unavoidable for two reasons. First, it is unavoidable in view of the number of Amendments on the Notice Paper, which have been referred to many times already and which are so numerous that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite got their way, and had all the time that they were asking for, they would be in the happy position of being able to vote on each Amendment, provided that they did not say one word on any one of them. The simple process of going through the Division Lobbies would take up the whole of the time. They referred in their speeches to the need to speak and vote on all of these Amendments. One cannot say that there is any major principle between us. It is just a matter of some important detail as to how much time is allotted for the reasonable discussion of the remainder of this Bill.
It is a question not only of the number of Amendments, but of the Opposition's attitude to the Bill which the Government must take into account. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said that we should tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer to amend the Finance Bill and to remove the Selective Employment Tax from it completely. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The view expressed is not that we should take time to amend the Selective Employment Payments Bill, but that we should wring its neck. That is one expression of opinion.
The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) called this a revolutionary Bill. I hope that I do not misjudge his political attitudes, but when he refers to a Measure as revolutionary I do not think that he intends to pay it a compliment. He is wholly against the Bill and has no intention of amending it. I regret that I was not here to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), but I am told that he said, "I want to obstruct the Bill for as long as I can". [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In view of this, it is not unreasonable for the Government to take the view that there are hon. Members opposite who are concerned not so much to amend the Bill as to destroy and obstruct it. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said, "We shall fight against this as hard as we can". That represents the general view of hon. Members opposite.
I hope that the House will accept that we are reasonable in reaching the conclusion that the Opposition want to obstruct the Bill, as they are perfectly entitled to do. I hope that I have demonstrated that we are being reasonable in the time that we propose to provide. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I hope that I have demonstrated that it is in the interests of the citizen, and, in particular, of the employer, that the Bill should become law as soon as possible.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West was good enough to say that there was no gulf of opinion dividing us; there is a difference of view about what is a reasonable period to allot to the Bill. I hope that he will feel, on further consideration, that this is not a matter of principle which divides us. We are agreed about the principle. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, we are agreed about the principle that a democratic Government must from time to time rely on a timetable Motion. We acknowledge the co-operation which Government and Opposition extend to one another in the interests of good government.
I hope that the Opposition will feel it worth continuing this discussion, because it will have been a very fruitful day's debate if we can move from these rather dreary debates, with one side saying to the other, "You are behaving very badly. We always behaved very well when we did this sort of thing ", and quoting each other's speeches to the time when we can perhaps agree, through the usual channels, the kind of timetable Motion which might be appropriate for a number of occasions. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will feel that it is not necessary to press their opposition to this Motion.
All that the Chief Secretary managed to demonstrate was that the Government have absolutely no justification for this timetable Motion. His speech was typical of him, as I know from having debated several Finance Bills with him. Whenever he has a very bad case, he starts by saying how he understands the importance of the arguments and how reasonable he will be, and then he goes on to produce a series of very bad counter-arguments. I have heard him produce many bad arguments supporting poor cases, but I have never heard him produce a worse argument supporting a very poor case than tonight.
First, he argued that we were to take no notice of arguments propounded by the then Opposition on previous guillo- tine Motions; they were all rather bogus arguments and not important and it was wrong to quote any arguments then used against guillotine Motions, presumably meaning that when the present Foreign Secretary, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Prime Minister, and almost every other Member of the Government, at that time criticised such Motions as this, they were producing lightweight and bogus arguments. One can understand there being some truth in that, but none of the guillotine Motions introduced when we were the Government was anywhere near as mean as this Motion.
We are debating tonight this particular guillotine Motion. Both sides agree that there are times when a guillotine Motion is needed. There is no dispute about that. The task for the Government was to justify that this was a reasonable Motion. The Leader of the House bears much more responsibility in this matter than does the Chief Secretary, for he has the task of protecting the interests of back-bench Members on both sides of the House. Yet he made a speech which contained not one word of justification of this Motion. He said that there had been many arguments about such Motions in the past and he implied that they had all been rather bogus and that nobody should take any notice of them today. But he is the first Leader of the House, certainly since 1945, to move a Motion of this kind without offering any argument or justification of the period of time laid down in the Motion. I am afraid that that will reflect very badly on his standing with back-bench Members.
The first of the Chief Secretary's arguments was that the Tories had introduced more guillotine Motions than had the Socialists. What he must realise is that it is not the frequency of the guillotine Motions but the severity of this Motion which is the important test of whether it is justified. He made the remarkable contention that there were various reasons why the Bill must reach the Statute Book quickly. The first was that unless it went through the House in the next few days, the Ministry of Labour could not prepare its administration for January. If we have a Ministry of Labour in such a state that if the Bill is passed in the second or third week of August, instead of in the next couple of weeks, it cannot prepare to administer it before January, it is time that we found a new Minister of Labour.
We understand that, due to the incompetence of the Treasury the Inland Revenue is unable to cope with this tax and that this is the reason for the separate Bill. But, having decided to sub-contract the Bill, one would have hoped that the Treasury would sub-contract it to a Ministry which was able in four months after the passage of the Bill to build up the necessary machinery to put into operation.
The Chief Secretary said that the next reason for the timetable was that the businessman must know what was happening and must be quickly put out of his uncertainty. The businessman, he said, would much prefer not to have his case argued; he would prefer quickly to be out of uncertainty and to know he had to pay the tax.
