HC Deb 10 April 1928 vol 162 cc1171-6

In view of the Division, I w ant to know what the Government propose to do? I would suggest that, in any event, the present sitting of this House should be adjourned.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)

I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "till Thursday."

It is impossible for the House to adjourn without any comment upon the extraordinary decision which has just been taken. I do not think, within the recollection of the oldest Parliamentarian now alive, any Government has been defeated on the question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." It is a question which, decided adversely to the Government, must be fatal to that Government's existence—[HON. MEMBERS: Oh,!" "Hear, hear!" and Lartighter]. The somewhat juvenile gentlemen on the Front Bench are amused at the situation, but they are apparently unaware of the historical importance of the putting of the question, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." An ordinary defeat in Supply might be set right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It has been set right before. In 1905, when Earl Balfour's Government were tottering to their ignominous fall, that Government were defeated on Supply. The Government were able to accept the decision and simply allow the Vote to pass, reduced by £100, as it was in Committee. But tonight, what the House has done is to take a decision that, under the auspices of this Government, this House will not go into Committee of Supply at all. Under those circumstances—[Interruption]—


You will want your special policemen to-morrow.


I am giving a true constitutional interpretation of the decision which has just been given. There have been other examples, within my own recollection, in which such defeats have been administered. There were certain defeats which were administered to the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), I thick, in the year 1912; defeats which will be in the recollection of the right hon. Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans). I think he bore a part in one of those incidents. One of them, so far as my recollection goes, was on such an important question as the Financial Resolution for the Government of Ireland Bill. The Government, on that occasion, were enabled to set the matter right by introducing a new Financial Resolution, different in its character. I contend that it is impossible for the ingenuity of any Parliamentarian to frame a Question which, for the purpose of the current Session, can be put to the House which would not involve a reversal of the decision which has been taken to-night.

This is a relic of the old constitutional practice of this country, whereby the redress of grievances came before Supply: and what the House has decided to-night is that, owing to a grievance, in which the majority of its Members hold that the Government have come short, this House shall not go into Committee. I maintain that in these circumstances it is not simply an Adjournment for the night that is necessary. I question whether it will be possible for the Government to resume business to-morrow. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Yes, I question whether it will. What is the use of having a discussion on agriculture when we do not know whether or not the Government are going to he in being? They have given part of the day tomorrow for a discussion on agriculture, based on the Report of a Committee of experts, so-called, whom they have appointed. Why should we have this discussion, purely academic, while we have these "transient and embarrassed phantoms" sitting on the Front Bench? That reminds me of another phrase of the distinguished phrase-maker who coined that one. He once, looking at another Treasury Bench, very different in intellect and calibre from that which I see before me, compared them with a spectacle which, he said, was common in the South American landscape—a row of extinct volcanoes.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

They have never erupted.


This Government have never been volcanoes. They have been such damp squibs that they have not in any way been able to affect the tranquillity of the country. I think the House as a whole will view this decision, somewhat fortuitous as it is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! ']—we shall now await new combinations. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I observe, with great concern, the undisguised sorrow with which the right hon. Member for Colcester is watching the proceedings to-night. He is showing a spirit of sympathy with his old friends in distress which we must all admire, the Under-Secretaries who were so unchristian as to supersede him, but he bears no malice. He, at least, has never allowed an angry word to escape him, but that cannot be said of all of them. I am sorry the Peers' Gallery is empty and that we have no opportunity of observing the equally Christian spirit of the ex-Lord Chancellor. I am also very happy to believe that on this occasion certain old Friends of ours on the Benches in front of me, have, in spite of some pledges which they gave in a hasty moment at the last General Election owing to exigencies which we can all understand—we have all been in the same difficulties at different times and we are really the same in substance, as the Shorter Catechism would say—I am happy that having given the pledges to which I have referred, that they have been with us on this occasion and have been enabled to bear their share in bringing to an end a thoroughly inept., futile and incompetent Administration. The verdict of the bye-elections, which made it impossible for any Minister defeated at the lat General Election to get back to this House for any constituency whatever, has been confirmed by the verdict of the House to-night.

We shall be told it is a snap division. Well, everybody knows the importance of the Motion, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair." At least it used to be known in the old days and, after all, the Division was taken after the dinner hour and the Government have now a full staff of Whips. There was one appointed this afternoon. It is a sad story that the new Scottish Whip will never be able to take up his duties. The greatest misfortune of it all is that the new Scottish Whip is a Coalitionist—a supporter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester—who has strayed from the fold and this decision, so suddenly taken, seems to me to be the righteous Nemesis of any such political infidelity. I think in the circumstances in view of the seriousness of the decision and in view of the difficulties with which the Government are confronted, that the right hon. Gentleman who happens for the time being to be in charge, should not merely move the ordinary Adjournment Motion, but should adjourn the House until Thursday at the earliest. Obviously the Cabinet must meet and consider the situation. It is not a question of inventing a formula to get over the difficulty. No formula will get over the difficulty which the Government has to face—a vote of no confidence passed by this House and a vote of no confidence in a form in which it cannot be reversed. Those of us who have long political memories will recollect that the Rosebery Government of 1895 was defeated on the Address, but that could be set right because a new Address was moved. But as everybody knows, the same question cannot be put from the Chair twice in the same Session. That is the difficulty the Government are in, and unless they bring this Session to an end and start a new Session they cannot reconstitute themselves. In these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman must see that somewhat longer period of deliberation and delay is necessary and if he does not accede to that view I move my Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter before Ten o'Clock.