HC Deb 07 November 1928 vol 222 cc51-78
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

I beg to move, That, until the Adjournment of the House for Easter, Government Business do have precedence at every Sitting. It might, perhaps, be for the convenience of the House if I state what is not familiar to all, namely, that had this been a continuance of the Session which began in February, it would not be necessary to move this Resolution, so far as the time up to Christmas is concerned. That leads me to say this: If it becomes the practice, as I hope it may become in time, whatever Government is in power, for the Session to begin in the autumn—I believe that more experience will convince the House that it is both better for legislation and more convenient for Members—it will then be necessary for the House to consider what should be the proper allocation of Members' time as between the different periods of the year. I throw out the suggestion now, without expecting or desiring an answer this afternoon, but I think it might be quite a good thing if some such little conference of all parties as that which agreed to the allocation of private Members' time, were to discuss this question, so that some agreement might be reached, and, if possible, the whole matter put on a permanent basis before another Government comes into power. It is well worth thinking of and does concern the House as a whole.

So much for the period up to Christmas. The less usual course that the Government are taking to-day is to ask for private Members' time up to the Easter Recess. The reason for that, as I indicated briefly yesterday, lies in the weight of legislation that has to be got through this Session. I refer, of course, to the Poor Law Bills for England and Scotland. Those are two very heavy and very necessary pieces of work which, of course, will be explained at length by the Ministers responsible when the Second Reading takes place I hope within the next three weeks. It is quite clear that, this being the last Session of the present Parliament and it being quite uncertain as to when the General Election will actually take place, as a matter of precaution that legislation must he got on with as quickly as possible.

It is for that reason that we are asking the House, asking private Members, to surrender their time up to Easter, so as to allow the passage of those Bills. On that point I would say that although that takes away from them the right of putting down Motions and introducing private Members' Bills on specially allotted days, it does not take away their right of presenting private Bills by the other ordinary method, nor would the progress of those Bills, if non-contentious, be prejudiced at all necessarily, even by the shortness of the Session. But, of course, it is obvious, from observations that have been made from all quarters of the House, that there is a feeling that the end of this Parliament may conic earlier rather than later—I can say nothing about it at present, but there is that feeling—and if that be so it would be perfectly impossible for any private Members' Bills to approach to that stage when they could come up to the House for Report and Third Reading. So the probability is that, even were time allotted to them for the earlier stages, all that time would be wasted by inevitable interruption of a General Election. Those are the reasons. There is one other point that has occurred to me. Of course, I cannot speak for other parties; I am merely speaking with my own responsibility here. If the House agrees with the Government in this Resolution, I think that all parties might make an effort to give to private Members what they have not always had, and that is every chance with the ordinary Debates, by those on the Front Bench not taking part in Debates more than is necessary.

It is always customary, and I think not without use, that when anyone in any place makes a Motion of this kind, he makes a claim that, although he is taking a course which he does not wholly like and which he does not wholly commend, it is a course which he is taking with much greater moderation than that shown by those who have introduced Resolutions before him. So I say that during the whole of this year we have taken no private Members' time at all. I think that is rather good, and I would add that at no time before Easter have we taken quite as much time as the Opposition sitting there took in 1924, when they were in office. I say nothing about the War time, when, of course, private embers had to sacrifice time. It is a fact that for two whole years, in the time of the Coalition Government of which I was a member—the last year but one and the year before that—the Government took the whole of private Members' time. But I do not wish to insist on that, because that was a very different time, and the arrangement was almost wholly due to the stress of the War years.

I go back to a normal period—the last time when any Motion of this kind was put—and I am glad to think that in 1911, when the Liberal party in overwhelming strength occupied these benches, and seemed likely to occupy them for the rest of our lives, they put down a Motion, taking the whole of the private Members' time up to 13th April. That Motion was supported by the hon. and gallant Member for North Aberdeen (Captain W. Benn), whom we are so glad to see in his place to-day. In this brief space, I think I have shown the necessity, so far as Government business is concerned, for taking this step—that is to say for taking private Members' time for a period equivalent to two months, or with as much of January in addition as we may happen to sit—that I have excellent precedent for the step I am taking, and that that step, though naturally it cannot be palatable to the House, is yet a much shorter step than has been taken by greater men than myself.


There are two preliminary observations which I should like to make. The first is with reference to the suggestion made by the Prime Minister that the other parties should consult with him in view of the new arrangements for the business of Parliament and the beginning of the Sessions, so that our Standing Orders relating to private Members' time might. be adjusted to the new conditions. We shall be very glad indeed, so far as we are concerned, to accept his invitation on that matter. The other thing is his suggestion that the Front Benches might give more time for discussion to private Members. That is a matter that we all feel deeply on our consciences; but the right hon. Gentleman has put it, I think, in a somewhat imperfect form. I should say the thing to point out to-day is that the right hon. Gentleman should not issue orders from the Front Bench preventing his own private Members taking part in the Debates. What has been so painful to us, Session after Session, is the blank, and, I am perfectly certain, unwilling silence on the benches behind the right hon. Gentleman.

