HC Deb 12 December 1927 vol 211 cc1879-2062

Order for Consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee,) read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House."

I do so on the ground that, in view of the enormous constitutional importance of this Measure, we feel that it has not received proper consideration in Committee. We had on this Bill a Committee stage lasting ten short days, amounting in all to rather less than 18½ hours, and when I compare that with the fact, disclosed by the Prime Minister, that 29 hours had been spent in Committee of the whole House on Clause 5 of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, which, whatever its defects, did not raise a question of constitutional importance, I feel that this particular Measure has been scamped in Committee. The whole of the Committee stage of the Unemployment Insurance Bill extended over 77½ hours, we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary, and of that time three days were under the Guillotine. I submit that a Bill which is entitled to that amount of the time of this House and which, while it was a bad Bill, raised no new question of principle, gives us a standard by which we are entitled to measure a Bill which, in our view, goes down to the roots of local government in this country.

If I may refer briefly to how the time was spent, I would say that, while rather over six days or about 13 hours were spent on Clause 1, that was only possible because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health at one fell swoop on two different occasions wiped out a very large number of Amendments, which never received any discussion at all during the Committee stage. Indeed, it is true to say that fully one half of the Amendments which were put on the Order Paper were never discussed in Committee at all. The second Clause was disposed of in about two hours, the third Clause in about three hours, and the fourth Clause in 17 minutes, part of that time being taken up with a vote of thanks to the Chairman. On three occasions during the progress of that Bill through Committee, the right hon. Gentleman was either so weary of his Measure or so tired of the opposition to it that he invoked a procedure which enabled him to dispose of Amendments without discussion, on the second of those three occasions with a great deal of protest from my hon. Friends and myself; on the third occasion, we found ourselves having disposed of Clause 3, containing 20 lines in all, after there had been discussion on only three lines of the Clause.

That, we submit, means that this Bill has not been adequately considered in Committee, having regard to its importance. It is true that during the stormy passage of this! Bill through the Committee the Minister of Health offered to make an arrangement, but that arrangement implied that we had on the Order Paper Amendments which were either frivolous or of little substance, and my hon. Friends and I could not accept that for one moment, because all the Amendments that we put down were Amendments which we felt to be of substantial importance. It might be argued that with many Bills that would have been an adequate period of discussion, but on a Bill of this character I feel sure that hon. Members opposite, if they could understand how keenly we, on these benches, feel about it, would realise that we are asking for what is fair and just in suggesting that the Bill should be re-committed to a Committee of the whole House, where, we believe, a more adequate discussion would be possible.

I am not certain that Members of the House have appreciated how far-reaching is this Measure, which the Minister of Health has tried to explain as being a Bill of small importance. Not only does it give new and wider authority to district auditors, but it really interferes in a very large measure with what we believe to be the legitimate discretion of local authorities, and is to-day hampering the freedom of local authorities in many parts of the country. The fact that this Bill has been under discussion or awaiting discussion in the House for some months, the fact that it has been hanging over the heads of local authorities, has driven many local authorities, against the judgment of the majority of their members, to act differently from what they otherwise would have done. Not only so, but while we regard this Measure as being of peculiar and special importance, it appears to us to be merely a device to enable the Minister to over-ride the deliberately adopted policy of his political opponents. That really goes to the roots of our political system, and, if there is to be a struggle on this question of the rights of a majority to rule, then we claim that this Bill is a Bill of major importance and ought not to be treated in the way that it has been treated during this Session. We have had it openly admitted that the Bill is a Bill against Poplarism, whatever that may mean; it really means that it is a Bill to endeavour to crush the views of people with whom the Government disagree.

It is not an Audit (Local Authorities) Bill; it is a Political Opponents (Suppression) Bill, and, because of that, and because it means that if it is put on the Statute Book hon. Friends of mine may have to leave public life for good, I regard it as of fundamental importance for the dignity and the honour of the House, that we should have the Bill recommitted and fuller discussions given to it. I know of no Bill passed during this Parliament which has a greater constitutional importance than this Measure, and, because it is a constitutional Measure, and means an interference with the rights of local self-government and imposes heavy and savage sentences on political opponents of the present Government; because it is a Bill, which, while enlarging the importance of district auditors, gives us no right in this House to make any difference in the law with regard to them; and because it is a Bill which, before it is passed on to the Statute Book, is being operated against local authorities, we are justified in asking that it should be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House, and, though we know we shall be beaten in such a Committee, we should at least know that we had had a larger measure of justice than we received in the earlier stages of the Bill.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)

