§ Mr. McELWEE
I beg to move,That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the possibility of this House meeting earlier in the day and rising at a more reasonable hour in the evening, and to recommend, if it thinks fit, the necessary alterations in the Standing Orders.In moving this Motion, I am deeply conscious of the traditions of this House, but the conditions under which Parliament meets to-day are not comparable with the conditions when the Standing Orders were framed, and I submit that they do not meet the requirements of the present time. It may be true that the Standing Orders suited the requirements of the last century, but I submit that they do not suit the requirements of the twentieth century.
§ Mr. HARRIS
On a point of Order. This is a very important Motion, and there is no Minister on the Front Bench to reply for the Government.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Viant)
The Minister in charge will be here in a few moments.
§ Mr. McELWEE
I was pointing out that, while the Standing Orders of the House may have been suitable to the requirements of the nineteenth century, they are not suited to present day requirements. When the Standing Orders were framed, those who represented the people of this country were mainly members of the richer classes and members of the legal profession who lived or the sins of the people in the forenoon—[Interruption]—and then came down to the House of Commons to muddle up the Statutes and create more opportunities for the people to commit more sins.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
May I ask, on a point of Order, if it is possible to arrange that the Attorney-General should be present?
§ Mr. McELWEE
We on these benches have been elected by the people in order to devote our whole time to the service of the people of this country, and there is great dissatisfaction not only among the electors but among hon. Members of this House. They desire a change, they desire to bring the House into line with 220 modern requirements and modern needs. Any hon. Member who is over the age of 35 must realise that he cannot give the same attention to business of this description, or of any description, after eight o'clock at night. [Interruption.] He has not the physical energy. At least £1,000 per skull has been spent on the education of hon. Members opposite. [Interruption.] If we were to make a calculation as to the amount spent on educating hon. Members on these benches, it would probably be £100 per head. Therefore, we ought to have greater results for the money spent on the education of hon. Members opposite, and, if they had shown that intelligence which money spent on education ought to provide, they would give more consideration to one who is making his maiden speech.
Medical opinion tells us to-day that we must have regularity not only in meals but in hours if we are to have efficiency in administration, or in any sphere of life at all. I heard a story quite recently about an hon. Member of the Opposition consulting a doctor. He felt out of sorts—I do not know whether it was mental trouble or not—and, on investigation, the doctor told him that he was sitting up too late at night. He pointed out that the reason he was sitting up late at night was that he had to attend to his business in the House of Commons. We want a change; we want to rationalise the business of the House of Commons and bring it into line with the needs of the present day.
In the past, political representation has been a secondary consideration to business in the City, after which hon. Members came to what is said to be the best club in England in order to spend their afternoons. We want to make the House of Commons a serious business, and the people of the country demand that it should be used for the purpose for which it is intended. We are now paid £400 per year. [An HON. MEMBER: "More than you are worth!"] You cannot find out whether we are worth that until you have given us a longer time in office. Since 1832 you will find that one party in the State has had a vast monopoly of the representation in the country—I refer to the Liberal party—but, in spite of that monopoly, they have little to show to-day.
221 I am asking that a Select Committee should be appointed to examine the desirability of the House meeting at a more reasonable hour, and I appeal to hon. Members to consider the matter seriously. We desire to get home at a reasonable hour at night; we desire to live a rational life. Not only have we to consider Members of the House but also the policemen who have to stand in the corridors under the most miserable conditions until one and two o'clock in the mornings. [Interruption.] I do not know why hon. Members opposite should sneer. There is no reason why policemen should be subjected to these conditions, nor is there any reason why the staff should be subjected to these conditions. Then those who are responsible for reporting our proceedings are desirous of living a normal life like everybody else, and I am satisfied that those who represent the Press would accept a change.
The result would be that the House of Commons would really be used in the best interests of the people instead of as a club where the idle rich can enjoy themselves. [Interruption.] Yes, I have seen men who drive the luxurious cars of hon. Members opposite standing at two o'clock in the morning, and doing it possibly for a wage of £2 per week. We want to get the House of Commons to meet earlier in the day, and I am satisfied that if it could be arranged it would meet with the general approval of the people of the country and the wishes of hon. Members themselves.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not think that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have interrupted have understood that my hon. Friend who moved this Motion was making a maiden speech. It is the custom of the House that one who is so doing should have a certain licence. We understand that the breaking of the ice in this House calls for sympathy, and that under the prevailing conditions nerves or other things may make it difficult to break that ice. I am glad that the Motion has been moved. I have been a Member of the House for over seven years and have worked hard in trying to get the House rationalised. When the House is engaged in demanding that every other place of business shall be rationalised, surely it is not too much to ask that the House 222 should rationalise itself. What we are suffering from to-day in this House is the fact that its tradition is that of a club, and that the fungus of that tradition has been able to grip every party that has come into office—that the tentacles of the fungus growth have engulfed every party.
What are the demands? I have heard Members of Parliament on public platforms talk about all-night sittings as if they had accomplished something great in the interests of the nation, instead of having shown their incapacity to run the business of the House in a proper way. Such gentlemen talk as if they ought to get a medal or something of the kind for sitting up all night. It merely shows incapacity. The ordinary Member of Parliament who attends here as regularly as I do has no social life in the ordinary meaning of the word. There is no chance of having an evening visit when week-ends are spent in propaganda or in going to church. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite need not smile at that. Their laughter is the echo of the heretic, and there has always been the same note in all assemblies and all ages. Social life is an important thing, especially to those who seek to be the makers of the laws of the nation. London itself is supposed to be a great centre for showing the latest in theatres, but how often can one get to a theatre if one is a Member of Parliament [Laughter.] I know that that "Haw, haw" of laughter comes from those who leave the House when they should be here, but they do not say that when they are on the platform in their constituencies.