I think the right hon. Gentleman's commendation of this Motion has been just a little perfunctory. He said yesterday that he was going to encroach, to some extent, on private Members' time. What we discover on our Order Papers to-day is that he is going to take all private Members' time. He referred to what used to be called Autumn Sessions. Now this not an Autumn Session This is the beginning of a new Session. When we were faced with a Motion equivalent to this Motion, at the beginning of an Autumn Session, we, performing our duty as art Opposition, did our best to safeguard private Members' time. You, Sir, and your predecessor being very zealous custodians—properly, if I may say so—of the Rules of the House, we have found ourselves, every now and again compelled to put down Motions and Amendments in a form which implies exactly the opposite of what we want. For instance, when we want an increase of a Vote we take the opportunity of explaining why we want the increase in the Vote by putting down an Amendment to decrease the Vote. If I may say so in a way that you, Sir, certainly will not misunderstand, that is not the fault of the Opposition, but the fault of the zealous custodianship of the Standing Orders of the House. Therefore, what we have had to do on previous occasions when an Autumn Session was being opened was this: We have had to oppose the Government taking time, but the object of our opposition was to secure that, when they did take time, if any important subject came up which could not have been foreseen at the time of the Motion, the Government were pledged in such circumstances to give the Opposition or the sections of the Opposition an opportunity to discuss the matter on the Floor of the House.

Now, that is a totally different thing from what the right hon. Gentleman is doing to-day. We are to-day at the beginning of a new Session. This is a. new time-table, and I think every party in the House hopes that this time-table is going to remain—that we begin, now, to do our ordinary Parliamentary work, that we shall have a good deal of it, especially Second Readings of important Bills, cleared out of the way before Christmas, and then, as a compensation, that we shall try to rise, not as so frequently happens now in the first week or fortnight of August, but somewhere about the middle of July. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman moves this Motion to-day it is tantamount to his coming before us in January, under the old conditions, and moving that the whole of the private Members' time should be taken up to Whitsuntide. That is the way it would be put in the old currency of our habits of Parliamentary procedure. I say a majority has no right to use its numbers in order to carry a Motion of that kind. This is not, as it were, suspending the Standing Orders—which we have all had to do and which, certainly, we will all do when circumstances compel us. This is not a suspension of the Standing Orders: this is a subversion of the Standing Orders, and the House certainly ought. not to allow it to be done in the present circumstances.

Why does the right hon. Gentleman want this Motion? He says that it is in order to pass the Poor Law Bills. That is not the programme. He also mentioned a Bill yesterday which was so insignificant, according to his definition of it, that it was not worth mentioning in the King's Speech. I refer to the Wireless and Cables Bill. That is a Bill of extraordinary, of supreme importance. Rightly or wrongly—I am not arguing that to-day—that Bill upsets a very old national policy. Members on the opposite side of the House will not deny that it upsets the policy that the nation should keep control of its means of communication, more particularly the Imperial means of communication. I am not going to assist the right hon. Gentleman to get that Bill. If he had told us to-day that he wanted the time in order to fulfil some of those other pledges, about factory legislation, in any event we would have approached it with a certain amount of sympathy in our hearts which is not there at all at the present time. The legislation that he wants falls into two categories: one is the shop-window dressing that is necessary for a General Election, and the other is legislation of the nature of the Wireless and Cables Bill. The effect of it is this: The Prime Minister asks this House to-day to set a precedent. We may come to an agreement with him—I hope we shall—about the new Standing Orders, but. nevertheless, if the Motion which the Prime Minister has now moved is carried to-day, it will stand on the records of this House, and Prime Minister after Prime Minister who will succeed him can quote it as a precedent, and ask the House to follow a precedent that has already been established.

It means, in other language, this: He comes, at the beginning of this last Session of Parliament, and he is making this claim, that, on account of the General Election pressure on the Government, the Government may ask the House of Commons, and private Members, in every last Session of these short, five-year Parliaments, to give up the whole of their rights, and, if private Members are not willing to give up the whole of their rights, he claps his Whips on and gets the Government majority in order to en- force it. That is the situation. Let us establish this precedent, and we shall not hear the last of it. The tendency is to take more and more time from private Members. I daresay, if we were in the right hon. Gentleman's position, that we would feel, as he is feeling, the pressure to yield to that temptation. I wish he had one day somebody who would resist him, but the argument against resistance which has the least weight with everybody who cares for the liberties of this House is the argument that the Prime Minister has put up to-day, that the Government, preparatory to going to the country, in the interest of producing certain legislation by which the vote of the country may be secured, are going to clap their majority on in this House and deprive private Members of their time. So far as we are concerned, we shall not assent to the proposal.


This is a Motion that must put any Member who sits in opposition to the Government in a dilemma. If he supports it, he is undoubtedly supporting a proposal which is a very serious departure from precedent, except in the days of emergency which the Prime Minister has pointed out, and which may be a precedent in future which will deprive private Members of their rights in this House. On the other hand, if we resist it, we are putting off the Dissolution. The Prime Minister has already indicated his programme. Naturally, it is a programme which we oppose, but it is for the Government to determine their own programme, and having regard to what they did last Session, I think they are bound to go through with that programme. They cannot leave matters where they were left at the end of last Session with regard to rating; they are bound to carry through their proposals. Practically, that, with the Budget, will take most of the time. There may be one or two other proposals which will take up considerable time. If in addition to that we are to take Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, I am afraid the result will be to put off by some weeks a Dissolution of Parliament, to which we are all anxiously looking forward. Whether we shall be equally pleased when it is over, one leaves on the knees of the gods.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

And the goddesses!


