From the Order Paper to-day it appears that the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Information, the Foreign Office, and the Colonial Office Votes are put down before the Navy Votes. The arrangement which I believe was made with general consent was that we should have a general discussion on the Shipbuilding Vote to-day. I would ask the Leader of the House if it will be possible to have a discussion on these other Votes on the Report stage?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
This looks rather mysterious, but it is an arrangement made by my Noble Friend (Lord Edmund Talbot), and I think I can explain it. It is to carry out the general agreement come to on Friday. These Votes have to be put down to-day in order that they may be taken first to-morrow. I believe that they will be taken without discussion to-day, and then to-morrow the business should be in the following order: First, Board of Trade; second, Ministry of Information—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Third, Foreign Office; and fourth, Colonial Office. Today—I think this was part of the agreement—we intend to take the Secret Service Vote as the Second Order.
§ Mr. DILLON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the Standing Order which prevents us taking the Ministry of Information Vote, which is a new Service, under the Closure Rule? I, for one, certainly strongly object to the Ministry of Information Vote being taken in this way. A full day ought to be given to that important Service.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sure the hon. Member knows that in this matter I am trying to do what is most convenient to the House as a whole. The Vote cannot be taken to-morrow except by special Resolution, and the Resolution to do that is down in my name on the Paper to-day.
§ Mr. DILLON
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you whether a special Resolution can be passed if any single Member objects to it, in view of the 266 fact that it repeals a privilege secured by a Standing Order, on which we had many long Debates when the new arrangements for discussing Supply were under consideration? Can that privilege be withdrawn from us by a bare majority on a special Resolution?
It is open to the House at any time to pass a Resolution which will suspend the Standing Order or alter it. We did that two or three times last week. Almost every day last week we suspended the Eleven o'Clock Rule.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, as respects this day's Sitting, paragraph 7 of the Standing Order No. 15 shall have effect as if Eleven of the clock were substituted therein for Ten of the clock; that, notwithstanding anything in that Standing Order, Supplementary Estimates for new Services may be considered in Committee of Supply; and that Business other than Business of Supply may be taken before Eleven of the clock."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move, to omit the words "that, notwithstanding anything in that Standing Order, Supplementary Estimates for new Services may be considered in Committee of Supply; and that Business other than Business of Supply may be taken before Eleven of the clock."
I wish to appeal to the Leader of the House to omit these words so that the effect of the Motion will be that we shall extend till eleven o'clock the falling of the guillotine on the last day for the Committee stage of Supply. By omitting the words which I propose to leave out it will mean that the Supplementary Estimates, and especially the Vote for the Ministry of Information will stand over till after the Recess, or possibly some day may be found next week. I think there will be one spare day next week, in any case. The case that I specially lay stress upon is that we have this new service, the Ministry of Information, in the Supplementary Estimates. It is specially provided in Standing Order 15, paragraph 3, that no new service shall be included in a guillotine Motion. It is perfectly obvious that if there is a case where a Vote might be fairly discussed before the Vote of the House is taken upon it, on the question 267 being put from the Chair, it is that of a new service. There is a special reason in this case why the Vote should be delayed. The Committee of National Expenditure have had an inquiry into the Ministry of Information. It has, I understand, only this week, probably to-day, sent in its Report upon this Ministry. In two or three days we shall be in possession of the published Report of the Committee of National Expenditure on this Vote, and surely if there is an absurd thing that we could do, it would be to pass the Vote under the guillotine, and then a few days afterwards have a full account of the operations of this Ministry and its expenditure delivered into our hands.