I come next to the question of health, which is a serious thing for those who take their work earnestly. There has not been sufficient evidence of interest even in personal health on the part of hon. Members to get them to arrange that we should meet in a properly ventilated chamber. I do not know of any big business, here or in America, in which there are executive offices or board rooms with the conditions that obtain in this House so far as health is concerned. The whole arrangement of this House and its business to-day tends to demoralise Members. The idea that the hours are unalterably fixed seems to be established in the minds of the majority. Consider for a moment what is meant by the average energy that can be produced by an individual 223 who is in a fair state of health, and then consider the arrangements in this House, where Members may have to be at a Committee at 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning, are engaged right up to 2.45, and then may be sitting till 2 or 3 o'clock the next morning. Every medical authority will say that with such hours of work it is idle to expect more than about 25 per cent. of the possible capacity of a man or woman. Members are asked to do something that they feel too tired to overtake.
This is a very serious question. We have in the Library of the House Reports which show the results of careful examination regarding the expenditure and expression of energy in certain physical operations. It is time that we appreciated what is the result of the expenditure of energy on the mental side. In the old days Parliament was not a full-time job. Members conducted business in the City in the morning, and this House was considered to be an evening club. Back benchers came down to listen in what was called "the best debating society in the world." But that has all changed. Social legislation that has been passed has made the job of the Member of Parliament a full-time job, if he is to do his work thoroughly. The calls that are made on the average Member to-day by ex-service men, by unemployment claims and all the other things that social legislation brings in its train, have to be set against the experience of the past when this House was looked upon as a club.
Of course, we shall be told that there are arguments against the proposed change. We shall be told that it is impossible to carry out our suggestion, because Ministers in charge cannot attend to their duties in Whitehall and be here at the same time. We are not asking for that. We are merely demanding that the House should adopt business hours so that there will be sufficient business capacity to deal with the work that has to be done. It does not follow that because a Minister is in charge of a Department every other Member of the House has to be subject to the arrival here of that Minister. In the world of business outside what do we find? There is the man who is nominally in charge, over all, but in his absence there are others just as capable as he is to carry 224 on the work. I suggest that when it comes to a question of the final say in any discussion, in this House or in Committee, the head of the Department could be called in. I see nothing that stands in the way of a re-arrangement upon a business basis that would make this House look more like a business concern than something which swings between entertainment and all-night sittings.
Can there be any greater charge of incapacity against a body of men than the charge that we are so incapable of arranging our time that we have long recesses of months and then come back to all-night sittings in order to overtake the work that we have allowed to accumulate? That, itself, is evidence that there has been no concentration of the big business brains in this House towards getting down to a real business working level. In regard to the arrangements between Committees and the House of Commons, I have been told by those who have thought this thing out that you cannot do this because you have got your Committees and House working together; but if you want to get down to business arrangements you can have alternate days. Why not have one day for the sittings of Committees upstairs, if they are upstairs, and the next day for the House itself to sit? I can see nothing in the way of such an arrangement. Who can suggest that there is anything wrong in having alternate days, or arranging the days in relation to the work? It might be that you would require more days this month for Committee work, or fewer days as the case may be. It would be a simple thing to arrange. I see no difficulty whatever about getting this House on to a real business working basis.
Why should we not start in the morning at 9 or 10 o'clock and get home, like other people, to the fireside, in order to take part in the family life, which has its most important part in the evenings? It is then that the control, if any control is required, can be best expressed in relation to the responsibilities of a parent or parents. For the reasons that have been given by the Mover, and the pressing needs of this nation, the growing proof of the congestion that takes place from time to time in this House, I hope that the British Parliament, the British House of Commons, will 225 realise its great responsibilities, get down to a real business basis, and show the world that, while claiming to be the leading business brains in the world, it can also apply the same business brains to the greatest business of the world—the business of legislation.
§ Captain BOURNE
I hope the House will consider very seriously before adopting this Motion. I have listened very carefully to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder, and I am bound to say that, except for the desire of some greater social amenities, which was put especially by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), I have not heard any argument of any kind in support of it, and I have heard a complete lack of understanding as to how the House conducts its business or how the business of the country is run. We must remember that for the majority of Members of this House, the hours are very largely governed by the necessities and business of the country which we are here to carry on. We are not here for our own convenience and our own pleasure. I believe that this is the hon. Mover's first Parliament, and he has had so far the good fortune to sit in that part of the Session in which Private Bills have hardly yet begun to come before us. Committees upstairs have functioned in this Session, but I can promise the hon. Member that, if he desires work in the time between now and August, he will have as much work as he can manage, and, indeed, far more between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., and that he will wish there were 24 hours rather than 12 in the working day. I can speak with some feeling on this subject, because it is known in the House that I am one of the hon. Members who generally are here in the hours suggested by the hon. Mover. I attend most days, and I wish there were more time, and not less, for me to get through my work here.