Yes, and the goddesses. If you have made up your mind—and I have no doubt the Government have made up their mind—that the Dissolution should come before the hay harvest, it is a real question whether they have the time at their disposal to carry through their programme and at the same time give the usual facilities for private Members. If they nave not, I do not think they are doing a thing which any other Government would not have done under the circumstances. I am very sorry I was not here when the Prime Minister rose, because it was an important pronouncement, but he suggested that there might be a Conference of parties to discuss a certain aspect of our proceedings. I wish it were possible to extend that to considering the whole of our proceedings, especially with regard to private Members. I have been in this House now very nearly 40 years, and I think, in regard to most of the time which is allocated to private Members, the best use is not made of it. I think much better use could be made of it. It is very rarely that you get a Bill through; it is purely a toss-up if you get the first chance, and there are very few Bilis that ever get through. It is as easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle as for a private Member to get a Bill through this House, and that is very largely due to the fact that it is purely a matter of chance which Bill gets the best opportunity, and the Bill that gets the best opportunity is not the Bill that really interests the vast majority of the people in this House or the subject upon which it is most necessary to have a debate and to have legislation.

The same thing applies to the Tuesday and Wednesday discussions and I think it would be desirable that, either in this Parliament or in the next, there should be a discussion, not a Committee set up, such as a Select. Committee—these Select Committees rarely arrive at conclusions which are practical—but rather a free and easy discussion among those in charge of the business of the House, with a view to seeing whether better use could not be made of the machinery of the Howe for the purpose of providing opportunities for private Members. For instance, here is one thing which has always struck me. It is right that the House of Commons should have an oppor- tunity of discussing things that may not interest the Government for the time being, things which are in process of being discussed in the country, things upon which public opinion might not be ripe for the moment, matters on which even Members of the House of Commons are not very clear in their own minds—not necessarily party questions, but questions of general interest—and I have always thought it was a very great mistake that the Moment you limited the days given to Supply you should not then have extended the sphere of discussion. In the old days, if you permitted the discussion of Amendments, for instance, on subjects which involved legislation in a Debate in Committee of Supply, the result would be that you would go on discussing Supply all the year round, and there was no limit, but the moment you impose a limit on the number of days in Supply, it does not matter to the Government in what form the discussion takes place, and it cripples the discussion to limit it entirely to mere questions of administration, whereas often Members of this House are more concerned about other matters, which may infringe the Rules of the House in that respect.

Those are questions which I hope the Prime Minister will permit this Conference to 'discuss; they are questions which concern every party in this House; they are questions which concern the working of Parliamentary institutions. There is much greater freedom in other Parliaments in that respect., and while I do not like this departure from precedent in the matter of taking up the time of private Members, still it is very difficult, and if the Government have made up their mind definitely—I am not prepared to challenge their figures—that there is no time to be given away in respect of private Members if you are to dissolve Parliament before the hay harvest, then all I can say is that I. very much regret that it should be necessary to make a precedent of this kind, but I hope the Prime Minister will give an opportunity for a discussion on a broad basis with regard to methods of improving the opportunities for private Members.


I am sorry to intervene at this point, but I trust hon. Members are not going to allow their rights and privileges to be taken away without a word of protest. As a back bench Member, I want to enter my protest against this wholesale taking away of our rights. I do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said about the dilemma in which we find ourselves. He said that we are to choose between having an early election and sticking up for our rights as private Members. In taking that point of view, he has shown his characteristic inability to take a long view of things, because the question whether we are to get the election in the middle of May or the middle of June seems to me of minor importance compared with the question whether we are to safeguard the rights of private Members not only in this Parliament, but in many Parliaments to come. There is a special reason just now why we should stand up and fight as far as possible for the rights of ordinary private Members. I say this without distinction of party. A tendency is growing up in all parties to impose a much more rigid form of discipline, and to make the ordinary rank and file Member very little else than a voting "robot." That is bad for Parliament it is certainly bad for Members, and it is bad for the reputation of the House outside, because, if that kind of spirit persists, the best type of man, the type of man which is wanted in this House, will refuse to put up with it and will not come to the House at all.

I do not want to go into history, but there is the tragic case of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). The House will recollect that case. I understand that the hon. Member for Barnstaple is a Conservative of the most impeccable respectability; he is a Conservative of the Conservatives, and, like most of the other Conservatives in this House, he has actually sought to conserve a certain amount of independence of mind. What was the result? He was told that, because he took up an attitude like that, the whole weight of the party machine would be brought. to bear against him; he was confronted with the possibility of expulsion. I think I am entitled to say on that that the Prime Minister, acting through his Chief Whip, is saying in effect to the members of his party "Either be 'robots' or perish. I am prepared to admit that a certain amount of obedience ought to be given to the party machine, for without that obedience we cannot effectively carry on the business of Parliament; and I, like all my colleagues, am prepared to give a very large measure of obedience. There must, however, be times and occasions on which we should be allowed to take our own point of view, and to give expression to our own individuality, and the best means by which we can ensure that right is by safeguarding the right of private Members as laid down in the Orders of this House.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to certain questions which are non-party in character. There are a number of them. It is quite impossible for the ordinary Back Bench Member, through the channels of his party machine, to get an opportunity of discussing these questions. But, by means of the right of private Motions, apart from private Bills. there is an opportunity for a private Member to bring forward such questions upon which he feels strongly and have them discussed. I can mention a very contentious question which I would like to have discussed on a Motion in this House. I would like to have the question of birth control discussed, but there is not a chance, so far as I can see, of any of the ordinary official machinery of a party being used for that purpose.


This is a Motion for birth control.