The public service will in no way suffer by delaying this Vote. The Vote being taken is only a Token Vote; therefore there will be no restriction on the power of the Ministry in regard to the spending of money. It could very well continue for the next two or three months, which may be taken up by the Recess. I understand we are to have on our return after the Recess a few days only. I suppose we shall assemble for a short time before the General Election, but there will be time for this Vote to be taken. The Ministry of Information is evidently a Ministry of which the full extent of its operations is not yet known. Only to-day we were informed for the first time that large acquisitions of property are being made by this Ministry for the purpose of a national war museum. I am entirely in favour of a national war museum, but I am not at all convinced that the right people to buy objects and select exhibits for the national war museum are the people who have been set up for the purpose of disseminating pamphlets and leaflets and holding War Aims meetings, and doing other things. Therefore, this is not within their special province. A good deal more might be said on the point. The House wants to go into this matter fairly fully, and the general feeling is that the rights of Parliament over the expenditure of money should be retained even in war-time, and there can be no obvious interest in passing over this Vote without discussion. Under these circumstances I think I am entitled to make a strong representation to the Leader of the House that he should accede to my appeal.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
As I understand the effect of this Motion, it is threefold. First of all, it allows three services to be taken 268 to-day, and it also allows ordinary business of the House to be taken before eleven o'clock. The effect of this Resolution is that the Committee stage on the new services might be taken under the guillotine. Then we might have a discussion on the new services on the Report stage to-morrow. I think the Committee stage of the new service should be fully discussed, and that it should not be under the guillotine. Last year a similar Motion to this was made, and a new service, which contained the salary of my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), was kept out. I would suggest that some such course ought to be taken to-day. I do not think that a new service should be guillotined, as this might be if this Resolution is passed.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think the proposal put forward by the hon. Member for North Somerset and supported by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City should commend itself to the Government. The Ministry of Information is one of the new Departments which, I think, require very close attention from this House. It is not only a Department dealing with propaganda in enemy and neutral countries, but it has very important operations which it performs in this country, operations which are not only concerned with the dissemination of information, but which I have ground for believing are also concerned with spying upon our own fellow subjects. I think this variety of operations makes it absolutely essential for this House to insist upon a plain account of these operations being given before even a Token Vote is granted. This is not the only consideration which ought to influence the Government. We know that a Select Committee of this House on expenditure has made an exhaustive inquiry into this Department, that the Report on that Department is now ready, that it is on the eve of publication, and that if this Vote is taken under the guillotine tonight the House will be voting money for a Department, upon which one of its own Committees has reported, in total ignorance of the effect of that Report. Obviously I think it is unreasonable for the Government to ask for the Vote under these circumstances. I suggest that there can be no grounds of urgency which require the Vote to be taken now. My right hon. Friend has referred to the action taken by the Government last year 269 in relation to a similar Vote, when a postponement took place. I suggest that a similar course should be adopted now. It is true that, according to common rumour and common knowledge, we are to have a very brief sitting when we reassemble in October, prior to a useful operation for the purpose of this House, namely, an appeal to the constituencies. I suggest to the Government that the interval might be sufficiently prolonged in order to enable the House to examine this very important expenditure of public money, which I think might possibly turn out to be an object lesson very useful to the new electors. Upon all these grounds I appeal to the Government to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Members who have addressed the House are pushing an open door so far as I am concerned. A number of points have been raised which have no bearing upon our discussion, and the only one to which I would refer is the statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. Pringle) that he has reason to believe that there is to be an appeal to the electors in October.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
All I can say is that the hon. Member is better informed as to the future than I am. That is a subject in regard to which as a Government we have never had any discussion, and therefore we have not made up our minds.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am not aware that they control the policy of the Government. If such a policy had been decided upon I do not think that I should be ignorant of such a policy. As regards the question raised by the Amendment those hon. Members who were present last Friday know that I made an offer to do it in the way which is down on the Paper or in the way suggested by the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Somerset. I am quite willing to take either way. We have no wish one way or the other. Since Friday we have tried to find out what really was the desire of the House in this matter, and I understood that the general feeling, in spite of what has been said, was that we ought to have some discussion on this Vote before the Adjournment. So far as the Government 270 is concerned we do not wish to shirk discussion on the assumption that this is a troublesome Vote; but we wish that the desire of the House should be carried out. I tried to find out what was the desire of the House, and my Noble Friend (Lord E. Talbot) consulted the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Gulland). I know no better way of trying to find out what is the view of the House. Everyone who has been a Member of this House for any length of time knows that when the Government has made an arrangement of that kind with my right hon. Friend, the Government is hardly free to go back on their own arrangement. I do not wish in the least to influence opinion, but my view is that this Vote should be postponed, and if the right hon. Gentleman offers no objection I should be perfectly ready to take that course.
§ Mr. GULLAND
The right hon. Gentleman has described quite correctly what took place on Friday. There was a number of Members in this House who wished the matters to come on before the Adjournment. I submitted it again to them and they agreed with me that it would be best to bring it on before the Adjournment. If it was brought on in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman to-morrow, the first business discussed would be the question of the coal control. That is a very important subject, but still I do not imagine that it would take more than a few hours, and I think that there would still probably be considerable time left to-morrow for a discussion on the Vote for the Ministry of Information. That, of course, is included in the Consolidated Fund Bill, and there would also be an opportunity on the Second Reading and on the Third Reading of that Bill, and also on the Vote of Credit, because this is only a token Vote, and therefore if time were not found before that it could come up on the Vote of Credit. Therefore, I confess that I thought, in agreeing to this other plan, that I was doing the best I could for those who really wished a discussion on this Vote. If my right hon. Friend leaves it over until the autumn one does not know what would happen, or in what way an opportunity would arise. Personally I do not care, but I think that the course the Government have suggested would give the fullest opportunity for discussion.