One of the things that, apparently, did not occur to the hon. Member is that a large number of notices of Amendments relating to business coming on the next day is often handed in at the Table the night before. That business cannot be reached before 9 o'clock the next morning. It is possible that the hon. Member for Springburn does not wish to study the technicalities of Amendments, 226 but those who are concerned, Ministers, the Chair, and hon. Members who wish to deal with these matters in the House, require several hours in the morning to go through the work to be dealt with in the House.
§ Captain BOURNE
I understand the hon. Member preferred that the House should sit only two days of the week?
§ Mr. HARDIE
I pointed out that it might be that the House would sit more days as a House, or less days, as the ease might be.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. and gallant Member seems to be trying to misunderstand me. The days would be alternate, according to the needs of the House and the Committees, but we should still sit on five days of the week.
§ Captain BOURNE
I have done my very best to follow the speech of the hon. Member. The suggestion is not quite original, and if he will study the Standing Orders of the House he will discover that in 1918 a suggestion was made similar to the one he has just been making, that this House should adjourn after questions, I think on two days a week—I have not verified it by looking up the Standing Orders—in order that the work of the Standing Committees might be carried on. I believe I am correct in saying that that Standing Order was not put into operation, the reason being the pressure on the work of the House. The hon. Member would find that if so many days were spent in Committees, the House would have to be kept sitting continuously from January to December in order to deal with the necessary work that must go through the House.
§ Captain BOURNE
I will leave it at that. But I would like to point out that this suggestion is by no means new. It was made by the right hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jowett) before a Select Committee which considered this question in 1913. It was ably argued by him and unanimously rejected by the Select Committee. What are the grounds on which this suggestion, which has been raised many times, has been turned down? First and foremost, I think the one which was raised by the hon. Member as a possible objection, namely, the work of the Departments. The hon. Member for Hulme (Mr. McElwee) seems to imagine that Ministers not engaged on the actual business could be released, say, at three or four o'clock in the afternoon. I am not going to deny that that could be done, but how can a Minister in charge of an important Bill see what new work he has got to tackle before eleven o'clock in the morning when the earliest time at which he can get his Amendments is nine o'clock, and the study of these Amendments means in nearly every case a very considerable amount of research? I do not believe that the hon. Member realises the amount of research work that has to be done both by Members in charge of Bills, by Members who are taking a leading part in the opposition to a Bill, and by you, Sir, or the Chairman who happens to be presiding over the deliberations of this House. Before the Committee takes any important Amendment, hours and hours of research work have to be put in in the morning, and all the people who are engaged in this work have other duties to perform which they cannot shirk, have other responsibilities which this House has placed upon them, and, in the interest of efficient legislation, it is extraordinarily important that we should get some breathing time between finishing our deliberations one night and recommencing the next afternoon.
Furthermore, if this House is to meet at 11 o'clock in the morning, the attendance of hon. Members on Private Bill Committees will be made a matter of extreme difficulty. After all, it is our duty to attend in this Chamber, which has the prior call upon us over the other duties which the House puts upon us. Over and above that, there are many other duties. I and perhaps other Members sit on bodies, engaged in public work 228 which are not, strictly speaking, part of this House. It is very desirable that Members of this House should take part on departmental Committees, in conferences on kindred problems, and should attend meetings of county councils and local government associations: but, if you are to say that we are to be here from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., what chance have we to do that public work which many of us do willingly and cheerfully at present in the mornings? You will be lessening the efficiency and utility of Members of Parliament for a gain which in itself is negligible. Thirdly, at present, as the House knows, we end controversial business in this House at 11 p.m. and non-controversial business at 11.30, but we have always had sad experience of the Government frequently coming down and asking leave to extend the Eleven o'Clock Rule. The main difficulty now in the Government suspending that Rule is the general disinclination of hon. Members in all parts of the House to sit after midnight. If the contested business finished at seven o'clock, that objection would no longer apply, and I believe that we should have Governments coming down day after day asking for a suspension of the Seven o'clock Rule. The only result would be that, instead of getting home early, we should sit from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week. No Government is immune from the temptation of taking more time, and we do not want to give Governments too large facilities. We are opposed to anything which gives them the chance of adding another four hours to our working day.
The last objection is the most serious of all. There are many people who have played distinguished parts in this House, distinguished parts in the administration of their country, who would never have been able to enter Parliament at all if these proposed hours had been in force. There is not a Member on either side of the House who would not think that this Assembly would have been the poorer if the late Lord Oxford and Asquith had not been a Member of it. He was a man who, in his early days, had perforce to earn his daily bread, and he could not have entered the House when he did, and given honourable service, ultimately rising to the very high position he did, if he had been compelled 229 to attend from eleven in the morning to seven in the evening, during hours in which he was engaged in earning his daily bread. I disagree with the Mover and Seconder of this Motion that we want in this House only persons who are professional politicians, who are willing to sit here all day and do nothing else. I believe that the presence in this House of hon. Members who are distinguished in the law, in banking, and in business brings a freshness of outlook into our deliberations and an experience to our judgments which we could ill spare. I believe that the presence of such men is one of the reasons why this House is held in such high esteem in the country—in much greater esteem than the House of Representatives in the United States is held in that country, because that is largely a House of professional politicians. I, for one, feel that the prestige of this House will suffer when it can consist only of those who either by the extent of their wealth or because of other circumstances are able to give their entire time to the service of this House. I believe our deliberations will be the poorer and our judgment less respected, and that, in the interests of the country as well as of the House, no steps should be taken which would ensure that result. For those reasons, I oppose the Motion.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I should like to begin by congratulating very warmly the hon. Member who introduced this Motion upon the way in which he did it, and to assure him that, if he was at any time interrupted, that was only because the vigour and pugnacity of his speech concealed from those who sit on these benches the fact that it was the hon. Member's first speech. We shall look forward keenly to hearing him again in the future. I am very glad indeed that I am speaking on this matter on the same side as and following the very powerful speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), because his knowledge of the Rules and Procedure of this House gives great weight to everything that he says on this subject. I am sure hon. Members opposite will realise that if they suggest that the present hours prevent hon. Members from giving their full time and their full energy to the service of the House, they have, in the hon. and gallant Member 230 for Oxford, an instance of how much energy and absolute devotion to the business of this House can be combined with the present hours, and with a great many occupations outside.
