§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [19th February.]
§ "That, in respect of any Motion or any Bill under consideration either in Committee of the Whole House or on Report Mr. Speaker, or in Committee the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the Deputy-Chairman, shall have power to select the new Clauses or Amendments to be proposed, and may, if he thinks fit, ask any Member who has given notice of an Amendment to give such explanation of the object of the Amendment as may enable him to form a judgment upon it."—[Sir G. Hewart.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I beg to move, after the word "shall," to insert the words,after consultation with a Committee of not less than ten Members of the House selected by Mr. Speaker.I hope that this Amendment will commend itself to the Leader of the House and also to the House itself. Its object is that it shall be a rule in the future that there shall be a small Committee, selected by Mr. Speaker himself, which shall be able to consult with Mr. Speaker in regard to the selection of Amendments on the Report stage. I should like to point out that this suggestion is only really an extension of a practice which has been going on for a good many years in regard to legislation in Committee of this House. My suggestion is only to extend the practice that has has been going on during recent years to the Report stage. I think I shall carry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) with me when I say that during the last few years it has always been the practice of private Mem- 1214 bers to consult together in the room of the Deputy-Chairman or the Chairman of Ways and Means on a great many Bills in regard to the Amendments which were going to be taken. They were thoroughly informal meetings. Members were invited to attend in the room of the Deputy-Chairman or the Chairman of Ways and Means, and it did really lead to this, that when Amendments were selected from the Chair everybody felt that consideration had been given to that selection by a great many private Members of the House. This suggestion is merely to extend that practice to the Report stage, when Mr. Speaker will be the authority selecting the Amendments.
I believe that it will be very much in the interests of the Chair that the Chairman should be able to consult, say, not less than ten private Member of the House before Amendments are selected for Debate. Mr. Speaker will be able to select private Members from the various parties of the House whom he knows attend pretty regularly and take an interest in special Bills, and the result will be, when they are selected, private Members will feel that full consideration has been given to them. If I may say so—and I think this is really the strong point—the high authorities who are going to select Amendments in the future do not want this great responsibility thrust upon them. I will give a quotation from the evidence given by you, Mr. Speaker, before the Committee on Procedure in 1914, when you were asked whether you would be in favour of giving to yourself or the Chairman the power of selecting Amendments and to make the Kangaroo Closure a permanent part of the Standing Order. Your reply was:I agree to that, but very reluctantly. It is a mistake to give too much power to either the Speaker or the Chairman. He has got quite sufficient responsibility already, and it is a mistake to make him too powerful a factor in the general discussions of the House".That was stated in answer to a question a few years ago before a very important Committee on Procedure. In addition to that, I may mention that the Chairman of Ways and Means is also very reluctant indeed to have this very drastic power of selecting Amendments thrust upon him as a normal part of the Procedure, because in the same Committee the Chairman of Ways and Means only agreed that he would be willing to have such a power in cases where Bills had 1215 gone through a kind of double procedure. He explained that, supposing a Bill had gone before an Investigation Committee in one Session, and that it had then gone to the next Session before a Standing Committee upstairs, he agreed that after that double and very searching analysis he would be content to agree to this procedure of the Kangaroo Closure. His words were:I suggest that in the case of Bills which had gone through this double ordeal of investigation that power of selection should be given.I think it is quite clear that the high authorities themselves who are being asked to agree to this selection of Amendments under this Resolution do not want to have this power thrust upon them. I do not know whether it will appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway, but there was another very high authority who gave evidence before the same Committee—I refer to the late Prime Minister, who said, in answer to a question that was put to him, that he was very much in favour of a Committee of this kind, and he called it a Business Committee. He said:I think I have already said I am in favour of the setting up of a Business Committee to which should be referred the allocation of the time both for the whole and various stages of any Bills of complexity or importance, which I think would be a great improvement on our present system of Ministerial guillotine, and the development of what is about to be called the Kargaroo Closure.In conclusion, I should not have been presumptuous enough to put down an Amendment of this kind out of my own head; it is not my invention, and I only put it down after reading the evidence that the authorities in the House did not want to have this power, and this view is backed up by persons who have had great experience of Parliamentary proceedings. I think if we had an Amendment like the one I am moving it would create much more confidence in private Members all over the House if such a selection of Amendments took place, and it would very much ease our Parliament machine.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Perhaps it may assist the House if I give an account of my experience on the point to which my hon. Friend has referred. After my own experience, and after hearing every word of the Debate on this particular proposal, I am led to the conclusion that an Amend- 1216 ment of this kind will not assist the Speaker, the Chairman, or the Deputy-Chairman in the exercise of this very difficult task. My hon. Friend has quite correctly stated what used to happen. It was of very great assistance to the Chairman of Ways and Means, as I happen to know, but the informality of it was the essence of its use. Private Members used to come in and talk over the Amendments on the Paper, but they were in no sense able to control the putting down of manuscript Amendments, and in practice, as far as the Committee stage was concerned, the Chairman of Ways and Means scarcely ever went beyond two or three selected Amendments. Of course, experience taught him that in the course of the Debate the Amendments that he had thought of selecting became not nearly so important as he had thought them at the time. Over and over again that happened. Amendments which he had thought of selecting were dropped in favour of other Amendments, or, indeed, of manuscript Amendments which more met the uses of Debate and the convenience of hon. Members. There is a difficulty which would confront either Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means in having a Committee of ten. You could not always get them, or, indeed, any of them, because Amendments are put down right up to the very last moment of the sitting of the House. Very often they are most important Amendments, arising out of the Debate which stopped at eleven o'clock the previous night. What is he to do under the suggested machinery? Very often we have sat after twelve, and somethines one o'clock, and, being only human—I have suffered from long sittings as much as any Member—he is very tired, and next day he has other business in connection with private legislation. The duties discharged by the Chairman of Ways and Means and his Deputy are very much more numerous than the ordinary Member has any idea of. He would have to summon one or two of the Committee of ten. Theoretically it sounds almost perfect, but in practice it would break down and would not work. I have had a good deal of experience. The big Bills to which reference has been made were, of course, very educative, to put it mildly, and, collating all the experience that I have had, and listening to every word of the Debate, I can come to no other conclusion than that the Resolution as it stands is by far 1217 the most effective way of meeting the real wishes of the House, and that is to give sufficient power to the Chair to cut down useless and unnecessary debate and to expedite business.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I am going to ask my hon. Friend not to press this Amendment, but after the short speech to which we have just listened I shall not give any reasons, because the reasons advanced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite seem to me quite conclusive.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel W. GUINNESS
I beg to move, to leave out the wordsand may, if he thinks fit, ask any Member who has given noticed of an Amendment to give such explanation of the object of the Amendment as may enable him to form a judgment upon it,and to insert instead thereof the wordsbut shall, before deciding not to select any Amendment, call on a Member who has given notice to rise in his plate and give an explanation such Amendment. Such explanation shall be limited to ten minutes.The object of my Amendment is to ensure that Amendments will not be ruled out by you or by the Chairman under the action of the Kangaroo Closure before their full scope and object has been understood. I do not think anyone in the House quarrels with the legitimate wish of the Government to prevent time being wasted by frivolous and trifling Amendments. My Amendment, however, while allowing that object to be attained, will secure that reasonable Amendments raising substantial points shall receive discussion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) gave us a very strong reason for this Amendment. He gave us a moving picture of the fatigue which results from the strenuous efforts of the Chairman of Committees in following the business of a long Sitting and having to tackle a long list of Amendments again the next morning. I do not think any man can really think out for himself what the Amendments involve and what their real scope is until he has heard them argued, and, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is very hard on the Chairman of Committees to be expected to do it for himself in a morning before the Sitting takes place. It is proposed by the Government that you or the Chairman of Committees shall be able to call on a Member who wishes to move an Amend- 1218 ment for an explanation of his object. This, however, is in no sense compulsory, and I do not see that it is a very satisfactory arrangement. One knows what it means. One goes up to the Table. The Chairman of Committees is listening to the Debate and perhaps there are continual interruptions. He can only listen to the explanation of the Member with one ear while with the other ear he listens to the Debate. No private explanation of that character at the Table can enable the Chairman of Committees to gauge the feeling of the House or to judge whether the Amendment is really of sufficient substance to deserve to be discussed.