It controls the birth of ideas certainly. This is a question which excites enormous interest in the country, particularly among the women electors, and if would be a very good thing if we had a discussion on a matter like that, and if the ideas of Parliament were clarified in regard to it. I have only one other point to make, and I hope the Prime Minister will forgive me if I seem to be offensive in making it. My complaint against him in regard to this, as in regard to so many other matters, is that he sins against the light as it were. How many times has the Prime Minister come to the House and said, "This is something I hate to do, but necessity drives me into doing it"? I could go back two or three years, and talk about something which happened in connection with the miners, but I will not do that. Always what we complain of on this side of the House is that the Prime Minister is constantly doing something with which he says he does not agree. He has been driven by necessity now, so he says, into taking away the rights of private Members. I speak to him as an Englishman, and I wish he would cut out all the talk about regrets, and do what he has decided to do and say nothing about it. He has decided to take away our rights as private Members let him be an honest man and admit that he is doing this purely for party necessity. The alternative is not only to defer the Election. If he likes, if he would give private Members their time, he could still have the Election at an early date by dropping some of the unnecessary and very contentious legislation that he is proposing to bring in. The position comes down to this: Here we are, we private Members, having our heads forced upon the block, and the Prime Minister is standing with uplifted axe prepared to decapitate us. All we say to him is, "Get on with the job, and spare us all these loud sobs and regrets."

Captain BOURNE

Whenever we have a Motion to take away private Members' time, we have a certain amount of regret expressed by the Opposition. I sometimes wonder- how sincere those regrets are, because I have noticed that, whenever we have given a whole day to private Members, as we have done under a recent alteration of the Standing Orders, it is by no means easy to keep a House up to 7.30 in the evening, and the difficulty of keeping a House between 7.30 and 11 o'clock is extremely great; it is Only that humane provision in our Standing Orders which prevents the House being counted between 8.15 and 9.15 which has enabled many budding orators to be heard. Much as we protest against private Members' time being taken, in our hearts many of us are doubly thankful when we are not lucky in the Ballot. I can speak from some experience, as I have had to pilot two Bills through this House.

What the Leader of the Opposition forgot is that in this Parliament we are in a slightly abnormal state which is not likely to recur. Under the Representation of the People Act of this year, we are adding a very large electorate to the register, and that register comes into force on the 1st May. It is unlikely that there will be any large subsequent addition to the register or that we shall ever again have a Parliament which is faced with a greatly enlarged register coming into operation in May instead of in the autumn, which fact dominates the next General Election. If we were on a normal register, the Election would probably not take place until next autumn and in that case there would be ample time to give to private Members. We are dealing, however, in this particular Session with abnormal circumstances, and before this act of the Prime Minister is quoted as a precedent, that fact should be taken into consideration. What are the chances of private Members' Bills? Under existing Standing Orders all Fridays until Easter are given to private Members; after Easter the first, second, third and fourth Fridays and, after Whitsun the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Fridays are given to private Members. Does any hon. Member imagine that the third, fourth fifth and sixth Fridays after Whitsun will see this Parliament in existence? It would be wasting the time of the House to give Second Readings to Bills and send them to a Standing Committee upstairs, and it would give a good deal of trouble to Members who sit on this Committee and to the Government. All the time we should have the knowledge in our hearts that in the end the Bill is never likely to get through this House, let alone another place. We should look at this matter with some idea of the possibilities of what may happen, and I feel convinced that to bring in a Private Member's Bill this Session under the ballot would be a pure waste of time and effort on the part of those Members who might be fortunate enough to draw places.

As regards Private Members' Motions, if the House is going to accept the offer of the Prime Minister and we are to have a conference of all parties, I think that Conference might very usefully consider whether the arrangements made under the new Standing Order adopted a year ago have really worked successfully. So far as I can see, as a humble student of the procedure of this House, to ask Members to listen to two academic Motions in one afternoon is putting too great a strain on their patience. I say nothing against listening to a discussion on one subject in one afternoon, but to ask Members to come to listen to two Motions which they know in their heart of hearts will, even if they be carried, have very little effect on the government of the country, is to put too great a tax upon their patience. I would suggest if that Conference be held that it should consider seriously whether it would not be preferable to consider Motions from 7.30 to 11 o'clock on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, as we did under the old system, rather than have one whole day given up to private Members' business.

Another point, which I think was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), is whether we could not have some other procedure for allotting private Members' time. At present it all depends upon the luck of the ballot. It must have been the experience of everyone that if a Member has some subject which he is particularly anxious to bring forward he is very often not successful in the ballot. It is some Member who has no subject in which he is specially interested who is the lucky one. But, however it comes out, in the result a Member brings forward what is really a party point and makes a party speech, supported by the Members of his own party, and some of the wider questions which are really of interest to all of us in this House, and which might be discussed with general advantage, are never touched upon at all—and all for the reason that the Members who wish to raise them are not fortunate in the ballot. These are points which, I think, might very well be considered if a Conference is held. I quite agree with the view that in a general way the rights of private Members as regards the time allotted to them in this House need to be very carefully safeguarded, but I do not feel that the best use is being made of those opportunities at the present time, and I would welcome anything which would give private Members a little more chance of being useful, and would make a Member's opportunities of talking in this House depend more upon his own merits and less upon the luck of the ballot.