I want to deal, first, with the practical suggestions made by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie). I do not think that they would meet the end which he has in view. His suggestion is that the House sittings and Committees should be on alternate days, but, however he plays about with the hours of the day and the days of the week and the weeks of the year, he cannot disguise from himself the fact that by that method he would be reducing the pace at which this House gets through its business. It would inevitably be so. An amount of time which might be given to the business of the House would have to be given to Committees, and the suggestion that we can get out of that difficulty by sitting continuously from the beginning of January to the end of December—a course which commended itself to the hon. Member for Springburn—is quite contrary to his own argument about health. If it is bad for our health to sit late at night, it must also be bad for our health to go on sitting continuously without any break or holiday.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
If we are to consider the question of the value of social amenities, then a great many more opportunities for social amenities can be obtained during the holidays when one is completely free, than in the broken hours of an evening. Therefore, I do not think that either on the grounds of health, or social amenities, or on practical grounds, the alternative suggested by the hon. Member meets the difficulties of the case. I hope the House will consider this proposal without those party considerations which rather impaired the opening speech in this Debate notwithstanding all the merits of that speech. We ought not to consider this important alteration in the Rules of the House as a matter to be introduced by one party in the State and to be opposed by the others. I should not be surprised to find that this is entirely a cross-bench question, and that different people in different parties hold different views upon it. But 231 the practical objections to the proposal appear to be very grave indeed. We have had experience in the present Parliament of Ministers being called for suddenly by the Opposition and that is not a peculiar freak on the part of this Opposition. I remember hon. Gentlemen opposite being highly indignant on one occasion when the First Lord of the Admiralty in the last Government was not in his place. When he did arrive they were not quite so pleased, but they were very anxious to obtain his presence in reference to a matter which arose rather unexpectedly.
That kind of thing happens constantly. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury is liable to be called upon at any moment and the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General may be required to explain the legal provisions of a Bill at almost any time, and, if the House is going to sit in the morning, the other duties of these Law Officers outside the House will be incapable of combination with the duties that they owe to this House. We had an instance in the present Session when the Lord Advocate's presence was eagerly demanded. That was in the morning, and the hon. and learned Gentleman could not be found. But, seriously, situations of that kind are going to occur again and again. Many of us back benchers make considerable nuisances of ourselves to Ministers in the interests of our constituents by addressing searching queries to those Ministers, and I, myself, on many occasions, have worried both the hon. Lady who is the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and her predecessor. I have found that both of them, however busy they might be in the conduct of Bills in this House, were never too busy to give courteous consideration to everything I had to say, and to give it their own personal consideration. How is that to be done if, at the very time when they would naturally be going into these individual cases with the officials of their Departments, their presence is demanded here? On that ground, I suggest that the actual transaction of the business of the House by Ministers, and the satisfaction of Private Members who ask questions and raise matters on behalf of their constituents, would be gravely injured by an alteration of the kind proposed.
232 All these, however, are details of mechanism and these difficulties might be met in some degree, though not fully, by other expedients. But the last consideration put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford is the predominating one. Hon. Members opposite have put it frankly that the business of the House has so changed that membership of it has to be a full-time job. They say, quite frankly, that they want the business of the House regulated with the same hours and in the same way as other full-time jobs. That is a weighty consideration and deserves to be discussed, but what does it mean in the end? I am not using the words "professional politician" which I take from the last speaker with any meaning of scorn. We are all professional politicians in one sense. No one has levelled any accusation against those whose political job is their only job, and to whom it is their whole life, but does that necessarily mean that the House of Commons is going to be a better place if all its Members are in that position? That is a very different matter.
I have the greatest admiration for those who are devoting their whole time to politics and in many cases producing such excellent results, but, at the same time, I think it would be a sad day for the House of Commons if it should ever come to consist exclusively of people of one kind. I think the House of Commons is better now than it was in the days when it did consist very largely of people of one kind. The different types of Members who have come into the House recently represent a change which is all to the good. We do not want the House to be all of one kind of any single variety. If we are to have the kind of House which would be dictated, necessarily, by this alteration of hours, it will consist of two varieties—the whole-time politicians who are making a career of politics, and the leisured gentleman who has nothing else to do and can just as easily come to this House in the morning, or perhaps even more easily, than he can in the afternoon. The people who will be ruled out are those who are still in active and constant contact with practical life, and I suggest that to do so would be disastrous for this House.