This Amendment would do away with a good deal of the danger of the Chair, unconsciously perhaps, helping the Government out of a difficulty. I venture again to mention the case which I mentioned in the general discussion the other night, the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) who when a few months ago the question of Irish Conscription was under discussion had down an Amendment to substitute the word "shall" for "may." That was an Amendment which no one could say was unimportant. It was a vital Amendment, but probably owing to pressure of work the Chairman of Committees did not call upon the right hon. Gentleman. That was most unfortunate, and it caused a good deal of sore feeling. It is only by allowing all these Amendments to be ventilated in a speech of ten minutes that you can prevent the possibility of this kind of soreness and the suspicion in future that the Chair is tempted to shorten discussion and to help the Government out of an awkward hole. If the Government would accept this Amendment, they would do something to allay the anxiety which many of us feel that our cherished rights of free speech are being destroyed. The Government has long enjoyed the advantage of putting business through what is practically a gagged House of Commons where no speech is allowed except with the Government's approval. They now want the gag to fit even closer and to knock out our few remaining teeth so that not even a throttled groan can escape without their consent. No doubt it is very convenient for the Government, but it is not expedient in the wider national interest.
The House already has lost a great deal of respect, because, as the public alleges, of a great lack of criticism. It is not that 1219 we do not want to criticise, but that we never get the chance. It is very dangerous to suppress reasonable opportunities for the expression of different classes of opinion. It is much better that we should have unsound opinions brought forward in this House and it is much better to have inflammatory proposals advocated here than in Trafalgar Square, where they are very much more difficult to answer. The Government yesterday, unfortunately, met the appeal for modifications in their proposals in a very uncompromising spirit. By their refusal to pass these Amendments as Sessional Orders they definitely make them permanent, and we are saddled with them for all eternity. New Members who were so very accommodating yesterday probably did not realise that by allowing these Amendments to become permanent Standing Orders they have shut them out of their control for ever. We shall never get another chance of reconsidering them, and we all know that the whole trend of development in this House is to destroy the liberty of the private Member and never to increase it. I do beg of the Government to accept this small Amendment. It would take up very little time, and it would, I think, improve the good temper of minorities in this House and remove their sense of injustice. By its acceptance the Government would give some earnest that their real object is the legitimate one of expediting business and not that of throttling free and legitimate criticism.
Captain STANLEY WILSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
There is little left for me to say after the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, but I should like to remind the Government that they are proposing to make the Kangaroo Closure permanent, and I do appeal to them not to go too far. The object of the Amendment is solely to safeguard the interests of private Members of this House. I can assure new Members that there are very few opportunities left to private Members, especially if these new Rules are to be finally passed into law. It is a very small request to ask the Government to allow a Member to explain his Amendment to Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, and I do trust that the Government will see their way to meet us upon this occasion. They have refused us everything up to the present, 1220 but I hope upon this occasion that they will be able to give us a little bit of help and look after the interests of private Members.
§ Sir E. CARSON
There is a great deal of importance in the proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend. It is quite true that we cannot go on as we are if we are to get any business through the House at all, and I quite recognise the difficulty of the Government in framing what I may call a popular Order, an Order that will be popular with the Members of the House. May I remind the House and those who severely criticise this proposal, as my hon. and gallant Friend did, that I myself for many years sat in the most heated political time under both Closure by Compartment and the Kangaroo Closure, and I am not at all sure that Closure by Compartment is not the most tyrannic. When complaint is made that opportunities are going to be taken away of discussing Amendments, it must not be forgotten that, for many years, we have been accustomed to have the Government, shortly after a Bill has gone into Committee, come down and declare that, upon a special day, after a very short interval from the Motion being made, either the whole or the greater part of the Bill must be taken practically without any discussion at all. That is an impossible situation, and involves that a great many parts of the Bill are never discussed. No regard is paid to the relative importance of the Amendments putdown, and, so far as I am concerned, I know nothing more tyrannical and nothing more calculated to lead to bad work in this House than Closure by Compartment. I think, therefore, the Government are perfectly right in trying to make some improvement which will enable us to see that the whole of the Bill, and particularly its more important Clauses, are discussed. I understand that that is the object of this Amendment—to try and secure a real discussion.
Let us put away from ourselves the idea that we are giving up certain liberties. We never had them. In the twenty-six or twenty-seven years I have been in this House there has been a growing tendency on the part of every Government to find the most convenient way of getting rid of discussion. The practice has been to come and say, "Here is a time table; you can discuss the most unimportant Amendments and waste the time in any way you like, but at eleven o'clock on Wednesday 1221 forty Clauses must be put to the House, even although you have only discussed one, and on a later day twenty Clauses more must be voted upon." That took away far more liberty from the House than this proposal of the Government does. There is another objection raised by my hon. and gallant Friend. He says that this change will be permanent. I hope the mind of the House will not be affected by that kind of argument. It can always, if a Standing Order does not turn out well or work properly, change it. It is, therefore, ridiculous to say that the Order is permanent. There are methods, as we all know—at any rate, as I know—of putting pressure on the Government. After all, the Government, whatever may be their sins, and I dare say they are many, want to do one thing, and that is to try and get the business through. I do not think it would be very difficult to prove to them that the House is dissatisfied with their methods when trying to get work through. I am, therefore, not really frightened by the idea of this being a permanent change.
