HC Deb 29 March 1923 vol 162 cc755-63

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising this Day, do adjourn until Monday, 9th April." [Mr. Baldwin.]


I beg to move to leave out the words "at its rising this day." I think it is about time that we returned to constitutional practice, and dropped this method of moving the Adjournment. Previously, and up to a time well into the War period, the Motion was "That this House do adjourn until such and such a day. Recently the innovation has been adopted of inserting the words" at its rising this day." I understand that the original change was made in order to meet the eccentricities of all ex-Member for Hertford. He is no longer a Member of this House, and we might now get back to the ordinary constitutional practice. In the old days it used to be necessary for the Government to keep a House on the Adjournment debate in order, if necessary. to closure the debate, or to close the debate without a count. Now the responsibility for keeping a House has been transferred from the Government to the Opposition. Unless we keep a House, the House will be counted out, and it he counted out the right, of private Members to bring up any subject. in the debate on the Adjournment is lost. It is not from the point of view of the Official Opposition that I am speaking, because the Official Opposition can make terms with the Government so that the House can be kept; but it is for the individual Members, whether on the Government side or on the Opposition side, that I make this appeal.

12 N.

Until the change in practice, hon. Members knew that they could be heard on the Adjournment debate. They knew perfectly well that they could bring forward any grievance of their constituents, irrespective of whether that grievance was approved of by the leaders of their party or by the House as a whole. There was an opportunity for debating every subject. The dispute in the building trade and in the Norfolk agricultural industry could he fully discussed under the old system. What will happen to-day? As soon as the arranged debate on Education and Russia has gone through, the benches will empty. Members will go home and a count will be moved. We may be able to keep 40 members here, but I am afraid it is not very likely on the-eve of the Easter holiday. The result will be that about 4 o'clock the House will be counted out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am well aware that hon. Members opposite do not wish to debate-anything. There are some Members who take their duties to their constituents seriously, and they have a right to put their views before the House and get an answer from the Government. Under the new system they have no such chance. We have got back to constitutional methods so far as returning to private Members, private Members time, which was taken from them four years after the War, and it is time we got back to the constitutional practice in regard to the Motion for the Adjournment. We have got back to constitutional methods in having a, regular opposition and regular Government. Cannot we also get back to the regular position of having on the adjournment opportunity for free-debate for private Members? We are often charged on these benches with being anti-constitutionalists. It is the Government, by adopting this method of silencing debate, who are really breaking the constitutional practice which we desire to see restored.


The only Amendment which can be accepted on this Motion is an Amendment as to the time of the adjournment.


Is it not possible to restore the old principle by an Amendment? If it is not possible on this occasion, on what occasion is it possible.?


Is it not in Order to amend the method of the Adjournment and is not this Amendment an alteration of the method of Adjournment?


What course would be adopted by the Government if they accepted the view of my hon. and gallant Friend, and wanted to return to the old practice? How can they do it except by this Amendment?


In the circumstances,. I will accept the Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

This is a point which I have raised continuously ever since the change was made. A substantial grievance is involved. During the last two days we have been discussing various topics on the Consolidated Fund Bill. The various larger parties, and even apart from them occasional groups are enabled by arrangement with the Chair and the Government to get time to discuss various topics. But other topics which private Members desire to raise can only be raised on the adjournment. In the old days it was the duty of the Government to keep a House, and they always had control over the fractious introduction of subjects. If a private Member desired to detain the House on the Amendment on a trivial subject the Government always had the weapon of the Closure. But if the private. Member is raising a substantial point surely, in the interests of his constituents, it is the duty of the Government to see that he receives time to put it.

The real objection is that the Government cannot carry the closure unless they have a certain number of Members present, and their desire to let their supporters away is expressed by this method of adjournment. I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to restore the old practice of suppressing trivial discussion by the use of the closure, and avoiding the scandal by which sonic Member often in a jocular fashion draws attention to the fact, that not 40 Members are present at a moment when some private Member is for the first time getting an opportunity of rotting some point of great substance to his constituents. I believe that the kind of camaraderie which exists in this House should extend to the point of providing a private Member with one of the very few opportunities which he can have. This is a private Member's privilege; we ought to be jealous of any of those privileges being surrendered. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer adopts this suggestion he will have the general support of the House always in suppressing trivial discussion, and he will restore the old feeling which used to exist in the House of Commons on those occasions.


I would make a special appeal to the Chancellor of Exchequer that it would be a graceful thing if he would accept the Amendment without a division. The point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) affects Sheffield Members to a considerable extent. There is a matter of vital principle involving the imprisonment of a leader of the unemployed people in Sheffield about which we have had no opportunity of speaking until to-day. We only got letters from the Home Secretary at a comparatively late-hour last night, and there is a grave risk, unless the Government give us an opportunity of debate, of a very serious position arising in regard to similar instances all over the country.