The Motion before the House is one of a somewhat unusual character. I cannot recollect having heard a precisely similar one, although I dare say there have been precedents. When I saw it on the Paper, I could only think of two reasons which would in any way justify the submission of a Motion that this Bill, the Second Reading of which had been passed in the House and which had passed through its Committee stage upstairs, should be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House and the Committee stage passed through again. The first and most obvious reason was that hon. Members opposite felt that their case had been so negligently or so incompetently handled upstairs that they desired to put it in the hands of more vigorous exponents, There is something, perhaps, to be said for that, but I observe that the hon. Member who moved the Motion is the same hon. Member who led the party upstairs, so it is impossible to hope that we can expect anything more from him in Committee of the whole House than we heard from him in Committee upstairs. The second reason that occurred to me was that the Committee stage had not received sufficient attention upstairs. That, in fact, is the reason which has been put forward by the hon. Member. He has added a third reason, which did not occur to me, and that is that the Bill is of such constitutional importance that it is necessary that it should be discussed a second time in Committee. I submit that the question of constitutional importance—and I do not deny that there is a great deal of constitutional importance in it—has been settled on Second Reading, and that the speech that the hon. Member has just made is a Second Reading speech. The question of constitutional importance is, I submit, no longer one that the House has before it. What we have to consider now are the Amendments in the details of the Measure, and I think, therefore, that any representation that the Bill ought to be debated in Committee a second time on account of its special character, must necessarily go by the board.

The hon. Member has stated that there was insufficient time given to the discussion of the Bill upstairs. I would ask any hon. Member to read the Report of the proceedings in Committee upstairs and see what happened. The party opposite used every means, every legitimate and possible means, to delay and avoid discussion upon the various Clauses of this Bill which is of such high constitutional importance. Again and again, they stayed outside in the corridor and refused to come in until we had made a quorum without them. They took every possible opportunity of moving the adjournment of the discussions. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) started off by trying to stop discussion on the Bill, because I was a few minutes late, although my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary (Sir K. Wood) was present to answer any points that might be raised. I have not counted how many speeches they made, but I notice that in the first three days the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) made an average of three speeches every day, and the hon. Member next to him (Mr. Lansbury) quite as many and three times as long. The Bill contains only four Clauses, and we took 10 days in Committee, and of these six and a half were given to the discussion of Clause 1. It is certainly true that, as a counter to the tactics of the party opposite, we found ourselves obliged, if we were to make any progress at all, to bring into operation the proceedings under Standing Order 26, but that was only put into operation twice, and then although Amendments were certainly excluded, we did not jump over many lines of the Bill.

When I made to the hon. Member the offer he mentioned, I said to him, "I do not like this procedure; I would rather we had a sensible, quiet, calm discussion on the merits of the various Clauses and of the various Amendments. I will willingly discuss privately with you which are the Amendments to which you attach the greatest importance." I did not say that we would not discuss the others. I said that we would not apply the Rule to

Division No. 460.] AYES. [4.2 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Paling, W.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Groves, T. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Grundy, T. W. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Attlee, Clement Richard Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Ponsonby, Arthur
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Potts, John S.
Baker, Walter Hardie, George D. Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)
Barnes, A. Hirst. G. H. Salter, Dr. Alfred
Batey, Joseph Hore-Belisha, Leslie Scrymgeour, E.
Bondfield, Margaret Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield). Scurr, John
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Lansbury, George Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Lawrence, Susan Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Charleton, H. C. Lee, F. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Cluse, W. S. Lindley, F. W. Sitch, Charles H.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Lowth, T. Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)
Compton, Joseph MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Cove, W. G. Mackinder, W. Snell, Harry
Crawfurd, H. E. MacLaren, Andrew Sutton, J. E.
Dalton, Hugh Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Thurtle, Ernest
Day, Colonel Harry MacNeill-Weir, L. Townend, A. E.
Dennison, R. March, S. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Gillett, George M. Montague, Frederick Viant, S. P.
Gosling. Harry Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wallhead, Richard C.
Greenall, T. Naylor, T. E. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Oliver, George Harold Wellock, Wilfred