I wish to protest against the proposals of the Prime Minister to-day from the point of view of Scottish Members. The time given to Scottish business in this House is so small that we depend very largely upon a chance in the ballot for an opportunity to bring forward the subjects which con- cern Scotland. We might have a chance to bring in a Bill for Scottish Home Rule. And if there be any logic in the statement of the Prime Minister to-day, he ought to be a supporter of a separate Parliament for Scotland, in order to be able to get through the business which concerns England. I think that to-day the Prime Minister was shutting the door very decidedly. The suspicion aroused in my mind by the Prime Minister's statement is that he fears that questions may be brought forward as private Members' business which would challenge a direct vote between the Conservatives and the other parties and be bad for the Tories in the coming election. I felt that he was trying to deprive the private Member of all rights of trying to challenge the opinion of the House prior to the election. In the main, however, my protest is based on the question of Scottish business. We are entering now upon a new Session, but a great many things which have occurred in Scotland can never be brought forward if the arrangement suggested by the Prime Minister is put into force. Our only hope of being able to deal with them is through the opportunities afforded by private Members' time—unless the Prime Minister will say now, in regard to certain business, that he will grant special days in order that it may 'be dealt with. So little attention is paid to the business of Scotland owing to the lack of time that we have to appeal to our own Members to bring forward Scottish business whenever they get an opportunity to do so.

The whole position of affairs arises from what I call the insane system under which we carry on the business of this House. We have been out of the House since August. Why? Why do we continue this stupid arrangement of having these long recesses and at the same time having to work night and day while we are in Session Is it not because the whole system of British Government is stupid? How can we expect men with any brain power to be able to stand up to this work night and day? All of us need a certain amount of rest. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, being a medical man, will know that, speaking generally, the hours between sunrise and sunset are the best period in which to get the maximum amount of work from the brain. The whole basis of the organisation of business in this House is stupid. Imagine people running down here at five o'clock the day before in order to try to get a seat; and' then, after putting their cards in a seat, going away again! Insanity is at the basis of the whole thing. The nation's business ought not to be run on this haphazard system of having a long holiday and then coming back to work night and day. How can we find time for our business in that way?" The excuse is always being made when one wants some really urgent question brought forward, "Oh, but the Session is so short that we cannot find the time." Why not reduce the holiday period? Why not get the House on a sound working basis? If a. working man anywhere seeks to get an extra holiday, there is always an outcry abort it, but when it is the case of a legislator, of course it is held that he requires months to recover from the effects of his work during the time the House has been sitting. The reason for that is that our sittings are not planned on the basis of a day's work. The organisation of the House rests on the basis of a day and night rush. Why does not the Prime Minister show the nation that he has a different mental outlook from that of other Prime Ministers? Why does he cot put the House on a working basis by reducing the long Recesses, so that we need not burn the midnight oil over our business but be able to do it in the day time. If that were done, we should not find ourselves in the position we are now in of being asked to deny private Members their rights. On these grounds, I protest against the proposals of the Prime Minister.


I think the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) has shown less than his usual acuteness in the speech which he has just delivered. I know that the hon. and gallant Member has carefully watched the amount of time allocated to private Members in the past, and he is aware that the majority of the days which have fallen to private Members have fallen, by the luck of the ballot, to hon. Members opposite. Therefore, if the hon. and gallant Member is justified in making any comment in regard to the academic nature of the Motions and Private Members' Bills which have been submitted to the House or as to the lack of interest in the Bills produced on Friday afternoons, that is a reflection on private Members as a whole and more particularly upon the private Members belonging to the party opposite, who have been the most successful in the ballot for Bills and Motions.

Last Session I drew attention to a subject which hundreds of thousands of women are debating very closely at the present time, and which was raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove). I allude to the administration of Widows' Pensions). That was not an academic subject, but was one of real interest, and there was no lack of support for the proposal of the hon. Member for Wellingborough from all sides of the House. Therefore, the comment made by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford is a reflection upon those who support the Government, whose minds are academic and out of touch with the real life of the people. [HON. MEMBERS "No!"] At any rate, that is the logical consequence of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument. I am sure that if hon. Members opposite bring forward Motions which really concern the life of the people there will be no lack of support for them on the part of Members sitting on this side of the House. The Prime Minister has told us what has been the practice adopted by previous Prime Ministers, but I would like to point out that what is now proposed is very remarkable, because this Motion has been moved, not merely in the, early part of the Session, but at a time when it actually interrupts the Debate on the Address and before we have had disclosed to us the contents of the Bills announced in the King's Speech. We have interrupted the Debate on the Address by a Motion to give the whole of the private Members' time to the Government. If hon. Members have any regard for the rights of the House, I hope they will make a strong protest to-day against the action of the Government. I was reading the other day an article by the late Cardinal Newman, in the course of which he said: To centralise is the art and trick of the despot. The Prime Minister is being despotic. I know his speech does not sound despotic, because he has made this proposal in such a delightful manner. It must not, however, be overlooked that what the right hon. Gentleman has done is asking the private Members to give him the whole of their time for the rest of the Session. We have all had the White Paper containing the King's Speech, and, if the Prime Minister would only consent to drop one Bill, it would not be necessary to bring forward this Motion. Last Session the Minister of Labour asked us to pass a Bill to put Unemployment Insurance on a permanent basis. When that Bill was under discussion, I moved an Amendment providing that it should not come into operation until the live register of unemployment had come down to 720,000. I did so because, in my opinion, it would be impossible to base a Bill on 30 contributions until the unemployment figures had fallen to 720,000. At that time, we were told that our arguments on this subject were fallacious, but now we are told in the King's Speech that we are to have a new Unemployment Insurance Bill backing up every argument used by many bon. Members of this House against the Bill of last year being made a permanent Measure.