This comes very ill from a Government who have created as much uncertainty as this Government have for businessmen. We remember how they announced the Corporation Tax and left many months of uncertainty as to the way it was to apply. We remember how they introduced the Capital Gains Tax, and how they left many months of uncertainty before the details were made known. We know how in almost every sphere of economic decision this Government have been the very practitioners in creating maximum uncertainty. It is because they are so skilled in this that there have been so many crises of confidence in sterling during the period in which the present Government have been in office. So it ill becomes them to say that the businessman will not tolerate another couple of weeks of uncertainty—a couple of weeks spent in debating his case. I challenge the Chief Secretary or any Minister who speaks later to name one representation the Government have had from any business source at all that this Bill should not be debated fully in order to relieve uncertainty.
It comes ill from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on this issue to say what he has just said. I can confirm to him that, in view of the credit squeeze going on now, in view of the difficulty of the business man in being able to find the kind of resources which this tax will require, in order to help him with the inflationary fight, it is absolutely essential for him to know promptly that this tax will be payable so that he can make the necessary arrangements to pay it.
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that so much has been the advance, presumably, of his own particular business in recent times that he is the only publisher who has not asked us to debate this particular issue. Publishers certainly want the case of the book trade argued. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has no such desire.
Then we had the argument of the Chief Secretary on the time which has already been taken discussing the Bill. He said, "First of all, there was the Budget debate ". Let him recall that the Bill was not even published at the time of the Budget debate, and so there was no possibility then of debating the S.E.P. Bill. There was no Bill published, so it was quite impossible to discuss it.
He went on to say, "Then there was the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill". We know how very few back-bench Members were able to speak on that Second Reading—and there were many other items to consider.
Then he went on to say that the great case for this was that it was a controversial Bill and because it was controversial they must introduce the Guillotine. He said, "Controversial Bills are the very Bills on which to introduce the Guillotine ". This is the new dogma of the present Government: "If it is controversial, stop them talking. Do not let us hear arguments. And if it is controversial for our own back-bench Members who are against it, that is all the more reason for putting on the Guillotine "—and so stop the embarrassment of the Government during the passage of the Bill.
Mind you, the Chief Secretary is very good at this theme of the joy of controversy. During an address he gave to a conference in the City recently, organised, I believe, by the Investors' Chronicle, he proclaimed this principle to his audience, "The Bill", he said, "causes such criticism and controversy, and no Bill has caused such criticism and controversy as this one. We in the Labour Government want to introduce legislation so bad and so controversial it provokes discussion". That was his theme at that conference. His theme in the House of Commons is, "We may want to provoke discussion but we are going to see you jolly well do not have it". That is what he endeavoured to say tonight.
Then he went on to that splendid series of arguments about the ratio of time to Clauses. He was immediately defeated in that very bad argument by the interjection of my right hon. Friend. We learned that in every case but one that he had quoted there had been considerable debate in the Committee stage before the Guillotine was moved, and, on that basis, every case but one fell to the ground, and his whole argument was destroyed.
What he failed to give us was the list of Amendments that were not discussed. There was some mention by the Chief Secretary of the number of Amendments that had been guillotined as a result of the Measure which we introduced, but I ask the Chief Secretary to name any Measure on which the Tory Government introduced a Guillotine which gave so little time per Amendment as that which the Government are trying to introduce tonight. He will not find one in the whole political history of this century.
Thus, their case finally floundered, with the Chief Secretary recognising the weaknesses of all these arguments. He then staggered to the last, pathetic argument, that the Government had to do it because there were so many Amendments; they had to introduce the meanest guillotine Motion within living memory. That is what the Chief Secretary has argued tonight.
The fact is that this Measure is enormous in terms of its economic effects and in terms of its financial consequences. It is a Bill which needs a great deal of examination. We know that it was ill thought out. The Government have admitted by the concessions that they have already made that they gave no thought to the Measure before it was published. We all remember how, the day that it was announced, on the major issues of agriculture, the Chancellor told us that it was going to be repaid through the Price Review. Within a few days and possibly because of the threat of another resignation, the poor, dejected Minister of Agriculture already having inflicted the British farmer with one of the worst Price Reviews in history—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman should go and tell that to the farmers. We know how worried the Minister of Agriculture was; otherwise, why did the Chancellor change his view, give in, and collapse on this issue? It is not a minor issue, after all. The Government have given no thought to the subject, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well. When the effects on agriculture were pointed out to the Chancellor, he gave in.
Then we had the Government's change of view on charities. When asked whether something could be done for them, the House received, from either the Chief Secretary or the Financial Secretary, the straight answer, "No." Within a few weeks, under pressure, the Government gave in to the extent that they made what they said was a concession to charities. Now they are simply going to take a six-month interest-free loan from charities, and that is the sort of concession that the Government have been making on the Bill.
When one goes through the subjects which could be debated, first of all, there is the ridiculous conception that this type of Bill can be based on a classification produced for a completely different purpose. It was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison. when he said that within that industrial classification there are certain new industries which do not even have a classification at present, it is completely inappropriate for these purposes, and, therefore, a whole debate has to take place upon how wide that classification is.
This tax will have a considerable effect on education. The Secretary of State for Education and Science nods agreement, and recognises the importance of this. He very much wants the opportunity of coming to the Dispatch Box and putting his views—which I am sure are hostile to the Bill—on the effects that this tax will have on education. If he is embarrassed by his Ministerial position and does not want to put the case himself, doubtless he will prompt one of his hon. Friends to put it for him, but under this Motion it is unlikely that we will have a debate on education.
Then there is the subject in which hon. Gentlemen opposite used to take a great interest, but which they have completely deserted, the problem of the development areas. No longer do we get long lists of questions. No longer are Adjournment debates initiated by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the subject of the development areas. No longer do they point out the problems there. No longer do they want to debate the fact that this Bill will prevent the service industries from going to the development areas where they are so urgently needed. It must be very disappointing for those who used to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite fighting the case for the development areas to discover that, now there is a Labour Government, hon. Gentlemen opposite remain silent on this topic and do not want it to be fully debated.