§ Mr. DILLON
The Leader of the House ought to consult also some representatives of independent opposition in this House. I would be very glad indeed if an opportunity could be afforded to discuss this all-important Vote before the Recess. Every man who has any prolonged experience of the operation of discussions under the closure motions, knows perfectly well that unless a subject is the first Order there is no security whatever that it will be discussed. Therefore I most earnestly press the Leader of the House to postpone the discussion on this important Vote until the sitting in October. This Vote is undoubtedly a new Service. I would go so far as to submit that it is not fair play, and it is hardly good faith that, when a concession is made under the Standing Orders after prolonged Debate to certain Members of the House with regard to these new services, at a moment's notice, by a Resolution passed by a bare majority, that right should be robbed from them. It is perfectly manifest that if that practice is taken as a precedent the Standing Orders are absolutely valueless. What, in the name of common sense or justice or fair play, is the use of having prolonged debate on Standing Orders which curtail the liberties of this House, and getting concessions, and then having the Government putting down a special Resolution withdrawing these concessions until the end of the Session? It is a perfect mockery and absurdity. Therefore I maintain that if any considerable body of Members—I mean even ten, or fifteen, or twenty—object to the passing of a special Resolution like this, curtailing the liberties of the House under Standing Orders regulating discussion in Supply, they are entitled to object, and it is not for the Leader of the House to use his majority, even with the assent of the Whip of the Opposition, to deprive those Members of their hard-won rights.
I myself took a very leading part in winning that right. I remember well that it was largely owing to our action that we obtained this right when we were fighting against this Closure Resolution in Supply, a Resolution which, I may remark, has had the most disastrous results in destroying the control of the House over expenditure of public money, and has cost the country millions in waste. But the reason why I appeal strongly to the Leader of the House to give a full opportunity for discussing this question is that 272 it is a question which interests the public outside very much indeed. The general body of the public do not understand what are the scope and sphere and power of the new Department called the Ministry of Information. I do not pretend to understand it myself, and I do not believe that ten Members of the House understand it. We want to know what are its functions, what are the Departments which the Ministry of Information controls? We want to hear from the Government a full statement of the public grounds connected with the safety of the State which justify the institution of such a Department at all. A Ministry of Information is in itself a most invidious institution. It bears in the minds of some Members a likeness to, and it conveys a disagreeable reminiscence of, Bismarck's Reptile Press Fund. We want to know whether the Ministry of Information has anything to do with propaganda. What are the relations between the Ministry of Information and propaganda? We are the victims now of one of the most abominable pieces of propaganda that were ever instituted.
We are not now discussing the Ministry of Information. We are only discussing the time when a debate on that subject should be taken.
§ Mr. DILLON
I am only explaining why we are so anxious that the Leader of the House should not use his majority to curtail the rights of Members of the House, and I am speaking for at least sixty Members of the House when I ask him not to use his majorities to rob us of a right conferred upon us by Standing Orders of the House.
