HC Deb 31 December 1912 vol 46 cc325-8

I desire to call the attention of you, Mr. Speaker, and the House to a Blocking Motion which has been put down by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell), which I understand from your ruling prevents the House discussing a question which is an extremely urgent one with regard to the administration of the medical benefits under the National Insurance Act. I would have called attention if it had been possible, to the fact that the Insurance Commissioners have within the last day or two issued two circulars, one on the 27th and one on the 30th, which, in my view, are entirely contrary to the Act itself. I am aware that hon. Members opposite do not wish this discussed. I am also aware it would, in accordance with your ruling, be impossible for me to go into the details of that matter, but I would like, as the Chancellor is present and if it were possible, that a question should be answered by him on that subject, and I would refer to what happened at the adjournment of the House yesterday when, notwithstanding a Blocking Motion in almost exactly similar terms with regard to foot-and-mouth disease, a discussion took place upon new eases which, as I understand, had arisen since the Blocking Motion was put down. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I understand that was the ground upon which the House was allowed to discuss the question of foot-and-mouth disease yesterday evening. I submit to you, Sir, the circulars of the Insurance Commissioners, or rather not circulars, but communications to the Press, which were not either laid upon the Table or communicated to the Members of this House, and which were issued on 27th December and 30th December are new facts since the Blocking Motion was put down by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, and therefore I would ask you, Sir, whether it would be in order that I should now put before the House certain considerations which will, I admit, call into question the communications made by the Insurance Commissioners and challenge the fact whether they are or are not in accordance with the Act, with the Regulations, and instructions which they have already issued to their subordinates. I ask you, therefore, whether I may proceed without being out of order to raise that question?

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I should certainly raise no objection on behalf of the Government on the ground that there is a Blocking Motion. I had nothing to do with the Blocking Motion; on the contrary, I was very anxious on the Friday before the House adjourned for the Christmas Recess to make a statement with regard to the position of the medical benefit, and I was under the impression that the Debate would go on until I was informed there was a Blocking Motion upon the Order Paper. It is just as much inconvenience to me as it is to the hon. Member at the present moment. If it is in order, I should be very happy to answer the question which has been sent to me by the hon. Member for the London University (Sir P. Magnus), and I do not think any of my Friends would raise any objection on any point of Order.


I do not think I could hold it would be in order to discuss it now The Blocking Motion is of a very general character—

"To call attention to the working of the National Insurance Act."

Nothing could be wider than that; at the same time I would venture to make an appeal to the hon. Member to remove the Motion, at least for a day. Under the present arrangement there is half an hour available to hon. Members to discuss matters that are urgently pressing. We have rather got round the rule from time to time by discussing matters which have arisen with regard to foot-and-mouth disease. Hon. Members for Ireland have been free to discuss that, and I think it would only be fair to allow, at all events for one night, say to-morrow, those who wish to do so to raise a discussion on this particular matter. The hon. Member could, if he wishes, put back his Blocking Motion on Thursday.


I naturally desire to defer to any suggestion of that character coming from the Chair. I accept the entire responsibility for the initiation and the maintenance of this Motion upon the Order Paper. It is a matter of common knowledge in the House that I have not placed the Motion upon the Order Paper from any desire to suppress discussion of any aspect of the administration of the Insurance Act. I did it with the deliberate and designed object of forcing attention to an arrangement in the procedure of this House which urgently calls for earnest reconsideration at the hands of the House. I adopted that method because it seemed to me from the experience I have had as a Member of this House it was the only way to force the consideration of that anomaly in our procedure upon the attention of the House. I am most anxious to defer to your suggestion, and if it is desired I should temporarily withdraw my Motion in order to admit of an answer to the hon. Member, I shall be happy to do so.


The hon. Member can give notice to withdraw his Motion now and can put it down to-morrow night.


I desire to give notice that I withdraw my notice of Motion relating to the National Insurance Act.


Will it be competent for the hon. Gentleman to ask a question without any discussion?


As long as the notice is on the Paper I must adhere to my ruling.


I desire to call the attention of the House to the extraordinarily ridiculous position in which we are now placed. As long ago as 1907 we had a Select Committee, which reported unanimously in favour of a change in the Rules. There is a great Parliamentary absurdity now existing, and efforts should be made to remove the scandal on the procedure of the House of Commons. I appeal to the Government to remove this blot on our procedure—a blot which deprives us of the opportunity of discussing matters of legislation with freedom. We can scarcely get any discussion on general matters, and I think it is an absolute scandal. I hope the Government will remove it.


I wish to join in the appeal of the Noble Lord. I am sorry my hon. Friend expressed his willingness to withdraw his Motion on this occasion, because I would wish to emphasise the fact that the continuance of these Blocking Motions is a scandal in the eyes of the public, and it makes our procedure absolutely absurd. I would draw attention to a flagrant case in which an hon. Member was anxious to draw attention to the critical state of affairs in Persia, but there being a notice on the Paper he was unable to raise it. That is an absurd state of things, and I do appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say whether he will not now give us some assurance that the Government will deal with this question.