We also have to consider the effect of this tax on the hotel and catering industry. This affects not only many seaside towns, but areas like the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where it is the main industry. The fact is that it is unlikely that we shall have a debate on this subject.
This tax will also affect the building societies. I am sure that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is devious enough in his ways to have organised a strong back bench protest about the way the housing programme is being treated as a result of the Bill, and about the scandalous treatment of the construction industry. The Government are fail- ing in their housing programme. They are failing in their promise to lower mortgage rates, and yet here they are introducing another imposition on the building society movement. Not only are they imposing this restriction, but they are trying to prevent hon. Members from debating it.
We have also to consider the effect of the tax on some of our major invisible exports. The Government have never shown any interest in trying to improve the foreign earnings of our major industries responsible for invisible export, yet these are the industries—banking, insurance, the services provided by the City, and so on—which will be hard hit by the Bill. The whole object of the Bill is to discriminate against these industries, and, again, the Government do not wish us to discuss it.
We have here the first imposition by a Government of a direct tax on food, a direct tax on all the supplies sold by the retailers. The tax will not have an adverse effect on transport, but this, too, we shall not be allowed to discuss. It will also create social problems. We wanted to spend a lot of time debating the effects of the Bill on the disabled worker. We wanted to discuss its effects on religion, on sport, and on various other sectors of our society which will be directly taxed for the first time as a result of the Bill, and yet the Government are attempting to see that we do not have the opportunity to do so.
We have had a remarkable debate. We have had a series of speeches from the other side of the House, or perhaps I should say a series of speeches and lectures. The speeches, such as that by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), have been an endeavour to defend the Prime Minister. We know that hon. Gentleman has great affection for the Prime Minister. It was good to see him leaping up to defend the right hon. Gentleman. He made a strong case for the Bill.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that he was against guillotine Motions, that he did not like them, that they ruined debates, and that he had argued against them on many occasions. The hon. Gentleman has been consistent in arguing against the Guillotine, and many of his hon. Friends have spoken against the principle of the Guillotine before. Having told us how they ruined debates and how they were not very good for the House of Commons, he added, in effect, "But I will be voting for this one tonight, because if we do not have it it will stop Government legislation and I do not want to stop the Iron and Steel Bill from going through".
That is why the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will be voting for the Guillotine tonight. He is saying, therefore, "I do not mind your having bad debates. I do not mind what effect this has on charities, the disabled, and our major invisible earnings. You can skip all of those, but let us get to the real thing, which is steel nationalisation."
I admire the honest presentation of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. However, I assure him that he can have his Iron and Steel Bill introduced and still avoid this Guillotine, because all that my hon. Friends and I are asking for is one further week of Parliamentary time. This would not affect his beloved Bill. We have said that we would be willing to sit into August and to work for a further week into our holidays so that the S.E.P. Bill is fully debated.
The Government will be strongly condemned for having introduced a Measure when really the priority is to get the Second Reading of the Iron and Steel Bill, which they know they cannot complete before the summer. They know that all the main stages of the Iron and Steel Bill will have to be taken next Session yet, to pacify the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, they are prepared to neglect this vital S.E.P. Bill, realising all its adverse effects. They are willing to do that just to squeeze in the Iron and Steel Bill and to pacify hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Then we had the arguments adduced by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger)—a distinguished senior Member of the House, to whom we listen with interest—but I could not but feel today that he came here as a loyal supporter of the Government feeling that it was right that one of the senior hon. Members opposite should speak up in favour of this bad Motion.
Seeing that it is such a bad Motion, the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw tried hard. One of his arguments was that the Government had obtained the confidence of the people at the recent election and were, therefore, perfectly in order in introducing a Motion of this sort. I do not believe that he would like to sustain that argument for long, because one important factor which a Government returned with a large majority should consider is how important it is for them to look after the interests of minorities in Parliament, particularly when they have a large majority. If the Government do not do that they will lose the confidence of the people, in the way that the present Government are losing confidence.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw went on to argue that the proposals which the Government will bring forward next Wednesday will be more important than those we are discussing. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government's proposals that day would be much more serious in purpose than these. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are discussing the main proposals of the Government in their Budget of but a few weeks ago? Is he aware that by the Prime Minister—and it is the Prime Minister and not the Chancellor of the Exchequer—announcing more serious proposals on Wednesday, this means that the Chancellor should resign? Does this not show the degree of the Chancellor's incompetence? Thus, we have had this appalling debate, with no argument from the benches opposite to support the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), when questioning the Leader of the House on Thursday, said that he hoped that the Prime Minister would be here to debate such a squalid Measure. The right hon. Gentleman is not here, but in Moscow—but he may be back tomorrow morning. But this is a squalid Measure, of which any Prime Minister should be ashamed, and it is a pity he is not here—
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to intervene, because I should not like to be misquoted. What I said on that occasion was that I hoped that the Leader of the House would arrange for the Prime Minister to move this Motion, because I could not think of anyone from whom so shabby a proposal could come better.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying the situation—and I am sure that he has the agreement of us all. It would have been a better thing for the Prime Minister to have tried to debate this Motion today than, perhaps, his trip to Moscow has been. But I leave condemnation of this Measure to the very way in which the Government themselves know that the Selective Employment Payments Bill is a throughly badly prepared Bill.
I quote from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said recently about the Selective Employment Tax—and the interview was presumably checked by the right hon. Gentleman—in the Journal of the Certified Accountants. When it was put to him by the
questioner that it would have been far better to have introduced a flat payroll tax on the lines we have suggested in the past, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after saying how difficult the machinery for that might be, replied:
I have said from the beginning that I fully expect that this major new tax will be improved and refined as time goes on.