those Amendments which they might pick out, and to which they attached particular importance. Could we have been fairer than that? I gave the hon. Gentleman opposite every opportunity of discussing those Amendments of high constitutional importance. He did not then say, "All our Amendments are of equal importance, and we cannot cut out any of them," What he said was that they had unanimously decided that they would not accept the arrangement. His words were: We are unanimously against any such arrangement …As the Bill is so strongly opposed to our own policy and desires, we do not feel, without compromising our position, that we can agree to any sort of arrangement as to a time-table or the selection of Amendments, as that would put us in a false position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee D), 5th July, 1927; col. 191.] They refused the very magnanimous offer that I made to them, and they cannot now come and complain that insufficient time was given in Committee upstairs to any particular Amendments, when they were responsible for the fact that Amendments were passed without discussion. I consider that there are few Bills which have had proportionate time given to them upstairs, and I submit that no case has been made out for re committing the Bill.

Question put, "That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House."

The House divided: Ayes, 84; Noes, 188.

Westwood, J. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Williams, David (Swansea, E.) Windsor, Walter Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Charles
Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly) Wright, W. Edwards.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)
Albery, Irving James Ganzoni, Sir John Moore, Sir Newton J.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Gates, Percy Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby) Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Murchison, Sir Kenneth
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Nelson, Sir Frank
Astor, Viscountess Goff Sir Park Nicholson, O. (Westminster)
Atholl, Duchess of Grace, John Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G.(Ptrsf'ld.)
Atkinson. C. Grant, Sir J. A. Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Oakley, T.
Balniel, Lord Grotrian, H. Brent Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Owen, Major G.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Gunston, Captain D. W. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.) Hacking, Douglas H. Philipson, Mabel
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Pilditch, Sir Philip
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish. Hanbury, C. Pownall, Sir Assheton
Berry, Sir George Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Preston, William
Betterton, Henry B. Harrison, G. J. C. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Rice, Sir Frederick
Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.) Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Boothby, R. J. G. Hawke, John Anthony Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Henderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Henn, Sir Sydney H. Rye, F. G.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Samuel, A M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Hilton, Cecil Sandeman, N. Stewart
Briscoe, Richard George Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Sanderson, Sir Frank
Brittain, Sir Harry Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St. Marylebone) Sandon, Lord
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Hopkins, J. W. W. Savery, S. S.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks,Newb'y) Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)
Buchan, John Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Shaw, Lt.-Col. A.D. Mcl.(Renfrew, W.)
Burman, J. B. Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Skelton, A. N.
Campbell, E. T. Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n) Smith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R.(Prtsmth. S.) Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Huntingfield, Lord Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Hurd, Percy A. Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Sprot, Sir Alexander
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G.F.
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Streatfeild, Captain S. R.
Clayton, G. C. Kindersley, Major Guy M. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Cobb, Sir Cyril King, Commodore Henry Douglas Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Knox, Sir Alfred Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Lamb, J. Q. Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Conway, Sir W. Martin Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Wallace, Captain D. E.
Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim) Livingstone, A. M. Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Loder, J. de V. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro) Long, Major Eric Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Looker, Herbert William Wayland, Sir William A.
Dalkeith, Earl of Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Wells, S. R.
Davies, Dr. Vernon Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple-
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Macintyre, Ian Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Drewe, C. Macquisten, F. A. Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Ellis, R. G. Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel Winby, Colonel L. P.
Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith Makins, Brigadier-General E. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) Malone, Major P. B. Wolmer, Viscount
Fairfax, Captain J. G. Margesson, Captain D. Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).
Fermoy, Lord Meyer, Sir Frank Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Fielden, E. B. Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-
Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Fraser, Captain Ian Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Major Cope and Mr. Penny.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee,) considered.

  1. CLAUSE 1.—(Disqualification of persons surcharged more than five hundred pounds.) 60,456 words, 19 divisions
  2. cc2027-41
  3. CLAUSE 2.—(Appeals against decisions of auditors.) 5,650 words, 2 divisions
  4. cc2041-59
  5. CLAUSE 3.—(Recovery of sums certified by the auditor.) 7,810 words, 4 divisions
  6. cc2060-2
  7. CLAUSE 4.—(Short title, application, repeal and extent.) 398 words
  8. c2062
  9. SCHEDULE.—(Enactments Repealed.) 101 words