The following Motion stood upon the Order Paper in the name of the PRIME MINISTER:
That this House do meet To-morrow, at Eleven of the clock; and that no questions shall be taken after Twelve of the clock.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
With regard to this Motion, may I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why it is on the Paper in an unusual form? It ends in a form which is different from that to which we have been accustomed. May I ask what is the reason?
§ Mr. P. SNOWDEN
The difference to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is, I suppose, that no hour is stated for the rising of the House. The reason for that is that the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill has to be considered, and, as the House knows, it must be passed into law by the 30th of this month. The reason why we have not stated any hour for rising to-morrow is that we must ensure that this Bill will be passed; but I may add that there is no desire, certainly on the part of the Government, to keep the House late, and we hope that hon. Members will be able to get away in very good time.
§ Sir K. WOOD
But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the form in which the Motion was always put down followed an agreement between all parties in the House in order to preserve the sittings of the House to 5 o'clock, so that private Members might have an opportunity of 2906 putting questions to the Government and debating any subjects which they desired to raise?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I think there will be plenty of opportunity for hon. Members, other than the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—to put as many questions as they desire. I have stated the reason why the Motion stands in this form, and it rests entirely with the House to decide as to whether or not we shall rise early.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Has it not always been put down with the idea that the Government will keep a House until somewhere about five o'clock in order that private Members may have an opportunity of raising questions in which they are interested? Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it is not a question of whether hon. Members will have an opportunity of bringing forward subjects, but a question of following a well-established understanding that, in the interests of private Members, the Government themselves will keep a House till five o'clock? That has always been done for the last five or six years, or more than that.
On a point of Order. Is it not a fact that this is a debatable Motion? If so, I respectfully suggest that the Question should be put, in order that we may be in a position to debate this matter in proper form.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Motion is debatable. Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House do meet To-morrow at Eleven of the Clock; and that no questions shall be taken after Twelve of the Clock."—[Mr. P. snowden.]
§ Sir K. WOOD
This gives me an opportunity of making some observations, in no spirit of hostility, to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as he seemed to infer. All I am endeavouring to do is to preserve a long-established practice, which I am anxious not to see disturbed by any alteration in the form of the Motion. Perhaps I may recall to the right hon. Gentleman the fact that many years ago it was arranged, in the interests of private Members, that on the day of Adjournment the proceedings should be maintained by the Government keeping a quorum until five o'clock, in order that 2907 private Members might have an opportunity of raising any questions they desired. There was a sort of mutual understanding. It may have been broken on one occasion, but except for that occasion it has always been maintained, whatever Government has been in office. All I am anxious to put to the right hon. Gentleman is whether there is any intention on the part of the Government, by altering the form of this Motion, to interfere with what I think is a very desirable practice from the point of view of private Members.
§ Mr. BENSON
If there is not sufficient interest in the proceedings by hon. Members opposite to maintain an attendance of 40 Members, why should the Government keep the House sitting?
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
In answer to the point which has been just put, it may be that there is no organised party which desires to keep a House, but it may be that an individual private Member may have a very vital point to put, and it is most important that this good old custom should be maintained. It may concern an independent Member who may not have 40 Members associated with him.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I have been in the House a good deal longer than either the right hon. Gentleman for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) or the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown). If the right hon. Gentleman had looked through all the precedents I think he would have found a good many which do not support what he has described as an old custom. I remember occasions when the House sat late upon the day of Adjournment, and I also remember a good many occasions when it rose early in the after noon. I have never understood that it was the duty of the Government to keep a House on the day of the Adjournment; that is for hon. Members themselves to do. In regard to the present situation, I do not think I can make things clearer than I have done. We must get the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill through. We have no desire to curtail Debate, neither have we any desire to keep the House, and I repeat that the hour at which the House rises is in the hands of the House.
Commander Sir BOLTON EYRES MONSELL
I should like to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has said about this Motion. In 1923, it was moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), the present, Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister, and was agreed to by the whole House of Commons. It then took this form:That this House do meet To-morrow at Eleven of the Clock; that no questions shall be taken after Twelve of the Clock; and that at Five of the Clock Mr. speaker shall adjourn the House without Question put."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1St August, 1923; col. 1487, Vol. 167.]The form of that Motion was brought about largely through the work of two well-known and pertinacious Liberal Members, Mr. Hogg and Mr. Pringle. Since then it has been the usual custom to move it in that form—there has hardly been an exception—and it has been regarded as laying upon the Government an obligation to keep a House. I suggest as a compromise, if the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would consider it, that we should follow the precedent that the Government themselves created in 1924. In that case there was great urgency to obtain the passage of the Housing Bill before the Summer Recess, and the Motion was then put in the usual form, but with the addition of these wordsThat Mr. Speaker shall not adjourn the House until he shall have, reported the Royal Assent to the Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses; but that, subject to this condition, Mr. Speaker, at Five of the Clock, shall adjourn the House without Question put."—[OFFICIA REPORT, 6th August, 1924, col. 2940, Vol. 176.]I suggest that we might make an Amendment on those lines now.
Sir B. EYRES MONSELL
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:that Mr. Speaker shall not adjourn the House till he shall have reported the Royal Assent to the Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses; but that, subject to this condition, Mr. Speaker, at Five of the Clock, shall adjourn the House without Question put.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the support he has given me in the point I made just now. He has pointed out that the custom of 2909 fixing the hour in the Motion is quite a recent one. I do not object to the compromise that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. As I have said more than once, all we are anxious to do is to ensure the passage of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. If the House is willing that words such as he has proposed should be added to the Motion, I have no objection.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
When will the Bill which has been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman be taken?
That this House do meet To-morrow, at Eleven of the Clock; that no questions shall be taken after Twelve of the Clock; that Mr. Speaker shall not adjourn the House till he shall have reported the Royal Assent to the Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses; but that, subject to this condition, Mr. Speaker, at Five of the Clock, shall adjourn the House without Question put.
That the proceedings on Government business be exempted, at this day's sitting, from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House)."—[Mr. P. Snowden.]