It is the whole purpose of the Government tonight to see that we do not have any time to improve and refine this tax. It is the whole purpose of the Government to see that the folly of this tax, with all its adverse effects, is not known to the people. I say to the Government that they may well be able to stop us discussing it by the arrogant use of a majority of nearly 100, but they will not stop us exposing their folly to the people.
|First allotted day||Clause 1||—|
|Second allotted day||Caluse 1||11.30|
|Third allotted day||Clause 2||—|
|Fourth allotted day||Clause 2||—|
|Fifth allotted day||Clause 2||11.30|
|Sixth allotted day||Clause 3||5.00|
|Seventh allotted day||Clause 7||8.00|
|Eighth allotted day||Clauses 10, 11 and|
|Schedules and new Schedules||11.30|
The purpose of the first of these two Amendments is to substitute eight days for the Committee stage for the three days proposed in the Motion, while the second Amendment sets out the way in which we suggest that those eight days should be allotted between different Clauses. This would result in the Amendments to the Bill being discussed —which is the purpose of a Committee stage—for 64 hours instead of for 24 hours. That is the difference between our timetable and that of the Government.
The last time on which a guillotine Motion was moved before the Committee stage of a Bill had even begun was in connection with the National Health Service Bill, 1952. On that occasion, precisely the same procedure was followed as on this occasion, namely, during the main part of the day we had the equivalent of a Second Reading debate on the general principle of whether or not there should be a Guillotine, and then the House went on to consider Amendments that had been put down to the main Motion.
Since the last election, many hon. Members opposite, particularly those who have newly arrived, have been carrying loudly for more time in which to discuss important Measures. They complain that the House does not devote its attention sufficiently to important Measures. I have not heard a single speech from either side of the House today suggesting that this was not an important Measure. Everyone knows it is exceedingly important. What we complain about is that the Government are using their majority to dictate to the House a timetable which is much too severe compared with the importance of the Measure before us.
This is a serious curtailment of Parliament's right of free speech and Parliament's right to examine properly a Bill which affects every constituency and very large numbers of our constituents. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) said, it is not a question of the frequency with which Guillotines are introduced, but of their severity. Anyone who contemplates three days only for the Committee on the Bill to discuss more than 300 Amendments must see the absurdity of the proposals which the Government make.
I agree with one thing which the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) said. This is a question affecting relations between the Executive and the Legislature. This is a question which fundamentally affects the way in which the Government are going to control Parliament and allow it to discuss Measures. Here we have a Measure which is a diktat, a ukase, or a firman, according to whether speaks German, Russian, or Turkish, by the Government on the House of Commons.
Someone, during the speeches made today, suggested that this is a matter which should have been settled by discussion through the usual channels. I can quite see that if there had been an opportunity for that it would have been a sensible and useful suggestion instead of relying on the experts—whose identity we have not been told—to have agreed on a timetable, but everyone knows that the Government slapped down this guillotine Motion and that the Opposition did not see it and had no opportunity to make suggestions about it.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said that the only way in which the House of Commons can assert itself against the dictation of the Executive is by supporters of the Government on the back benches voting against the Government on matters which affect the interests of the House as a whole. Whether we sit on the Government benches or on this side of the House, we know that that is the way in which the Executive can be controlled by the Legislature.
Whatever talk we may have, and there is plenty of talk at present, about improvements in procedure, the Government control the House and they can get through the House of Commons exactly what they want. They can allow the House to discuss exactly what they want and prevent the House discussing exactly what they want. They can use, as they do today, their majority to override the Opposition and get their legislation as quickly as they like. When the two sides of the House agree they can pass anything as quickly as they like. Emergency legislation for the whole set-up of the conduct of the war was passed in one day on 3rd September, 1939, by both Houses of Parliament because both sides wanted it.
Only when there is a dispute, when the two sides of the House are clenched in argument, does it become important to see that the Government do not override the wishes of the House as a whole. I therefore make a comparison between the timetable proposed by the Government in their Motion and our proposal to increase the time for the discussion from the 24 to 64 hours.
The Chief Secretary seemed to argue that all one had to do was to take a number of Clauses and divide them. The fact is that a Bill may include one Clause that is important, and one may only discover how contentious the Bill is and where the contention is by looking at the number of Amendments, and not at the number of Clauses in the Bill. It is that which shows the extent to which a Bill creates difficulty, argument and contention not only in this House, but to our constituents and throughout the country.
Let me refer to Clause 1. This is the Clause which attracts industrial pre- miums, where a large number of people will get additional money handed back to them, where they will get a bonus. It is, therefore, important for the House to see how public money is being distributed to those who have not earned it. The Government propose the ludicrous time of four hours for the discussion of this Clause and of 65 Amendments. While it is true that many of them may not be selected and that some of them may be grouped, if one assumes that only half of them will be discussed and that we discuss about 30 of them the net result will be that we shall have about seven minutes in which to discuss each of half the number of Amendments to Clause 1.
Let us take the Amendment Paper as it stands and look at the first 15 Amendments to Clause 1; that is, only one quarter of the Amendments put down to that Clause. What do we find in those first 15 Amendments? They raise the problems of the development areas. The very first Amendment deals with that subject. They raise the question whether a premium should be paid at all. The Opposition, as the Government know very well, want to discuss the whole question of the payment of the premium to the industries when the areas that have services and not industries do not get a premium at all. Is it suggested that that can be discussed in seven minutes? This raises a major point of principle.
Next, there is the question whether there should be an equal refund for men and women. This is a Liberal Amendment—and I see no Liberal Members here. The Government are always talking about their enthusiasm for equal pay. What about equal refunds? Why should there be a greater bonus for employing men than for employing women?