§ Major E. WOOD
I think that there is a general desire in the House to have an opportunity of discussing this Vote. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House hopes, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries anticipates, that under the existing arrangement this opportunity will occur to-morrow afternoon. If, however, it does not occur, then, as I understand, we shall not have a further opportunity of discussing it. That, I think, would be unfortunate. Is there any reason why the right hon. Gentleman could not act on the suggestion advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury)—namely, to divide this Vote into two portions, so that if we 273 secure a debate on this subject to-morrow we shall not wish to exercise our right to debate the other portion of it in the autumn, while if we were not able to secure a debate on it to-morrow we should have a second chance of getting that debate in the autumn? It is not only hon. Members from Ireland or hon. Members below the Gangway on the opposite side who are anxious to have this matter debated. A great many people in the country are anxious to have the Ministry of Information discussed. I can imagine no one thing which aggravates the feelings of a great many people more than the idea that, whether by accident or by design, something is being smuggled through without discussion. Therefore I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will meet the general wish of the House, so that if we do not secure a debate tomorrow there shall be a guarantee that we shall be able to secure one in the autumn.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have made inquiry, and I believe that this goes into the Consolidated Fund Bill, and therefore it will not be possible to introduce a Supplementary Estimate in the autumn. With your permission, I should like to say a word on the subject again. I think that it is a perfectly open question, which is the better method from the point of view of those who desire discussion. It is obvious on the one hand that if the Amendment of the Member for North Somerset were adopted there is a possibility that the matter might be shut out in the autumn and never be properly discussed. On the other hand, it is possible that the discussion on the Coal Vote to-morrow might take so long and circumstances might be such that it would be impossible to justify us in taking steps to secure time, and that there might not be a discussion to-morrow. I do not feel myself that there is the smallest danger of that. And I would point out, as regards the general principles to which the hon. Member for Mayo has referred, that the object of that Standing Order was clearly to prevent a new Vote going through under the guillotine without a discussion.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
May I point out that the effect of abrogating Standing Orders in this case would be far greater than in an ordinary case. This Ministry, unlike every other Ministry, has been constituted without special legislation. We 274 have had no means whatever of discussing it. It has been constituted under a most objectionable system of legislation by reference. The Government have had power to create a new service, and I would ask them to consider that point.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That does not touch the question. What we are debating is the best method of securing a discussion. The object of the Standing Order was to prevent a new service going through by the guillotine without discussion. Therefore the whole question now is whether the method proposed by the hon. Member for Somerset or the other one is the better for securing a discussion on that point. So far as I am concerned, and so far as the Government is concerned, there is something to be said on both sides, and we are perfectly willing to adopt either course. But I may point out, as regards what was said by the hon. Member for Mayo, that, when this question was discussed by the few Members who were present at the time, I gathered—and I hope that the hon. Member will not think that I am misrepresenting him—that what he was chiefly interested in was the Secret Service, and that he did not attach importance to any other. In the circumstances I took the ordinary channel open to me to try to find out what was the desire of the House in this matter.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did my best to try to find out what was the wish of the House, and nobody knows better than the hon. Member for Mayo that when a bargain is made it must be kept, and that equally applies to the Government as well as to others. I made a definite understanding with my right hon. Friend. I am not at all sure that he is not right, and that this is not the best method of getting a discussion, and nothing has happened to convince me that it is not in itself a wise course. I must press it to a Division unless my right hon. Friend himself, after this discussion, thinks that some other course would be better in the interests of a discussion.
§ Mr. HOLT
I very much appreciate the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, but I would ask him whether there is not a 275 third alternative, and whether it would not be possible to take the Committee stage of the Vote for the Ministry of Information, not to-day, but between the Second and Third Beading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, and then take the remaining stages in the autumn Session. That would give a discussion which I think very important and would be a most convenient time.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That really is impossible. It will be difficult enough to get through the business that is inevitably in front of us, and I am quite sure that that course is impossible.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he appealed to the Front Bench opposite to find out what the Government should do. There is no use going to the Front Opposition Bench to get information as to what the House wants. May I suggest that we can raise this matter, if we like, either on the Vote of Credit or on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and we can retain the Vote in our hands by carrying it over to the autumn and resuming the discussion then if we choose. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will induce his recalcitrant supporter the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Gulland) to waive the suggestion that he has made across the Table on behalf of whatever opposition he represents officially in the House and to come into line with his Leader.
§ Mr. S. MacNEILL
Might I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, having regard to the great importance of this matter, no longer to bind the Leader of the House to the undertaking he has given. It is quite clear that many of us wish to have a considerable discussion on the point. This Ministry has never been discussed at all, not even upon the Statute by which it ought to have been created. Under these circumstances, I do say that the use of a special rule for the temporary suspension of the Standing Order is scarcely in accordance with the practice of this House. The Minister of Information is a great Minister with a great office established without one word of comment or explanation, whereas in ordinary times it would have taken an Act of Parliament, every letter and syllable of which would have been discussed. That is the way that the Government act under the present circumstances. 276 A Minister is created by prerogative through a wretched system of legislation by reference passed by Members without having the slightest idea what it involves.
§ Mr. GULLAND
It is my earnest desire to have the fullest possible discussion regarding the Ministry of Information at the earliest possible moment, but I have no personal interest in the matter, and since the right hon. Gentleman puts it to me in that way I will certainly release him from his bargain and will be only too glad if he accepts the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King). I do hope, however, that before we adjourn there will be some discussion of this matter and that Members will be quite free to speak about it on the Vote of Credit or on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, "That, as respects this day's Sitting, paragraph? of Standing Order No. 15 shall have effect as if Eleven of the clock were substituted therein for Ten of the clock."