It has been suggested that this is only a matter of lawyers, but there are also the gentlemen of the City, and hon. 233 Members opposite are no longer in a position to speak with scorn of the City. I suggest that we derive daily the very greatest value from having in our Debates here, not only those who have been engaged in the hurly-burly of life in the past, but those who are still from day to day in contact with practical business and practical work other than the work of this House. Such Members come here and give us the benefit of a practical experience which is going on contemporaneously with their Parliamentary service, and I think it will be a bad day for Parliament when that system ceases. Quite frankly—and I hope it is not too Conservative an attitude—I like the present constitution of this House, in this sense, that it is a delightful mixture; and I hope it will go on being that delightful mixture of types. I hope that Members who engage in a political career will realise that they have to make sacrifices of some of their social amenities, and, if necessary, some part of their health in following the career which they have taken up, rather than that the whole character of this great deliberative assembly should be changed in a well-meaning effort to get down to hours which are more convenient for our own personal tastes and habits. Therefore, I desire to Join my voice most heartily with that of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford and to express the hope that the House will think very long before it makes this sweeping change.
§ Major GRAHAM POLE
I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) has just said, that this is in no sense a party matter, but is one which affects us all as Members of this House and as human beings. I feel, also, that it is not a matter on which the younger Members of this House will be listened to by the older Members with any great degree of attention. Of course, the younger Members have not had experience of the machine, but may I put, as against that consideration, the fact that the older Members have had so much experience of the machine that they have grown accustomed to it. They cannot see many things which are apparent to those newly coming into it do. It is just the same as going to a foreign country. When you go to any foreign country for the first time, many things 234 strike you which you do not notice on your subsequent visits, because you have grown to expect them and have become accustomed to them. One thing which is appalling to me in this place is the manner in which we rely on precedent, precedent, precedent all the time. We never think out anything new. No man on earth and no body of men would ever think of setting up a Parliament with our hours and in the way in which this Parliament is set up to-day. There is nothing to my mind more deadening than merely relying on precedents and never being able to get outside precedents. The difficulty is that we become so accustomed to the precedents that we cannot look beyond them at all.
We know that this is a very good club, and it has that advantage for all of us, and no one wants to disparage that side of it, but this place is not instituted and is not required to-day simply or chiefly as a club. This House, along with the other place, is trying to conduct the affairs, not merely of this country, but of a great Empire, and we cannot do it if we have in the House business men, lawyers, trade union officials, and others who require to devote the best part of the day, between 10 o'clock and 5 o'clock, to the conduct of their ordinary business affairs. I do not care whether a man is a trade union official or the director of a company, or a lawyer, if he is spending the best part of his energy during the morning and early afternoon in conducting his own business and only come to this House afterwards to give the fag-end of his time and energy to the business of the community, to the business of the country and the Empire, he is not doing his duty by the House of Commons, and certainly not by the constituency which has sent him here.
As one who has only had a short experience of this House, I should say that this is undoubtedly a full-time job for any man who cares to do it. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) spoke of the pressure on the House at present from eleven in the morning till eleven at night, but if there is that pressure, and if, as he says, this is a full-time job, there is not time for men to do their ordinary business in the morning and the afternoon and then to come here afterwards. It is because of that that I feel that when people are going to stand for 235 Parliament they should make up their mind whether they are going to give their time to Parliament or to their business, whether in law, in the City, or in their trade unions. They have to make their choice what they are going to do. They have here a full-time job if they care to do it, and, after all, they are being paid for doing it.
As I have said already, we have so little imagination that we fear changes the whole time. No man in his senses would try to set up a Parliament constituted as this Parliament is constituted now. When, under the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), we were setting up a Parliament for India, we took this Parliament as a model for that Parliament, but we did not take the hours of sitting of this Parliament. We suggested for the Parliament in India that they should begin at nine or ten in the morning and go on till one o'clock, or whatever time the President felt that they ought to rise for lunch, that they should begin again at two in the afternoon and go on till five, and that if they required to sit later, they should rise for half or three-quarters of an hour for tea and go on again after that. But we do not rise for lunch, we do not rise for tea, we do not rise for dinner. We go on interminably, and nothing is more maddening than to come here at a quarter to three in the afternoon, go out for tea, come back at about five, find someone still speaking here, go out and have dinner, come back again, and still find this eternal babble, babble, babble going on, this eternal talk, talk, talk, most of which could be done without with very great advantage. You get people who are in favour of Bills standing up and wanting to say how much they are in favour of them, and you get people who are against them standing up one after another and giving the same points very often in opposition to the Bills.
We are not meant to listen in this House. There is no human being who can listen from a quarter to three in the afternoon till a quarter to three the next morning, or even till eleven at night. It is not intended that we should listen. In India we did intend them to be there and to listen, and they make a point of 236 attending. They attend very much better there than we attend in this House. I have attended in the Strangers' Gallery there, and one of the things that interest men, coming here from India and sitting in the Dominions Gallery, is to see how few Members here seem to think it necessary to attend the Debates. In India they have their hours for meals, and they think it necessary, while a debate is going on, to attend that debate, but no human being can do it in this Parliament under the hours which we have here, hours that have come about simply because no one thought them out, the same way as that in which the British Constitution was built up. Like Topsy, it just "growed." It was never thought out at all.