Then there is the china clay industry that vitally affects Cornwall and the West Country. Next, there is the question of stone and slate quarries, affecting Wales and many other areas. There is also reference to the really vital question whether the construction industry should not be treated like any other industrial undertaking, whether the building industry should not be treated as an industrial undertaking, whether it is right that the cost of housing should be raised by the impact of this tax, and the way in which the building industry is not getting one penny by way of refund and certainly no premium.
Those points are taken from the first 15 Amendments—one quarter only of the Amendments to Clause 1. Is it suggested by the expert who advises the Government, or have the Government thought for themselves, and, if so, do they suggest, that those Amendments should be discussed in the first quarter of the time allowed for Clause 1—say, 10 minutes for each of those vital Amendments? When we come to examine what will happen on the Committee stage we see how utterly ludicrous, unfair and ungenerous are the Government's proposals in their Motion.
The Government have already put down live Amendments to the Clause, some of them their second or even third thoughts about the form which certain parts of the Clause should take, but not one of those five Amendments comes before the first of the six items I mentioned. It would be perfectly reasonable for the House to spend the whole of the four hours allotted to the Clause on the six items I have listed, but then the five important Government Amendments would have to be moved without explanation and the House would have to accept them on the nod or vote on them without hearing what they were intended to do. Plainly., our proposal to have 16 hours for these 60 Amendments is eminently sensible and much nearer what is right than the idea which the expert who advises the Government, or the Government themselves, seem to have.
The Clause deals with refunds, and as it stands it deals with mining, quarrying, transport, agriculture and fisheries. The Government have already proposed Amendments to add opencast coal mining and new definitions of the transport section of an industrial undertaking coming within Clauses 1 and 2, together with a quite incomprehensible range of establishments dealing with research and training. But, quite apart from concerns originally in the Bill and those which the Government propose to add, every activity and every person who will have to pay the tax and who thinks that it is unfair is trying to get in under Clause 2 by saying that he should have a refund. All non-industrial activities which are severely adversely affected are trying to come into the Clause by Amendment.
The Government propose seven hours for 123 Amendments to Clause 2. Again, assuming that only half of them were considered, that would allow less than seven minutes for each Amendment. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) did not think that many of these topics needed to be debated extensively. I do not know how far he takes that principle. Those affected may not be major interests, but they may have a complicated case to present. Are they to do in a couple of sentences and give others longer time? We propose that the total time on this Clause should be 24 hours, which would allow 24 minutes for each, assuming that only half the Amendments were taken.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that, when we dealt with the Purchase Tax, there were just as many Amendments, or at least a very great many, and they were telescoped by the Chair into a somewhat similar series. That is what I had in mind when I said that a lot of these Amendments could be dealt with in that way.
That is a matter for the Chair. It may well be that some could be taken together. I was just coming to the point that the Chief Secretary made, that there were only three or four problems arising out of the Bill that needed to be discussed. We have tabulated for convenience on the Notice Paper a grouping of the sections under Clause 2 and the interests that they affect, and there are 24 major topics to which we should like to devote two hours each. If we took only 20 of them at an hour each, it would take 20 hours compared with the total of seven hours which the Government are proposing for the Clause.
Let us look at the grouping of some of the Amendments. No. 18 contains 11 Amendments dealing with agriculture. Is it too much to expect to spend one hour discussing agriculture on Clause 2 and the impact of the Bill on farmers? Let us give it an hour. No. 19 deals with part-time workers. There are four Amendments of vital importance to many of our constituents. I do not suppose hon. Members have more letters on any other subject than part-time workers. No. 20 deals with disabled employees. Are Government supporters not interested in the problem of disabled employees and the impact of the Bill on them? An hour would not be too long to discuss that topic. On these groupings alone we have three hours.
Then we come to visible and invisible exports. Reference was made just now to banking and City insurance and the vast interests in this country. What effect will the Bill have on them? Is an hour too much to devote to the interests of our invisible exporters? One of the problems that will arise concerns the headquarters of exporting houses that have no trade in this country except that represented by their headquarters. There ought to be an hour for this discussion.
Take the tourist industry. Cannot we devote an hour to the hotel, catering and tourist industry? Are hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that that is much too long? That is another grouping in which we have five or six Amendments vitally affecting many areas of the country. They are to be squeezed into the seven hours that the Government propose to give to Clause 2.
Another very important topic is the nationalised gas and electricity industries and the relation that they will bear to the situation of direct competition with private industry. We should discuss whether we shall be treating fairly the nationalised industries and the private industries that will be affected in a different way by the proposed tax. Is an hour too much for discussing that group of Amendments?
Another matter that I should have thought was of considerable interest to the cultural interests of the country is stationery and books. We ought to discuss whether it is right that we should impose a new tax upon learning and upon the distribution of literature. I know that some of it is obscene; we discuss it from time to time. But I should not have thought it was asking too much that we should discuss the printing and book industry, which will be vitally affected by the new tax.
Another matter that deserves discussion is our transport services and their competition in relation to the nationalised industries and their competition with the transport elements of industrial and non-industrial firms.
There is also, under Clause 2, the problem of the development areas. Ought they not to be considered for refund under this Clause? There is also the retail trade. This affects the co-operative societies. It affects food and the distribution of ordinary household goods of concern to every household in the country. Is an hour too much to consider the effect of imposing the tax on that interest of the community?