Having worked under these various kinds of Closure, the one thing we ought to try and prevent is the creation of irritation in the minds of Members with regard to the Chair. I believe that should be the essence of our procedure. I think I could show the Government there is some defect in their proposal. Unless some alteration is made in this Order, a Member may be sitting here the whole day waiting for his Amendment to come on. He may have made considerable research and have gone to a good deal of trouble in preparing speeches in support of the Amendment which he thinks to be important, but, having waited for it to come on, probably at great inconvenience to himself, when it is reached he may find the Chair will pass it by and call on another Amendment. Naturally the hon. Member will feel sorely aggrieved. We cannot always during political struggles profess to possess the judicial temperament, and I do believe that in this way there may be a cause of irritation in the minds of many Members. Might there not be some way of letting a Member know if his Amendment is not going to be called. I know the Chairman of Committees very frequently asks Members to come round and explain to him their Amendments. That is one of those courtesies which tend to preserve good relations in the House, but I feel perfectly certain that some- 1222 thing of the kind is desirable. I would have preferred, instead of this Amendment, the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Wedgwood), which would leave it to the Speaker to ask the Member as to the meaning of his Amendment. I should also like to see, at all events, the practice adopted of the Member being informed at the earliest possible moment that his Amendment cannot be called. In that way I think it will take away a good deal of the irritation. So far as I am concerned, I am very anxious that the Rules should be made as drastic as possible. I do not believe we are going to lose anything, because the Government have always had it in their power to propose the Closure, and the system of Closure set up in this Order is certainly far better than the present system.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)
I cannot help thinking that my hon. and gallant Friend who moved this Amendment has failed to realise what the consequences would be if we accept it. The Amendment is in its form imperative. It takes away from the Chair all discretion. It provides that in every case where an Amendment is not going to be moved in the ordinary way the Member responsible for it shall, in any event, have a period up to ten minutes in order to explain it. Is it not obvious that even the least ingenious artist in Parliamentary obstruction, if the Amendment were accepted, would be able to prevent the passing of any Bill. The Amendment might form the subject-matter of the first chapter in any little handbook that might be written under the title of "The A B C of Parliamentary Obstruction." There is another defect in the suggestion to which I should like to draw attention. It provides that the Speaker must call upon anyone of the Members in whose name an Amendment stands before he decides that it is not to be a selected Amendment, and there is to be a speech up to ten minutes in order to explain the object of it. Yet he might really have decided to select it. With regard to the permanence of the proposal, these Orders remain in force until such time as the House may otherwise direct. It is always in the power of the House to consider the matter. Our object, of course, is to get business done, and we had the choice of two evils. The 1223 House has heard from a voice which speaks with the greatest experience that this is of all forms of Closure the least tyrannical in its operation and the most efficacious in its results. Closure by compartments is far worse, and at the same time it is less effective for the real object in view. It is asked that steps should be taken not only to secure the discussion of important Amendments, but to prevent any feeling of irritation being created in the minds of Members. I am told that the practical suggestion to that effect really amounts to no more than that which is already regularly done. It is now the practice for Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, when a selection of Amendments is about to be made, to take steps to communicate with the hon. Members in whose names they stand, and, after conversation with them, to give timely warning of what is about to take place. There is no need, therefore, to contemplate such a hard case as that of an hon. Member who may have devoted a considerble amount of time and trouble in the preparation of his subject sitting here for several hours expecting his Amendment to come on, and then finding himself disappointed by seeing it passed over. But even if that were to occur it would be the lesser of two evils, the other evil being that any time up to ten minutes should have to be set apart for an explanation of an Amendment which ex hypothesi is not to be selected. This cause of irritation is not likely to arise, for the reason that the Chair is careful to avoid anything of the kind. In these circumstances a choice having to be made between different kinds of Closure, and this kind having been justified by experience, I do ask the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Sir JOHN BUTCHER
I am entirely in favour of the principle underlying this Amendment, although I would prefer that which has the same object in view, and which stands in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). My vote on this Amendment will be determined largely by the question whether the Government will accept this later Amendment standing on the Paper. The learned Attorney-General has told us that the practice is for the person occupying the Chair to ask the hon. Member who has given notice of an Amendment for an explanation of it if it is not going to be called on. The ob- 1224 ject of this Amendment is to make sure that that practice shall be carried out instead of leaving it in each case to the discretion of the Chair. I do see an objection to five minutes' explanation being given on every Amendment during the course of the Debate. I was very much impressed by what my hon. and gallant Friend said when he drew our attention to the fact that this is to be a permanent alteration of Standing Oders. If there is permanency in Standing Orders it is almost impossible for a private Member to get them altered as any proposal to alter them must come from the Government of the day. See how that operates. If the Standing Order is too stringent—I mean in the interests of the private Member, not in the interests of the Government—is it likely that the Government will propose an Amendment restoring the rights of the private Member and cutting down the autocratic rights the Government have acquired? It is extremely improbable. If, on the other hand, the Standing Order is not sufficiently stringent to achieve the object of the Government, it is quite certain that the Government will come back to the House and ask for more stringency, and if they make out a case for it they will get it. When we are placing upon our Standing Orders, I do not say this unnecessary but this very important restriction upon the rights hitherto enjoyed by private Members, we should not make the restriction too stringent in the first instance. Let us see how it works before we do that. If, after a certain time, it is found not to be sufficiently stringent, I am sure the House will give the additional powers, but in the first instance I hope the Government will make the comparatively small relaxation, asked for by the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and will not cause, as they otherwise undoubtedly would cause, that irritation referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast (Sir E. Carson) in the minds of private Members when they feel that their rights are being unduly curtailed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out to my hon. and learned Friend (Sir J. Butcher) that the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is practically what is contained in the present Amendment?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes! I have never put down an Amendment which has been rejected without the Chairman of Ways and Means or Mr. Speaker listening to me when I have put my views before them. What my hon. and learned Friend does not quite realise is that it is one thing to go to a Chairman—I do not attempt to make the slightest attack on the Chair; I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend has even been in the Chair, I have on one or two occasions—who probably has already made up his mind to reject an Amendment after he has looked at it in his room, and quite another thing for a Chairman to try to listen to an hon. Member explain to him his Amendment while he is listening to the speech, say, of my hon. and learned Friend. In the latter case, an hon. Member does not get a fair chance when he endeavours to explain his position on an Amendment to the Chair. Supposing the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieutenant-Colonel W. Guinness) is carried, see what advantage would ensue! The House would know what the Amendment is, the House would know the arguments for it, and if then the Chairman refused to accept the Amendment, the House would be able to express an opinion as to whether that rejection was justified. Because we have had excellent Chairmen in the past, it does not follow that we are always going to have excellent Chairmen in the future, and this proposal, if carried, would, if the Chairman were inclined to accept pressure from the Government, exercise a salutary effect upon him when he came to decide whether or not an Amendment should be entertained. I understood the Attorney-General to say—it is a little difficult to hear him from the Back Bench below the Gangway, therefore I apologise if I did not quite catch the words of wisdom my right hon. and learned Friend spoke to the House—that one result of the Amendment would be that every Amendment would have to be discussed for ten minutes.