Hon. Members must not speak in a perfunctory manner upon this subject, and they must let the Government understand that a mere handful of men cannot he allowed to take away the time usually allotted to private Members before the Bills actually promised in the King's Speech have been produced. I know we shall be told that previous Governments have often adopted this course, but that which is now proposed establishes a new precedent. I have in my possession extracts from three or four speeches taken from the OFFICIAL REPORT but I will not read them. All those speeches support the procedure which has now been followed of beginning the Session before Christmas, and the reason given for taking that course by Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Members was that by beginning the business of Parliament in the early part of the winter before Christmas we should be able to devote more time to the discussion of subjects raised by private Members. In face of those arguments, it was a very great surprise to me to hear the Prime Minister say that when this new practice was advocated in years past it was done in order to afford private Members a greater amount of time. The very first proposal in this Session of Parliament is not that private Members should get more time but for a more drastic appropriation of the time of the House by the Government. I think private Members ought to have at least three or four days for private Members' Motions and private Members Bills before Easter. For these reasons, I shall go into the Lobby in opposition to this drastic and unnecessary Motion.

A reference has been made to Bills dealing with the Poor Law, but we do not know anything about those Measures. We have been discussing this question in Scotland not merely as affecting parish councils but as dealing with our education authorities and the whole structure of local government, which is a very large question. If the Prime Minister really desires to allocate more time and get his election early and give private Members their rights, let him drop one of the Scottish Bills, and he will find that Scottish Members will be able to fill up the extra time allotted to them dealing with Scottish affairs.


I hope that during the course of this Debate we shall have more speeches from back benchers sitting on the other side of the House. It seems to me that this is one of those rare and refreshing occasions upon which we should all be able to combine quite regardless of any party spirit for the purpose of roasting the two Front Benches. When I am in this mood I see right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite sitting like twin Caligulas wishing that we had only one head for them to remove. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Thurtle) that the Prime Minister has ever appeared as an executioner. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury seems to me to_ be more like an executioner, with the Prime Minister in the classical role of Bishop Juxon, who with gown awry and voice choked with sobs hurried to the execution to witness the last scene. I am rather disappointed that more back benchers opposite are not joining with us in our protest against this Motion. I know the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) has been a very regular attendant in this House, and he has made many gallant, if rather inaudible, attempts to speak from the Conservative back benchers' point of view. In view of these facts, I am somewhat amazed that he should reproach us with indulging before empty benches. The hon. and gallant Member knows very well that his own party works in squads, and that practice has left his benches empty. That is one of the reasons why the present Parliament has fallen into disrepute.

Cannot I make an appeal to the Prime Minister to-day, and to his successors in the future, really to give the question of his own back bench Members a little more consideration? The Conservative Press, as well as the Labour Press, has remarked on the enormous number of men who come into this House, of all kinds of temperaments and abilities, and go from it in a very short time; and, particularly in this Parliament, note has been taken of the enormous number of supporters of the Government who have very rapidly decided that a Parliamentary career has no attractions for them. Has the Prime Minister ever thought of the disastrous position of those who some day, sooner or later, whether of his own party or some other, must follow in their footsteps? He himself and his colleagues are Lad enough, but, if back bench Members hers of all parties are to get less and less opportunity of finding out anything about the governmental mind of this country, future Governments may be even worse than the one sitting in this House at the present time. I seriously ask the Prime Minister whether it is not possible, in return for taking away privileges, which, frankly, I do not think, as things are at present, are of very much value to a private Member when he has them, to consider whether private Members of all parties who wish to do so might not be given more opportunity of usefully acquiring information about the job that they are supposed to do?

Is it not possible, when this All-Parties Committee meets, to consider whether departmental advisory committees, composed of members of all parties, might be set up, so that back-bench Members of the House, when they are called upon to discuss any important issue, would have at any rate the benefit of some little knowledge of the machinery of the Department which they are discussing. At present our Debates in the House—and I am sorry if I offend any back-bench colleagues in saying so—are mainly a "frost," because, except for the gentlemen sitting on the two Front Benches, very few of us have the slightest idea of the machinery at our disposal. It is no wonder that our Debates and speeches are often ill-informed, and that our colleagues do not take the trouble to come and hear them.

This Motion to-day raises a much more fundamental problem than the question of a few afternoons between now and Whit-sun which, I quite agree, are usually wasted when we get them. It raises the question whether we are going seriously in this House to try to make Parliament a place where men who want to serve their country according to their ability may come and qualify themselves for a term of service, or whether we wish Parliament to be a place where two small juntas of astute politicians handle large bodies of robots in the Division Lobbies. That is the question before the House. If the Conservative party could abandon its shift system, if it could persuade even 20 of its Members occasionally to listen to Debates, I am quite certain that they too, once they began to take any interest in the House to which they have sought election, would be found with us protesting against this system which effectually shuts out the back-bench Member from any kind of knowledge of or power to assist in the effective government of the country.


I rise most emphatically to protest against this curtailment of the privileges, particularly, of the back-benchers. It appears to me to be an attitude of mind which is developing in this House, and in everything connected with it, that the voice of the minority shall not be heard. Here we have the Prime Minister, of all men, who, like myself, has just returned from a lengthened holiday, and here at the start, as I look along the benches, I see everyone on the Government Bench more tired-looking than his neighbour I am satisfied that, if an employer of labour were to come in and find all the heads of his departments so tired-looking and, indeed, so lazy-looking as that Front Bench was when the Prime Minister was speaking, he would give the lot the sack. That is what the country is going to do with them in any case, and I would remind the Prime Minister quite respectfully—I suppose that that is the correct Parliamentary way to speak—that before very long he will be a back-bencher himself; and I know he would not be sorry, for, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) says, he has made an awful mess of it. I say that in all sincerity; I believe he has made a right mess of it.