Laundries and dry cleaning are important for people other than those who want to get their washing done because their wives will not do it. This industry affects schools, hospitals and many industrial activities and provides many of the services which they require. Laundry and dry cleaning is a trade which has the highest labour content and will be harder hit by this tax than any other industry. The percentage of the labour content of the costing of the laundry and dry cleaning industry is higher than that of any other industry. Surely, no one could say that an hour was unreasonable for this industry. The construction industry, if it is not under Clause 1, must be under Clause 2, yet we are to be allowed only an hour to discuss these vital matters.
The definition of "establishment" and "qualifying employment" is vitally important and something on which the Bill is likely to break down. Has the Government considered the effect on the motor industry? A premium is to be given to those premises in which a machine is put together, but there is to be no refund in respect of premises in which spare parts are stored. Spare parts are a most important aspect of exports. An export business cannot be run properly unless spare parts are provided. The impact will be irrelevant and absurd. Apart from that, there is wholesale distribution and sport and recreation.
If one hour is allowed for each of these groups of topics, each one of which I would have thought hon. Members would regard as important, it would take 20 hours, which is 13 hours more than the Government propose. Further, there would still be 42 Amendments which will not be included in these groupings. When we consider that only seven hours are to be allowed for these subjects, it is plain that no more than a quarter of the Amendments will be discussed in Committee, particularly if the Government endeavour to stand by this absurd timetable and if their back benchers support their endeavours.
The Government have tabled nine Amendments to this Clause, some of which are pretty extraordinary and abstruse. They come quite late in the list and it may be that many of them will have to be accepted or voted upon without arty explanation from the Government as to what they mean or are intended to do.
This is by no means the end of the Bill, although it is the guts of it. Important proposals are contained in later Clauses. Clause 3 deals with public authorities and nationalised industries and Clause 4 with local authorities and bodies associated with local authorities. To these matters the Government proposes to give 2½ hours. This is too little even for the hon. Members for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) and Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). They feel that this is inadequate and they are pressing for 3½hours for these two Clauses.
Working again on my basis of taking only half the Amendments, this would mean only seven minutes for each Amendment. In our timetable we are allowing half an hour more than that proposed by the hon. Members for Woolwich, West and Fife, West. They think that 3½ hours is needed for the nationalised industries and the local authorities. We suggest four hours. It is a good indication that our timetable is about right.
I shall not waste time on the problems of charities and qualifying homes in Clauses 5 and 6, although there is a great deal to be said about them and all too little time given by the Government. But when we come to the enforcement and new criminal offences created by the Bill I am horrified at the ideas of the Government.
Clause 7(5) is about the most monstrous provision of tax legislation I have ever seen. It provides that the rights of citizens and charities to repayments under the Bill shall be at such times, in such manner and subject to such conditions as the appropriate Minister, with, of course, the consent of the Treasury, shall determine. Therefore, the citizen whose vital interests are affected is to be placed at the sole discretion of a Minister of the Crown.
I do not know how a Government who are always talking about law reform and their belief in the rule of law can have the effrontery to put forward a Bill of this nature and I regret that the Attorney-General, whose presence we had the honour of having a few minutes ago, is not here to tell us what he thinks about a proposal which would place in the hands of the Executive sole discretion to decide how and when and how much people should be repaid under the Bill.
It is a mockery to think that the Bill gives any citizens any rights. Not only is enforcement and repayment in the hands of Ministers, but throughout the Bill discretion is given to Ministers to hand out bonuses as they think fit without any provisions that they should lay an Order, or for delegated authority, or for Statutory Instruments, or for a report to the House on how they have been exercising their powers.
Clauses 1, 2 and 10 contain provisions giving the appropriate Minister absolute discretion as to whether an individual or separate establishment should have a refund or bonus—and all without any form either of recourse to the courts or to Parliamentary supervision. This is a scandalous proposal. Yet the Government propose only 2½ hours to discuss 31 Amendments affecting that vital principle —about five minutes for each of them.
We suggest 6½ hours and that is perhaps too little. But the reason we suggest so little for this vital Clause is that eight days seemed to us the most we could ask and we have to squeeze eight days even into the appropriate divisions between sections, so that all we could spare of the eight-day programme was 6½hours to discuss the way in which citizens are to be deprived of any access to the courts and are to be without right to enforce against the Crown their rights to repayment which the Bill purports to give.
Clause 10 raises important issues of divisions of establishments and a qualifying employment. These are all big questions which will affect the good administration of the Bill, but which are to depend a great deal on the say-so of Ministers, who will be able to hand out public bonuses to individual establishments without supervision because they think it convenient.
Having analysed how the timetable will affect consideration of the Committee stage of the Bill, I recall what happened when the Transport Act, 1962, was going through the House. The then Opposition did not find that Measure at all agreeable, and wished to contest it hotly. They did so hotly—in 35 sittings of Standing Committee E. That Committee took a total of 91 hours 15 minutes in Committee on the Bill. Yet the Government propose 24 hours for a Bill affecting interests far more varied than those affected by the Transport Bill.
I was amazed to hear the Lord President of the Council advance, as one of his arguments in support of this policy, that it would give time to discuss major Amendments to the Bill. I do not know whether I was right in inferring from that that he did not think that the minor interests were worth discussing. I doubt if those who have the minor interest will be much attracted by that argument. We can recall some of those which we have had from our constituencies and which are dealt with on the Notice Paper. There are the bakeries attached to retail shops, storage of spares for the motor industry, laundries, the electrical industry, the London Library, the Greenwich Hospital, the General Dental Council, the local authority associations, and so on.
We shall simply not have time to deal with all the minor interests, which for the people affected, are very important interests. If the basis upon which this Government now proposes that the House should deal with legislation is that one should only discuss the major issues in Committee and never any minor ones, then it is goodbye to the rights of the minor interests and the protection that they are supposed to get from the House of Commons.
