Adjournment (Easter)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th April 1977.

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Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone 12:00 am, 6th April 1977

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that important point. It brings in a significant additional reason. There is also an important constitutional opportunity, which ought to be provided to hon. Members of this House. The Leader of the House is not unfamiliar with it. We have sometimes co-operated with my right hon. Friend, and he knows that I am not normally given to reminding him of his past. It is an honourable past, and he does not need these reminders. I merely make the point to underline what has been common ground between us, that one of the major purposes of the great institution of Parliament is to try to influence the Executive, the Cabinet, not after it has finally made up its mind and brought a decision to Parliament from which it does not want to move, but in the process when it is beginning to make up its mind.

I hope that it will be possible for Government supporters to get together as soon as possible after Parliament reassembles. I hope that before then they will get in contact with their supporters in the country. It is obviously no use hon. Members getting together during the recess, before the House reassembles and before they have had time to contact their supporters in the country. But having had the benefit of that contact they should when they return seek to get together and influence the Government's mind.

Let us assume that they get together on the Wednesday morning and that their meeting finishes at 1 o'clock. At 3.30 on the same afternoon a senior member of the Executive—I do not know who it will be and at this stage it is not necessary for me to know—will stand at the Dispatch Box and give the Government's point of view. No one in his good sense can assume that in the two and a half hours over lunch the Cabinet will have been influenced by what it heard at the meeting between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the same day. The senior Minister's speech will obviously have been written and prepared beforehand, and I would not wish it otherwise. It would be irresponsible not to prepare the speech carefully for such a major occasion.

If there is to be any hope or opportunity of Members of Parliament having any influence at all on the Executive there surely needs to be an interval between their meeting and the opening of the debate. Enough said. I do not want to labour the point. [Interruption.] I am addressing myself to the House of Commons and not to those hon. Members who are not in the habit of getting together for such democratic consultations but who merely say what they think is politically advantageous to them. The whole agitation surrounding this subject—I have just been reminded by their intervention—has been dominated by the way in which they irresponsibly arrogate to themselves the knowledge and wisdom of the people and what they want with regard to direct elections, without having collected any evidence whatever about how people feel. They are so cocksure about it. We are not so sure, and we want to consult our supporters on these matters.

The Government, the House and the country would lose nothing if the debate were held in the second week. Many hon. Members have expressed support for that action. Since nothing would be lost and since we are not in the middle of a great national crisis, the debate should be held in the second week. That would enable pepole to prepare for two consecutive days' debate, and the country would take more interest. The country is seldom aware of what we are doing, and it would be even less aware if we started a debate on Wednesday, did nothing about it during the next two days and resumed it on Monday. There should be time for reflection and consultation.