4.0 p.m.

It seems to me that this is Fascism in operation in our native land. The only difference is that the Prime Minister has not the grit and courage to take it upon himself to be a Mussolini, and, therefore, he lines up with the whole of the Cabinet—20 Mussolinis—to keep us in subjection here. We have come down here all the way from Scotland, 400 miles, and the Prime Minister knows perfectly well the treatment that my fellow-countrymen meted out to him in Glasgow. Probably that is one of the reasons for the way in which he is dealing with us now; he is having a bit of his own back for the treatment meted out to him in Glasgow University. We have come down here all the way from Scotland, over 400 miles, and, as we have advertised to all the world, we are coming down here to do things; and we are going to allow nobody to stand between us and our doing them, it does not matter who they are. Here you find the Prime Minister rising up in his might and in the manner that only this Prime Minister can. It is not an autocratic manner, because it would be the easiest thing in the world for us to get up against an autocrat; but in that suave manner he asks us to surrender what is the great boast of this House, the privilege of the private Members irrespective of the Front Bench on either side. He asks us to surrender that in the name of liberty: O Liberty, what deeds are done in thy name! All the Scottish Tory Members may as well come here and hand in their voting cards as at party conferences, and we Socialists from Scotland may as well hand in our voting cards to our Chief Whip. There is no need for us to come here at all; that is what it amounts to. In every quarter of the House everyone who has any regard for this country and for this House, all the individual Members and all the statesmen who claim to be great House of Commons men, complain of the lack of interest taken in the proceedings, and yet we are asked to agree to a proposal to make it more difficult for Members to take interest in the proceedings. How can they take interest if they are not to take part in the proceedings? They are to be so many robots. I hope every Member of this House, whether Socialist, Liberal or Tory who has any regard for his country and for this House and its Rules of Procedure, and who wants to do something to remedy the terrible condition of things that exists in the country, will resist this idea, put forward by the same Government that introduced the Eight Hours' Bill for miners and forced the miners of this country to work an extra hour a day.

Am I to be told that if we Members of Parliament who have £400 a year—never mind all those other things that are "added unto you"—if we were deprived of all that—[An HON. MEMBER: "What else is added"?]. "Tell it not in Gath"—if we were up against it, as tens of thousands of as good men as the Prime Minister are absolutely up against it, their wives and families starving, if the Prime Minister were up against it or if the front bench were up against a state of affairs like that, will anyone say they would not have some enthusiasm to change it? Is it to be supposed that in such a case we would be discussing this paltry business here to-day? No, we would be discussing how our wives and families were going to be fed-Untrammelled by party, or anything else, we on the back benches claim the right to stand here and voice the aspirations of poor humanity that sends us here to defend it against all comers.


I would like to ask the Prime Minister one simple question. He takes away the liberty of the House on the supposition that he wants full time to introduce two Measures relating to Poor Law reform and the granting of enabling powers for the reduction of freights, in order to lessen unemployment. If that be so, will the Prime Minister declare that, good, bad or indefferent as his proposed laws may be, if this House will undertake to give him point-blank authority to pass this law without any discussion, he will undertake to reduce unemployment in this country by 50 per cent. before the General Elec- tion, and will he stand or fall by it? And will he employ the time given for introducing factory legislation? To come to the House with a vague promise of some important legislation, without giving a definite undertaking how the important legislation is going to affect the people of this country, is merely using a camouflaged argument. I again ask the Prime Minister if, in the event of getting his legislation put through as he desires, he will undertake to decrease unemployment in this country by at least 50 per cent. and stand or fall by it at the General Election? Apart from that, I shall certainly oppose the Prime Minister's suggestion, which, I know, will be carried in spite of opposition, but, if carried, it will show the Communist party at the General Election to what a farce this democratic assembly can be reduced.


I am protesting against the proposal of the Prime Minister in order to draw his attention to the action of the Minister of Health in reference to the Welsh Board of Health, and the treatment meted out to the Welsh Parliamentary party in regard to' a, deputation, and when the subject was discussed in this House, not as a result of time being given by the Government Whip, but as a result of time given by the Labour Members on Supply days. I would point out to the Prime Minister that in Wales at the present time there is a feeling of resentment at the action of the Minister of Health in dealing with the question of the Welsh Board of Health, and the only opportunity we as a Welsh Parliamentary party would have had of protesting against the action of the Government and the Minister of Health would be by a private Members Bill or by putting down a Notice of Motion. Now the Prime Minister asks us to sacrifice all these privileges, so that the Government may carry out their proposed legislation during this Session.

The Welsh Parliamentary party feels very strongly indeed about the action of the Minister of Health, because it affects the health of the people of our country and places us in a far worse position than even the Scottish people, and they have complaints. During the last Session we felt so strongly on this matter that we went to the Minister of Health and the Government Whip, and asked them to give us a day to discuss it. They refused, though the Government could afford to give three days of the time of this House to discuss the Totalisator Bill, when there were vested interests on the other side. We think that the cause of the Welsh nation is far greater than that of any tote or vested interest, and seeing that the Prime Minister is asking us to sacrifice the time during which we might have an opportunity, by Notice of Motion or private Bill, of bringing to the attention of the country the treatment we have received,

I am going to protest with all my might against it, and we want, before the General Election, to let the Prime Minister know the feeling of the Welsh people upon this matter. I am glad that the Welsh Press will have the opportunity of reporting to-morrow the protest put forward as far as the Welsh Parliamentary party is concerned.