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not read the Amendment. That is just what I thought. The Amendment says that the Chairmanshall, before deciding not to select any Amendment.Therefore, the effect would be that an Amendment would be moved unless the Chairman gave notice to the Member moving it that he did not intend to accept it. 1226 If that is not carried out by this Amendment, if the Government will bring in another which will carry that out, I am authorised by my hon. and gallant Friend to say that the will accept it. One word upon the question whether these Rules are going to be permanent. My right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson)—I am sorry he has gone out of the House—says, "Oh, no! new Members need not be afraid that these Rules are going to be permanent, because you can—or, at least, I can—put pressure upon the Government." We are not all in that fortunate position. The ordinary private Member is not in a position to put any pressure upon the Government. He approaches the Government in fear and trembling, and the Government would probably say to him, as was once described by the right hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks), "Good afternoon; mind the step. It is a nice evening." That is all the ordinary Member will get out of the Government. I know that from my own experience. These new Rules will be permanent. My right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) said quite rightly that this proposal is much better than Closure by compartments, but do not let the House forget that in a very short time we are going to have the most drastic Closure by compartments that has ever been brought before this House. I should like to know whether this Amendment is going to be accepted, or, if it is rejected, what will happen to the proposal standing next but one on the Paper? Perhaps the Government will give us some enlightenment on that subject?
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
Before the Leader of the House replies I should like to say two or three words in support of the Amendment. As an old Member of this House I begin to think that when I come down here I shall find myself completely at a loss to know what is the procedure of the House, what I can do and what I cannot do. When I come down from Yorkshire some Monday afternoon I shall suddenly discover that the House is empty and that everybody is being sent off to various Standing Committees upstairs.
We are not discussing that matter now. The hon. Member must confine himself to the Amendment
§ Sir T. WALTERS
With all respect, Mr. Speaker, that was a preliminary remark to the argument I have to offer. My next point is that when I come to propose an 1227 Amendment I have put down on the Order Paper, I shall find I shall not be called upon to do so because I have not beforehand privately discussed the matter with Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of the Committee. That is filching the privileges of Members of this House to a degree which is not to be tolerated. I therefore support the Amendment. I do so also for this reason: I have the greatest possible respect for Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means and the various occupants of the Chair, but that does not lead me to feel at all disposed to go to any of those gentlemen and privately prove to them that the Amendment I have to offer is one I can justify to them in private personal argument. With great respect to the occupants of the Chair, I say that the House of Commons only is the tribunal to whom I should address my arguments. With all respect to the Attorney-General, I do not think the explanation he gave is at all satisfactory. Limit the time you give us as much as you like—the Government has power to do that—but allow us who are Members of this House to decide on the arguments whether they be sufficient for accepting or rejecting an Amendment, and do not constantly refer us to various officials and various controversies and debates in private, because these are matters which should be discussed in the House. I shall most certainly vote for the Amendment if it goes to a Division, and I shall resist this and all other attempts to deprive the House of Commons of a reasonable latitude in carrying on the business of the House.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I support the Amendment very heartily. I would call the attention of the Attorney-General to the effect of this Amendment upon the position he described in regard to an Amendment yesterday, when he said it was practically impossible to ascertain the view of the House upon an Amendment. It was suggested by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) that if the general sense of the House was in favour of an Amendment being discussed, that might be a guide, and the Attorney-General asked how we were to ascertain that vague and indeterminate thing "the sense of the House." I suggest to him that this is a practical way of ascertaining that sense. It has already been indicated by the hon. 1228 Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) that the wording of the Amendment is not regarded as a matter of verbal inspiration by the Mover, or the actual time, but there is a great deal to be said, as the last speaker has emphasised, in favour of the view that addressing arguments to the Chair in the hearing of the House is a very different thing from an opportunity of speaking to Mr. Speaker or to the Chairman, however willing they may be, as I wish to testify they always have been, and however anxious they are to listen to those arguments. This Amendment proposes a very real way of ascertaining the feeling and sense of the House. I would suggest to the Government that they should really try to meet the feeling of private Members in this matter. We make these suggestions not with a view to hindering their proposals, but to make them more practicable and to giving assistance to Mr. Speaker and the Chairman in their very difficult and invidious task. I suggest that the wording of the Amendment might be altered to make it read, "Any Member giving notice to Mr. Speaker that he desires to explain to the House the reason of his Amendment should have an opportunity of doing so." In that way a private Member would, in a sense, have an appeal to the House and be able to explain his position and the House might, and I am sure quickly would, show its sense whether or not it was giving its support to the impartial decision on the part of Mr. Speaker, and giving him its support by its consciousness of the reality or emptiness of the Amendment to be proposed. I therefore strongly urge that the Government should take this opportunity, not necessarily by following these words, of giving private Members a sense that their rights are not further being taken from them.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I must apologise to my hon. Friends who have supported this Amendment for having put my Amendment on the Paper, because the Amendment which has been moved is infinitely preferable to my own. I only put down my own because in spite of what has been said from the Front Bench and by the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) I cannot recollect a single occasion on which I have been asked to explain either the good or the bad reasons for putting down Amendments which were 1229 "kangarooed." If the hon. Baronet has had those opportunities, it is probably due to the admirable way in which he puts his Amendments. These Rules certainly are permanent. No one knows better than the Prime Minister that once they are passed we shall not be able to bring any pressure to bear on any subsequent Government. This is not a permanent Government. In five years time we shall probably have a Labour Government and we shall have, perhaps, Mr. Philip Snowden sitting in that Chair, and hon. Members who are going to support the Government in this Division will wish they had not destroyed the liberties of private Members and allowed the whole of the Report stage to be "kangarooed" in this ruthless fashion. This Kangaroo Closure has been used in the past in only extreme cases where opposition has developed and has become obstructive. It has been used on one or two Bills in the course of a year. It has been used very rarely indeed in Committee upstairs. I think I can only recollect one occasion.