The CHANCELLOR of the EX-CHEQUER (Mr. Baldwin)

I was interested to hear my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment base his appeal to the House on constitutional usage, and when I remind him of what he has possibly forgotten—that the old constitutional usage is precisely the one which we are adopting to-day—I am sure he will not press his Amendment. The first time when the form which he desires to use was used, as far as I have been able to ascertain, was about 30 years ago. The form which we have put down to-day was the universal practice until about the year 1892. After having tried for a long period in the lifetime 'of Members of Parliament, but a. short period in the life of Parliament itself, the method which he now suggests, it was found to be for the convenience of the greater number of Members to go back to the old form, and thus preserve, as far as we are able the historic continuity. I am as jealous as any man in this House of the rights of private Members, but I am certain that as long as topics of interest and substance are raised, hon. Members wilt remain to listen to what is said, and take part in the discussion. But it has been found in practice, as Members who have. sat in this House for some years are well aware, that the traditions of this House' have been stretched unduly at times, and inconvenience has been caused to the majority of Members who are anxious to get away for their holidays; and the same applies also to the staff of this House. I see no reason to accept this Amendment, and I hope that after what has been said, my hon. Friend will join me in helping to preserve what is the constitutional usage.


I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen his way to accede to the reasonable request which has been made. I cannot accept alto gether the somewhat curious doctrine of historic continuity which he has put before the House. I cannot claim to have such a long continuous acquaintance with the practice of the House as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the recollection which I have of my early years in the House is that at that time this form was not employed, and that free opportunity was given to all Members, no matter how small the minority which they represented, to ventilate any grievance which affected either their constituents or any other section of the public, on the adjournment of this House, at any of the regular periods. There bas been, and there still is a certain number of independent Members of this House who have no party behind them, and who on occasions may desire to bring subjects before the House, and obtain a reply from the Government. If this Motion is passed, in the form in which it is put down by the Government, it would be a simple matter for the Government to bring the discussion to an end, and relieve themselves of any embarrassment which may be occasioned by debate.

When right hon. Gentlemen plead for the general convenience of Members, I always suspect that they are not so much concerned about the convenience of Members as about their own convenience. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] The Convenience of Members or the public interest is a formula to enable Ministers, to whatever party they belong, to get out of embarrassment. It is a simple matter for the Government to have the question disposed of by counting out the House. I know something of the question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). It is true that that is only an individual grievance, but it raises a large question of principle, which may apply to many cases all over the country, and nevertheless that topic may be closed out to-day as a result of the operation of this Motion. I recollect another occasion when a similar issue arose, and by this means the discussion of certain points was avoided on the Easter adjournment. Had it taken place then the matter would have been brought not only to the notice of the Government but to the notice of the public, and the abuse to which attention was to have been called might have been remedied. As it was the abuse was allowed to go on, because it was not publicly ventilated, and two months later the Government were forced on Supply to grant a committee of inquiry into the matter, and that committee of inquiry proved up to the hilt the soundness of the claim which the hon. Member intended to make on the adjournment, but was prevented by this means from making.

I put it to hon. Members opposite that this is a matter in which they are interested. They may not sit always on these benches; their tenure there may be somewhat precarious. The time may come when they will have to cross over to this side of the House and plead for tender mercy from other occupants of the Treasury bench. It is therefore well for them, though they are sitting as supporters of the Government now, to have regard for the interests of private Members, and to show that they desire the rights of private Members to continue unimpaired, and that they desire to see also all public grievances ventilated in this House. This is one of the great constitutional opportunities which has come down to us. It represents the historic function of this House as the grand inquest of the nation. As time has gone on. private Members' opportunities have been progressively limited. This is one of these opportunities which has survived in spite of the encroachments of the Government. This Motion, passed it is true on many previous occasions, represents a further encroachment on these privileges. We have this afternoon an opportunity once more of re-asserting the privileges of the House, and I hope, therefore, that hon. Members opposite, who boast of being constitutionalists, and who are anxious to see constitutional forms and methods continue unimpaired in this country, will show themselves jealous of the rights of the House of Commons. It is not a matter for derision; it is a serious matter, and I am, indeed, surprised to find hon. Members, who call themselves Conservatives, and who are anxious to see bulwarks against revolutionary designs, jeering the sincere effort which is now being made to safeguard the interests of this House and to protect the interests of the public. I make an appeal to them to cast aside their prejudices.

I believe that there never has been a time up till now in which in a case of this kind a voice has not been raised from the Ministerial benches on behalf of the rights of this House. I remember, in the Parliaments of 1906 and 1910 when similar action was being taken, that there were at least a few Ministerial Members who were prepared to champion the rights of the [louse as against the encroachments of the Government. I am quite sure that if tie right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) had been here this afternoon he would have supported me. After all, he has some respect for the traditions of this House. He has shown it time and again I only regret that there are so few hon. Members opposite who share his spirit. [Laughter.] I am surprised that it should be a matter of derision when one refers in terms of praise to the action—the consistent action—which has been taken by the Member of this House who most truly embodies the Conservative spirit. I have often had the privilege of winking in co-operation with the right hon. Gentleman in matters of this kind. It has always been the pride of this House that on a constitutional issue which is of common interest there were Members on both sides who were willing to co-operate, and it is a sorry day for the Constitution of this country that this honourable tradition should now be departed from. I, therefore, make this appeal perfectly seriously, and I regret that hon. Members who call themselves Conservatives should

show themselves not only impervious to that appeal, but derisive when it is made. I hope, in spite of the line that the Government has adopted, that the House will be divided, and that an opportunity will be given to hon. Members opposite, who profess themselves Conservatives, of showing their faith in, and their loyalty to, the constitutional traditions of the House of Commons.