The electors of this country want to make this more a full-time job than it has been. I am not afraid of being called a professional politician. That does not worry me, but if anyone is going to stand for Parliament, he ought to make Parliament his first job and be ready to give his time to the job—the best part of his time, not the remainder of it. We ought to have such hours arranged here that we can attend the Debates and sit through them and still have some time for stoking the human machine, instead of going on listening to the speeches in this House, which, in some cases is very, hard work indeed. I believe that if we did not regard this as a party matter, but as a national matter, if we had the good of Parliament and of the country at heart, we would try to think out something more rational than we have now. It ought not to be beyond the wit of man to devise some scheme by which we could make the hours of this House hours during which one could reasonably give intelligent consideration to the matters before us. I defy any man to come hers at a quarter to three in the afternoon to sit till a quarter past five or later the next morning, and to take an intelligent interest in what is going on, or if he does that, he cannot give intelligent consideration to what will come up before him at a quarter to three the next afternoon.
We have to try to see how this Assembly can be made a deliberative and legislative Assembly, one of which we can be proud. We are proud of this Assembly, of its history, and of its place among the 237 nations of the world, but I believe that that pride should not stand in the way of our seeing what improvements can be made. Let us make them in an intelligent way. With very great vigour, I support the suggestion that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the question of the sittings of this House; and may I say how glad I am that the Postmaster-General will speak for the Government on this matter, because he and I sat for a few years, I think, on a Committee that considered this matter very thoroughly. We discussed the sittings of this House, and of other Parliaments in other parts of the world, not merely in the British Empire, but in Europe and elsewhere, and my hon. Friend had distinct ideas on the matter then about how they could be improved. I hope the Postmaster-General has still got those ideas. I know that with very great diligence we worked out a report, which in the ordinary course we sent up to the headquarters of our party, and that in the ordinary course, like every other Government or party report, it was pigeon-holed; and I do not suppose anyone knows now where it is. I hope something more will be done with this Motion, and I hope the Postmaster-General will look up that report, for which he was very much responsible himself.
§ Captain AUSTIN HUDSON
If all that we had to consider was what I might call the personal convenience of Members, in regard to their health and social relaxation, there would be very few people in this House who would not have a great deal of sympathy for the Motion which has been moved, but it is not merely a selfish question; it is a question of whether the business of this House would or would not be possible under a system of sitting during the day rather than during the afternoon. I do not believe there is a great deal to be made out of the question of the House of Commons being the best club. I have always had that told to me by people outside the House, but I do not believe that in this present Parliament or in the Parliaments since the War there have been many people who have joined the House of Commons merely as a club. I believe the great majority of Members here conscientiously endeavour to carry out their duties, both in representing 238 their constituencies and in giving what special qualifications they may have towards the deliberations in debate. There is one other thing that I would say before I come to the reasons why I think this Motion should not be carried, and that is that I think we are all agreed that the stupidest thing that we have in the present House of Commons is the all-night sitting. Every Member who has been through an all-night sitting is quite determined, after his first experience, that some way should be found to avoid them, because the type of debate that takes place during the early hours of the morning is certainly not such as to enhance the reputation of the House.
The first point that I wanted to make was the point which was put very forcibly both by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) and by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), on the Liberal Benches, and that is the question of what is called the professional politician. It is an extraordinary term, but by it I mean the man who gives his time to nothing but politics. I should think it was a very great pity if we prevented a business man, or a man who had other interests besides the House of Commons, from coming into this House owing to an alteration in the hours of sitting. There are many men who may have come into the House of Commons originally who are in business, or perhaps in the law, or they may be trade union officials, and they are able to come here because of the hours of sitting of the House; and for that reason we are able to get into this House some younger men who otherwise would not be able to come. They spend some years in the House, perhaps not giving quite as full time as others do, but later on their business is not so pressing, they have experience in the House, and they become very useful Members indeed.
Besides that, you get men who have a specialised and up-to-date knowledge of particular subjects. We know that all kinds of debate come up on highly technical Bills, like the Electricity Bill and the present Coal Bill, and we have Members who are actively engaged in those industries, and whose advice and whose speeches are extremely helpful to the House. I am afraid that if we made the Sittings of the House start in the 239 morning, and made it impossible for a man ever to attend to a business, we should only have the whole-time politicians, whose sole business was politics, who are usually called professional politicians, and old men who had finished their business life and had come here afterwards. That, I think, would be a very great pity and would not add to the efficiency of the House or to the quality of the Debates. The last speaker said that you must make the House of Commons the first call on your time, and I entirely agree. If a Member is in business, he should consider himself primarily a House of Commons man, and if it was necessary for his presence in the House and in his own business at the same time, the House should have the balance, and he should attend here under those circumstances.
There is one other point, and that is that the Debates in this House are not the only part of the business of a Member of Parliament. Sometimes I have heard speeches, particularly in the last Parliament, from the benches opposite to the effect that we should not adjourn for a Christmas or an Easter Recess because of some particularly pressing problem, but it has been pointed out again and again on those occasions that probably that problem could just as well be settled without the Sittings of the House. In fact, the present Prime Minister has said very much the same thing himself. You must have reasonable time for debate, but a tremendous amount of a politician's time is taken up, as Members in all parts of the House well know, in jobs behind the scenes, which are just as important as the actual Debates in the House, and for which there would be no time if the Sittings were altered, as suggested by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion.
We have an enormous number of letters and interviews and deputations in connection with our constituencies, and I cannot see how we can possibly do them with a morning sitting. It might be said the House could sit at 11 o'clock, and that we could do our letters and our interviews during the Sittings of the House, but it is not satisfactory so to arrange things that Members find it extremely difficult to be present during the Debates. We all know how awkward it is when you are getting to the end of a Session and 240 you find that a Standing Committee is so pressed to finish by the end of that Session that it has to sit in the afternoon as well as in the morning. You find that you are wanted upstairs for a Committee and that you are also wanted in this Chamber, and, as you cannot be in two places at the same time, you probably try to divide your time evenly between the two, with the result that you do neither of those jobs well.