But directly it becomes part of the Standing Orders it moans that on every Bill that comes here for Report and on every Bill which goes to Committee upstairs we may have the Speaker or the Chairman accepting a ruthless Kangaroo Closure which will practically prevent discussion on the Bill as completely as did the old Closures by compartments. I certainly think if you gave the Member the right to explain the Amendment which was going to be kangarooed five minutes, which would be enough, certainly it would the enough for Committee upstairs, you would still be leaving the door open for him to gain the ear of the House and to get support for the bonâ fide nature of the Amendment in a way that you will never be able to do if you allow the Kangaroo Closure to be worked without a Member being able to explain his Amendment. I will especially appeal to Labour Members on this account because when they get into their stride and when these Bills come forward—because the Bills we are going to see will require an enormous amount of amendment in a democratic sense—we shall find the vested interests entrenched in almost every line of them, and when they come forward before the House Members will not be on the Committee which deals with the Bill. They will put their Amendments on the Paper, 1230 provided perhaps by their trade councils or trade unions, and they will find them ruthlessly swept away without having a chance of explaining them to the House or doing their duty by the people who sent them here, and they will begin to realise that the Kangaroo Closure and the acceptance of these new Rules is a most unfortunate weapon to put into the hands of any democracy. I hope my hon. Friend will go to a Division because it is no use going on one's knees to any Government and begging it to make changes when it will not. The Government knows perfectly well that it has a majority in the Lobby. The only thing we can do is to see that, though we be only twenty, thirty or forty of us, we register our protest against this filching away of the liberty of Debate in the House.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think the House is pretty well possessed of all the arguments which have been brought forward in favour of the Amendment and I would appeal to it now to come to a decision. Whether it takes the form of a Division or not is for hon. Members to decide. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood) has appealed to the Labour Benches and I think he could do that with great justice. He painted a picture of this House being presided over as Prime Minister by Mr. Philip Snowden.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I thought he meant as Prime Minister. If that is the desire of hon. Members I am sure they could not get a better method of securing it than following the lead of my hon. Friend opposite and preventing this House of Commons carrying out the programme it has promised to carry out, and making it plain that by the existing system the House of Commons cannot do it. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) said he could put no pressure on the Government. He does himself great injustice. I remember very well when he and I were working together and I was leading an opposition, on nights when there was not some big subject, I used to see him in confabulation with the Whips of the Government almost every night. They were coming to him on bended knee to let them have this or that proposal in order that the business of the House might go on.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Presuming my right hon. Friend's statement is quite correct, he is going to take away the very power I possess.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I cannot admit that. My right hon. Friend has sufficient ingenuity to find some method of utilising that ingenuity. When that handbook of obstruction which has been mentioned is published, the author of it will be well advised to go to my right hon. Friend for all the subjects which are to be brought forward in it. There is a good deal of point in the speeches which have been made, but every one of them is a speech against the kangaroo proposal altogether. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite does himself great injustice. Suppose he were doing what I have seen him do and opposing a Bill for the sake of stopping it? He would admit that I have seen him engaged in that occupation. Am I paying too great a tribute to his ingenuity to say that on any subject under the sun he can put down an unlimited number of Amendments? I think not, from past experience. Whether it is five minutes or ten, if on every one of these Amendments he has the right to explain why he has moved it, you have done away with the kangaroo system altogether. The House will stand anything that has a party fight in it in the way of obstruction. This really is the point. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said the kangaroo had never been used except in extreme cases. He is entirely wrong. Whenever extreme measures are taken the kangaroo is never used. Closure by compartments is invariably used. This is the alternative to the Government of the day putting down on every Bill a Closure by Compartments Resolution and having it carried, with the result that the moment it is carried there is no further discussion of any value and the House waits for the hour of the guillotine. I really wish old Members would try to look at the facts as they are. New Members will, perhaps, take what the Government says with more favour. It is a choice of evils. If the business could be done without altering our Rules, we should be glad to do it. What we hope by making these arrangements is that there will be no more need of any Closure by compartments, that every measure will have a chance of reasonable discussion, and, in addition, that there will be so much more time available that hon. Members will have much more opportunity of discussing things which they want to discuss than is possible now. It really means that we have to decide whether we want this proposal or not. The Government thinks it absolutely es- 1232 sential, and all these ideas of limiting it would simply have the effect of taking away its utility altogether.
§ Mr. FRANCE
Is it not a fact that we are to be kangarooed under this proposal and to be guillotined under a later one?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If the hon. Member will wait till that comes, I shall have something to say about it. May I say a word about permanency? To say it is permanent in the ordinary sense is, of course, absurd. But I admit at once that it is not likely that any Government on its own initiative will move for an alteration which makes it more difficult for it to get to its business. But if the thing were really working in the way all these speeches imply, the House would have something to say to it. It never was truer than now that the peculiar composition of this House makes it much more easy for pressure to be put on the Government than in ordinary party times. In ordinary party times the Government can rely upon its supporters. In a Parliament like this, on any question where any great principle is involved, we shall have to convince the majority of the House that what we propose is reasonable, and they would have plenty of opportunity of putting pressure on the Government. I ask the House to come to a decision on the matter and to realise, as it must, that we have to get business through, and, however much we dislike particular proposals, they, or something like them, have to be adopted if the business is to be done.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood) said he thought there would be a Labour Government here in a very few years. I am rather disposed to agree with him, but I do not myself think there is the slightest danger of tyranny from a Labour Government. I should totally disagree with them on a great many things—perhaps more things than the hon. and gallant Gentleman would—but I do not believe there is any danger that a Labour Speaker would be unfair to a minority than that any other of my fellow countrymen would be unfair to a minority. As to the kangaroo, I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said. If we are to have any of these expedients, the kangaroo is the least objec- 1233 tionable of them all. I also agree with him, that if he is really right in his prophecy that this will obviate guillotine by compartments, I should be glad to pay a very large price for that. There never was devised a system less satisfactory than guillotine by compartments. I hope in the future—I know it is no use to prophesy—it will not be the practice of the Government to utilise the kangaroo to reverse decisions on which they have been beaten in Standing Committee. That would destroy the whole value of Standing Committees. There is a great tendency in every Department to believe that any Amendment carried against it in Committee upstairs is fatal to the usefulness of its Bills. That belief is almost always unfounded. It is quite probable that the Amendments do not improve the Bill, but they certainly do not destroy it, and there ought to be a real understanding that the decisions of Standing Committees shall be accepted unless there is overwhelming reason to reverse them. Otherwise the usefulness of Standing Committees will soon disappear, because the great merit of Standing Committees is that you can beat the Government without causing a Ministerial crisis. That is the real reason why we get much greater freedom in Standing Committees than in the House. Apart from that, I quite agree that the kangaroo would be a useful measure. There is today, I think he will agree, a grievance about its employment at present. Old Members of the House when they have an Amendment down and the Kangaroo Clause is in force try, according to what I understand is a modern phrase, to "wangle" the Chairman of the Committee into allowing their Amendment to be put. I do not think that is a very convenient practice. I think it must be a great nuisance to the Chairman. I think it would be better that the discussion should take place across the floor of the House. At the same time I feel tremendously the force of what my right hon. Friend has said. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is not alone in his ingenuity in opposition and it would be perfectly easy—I speak after great experience—to put down an almost unlimited number of Amendments to a Bill. It is absurd to ignore the fact that perfectly valueless Amendments are put down on a Bill and if you are to allow them to be discussed for five minutes each that is not in con- 1234 sonance with the business arrangements of this Assembly. I quite realise that some of them ought to be discussed across the floor of the House and if the word "may" instead of I "shall" were inserted in the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment I could support it, but if he is going to make it compulsory it means that every little trifling Amendment has to be discussed in the House. That is a ridiculous proposition and I cannot support it. I do not think the Government can object to the insertion of the word "may."