Question put, That, until the Adjournment of the House for Easter, Government Business do have precedence at every Sitting.

The House divided: Ayes, 174; Noes, 136.

Division No. 1.] AYES. 14.13 p.m.
Albery, Irving James Falle, Sir Bertram G. Nuttall, Ellis
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Fanshawe, Captain G. D. Oakley, T.
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Fermoy, Lord Penny, Frederick George
Apsley, Lord Forestler-Walker, Sir L. Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony Perkins, Colonel E. K.
Astor, Viscountess Ganzonl, Sir John Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Gates, Percy Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Pilcher, G
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Goff, Sir Park Power, Sir John Cecil
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Preston, Sir Walter (Cheltenham)
Benn, sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Gunston, Captain D. W. Preston, William
Berry, Sir George Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Rentoul, G. S.
Betterton, Henry B. Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad) Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Blundell, F. N. Hamilton, Sir George Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Boothby, R. J. G. Hanbury, C. Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes. Stretford)
Bourne, Captain Robert Crott Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Harrison, G- J. C. Russell, Alexander west (Tynemouth)
Boyd-Carpenter, Major Sir A. B. Harvey. Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Sandeman, N. Stewart
Brassey, Sir Leonard Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P. Sandon, Lord
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Henn, Sir Sydney H. Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew. W)
Brittain, sir Harry Hilton, Cecil Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Skelton, A. N.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Brown. Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Hopkinson, Sir A.(Eng. Universities) Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Buchan, John Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Burman, J. B. Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hurst, Gerald B. Sprot, Sir Alexander
Butler, Sir Geoffrey James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.
Carver, Major W. H. Jephcott, A. R. Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Cassels, J. D. King, Commodore Henry Douglas Streatfelld, Captain S. R.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Lamb. J. Q. Stuart, Crichton. Lord C.
Charterls, Brigadier-General J. Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Templeton, W. P,
Christie, J. A. Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Them, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Cobb, Sir Cyril Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th) Tinne, J. A.
Cochran, Commander Hon. A. D. Loder, J. de V. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Looker, Herbert William Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Cooper, A. Duff Lowe, Sir Francis William Waddington, R.
Cope, Major Sir William Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Herman Wallace, Captain D. E.
Couper, J. B. Lumley, L. R. Warrender, Sir Victor
Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe) MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) MacIntyre, I, Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) McLean, Major A. Wayland, Sir William A.
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Macmillan, Captain H. White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple.
Curzon, Captain Viscount Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel. Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Makins, Brigadier-General E. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Davies, Dr. Vernon Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Wolmer, Viscount
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Margesson, Captain D. Womersley, W. J.
Dean, Arthur Wellesley Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Eden, Captain Anthony Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Edmondson, Major A. J. Milne, J. S. Wardlaw- Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Elliot, Major Walter E. Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Ellis, R. G. Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Monsell. Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Wright, Brig.-General W. D.
Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)
Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Everard, W. Lindsay Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W.G.(Ptrsf'ld-) Major Sir George Hennessy and
Mr. F. C. Thomson.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hayes, John Henry Riley, Ben
Adamson, w. M. (Staff., Cannock) Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Ritson, J.
Alexander, A. V, (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)
Ammon, Charles George Hirst, G. H. Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)
Barnes, A. Hollins, A. Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Barr, J. Hore-Belisha, Leslie Saklatvala, Shapurji
Batey, Joseph Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Scrymgeour, E.
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Scurr, John
Bellamy, A. John, William (Rhondda,. West) Sexton, James
Benn, Wedgwood Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Briant, Frank Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Shepherd, Arthur Lewie
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Shinwell, E.
Buchanan, G. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Kelly, W. T. Smillie, Robert
Cape, Thomas Kennedy, T. Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)
Charleton, H. C. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Cluse, w. s. Kirkwood, D. Snell, Harry
Compton, Joseph Lansbury, George Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Connolly, M. Lawrence, Susan Stephen, Campbell
Cove, W. G. Lawson, John James Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Livingstone, A. M. Sutton, J. E.
Dalton, Hugh Longbottom, A. W. Taylor, R. A.
Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Lowth, T. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lunn, William Thurtle, Ernest
Day, Harry MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Tinker, John Joseph
Dennison, R. Mackinder, W. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Duckworth, John MacLaren, Andrew Viant, S. P.
Dunnlco, H. Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Walsh. Rt. Hon. Stephen
England, Colonel A. Mac Neill-Weir, L. Watson. W. M. (Dunfermline)
Fenby, T. D. Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Wellock, Wilfred
Gardner, J. P. Malone, C. L'Estrange (M'thampton) Welsh, J. C.
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. March, S, Westwood, J.
Gibbins, Joseph Maxton, James Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Gillett, George M, Montague, Frederick Wiggins, William Martin
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Morrison, R. C, (Tottenham, N.) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Greenall, T. Mosley, Oswald Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Murnin, H. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Naylor, T. E. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Griffith, F. Kingsley Owen, Major G, Windsor, Walter
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Palln, John Henry Wright, W.
Groves, T. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Grundy, T. W. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Hall, G. H. (Marthyr Tydvll) Ponsonby, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Potts, John S. Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.
Hardie, George D. Purcell, A. A. Whiteley.
Harris, Percy A. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)