Committees are necessary. Very soon we shall have Standing Committees going in full blast. There are both Standing Committees and Private Bill Committees upstairs in the morning; they do a lot of important work which it will be impossible for them to do if Parliament meets at the same time. I am not going to stress the question of Ministers. I expect that the Postmaster General will have some word to say on that point, but anybody who has had any experience of the inside of one of the Departments knows that Ministers do not have an idle time in their Ministries. It is, therefore, necessary that they should have a certain amount of time to themselves in the morning to get through the ordinary Departmental business. The Mover and Seconder of the Motion are proposing to cut off the Parliamentary time between seven and eleven in the evening, and to substitute in its place the time between eleven and two or ten and two in the morning; in other words, they would cut off a part of the day which lengthens the working day, and gives recreation time in its place.
At the present moment, a Member who is working hard can start in the morning either with his own business or on Parliamentary business, and he may have a Committee upstairs, and then the House at 2.45 until 11. Under the proposed arrangement, he would start at nine and automatically the House would shut down at seven, so that he could have recreation. That is very nice for individual Members, but, when we come into this House, we realise that the hours are very hard and that it is practically impossible to accept social engagements. Realising that, we must accept it, and not endeavour to alter the hours in order that we can be Members of Parliament and get recreation at the same time. I do not see why there should not be some slight alteration to give us shorter hours. I do not see why 241 the House should not meet at two and end at ten, which is a reasonable time for anybody to finish.
There is always a tendency of Governments to try to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule, and the present Government are no better in that respect than the last Government. In fact, I think that they are rather worse. During the Session up to Christmas, the Eleven o'clock Rule was suspended nearly ever night. If hon. Members opposite and Members of the Liberal party will join with us and refuse, except in urgent circumstances, to have the Eleven o'clock Rule suspended, the Government would not put it down so often. It really only comes from trying to get through too much business. All Governments are guilty of it. The continual suspension of the Eleven o'clock Rule is one thing which makes the hours of this House so irksome. For these reasons, I shall vote against this Motion. I believe that some slight alteration can be made, and that, if we put our foot down against the suspenson of the Eleven o'clock Rule, a good deal could be done. On the other hand, I am certain that if we made the sitting of the House in the morning and afternoon, instead of in the evening, we would deprive the House of a large number of useful Members, and make the business of governing the country impossible.
§ Mr. SEXTON
From the point of view of tradition, I find myself at variance with the Mover of the Motion. I am not a new Member, and therefore am entitled to speak from experience and, personally, I find no inconvenience in the statutory hours up to 11 p.m., and I should not like to see that tradition altered. I confess to being influenced somewhat by tradition. My hon. and gallant Friend for South Derbyshire (Major Pole) suggested that the business of the House might be temporarily suspended for meals, so as to avoid the monotony of dull speeches—and many of the speeches we are compelled to listen to are decidedly dull not only from the back benches but the Front Bench as well. To my mind, the proposal will intensify the penalty, because the monotony of the speeches would still go on.
I have a decided objection to imparting into this House the atmosphere of the working day, which reminds me of 242 The time when we had to knock off to boil our cans for breakfast and to be dismissed and called back with the buzzer; and without any reflection on that time, it is not an atmosphere I should like to see in this House. There are certain incidents inside the present Standing Orders which require careful consideration. For instance, I strongly object to the enormous number of supplementary questions, some of which are of the most trivial character. Some of them really do not dignify the Question Paper. They deal with all sorts of topics from pitch and toss to manslaughter, and have no effect on the legislation of the House, and in fact nothing to do with the case.
There is great force in the argument that all-night sittings should be abolished. I have been compelled to attend all-night sittings, and I resent the suggestions of the Mover of the Motion that men over 35 ought not to sit after eight o'clock. I am advancing into the sere and yellow leaf, and I shall be 74 next month, and I resent any imputation that I am physically or mentally incapable of taking my share in the Debates. All-night sittings are a waste of time and of public money. I am told that each all-night sitting costs £2,000, taking everything into consideration—light, service, salaries of Members and everything else. That is a sinful waste of public money. Not long ago, we sat until 8.30 in the morning, and the result of our labours for that night was the alteration of one word in the first Clause of a Bill of nineteen Clauses. Later, we sat considering the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and one of the expiring laws was the Lunacy Act. We deliberately sat here at 4.30 in the morning considering the extension of that Act. If any evidence of the necessity for the extension were needed, it was in the fact that we sat at 4.30 in the morning considering the question.
On the whole, I see no reason for altering the Standing Orders, for I do not like to see the traditions of this House changed. I may perhaps be called a professional politician, but I have some responsibilities outside this House, and I find it very difficult sometimes to come here in the morning and deal with my post bag and do my duty inside the House. With the abolition of 243 unnecessary questions and all-night sittings, I am content with the present Rules of the House, and I shall be reluctantly compelled to vote against the Motion.