§ Lord R. CECIL
There is a difference. The Government's proposal says, "May, if he thinks fit, ask any Member." Under that provision he may ask him in private, and that is not a very good plan. Where the Chair thinks that a Member is on the border-line and that it would be desirable to have an explanation, then I do not think it is unreasonable that the explanation should be given across the floor of the House in a formal way so that the House itself can judge as to the reasonableness of the decision of the Chair when that explanation has been given by the Member who knows what he intended by his Amendment. If, therefore, my right hon. Friend intends to accept this Amendment with the word "may" instead of "shall" I think it will improve the proposal.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment with the alteration suggested by the Noble Lord. I think it would provide a guarantee. We quite admit that we have to trust to the Chair to a large extent, but it must arise very often that a Member is absolutely convinced that he has got a real point to raise, but you, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, might not be able to see it. If the Amendment was accepted with the alteration suggested you would be able to see when a Member was genuinely in earnest and was not really trying obstruction, and you could say to him, "You may raise it across the floor of the House and give your explanation and see if you can gain the sympathy of the House, and if you can gain the sympathy of the House I will let you move your Amendment." I think it is very important that the final appeal should be with the House and not with the Chair. The Chair is not the ruler of 1235 the House but the servant of the House, and any facility that can be given to prevent a sense of injustice being felt by private Members owing to misunderstanding between them and the Chair, such as my Noble Friend has just suggested, would, I think, be a every valuable preservative of the dignities and rights of Members of this House. I therefore earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to meet us on this, because it would be in earnest of his desire to consider the position of the poor private Members. My right hon. Friend said he remembered well when he was sitting on the benches across the floor of the House. It seems to me that he does not altogether quite remember what it is to be in opposition and not in office. Even he cannot expect to be in office all his life, and the time might come when he would be ground underneath a harrow which he has himself constructed.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
There is a good deal in the suggestion of the Noble Lord that in the proposed Amendment the word "may" should be inserted instead of the word "shall." The real difference it would make in the Order would be, so far as I can reflect, what the Chairman would feel, would be that he would regard the word "shall" as mandatory that he should hear an hon. Member. If the word "may" is put in, the effect on the Chair would be this—he would feel here is an Order which contemplates that it would be desirable in the interests of the House that the Chair should hear an hon. Member who wishes to explain. The Government's proposal says, "may, if he thinks fit, ask any Member." There is not really much difference, but I think the suggestion of the Noble Lord would go a long way to meet the real feeling that lies at the root of what hon. Members say. The Order, if it was amended on the lines suggested, would read something like this: In respect of any Motion or any Bill under consideration either in Committee of the Whole House or on Report, Mr. Speaker, or in Committee the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the Deputy-Chairman, shall have power to select the new Clauses or Amendments to be proposed, but he may, before giving his decision not to select any Amendments, call on a Member who has given notice to rise in his place and give an explanation of such Amendment." I think that if it was 1236 put in that way it would leave the power of the Chair almost as it were when dealing with real obstruction.
With respect to the question of making this mandatory, that any Member shall be allowed to give five minutes' explanation, I think that would be a mistake. I have seen that done very often when I have been in the Chair. There is nothing easier. In the future Debates in this House on any measure to which I and those who will be associated with me strongly object, I frankly say that there would be nothing easier than for us to put down a whole string of Amendments and to get, say, eight or ten or fifteen Members to speak five minutes on each Amendment. There would be an hour and a-half gone at once. It is perfectly clear that that could be done. It certainly is not my idea nor is it the idea of anyone associated with me to do otherwise than to provide such means as we can for the expediting of business. I believe that the suggestion I have made would meet the Amendment of the Government and would really carry out what the Noble Lord wants.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I believe that our proposal carries out exactly what was suggested by my Noble Friend, but if there is any doubt about it, I am quite willing to insert in my proposal after the word "may" the words "in the course of the Debate." That would make it quite certain that he has an opportunity of asking them in the House. I am perfectly willing to make that Amendment.
§ Mr. FRANCE
Would the right hon. Gentleman use the words "call upon" instead of "ask"? That would make it clear that the Member was being called upon in the course of Debate and not being asked privately.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
"In the course of the Debate" would not mean a public speech in the House.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I will alter it in this way. I will move, to leave out the word "ask" and to insert instead thereof the words "call upon."
Mr. T. WILSON
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has gone as far as he has, and I think he might have gone a little further. The Government ought to remember that under the Rules of Procedure as passed they are having a great amount of time, and they might allow hon. Mem- 1237 bers in the House to discuss the Bills when they came from the Committees. The saving of time by referring Bills to the Committees will give Members more opportunity for carrying out their promises to the electors, and if the Government could see its way to deal more generously with the present situation I am certain that it will remove from the minds of Members certain suspicions that there is a certain bias and prejudice against certain Members on certain questions which they bring before the House. The Government would have been well advised to have tried the new new Rules of Procedure as applied to the Committees, and then, after experience of the operation of the procedure, have brought forward further Amendments if they thought they were necessary. In this Parliament the Members ought to have every possible opportunity given to them of voicing their opinions and the views of the people they represent. Therefore, I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to go still further. He might, when we are dealing with Bills on the Report stage, have given more generous consideration to Members in this House and to have given greater opportunities for debate than under the Rules of Procedure.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
By leave of the House, may I say that the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman I goes some distance to meet it, but I would suggest, in order that the power might be freely exercised by the Chair, that the limit of ten minutes might still be retained otherwise a Member might make a long speech, and, sooner than face that, Mr. Speaker might hesitate to give him an opportunity of rising in his place.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
Yes. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: Leave out the word "ask," and insert instead thereof the words "called upon."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Ordered,That, in respect of any Motion or any Bill under consideration either in Committee of the Whole House or on Report, Mr. Speaker, or in Committee the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the Deputy-Chairman, shall have power to select the new Clauses or Amendments to be proposed, and may, if he thinks fit, call upon any 1238 Member who has given notice of an Amendment to give such explanation of the object of the Amendment as may enable him to form a judgment upon it.Resolved, That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
§ Adjournment of the House (Standing Committees).
