HC Deb 22 October 1919 vol 120 cc40-3
Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

I beg to move, That for the remainder of the Session at every Sitting—

  1. (1) Government Business do have precedence;
  2. (2) At the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. SPEAKER shall propose the Question, That tins House do now adjourn, and, if that Question shall not have been agreed to, Mr. SPEAKER shall adjourn the House, without Question put, not later than one hour after the conclusion of Government Business, if that Business has been concluded before 10.30 p m.; but if that Business has not been so concluded not later than 11.30 p.m., provided that, if notice of proceedings made in pursuance of any Act of Parliament requiring any Order, Rule, or Regulation to be laid before the House of Commons shall stand upon the Notice Paper at any sitting, such proceedings shall be taken immediately after Government Business, and Mr. SPEAKER shall not adjourn the House until such proceedings shall have been concluded;
  3. (3) Any Private Business set down or Motion foe Adjournment standing over under Standing Order No. 10, for consideration at a quarter-past Eight of the clock on any day shall, if Government Business is concluded before that time, be taken at the conclusion of Government Business and, for the purposes of the preceding provisions of this Order, shall be deemed to be Government Business."

I do not think that it is necessary to say much in support of this Motion standing in my name on the Paper. It is a Motion to give the Government the whole time of the House during the Autumn Session. We have not had such a Motion during the War, for the simple reason that at the beginning of the Session the time has been taken for the whole of the Session. This year, as the House will remember, we only took the time up to an early date, and private Members had enjoyed the privileges usually given to them since then. Therefore, if this Motion were not adopted, we should be in the same position in that respect as at the beginning of an ordinary Session. It is a fact that when the exigencies of business have made it necessary to have an Autumn Session it has always been taken for granted that the need for that Autumn Session was to get through the necessary Government business. I feel certain that the House in all sections will take that view, and therefore I do not propose to take up time by giving our views upon it.


I have no desire seriously to oppose the Motion just moved. by the Leader of the House, but before the House agrees to it I think we should have his assurance that facilities will be given by the Government for the discussion of any important questions that may arise. In this connection I may point out that we ought to have from the Government at a very early date a statement with regard to the military and naval position in Russia, with an opportunity for a discussion of that matter. We may also' require to ask the Government for facilities to discuss the whole of the industrial position. We should, therefore, at least have this assurance from the right hon. Gentleman before the House agrees to his proposal.


I recognise at once that the claim which has been made by my right hon. Friend is a perfectly reasonable one, but I think in this connection that I can justify the position which the Government has taken up by our actions in the past, which in themselves afford the best assurance for the future. We have always recognised that it is essential that opportunities should be given for the discussion of any important subject when a discussion is desired by any large section of the House. During the last few years I do not think that there has been a single occasion when a demand of that kind has been made and when it has not been met by me. We wish that this should be done. Secondly, nothing is more desirous than that such questions as my right hon. Friend has raised should be discussed in the House of Commons, the one place above all others where they ought to be discussed, and I can assure him and the House that in the future, as in the past, they will find the Government always ready to meet any general demand of that kind.


I hope after what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he will give sympathetic consideration to one point with regard to Section 2 of this Motion. I believe that the hours that are there laid down as to the time when any Motion for the Adjournment shall conclude have been arbitrarily included in these Motions for the last ten or eleven years. So far as I know, there is no authority for them in the Standing Orders or the Rules of Procedure. They have been proposed by the Government of the day. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might well consider whether he could not give us a little longer on the Adjornment Motion. The Motion for the Adjournment of the House is one of the few remaining occasions on which private Members can ventilate their grievances, if they wish to do so, and any possible abuse of that privilege is always safeguarded by the fact that if Members are not sufficiently interested the House is counted out, because obviously it is not to the interests of the Government Whips to prevent such a count. Therefore, the risk of any such abuse is really very small. I suggest that the time given under this Motion, namely, one hour if Government business concludes before half-past ten, and less than one hour if it concludes after half-past ten, is really quite inadequate. It will be within the recollection of the House—and I hope that I shall have some support from the benches opposite—that very often very important and interesting questions have been raised on the Motion for the Adjournment, and sometime the Minister himself has been cut short in his reply. If my right hon. Friend could give us an hour and a quarter if Government business concludes before half-past ten and make it not later than twelve instead of half-past eleven p.m. if Government business has not been so concluded, it would be a valuable concession to the private Members of the House.


I should like to support my hon. and gallant Friend opposite. The Leader of the House has pointed out that when a majority of the Members of this House express a desire for a debate it is forthcoming. That is not really what this House wants. Occasionally it is the minority that should be heard, and it is so in the country as well. I might say that the privilege, if it were given, certainly could never be abused, but I submit that debate always should be allowed to be carried on until eleven o'clock at night. This Motion presumably is put forward to give the Government all the time that they want. Surely, if the Motion for the Adjournment is reached at half-past three or half-past five, it is obvious that the Government have had all the time that they want and they might leave the House to carry on its own debate, provided that there are forty Members present.


I admit that en the merits there is something to be said in favour of the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Earl Winterton), but I hope he will not press it now, because I do not think a Motion which applies only to an Autumn Session is the occasion when we should consider an alteration in our general procedure in this respect. I hope, therefore, that his suggestion will not be pressed at this time. So far as this Motion is concerned, the only effect that it has is to give an hour instead of half an hour on particular occasions. That is all that the proposal itself does. It must be obvious to the House and to the hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Billing) that it does not matter to the Government—it might matter to the Minister who has to attend—but I doubt very much if the time were prolonged whether it would be easy to get a House to listen to the discussion. I would like to say further, because I wish to get rid of any misapprehension which exists, that I only promised a discussion when a majority of the House desired it. In the future, as in the past, we shall be prepared to give facilities, as we have always done, whenever there is any general desire for a discussion, and that does not mean that there must be half the House, or anything like half the House, which expresses that desire. I hope the House will allow us now to have the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.