I am quite sure that any stranger, listening to this Debate, and ignorant of the forms of the House, would imagine that it requires several hundred Members to keep a quorum in order to continue the Debate, whereas the fact is that 40 Members form a quorum. The Opposition number some 260 Members, and if the subject be of sufficient interest, they can surely keep a quorum. It is said that it is necessary to preserve the rights of Back bench Members, so that they may ventilate the grievances of their constituents or others. But in my experience, which now dates back a considerable time, it is not very often that the shrinking back bencher speaks. The whole of the time is taken up by very loquacious Members, such as the hon. Member to whom we have just listened.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 127; Noes.. 63.

Division No. 70.] AYES. [12.20 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Hennessy, Major J. R. G.
Archer-Shee, Lieut-Colonel Martin Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale Herbert, S. (Scarborough)
Astbury, Lieut-Corn. Frederick W. Conway, Sir W. Martin Hiley, Sir Ernest
Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence Cope, Major William Hoare, Lieut. Colonel Sir S. J. G.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South) Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)
Balfour, Georqe (Hampstead) Cralk, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard
Banks, Mitchell Davidson, J. C. C.(Hemel Hempstead) Hopkins, John W. W.
Barnett, Major Richard W. Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)
Barnston, Major Harry Dawson, Sir Philip Houfton, John Plowright
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Doyle. N. Grattan Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.)
Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks) Edmondson, Major A. J. Hudson, Capt. A.
Betterton, Henry B. Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Hughes, Collingwood
Blades, Sir George Rowland Erskine-Boist, Captain C. Hume, G. H.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M. Hurst, Lt.-Cot. Gerald Berkeley
Boyd-Carpenter. Major A. Falcon, Captain Michael Hutchison, G. A. C. (Midlothian, N.)
Brass, Captain W. Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray Joynson-Hicks, Sir William
Bridgeman. Rt. Hon. William Clive Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)
Briggs, Harold Fremantie. Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. King, Capt. Henry Douglas
Bruford, R. Furness. G. J. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Buckingham, Sir H. Galbraith, J. F. W. Lloyd Grearne, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A. Ganzoni, Sir John Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)
Button, H. S. Gates, Percy Lorden, John William
Cadogan, Major Edward Gaunt, Rear-Admiral sir Guy R. Lorimer, H. D.
Campion. Lieut.-Colonel W. R. Gwynne, Rupert S. Lumley, L. R.
Cautley, Henry Strother Hacking, Captain Douglas H. McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Halstead, Major D. Margesson, H. D. R.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)
Churchman. Sir Arthur Harrison, F. C. Molloy, Major L. G. S.
Cobb Sir Cyril Hawke. John Anthony Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Morden, Col. W. Grant Ruggies-Brise, Major E. Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honlton) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Watts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A. Wells, S. R.
Newson, Sir Percy Wilson Sanderson, Sir Frank B, White, Col. G. D. (Southport)
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Sandon, Lord Whitla, Sir William
Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster) Shepperson, E. W. Wise, Frederick
Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Shipwright, Captain D. Wolmer, Viscount
Nield, Sir Herbert Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Wood, Rt. Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)
Ormsby-Gore. Hon. William Somerville, Daniel (Barrow-in-Furness) Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Paget, T. G. Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H. Yerburgh, R. D. T.
Parker, Owen (Kettering) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington) Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Rentoul, G. S. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.) Colonel Leslie Wilson and Colone Gibbs.
Robertson, J. D. (Islington, W.) Tryon, Rt. Hon, George Clement
Roundell, Colonel R. F. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Adams, D. Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill) Ponsonby, Arthur
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro) Henderson, Sir T. (Roxburgh) Pringle, W. M. R.
Attlee, C. R. Hill, A. Riley, Ben
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertiliery) Hogge, James Myles Roberts, C. H. (Derby)
Bonwick, A. Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Robinson, W. C. (York, Elland)
Brotherton, J. Jones, R. T. (Carnarvon) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North) Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East) Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Cotts, Sir William Dingwall Mitchell Kenworthy, Lieut. Commander J. M. Simpson, J. Hope
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Leach, W. Stephen, Campbell
Ede, James Chute Lee, F. Sturrock, J. Long
Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) M'Entee, V. L. Thome, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Evans, Capt. H. Arthur (Leicester, E.) Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I, Trevelyan, C. P.
Foot, Isaac March, S. Turner, Ben
George, Major G. L. (Pembroke) Maxton, James Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.
Gosling, Harry Middleton, G. Weir, L. M.
Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Millar, J. D. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Gray, Frank (Oxford) Morel, E. D. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Groves, T. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Guthrie, Thomas Mauie Mosley, Oswald Wright, W.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Murray, John (Leeds, West)
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Oliver, George Harold TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Harris, Percy A. Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Mr. Ammon and Sir A. Marshall.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Monday, 9th April.

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