The Government's proposal to take this Bill in Committee in a period of three days is a cynical abuse of their Parliamentary majority. Anyone who has considered, or knows anything about the Bill knows perfectly well that it is a gross injustice to many people and ought to be defeated.
We take endless trouble in this House, guarding people against the haphazard disasters of life, yet here is a Measure which is certainly haphazard and certainly a disaster. It is certainly extremely damaging to the City of London, which earns the money which the Government squanders. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members opposite like to "nobble" the City of London. They think that money is very easy to make and that all gold is fairy gold. They are to nationalise steel with fairy gold. It will be very interesting to see where that comes from.
Money, in the face of world competition, is not at all easy to make and many people do not make it. Someone has to pay for the follies of the Government, and it matters far less who makes the money as that the money should get made for this country. That is just what this Bill will cripple. Yet it is proposed that we should skate over it and pass it, undigested in three days, in spite of the fact that it affects almost everyone's life in a way which is at yet, quite undiscussed in detail and quite un-thought-out by the Government.
It may be said there is a shortage of time. Of course there is. There is a world shortage of time. The Prime Minister is short of time in Russia. [Interruption.] He is hurrying home so fast that he will be able to take part in this debate. Even this Government cannot create more time by inflation. We still have to live on 24 hours a day. There have been suggestions that we should sit in the mornings. For me, the mornings are devoted to my constituents. During the nine months that I have been here, have written more than 15,000 letters, which is over 70 every day. That is how I spend my mornings.
But at least we can use our time wisely. If I had been here longer I might criticise the procedure of the House, as some Members opposite have done. It is easy to say that by staying up all night we behave in a way which, if followed by ordinary people, would lead to their being considered incompetent or dissolute, and that our procedure is Byzantine in its complexity and that our agenda, the Order Paper, is partly incomprehensible and partly in dialect, that our premises are charming but totally inadequate, and that we should limit the length of speeches. I have even heard it suggested that to make better use of our time, local newspapers should be forbidden to report the speeches of local Members; or that we should bring in consultants to reorganise our habits, as has been done with such success recently at the Zoo.
But it seems to me that this House is not a sausage machine for producing legislation. It is not even a device to keep the 600 or so most tiresome Welshmen, Scotsmen and Englishmen out of mischief. It seems to me that it is a protesting machine and a protecting machine, or mainly so, and if ever there were a time for protesting and a need for protecting it is now, on this Bill—and it cannot be done in three days.
I should like to add a few words of protest to those which have been made already on the Motion and these Amendments. I greatly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith). He made a number of very important points, not the least of which was that on which he sat down. He has' impressed us all with his wisdom, and the experience which he brings to the House, and if he were going to sit down I am sure that it would not be on a sharp point. The point which he made in a conclusion was the role of the House in protesting and protecting, and it is that point with which I want to deal.
In this field of their activities, as in so many others, the Government are heading for trouble. In refusing to give adequate time to debate the Bill they are guilty of nothing short of criminal folly. This is a new tax. The fact that we are having it in two Bills is merely one manifestation of the Government's incompetence. It introduces wholly new principles and it will make a new impact on the economy of the country. The collection of the premium and the payment of the refunds are being handled by new machinery and it is in the new machinery that the tax can be said, in the words of one of my hon. Friends, to have a wholly revolutionary impact.
It is manifest that the Bill has been drafted in great haste. It is inconceivable that the Government has got it right first time. In fact, we know that they have not, for they have had to make substantial changes, some even before the Bill was published—changes in respect of charities, agriculture, forestry, the disabled, mines and quarries and others. Then the Bill was published, and even then they did not get it right.
No fewer than 28 Government Amendments have been tabled to it, some of them, of course, merely drafting Amendments, but others of real substance—the introduction in Clause 1 of training establishments, the introduction in Clause 2 of opencast mining, the definition in Clause 5 of Scottish charities, a most important point, in Clause 6 changes in the definition of qualified household, in Clause 10 changes in the definition of forestry and of non-qualifying activities, elsewhere a provision relating to road transport, and, perhaps most important of all, an Amendment about where employers are to be allowed to treat different premises as a single establishment.
The point is: who knows how many are to come? Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) said earlier this evening, some of these Amendments are themselves already being amended. One saw on the Notice Paper on 7th July two Amendments linking employers with establishments, Amendments No. 224 and 225, relating to the 50 per cent. rule. Those do not now appear, and have been replaced by other Amendments to treat them in a different way—the Government's third thoughts. There is one about associated establishments, a Government Amendment having been taken off the Notice Paper and replaced by another treating the matter in a way significantly different.
Already, a pattern is emerging which bears a disastrous likeness to the pattern we had last year. That was a new tax based on new principles, making a new impact with new machinery. Changed as it was, in great haste and under great pressure, did they get it right the first time then? No; they did not. Over 400 Government Amendments were tabled to the Finance Bill last year, with whole new Clauses and new Schedules, the great majority introduced as the result of debate in the House and in Committee, and it is of debate in the House and in Committee the Government are, by their Motion, seeking tonight to deprive us. The result was confusion.
That debate on that occasion led to the elimination of what would otherwise have been a great many injustices and a great many quite intolerable anomalies. Day after day—indeed, night after night —we debated that Bill and we persuaded the Government to accept some Amendments. On a great many more they agreed we had a point. The Chief Secretary will remember that he was sometimes in difficulty in finding different words for saying, "We think there is an important point here; we will take it back and look at it again." Over and over again that happened last year on the Finance Bill, with its two new taxes introducing new principles, and as a result dozens and dozens of Government Amendments were tabled on Report, and tabled only because they had been raised by hon. Members in Committee.