§ "That in order to facilitate the business of Standing Committees, a Motion may, after notice, be made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of public business, to be decided without Amendment or Debate, 'That this House do now adjourn.' "
§ It will be within the recollection of the House that in the course of yesterday's Debate the Leader of the House accepted in substance a proposal which was made from the other side with regard to the Adjournment of the House upon certain days, in order to facilitate the sittings of Standing Committees. The form of words of that Amendment was open to some observation, and I have endeavored to devise a form of words which would give effect to that proposal and also make it plain, as was desired by some hon. Members, that there might be a Division upon the question. The House will observe in the Motion which I have put down on the Paper at least three ingredients. In the first place, it is purely permissive; it does not compel the employment of this instrument on any day whatsoever. It merely enables this process to be carried out if and when the need should arise. In the second place, the House will observe that this course cannot on any occasion be taken without notice, and, in the third place, the House will observe that the Question, which must, be moved by a Minister of the Crown, will be a question for the House to determine—true, without Amendment or Debate—but if the House is so minded there will be the possibility of a Division.
§ I might have stopped my observations there if it had not been for the fact that in the course of yesterday's discussion more than one hon. Member on the opposite bench suggested that if the proposed plan were to be brought into operation it might upon a particular day be used, or at any rate so operate as to defeat a Motion for the Adjournment of the House. I should have thought myself that it was sufficiently clear that no Minister of the Crown would ever dream of employing this provision for 1239 such a purpose as that. It would be an abuse of the Standing Order so to employ it, but in order that there may be no doubt as to what would happen in the particular contingency which I will mention in a moment, I have added a proviso to the draft Standing Order as it appears on the Paper. I have already said that, in order that this plan might be carried into effect, the Motion must be made after notice.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Under the provisions of the proposal the notice could be given as late as the night before the day on which the Motion is to be made.
§ Sir G. HEWART
The notice, I should have thought, must be given on the previous day, but if there is any point about that I will go a step further and make it clear in the terms of the Order that there shall not be less than two days' notice. That being so, the House will observe what will follow. Take the particular case in which notice has been given, a proper two days' notice, that upon a day named a Motion shall be made that the House do adjourn in order that the business of the Standing Committees might be facilitated. Two things would follow. Members of the Standing Committees would come down here expecting upon that Motion to take part in the work of the Standing Committees, and Members of the House would come down here expecting that at a very early hour the House would adjourn in order that the Standing Committees might do their work, and yet possibly it might happen sometimes that a question might arise which would reasonably give rise to an occasion for a Motion for an Adjournment of the House in ordinary circumstances Therefore, to meet that possible though most unlikely contingency, and in order to remove any possible misapprehension, I would propose to add to the draft as it appears on the Paper a proviso in these terms:Provided that if on a day on which a Motion is agreed to under the Standing Order leave has been given to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, the Motion for which leave has been so given shall stand over until a quarter past Eight of the clock of the day on which the House shall next meet at a quarter before Three of the clock.In the ordinary course the Motion for Adjournment of the House would be postponed until the next day, but it might be that the day upon which this question 1240 arose would be Thursday, and in that case the Adjournment Motion would be postponed until Monday.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
In any case the adjournment of the House would not take place on that day under your Amendment.
§ Sir G. HEWART
If the condition precedent had been satisfied and not less than two days' notice had been given and the Motion carried, that the House should adjourn for this purpose, the Motion for Adjournment in the ordinary course for the discussion of a definite matter of urgent public importance would be postponed until the next day, but if it happened on Thursday it would be postponed until Monday. That is the whole meaning and effect of the proviso. I have endeavoured to meet every point that was raised upon this matter in the course of the discussion.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The original proposal of the Government is very dangerous—I will come to the Amendment in a minute—because in effect it may mean this, that if some sudden crisis in this country were to arise to-night or to-morrow morning it is at present within the power of any Member to come down to Parliament in the afternoon and on a question of urgency move the Adjournment of the House. Now the value of that briefly is this, that at least on half a dozen different occasions to my own knowledge this has been done with reference to industrial disputes, and, whatever our views upon industrial disputes may be, I do beg the House to keep clearly in mind that it will be in the interests of the country if Parliament is the body where these disputes are focussed. After all, we represent the country as a whole. Public opinion looks to us, and if we are to maintain our control, our supervision, and keep our Parliamentary institutions, it can only be done by preserving absolutely the right of this House to discuss all these matters. We are agreed upon that, but no one knows better than my right hon. Friend that this may happen. We have come down to the House with the intention of moving the Adjournment on a matter of urgent public importance which Mr. Speaker would accept as urgent business, but the Government are in a difficulty. The Government say, "We recognise the urgency and the importance of the matter and that Parliament ought to discuss it, but for Government reasons we do not want to give an answer." The result is 1241 that by the Clause as now proposed it would be in the power of the Government immediately to come down on this day, move this Motion and rule out entirely any Motion for the Adjournment of the House.
This is partly met by my right hon. Friend's proposal; but what does that proposal mean? Let me assume that his proposal is in operation next week and on next Thursday great and important decisions affecting the miners, railway men, and transport workers are being debated, and it is known on the morning of Thursday that the crisis has been reached and that the strike may take place on Saturday. Yet under this very Amendment as now proposed the House would be prevented from discussing that until Monday. The whole trouble and difficulty would have been created and probably also have led to others. That is point number one. Let me take the second proposal. Let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the object of moving the Adjournment would be ostensibly to give facilities to the Committees upstairs. That would be the only object, because he frankly admits that there must be no ulterior motive. That means that it is essential to give facilities to the Committees upstairs.
