Orders of the Day — Prices and Incomes Bill (Committee Stage)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd August 1966.

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Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Saffron Walden 12:00 am, 3rd August 1966

The really tragic thing about the speech that we have just heard is that the First Secretary seemed to be incapable of understanding what this debate is all about. We are not debating the new Clauses, however much he may wish that we were. We are debating the conduct of the Government in relation to this Bill, in particular the way in which they have sought to evade any general discussion of the new principles they are now introducing. It is to that which I shall now turn because these new principles are of very great importance.

It may be true that, technically, the Government have the right to introduce new matters, even new material as wide-ranging as this, into a Bill that already exists. What is certainly not true is the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to say that this really was not a matter of very great importance, that these were only temporary powers, stand-by powers, and that possibly he would not use them and even if he did, the fines contained in the new Part IV were all contained in the existing Part II. First of all, it appears that he cannot recognise that although the fines are the same, the offences are different. He is putting new offences into statutory terms, although the penalties for them may be the same. He is creating a new category of offences without this House ever having considered the principle.

The second point which illustrated that the right hon. Gentleman did not understand the subject was his statement that the Government were justified in their action because the Chairman of the Standing Committee had ruled that the matter was within the scope and structure of the Bill. The Chairman had not ruled that when the right hon. Gentleman put down his new Clauses. The Chairman ruled that at half-past eight yesterday evening and the right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly have known what was in his mind when he put down the new Clauses.

We all know that there are ways and means of using the procedure of this House to do things which the House and the rules of the House never intended should be done under them. The whole basis of a democratic Government is not only that it uses the rules, technically, to get round a difficult corner, but that it plays the game within the meaning of the rules and not within the rules as they are, precisely and technically. The proceedings of this Bill and the Amendments to it have shown that the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were to avoid the widest possible discussion of these new Clauses because the right hon. Gentleman knew that it would be embarrassing.

There was the attempt, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, to slip through, at the dead of night, a Motion in this House which would have kept the Committee sitting right through next weekend and would also have deprived the Opposition on the Committee of one of its most vital and basic rights. That Motion was put down after II o'clock one night for debate at 11 o'clock the next morning. This is perfectly in order, and there is no reason why it should not be done, except that only a few hours before the Leader of the House had made a Business statement in which no mention at all was made of this attempt.

Then the right hon. Gentleman comes along today and says that we are in effect having a Second Reading and he welcomes that. He might do, but he did not show any enthusiasm for having it earlier—the Opposition had to provide the time. What one wants to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman is that he can have his; Bill, he is going to get it anyway. He can have it in a perfectly democratic fashion. This is a national crisis and in a time of national crisis we have to make sacrifices, even for our own convenience. If he had proceeded in the normal way, I, at least, and I believe that a large number of hon. Members of this House were perfectly prepared to go on sitting until he had his Bill. We would have sat for the rest of this month if he had wanted us to do so. [Interruption.] The Paymaster-General is only too anxious to get away on his holidays, but I am quite prepared to sit here for as long as this Bill is here, even though it will be inconvenient to me. What we have had is a travesty of Parliamentary procedure.

In his heart of hearts, the First Secretary knows this to be so. This is legislating by the back-door and trying to get round the problems which he knew a Second Reading debate would create for him. It is because of that that we believe it is of vital importance that these matters should be discussed here and not by a Committee of 25 very tired men—and tired they must be. I can quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman is tired. I have no doubt that he has been up all night working, and that may be one explanation for his speech. I beg him to realise that there are people in this House who feel very strongly about this sort of thing from whichever Government it comes.

I have clashed with my own party before now on this, and I have no hesitation in clashing with the right hon. Gentleman. I beg him to realise that this is not just a technical question; this is something that goes right to the root of the relationships of Government and party. We are constantly complaining in this House that Parliament is coming more and more into contempt. No wonder if the Government are treating it in this way. If this Government are sincere in their intention to make Parliament more responsible and effective, as the Prime Minister has said, then one of the first things that they must do is ensure that matters of principle of this kind are discussed in a proper fashion, in a way that they have not been discussed on this occasion. For that reason, I fully support this Motion and hope that the House will support it.