This was Parliament at its best. This was Parliament performing its true function as a check on the Executive, as a scrutineer of legislation—not fractious opposition merely bent on delaying Government business, but ruthless scrutiny of legislation brought by the Government. When we recollect, as I recollected on another occasion a few days ago, the Prime Minister's taunt about the tomfoolery he accused the Opposition of getting up to last year, I think that a most unworthy accusation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Typical."]—a typical accusation; a foolish and petulant outburst by one who really felt he would like to do without Parliament altogether.
On the Selective Employment Payments Bill, what shall we find? Exactly the same factors apply. The Bill has been introduced in the same haste and with the same ill-thought-out consideration given to it. Yet, on this occasion, we shall have no debates. Hundreds of Amendments which have been tabled by hon. Members on both sides will receive no discussion. The point has been made that they might not have been selected by the Chairman of Ways and Means. We shall never know. They will never have a chance to be selected, let alone debated.
All over the country, trade associations, bodies representing all sorts of different activities and hundreds of individuals seriously concerned about the impact of the tax and its associated operations, the interest-free loan and the rest of it, have spent many days and in some cases weeks in drafting Amendments, preparing cases and circulating hon. Members of the House with their arguments. If other hon. Members' experience is anything like mine, they have files two or three inches thick, full of representations made to them about the Bill. They are concerned about the critical impact that it will have on their operations, and they regard them as very serious and of great importance in many cases. However, on a great majority of those matters, there will be no debate at all.
I was appalled at the speech which the Chief Secretary made in a previous debate, when he tried to justify the Guillotine by reference to debates that had taken place on different Motions, on different Bills and at different times. It was quite astonishing.
There are issues raised in the Bill on which all hon. Members have had dozens of representations, and they have hardly been canvassed in the House at all. There are pages and pages of Amendments on the Notice Paper which have been scarcely touched in the debates that we have had hitherto. To try to use those debates as a justification for this Motion is utterly monstrous.
Let me remind the House of one other matter. Even with all last year's debates, and the hundreds of Amendments which the Government tabled as a result, they still came along this year and had to grovel before the House for having made a monumental miscalculation that was to cost about £ 100 million in relief which was given away and which ought not to have been. In spite of all the debates, they had to do that.
We know that the Bill is riddled with anomalies and full of inconsistencies and nonsenses. We know that it is full of a great many obscurities. Yet we shall he denied any opportunity to point to the inconsistencies and anomalies, and the Government are denying themselves any opportunity to try and explain the obscurities.
What will the result be? It will be that firms and businesses of all sorts will, as they did last year, make dispositions on the basis of what they think the Bill says. They will arrange their businesses and operations on the basis of what they think it is intended to do. Next year, the Government will come along and say, "That is not what we meant at all, and, if you think that is what it meant, we shall introduce an Amendment to change it", and not one word of apology will come from the Dispatch Box. They will say that it is one of the hazards of a Government of this sort.
That is the kind of thing which is far more likely to bring the Government and Parliament into disrepute than a debate on the kind of gagging Motion which is before the House this evening. Some hon. Members have said that the debate on which we are engaged now is the sort of thing which is likely to damage Parliament's reputation.
I disagree with them. What damages Parliament's reputation is when legislation which is manifestly incompetently drafted and ill-thought out is foisted on the country and it causes chaos and confusion to the people who have to be governed by it. This is what brings the House into disrepute and makes people "fed up" with the activities of Government. That is what the Front Bench opposite are engaged in doing now. They are trying to make sure that this slim little Bill becomes law without allowing us to discuss it. The Bill consists of a very few pages, but it carries with it the disposition of enormous sums of money which can have a profound influence on the pattern of the economy and the development of individual firms. All this may happen under legislation which will have been incompletely and inadequately scrutinised.
This is the sort of thing which makes a mockery of our whole system of Parliamentary democracy, and I cannot believe that we could ever be justified in trying to pass through a Bill of this kind on the sort of programme which the Government have laid down in their Motion. I think that the Amendment moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson), which spells out the programme for a substantially extended debate, is the least that we can do in justice to the tens of thousands of employers who will be governed by this Measure.
This Motion cannot go unchallenged. I must add my word of protest to those which have already come from this side of the House.
On a point of order. In view of the fact that every speech that I have heard this afternoon has been more or less— [Interruption.] How dare you speak to me like that. Hold your tongue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] All the speeches that I have heard this afternoon and evening have been tedious repetition of an argument which can have no validity at all, in view of the fact that when the decision has to be made there can be no dubiety about the result. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] In view of the tedious repetition of the speeches which have been made, have I your permission to move the Closure of this debate?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not at any time questioned the correctness or the rights of the Chair. All that I asked for is the Chair's guidance in a matter of some importance. The country is in some difficulty at the moment, and it should hear the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House on the problems confronting us. Instead of that, we are wasting our and the country's time discussing a matter which is of no moment, or no importance, namely, whether the Closure should be taken or should not be moved. I beg leave to suggest that the time is now opportune for us to move the Closure of the debate so as to get on to the substance of the Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) to talk of tedious repetition when it is part of the duty of the Chair to see that hon. Members do not indulge in that? Is not this a criticism of the Chair, and should it be made in this House?
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Gentleman to say "Shut up" when another hon. Member is raising a legitimate point of order, particularly when the hon. Gentleman who said "Shut up" is known to display one of the worst tempers to servants of the House?
The Chair did not hear the remark about which the hon. Member complains. If such a remark was made it were better not. I would be grateful if hon. Members would allow the debate to continue.
On a point of order. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), who is gracing our debate for the first time, said a moment ago, in a very audible tone, "Hold your tongue ". May I ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether that is an acceptable and proper way for an hon. Gentleman to address you?