§ Mr. THOMAS
But my hon. and learned Friend will admit at once that the Committee upstairs are not likely to go on sitting after a quarter-past eight. If the Committee meet at half-past ten and the object of the Adjournment of the House is to allow the Committee to go on sitting, I cannot conceive the Committee upstairs going on sitting after a quarter-past eight. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman could achieve his object of facilitating the work upstairs by having an Adjournment of the House in the afternoon, if he reserves the right of a private Member to move the Adjournment of the House on that day instead of the next. That would go along way to meet the difficulty. I do see the danger of the whole situation, and it is useless for us to be told that the Government would have no object in closuring Debate on any subject. We know perfectly well they would often have an object in doing so. I do not mean that in any unfair sense. Some hon. Members may move an Adjournment which may put the Government in a dilemma, but in the public interest it may be a good thing to debate the particular subject. I do ask 1242 new Members and old Members to recognise that if we are going to preserve Parliamentary institutions we have got to make the people in the country have confidence in Parliament, and let the people in the country believe that Parliament is at all times ready to discuss those public questions which affect the people of the country. For those reasons I am bound to say that I do not think the Amendment proposed fully meets the situation.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
There are two points to be considered. There is one which has been raised by my right hon. Friend and the other is the general point. As to the point raised by him, we would be perfectly willing to put in the proviso that in the event of a Motion for Adjournment having been made, then the Adjournment of the House should take place only to a quarter-past eight o'clock on that date.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am very sorry to differ from so many great experts, but I think that makes the thing worse. What is the proposal? The House may have sat in the afternoon with 300 or 400 Members present, and is to be adjourned until a quarter-past eight if an urgent Motion has been brought forward in order that two or three Committees may continue to sit upstairs at which probably 150 Members will be present. What are the other 250 Members to do in the meantime? [An Hon. Member: "Go home!"] The essence of an Adjournment Debate is that it should be taken when full interest is aroused. I do not think you could possibly ask those 250 Members to waste four and a quarter hours of time and then come back for an Adjournment Debate.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Does my hon. Friend suggest that they could debate the Motion now before eight-fifteen o'clock?
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I suggest that now you would have the 250 Members of whom I have spoken, and who are not ex hypothesi engaged on Grand Committee, with something to do from four o'clock to eight-fifteen, instead of having to go away under this proposal. That is only one, and not the main, objection to this scheme. This scheme is offered to obtain power on the part of the Government to close the House of Commons not as we thought for two days in the week, but, as 1243 it now appears in the speech of the Attorney-General, on any day on which they choose to come down and say that in their opinion the work should go on in Committees upstairs. The Attorney-General did not tell us at what time the Grand Committees are to sit. I do not know if they are to sit from eleven o'clock in the morning till eleven o'clock at night, but if that is the proposal, then from my experience of Grand Committees, I can tell you that you will not get Members to do it. I have some experience of those Committees, which do their work well with economy of time and speeches. They get through nearly any very long Bill in a month, and any ordinary Bill in two or three days, or possibly a week. I venture to suggest with six Grand Committees, if four sit fairly regularly from half-past eleven till four o'clock, or even a little longer, they can do all the work of passing through Committee any Bills that the Government are likely to have passed on Second Reading. There is the work of private Bill legislation which is now set down for a quarter past eight on certain evenings. Hon. Members may not relish the fact that they have to do this work, but it is often of very great importance, and those interested in those Bills, for or against, make their arrangements accordingly. They may find by a notice, put down say on a Monday, that the House is to be adjourned for Committees upstairs. Then what is going to take place with regard to the ordinary Debate on the Adjournment Motion which often takes place after eleven o'clock at night? One frequently hears at Question Time an hon. Member say, "In consequence of the unsatisfactory answer I have received I will call attention to this matter on the Adjournment." The Leader of the House smiles, and I suppose he would rather not have that opportunity taken advantage of very often. Is a Debate of that kind to take place at eleven o'clock or at four o'clock?
The real point is that at the moment when the House has been returned full and eager to do the work there is a proposal to give the Government power to close the House down whenever they like, practically at four o'clock in the afternoon. The work of this House is not purely legislative. It is not a mere machine for grinding out so many Bills. The most important work of the House is done in the country, and in seeing that the Govern- 1244 ment do that which the public want, and in controlling the administration of the country, and in looking after the Departments. Look at the number of questions we have to-day. They total 249, and that shows the interest which the country takes in many matters, because Members very rarely invent questions out of their own heads, and the questions really are the reflex of the Members' correspondence from his constituents. That great number of questions shows the keen interest which people in the country take in the work, not as a. legislative machine but as controlling the activities of the various Government Departments. If this right of the House of Commons to sit and do its work until eleven o'clock is taken away the public will say, "Again there is no sitting of the House of Commons—what is it doing?" The work of the Committees upstairs, as has been pointed out, is not of a kind or character that the public understand, or that the newspapers will report. What the electorate wishes to see is that the great House of Commons on which it relies is in constant session, doing its work and controlling the Government. I want to be quite frank on this one point. This proposal is not a part of the Government plan for amending the new Rules. They came down three days ago with a brand new batch of Standing Orders. The Leader of the House went almost as far as to say in one of his early speeches that unless the House gave him the power which the Government ask for in these Amendments to manage the business of the House, he could not undertake the responsibility of so managing it. I must confess it was rather early in the first days of a new Session of a victorious Government for a threat of resignation, for that is what it was. This proposal was not part of their plan at all. They did not come down here and say, "This plan is necessary to carry on the work." It was merely a private Member sitting on these benches who, fortuitously, put down this Amendment and the Government seized upon it and said, "Here is a scheme which will enable us to still more dominate the House of Commons," and they adopted the unusual course of accepting an Amendment proposed by a private Member. I say it would be a monstrous thing if the Government put on the Government Whips to whip for this Amendment. It is not their Amendment at all, but that of a private Member. It would 1245 be a monstrous thing if they were to say to their supporters throughout the House that our allegiance to the Government demands that we should support this proposal, which is not their proposal, but that of a private Member. I do ask that when they are accepting this onslaught on the life of the House of Commons at least to allow the House of Commns free play to exercise their own decision as to whether they want it carried or not. I think if they would give that free play that they would receive such a reminder that the private Member of the House is still proud of his position as a Member and the work he is allowed to do here, and that they would not get a majority for this ill-fated proposal.
Amendment made: After the word "after" ["after notice"], insert the words "two days."
Leave out the wordsthe Motion for which leave has been so given shall stand over till a quarter-past eight of the clock on the day on which the House shall next meet at a quarter before three of the clock,and insert instead thereof the following words:Mr. Speaker, instead of adjourning the House, shall suspend the sitting only until a quarter past eight of the clock."—[sir G. Hewart.]Main Question, as amended, proposed,