§ Mr. FOOT
We congratulate the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) upon the birthday which he will have next month, and those of us who have had the opportunity of being associated with him in this House hope that he will be here for many years to give us the advantage of his experience. I would ask the Mover of this Motion to take into consideration that there is a long history behind this question. There never came a time in the history of this House when Members suddenly decided that 2.45 was the best time to meet. In this matter we have to learn something from the wisdom of our ancestors and from their experience. The hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire (Major Pole) spoke of a new Member coming into the House and watching its procedure, and being in a position to make the best suggestions for its improvement. But in a certain sense we are all new Members, for those who have been in the House seven years or 17 years can still have some advantage from the experience which has been gained through the generations. I am quite sure that he will be willing to defer to that experience as much as those who have been in the House a few years longer.
There was a time when the House met at eight o'clock in the morning, and a fine was imposed upon Members who were not present at Prayers at that time. I am glad to know from my experience here that the hon. and gallant Member would not be one of those to be often fined. I imagine, however, that from the Front Ministerial Bench a substantial contribution would be made from time to time. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking out for some new form of tax, he might reimpose the fine that was placed upon Members of this House who were not present at Prayers unless they could show good reason. Ministers are those who most need praying for, and yet they are those who are mostly absent at the opening of the House. On certain occasions, the House met at six 244 o'clock, but in those days they sat only until the middle of the cay. In the Lobby adjoining this Chamber there is a Journal of the House in which a page was torn out by that very irate monarch James I, and the ground put forward by that monarch for tearing out that sheet was that the Members had done their business by candlelight, and that it had been done after the ordinary time of the sittings of the House. At that time the House never sat during hours when artificial light was needed. Later on there was a famous Debate at the time when the Grand Remonstrance was passed. One of the outstanding features of that Debate was that it went on to one or two o'clock in the morning and all the writers speak of that as being an exceptional occurrence. Later on came the slacker days of the Restoration when the people of this country very unwisely turned day into night and sat late, and met at four o'clock in the afternoon. We are all aware that some of the most famous speeches in this Chamber (or the Chamber that was here before the Fire) were made not merely late at night, but in the early hours of the morning. The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) although he may not remember it personally, will recall the speech of William Pitt when he took his illustration from the morning sunlight that came through the windows of the House of Commons. In later years it was decided that 2.45 in the afternoon was the best time for the House of Commons to meet.
My difficulty in this House is to keep abreast with all that is happening. The trouble is not attendance in this Chamber, but keeping up with one's correspondence. I sympathise with my brother Members when I see them carrying away from the post office a large bundle of letters with which they have to deal. That is an important part of the ordinary duties of a Member of this House, and I ask, how are we to keep pace with that work if from the early part of the day until the evening all our time is occupied by attending to our duties in this House? I suppose that it is a feature of the work of every Member of Parliament that not only has he to keep himself acquainted with the public work that comes before 245 him, but he has also to keep in constant touch with the affairs of his constituency. We find it difficult to comply with these obligations even under the present procedure, and if we are unable to support the Resolution which has been brought before the House, it will not be because we do not approve of the arguments which have been used in its favour, but because we think that there are other arguments which have not been taken into account. For that reason I associate myself with the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), and, in view of what has been said, I hope that the Motion will not be pressed.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Lees-Smith)
I should like to begin by congratulating the Mover of this Motion upon introducing this subject which, as far as I have been able to ascertain, has not actually been debated on the Floor of the House for at least half a century. It is true that there have been Select Committees and discussions on the dinner hour and such subjects, but, looking back as far as 1880, I find that there have been no Debates specifically on the question whether we should meet in the morning or in the afternoon. It has already been pointed out that this is a subject upon which we are not divided on party lines, and I may say at once that the Government propose to ask the House to give a free vote on this question.
If the House decide to appoint a Select Committee, the Government will not resist that proposal, but there are certain considerations which I wish to put before hon. Members who have based high hopes on this particular line of advance. The proposal is certainly attractive from the point of view of the personal comfort and convenience of hon. Members. We do, as a matter of fact, lead rather abnormal lives, and many of us, especially those who have been here for some time, feel that the penalty we pay for being in this particular occupation is that we do lose what those in other occupations have, namely, the evening hours which they are able to devote to family life.
The subject, however, must be considered from the point of view of its effect upon the efficiency of the House, and, although the Government 246 are quite ready to accept the proposal to set up a Select Committee, I think it is only fair that I should explain what appears to be a number of difficulties which this proposal involves, and with which the Select Committee, and finally the House itself, would find itself confronted. The proposal is that the House should meet at 11 o'clock in the morning and adjourn at 7 o'clock at night. The first question that suggests itself to new Members with the experience they have already had is that it is clear that the House should met at 11 o'clock in the morning, and it is not equally clear that it would rise at 7 o'clock at night. At present there is a certain limit. Eleven o'clock is getting late, and there is a natural objection on the part of the House against suspending the Eleven o'clock Rule. At one time we used to have a Twelve o' Clock Rule, but I am told by those who have had long experience that, as a matter of fact, the alteration of the Twelve o' Clock Rule to the Eleven o'clock Rule has led to an increase in the number of times the rule has been suspended. I have looked up the figures for the last two months and I find that the House sat 42 times and on 16 nights it sat after eleven o'clock. That is to say, the Eleven o' Clock Rule was suspended during more than one-third of the Session. It would, of course, be far easier to suspend the Seven o' Clock Rule. There would be no reason against it; there would be a large margin, and it would only mean asking Members to have their dinner here instead of somewhere else. If the Seven o' Clock Rule were suspended, it would not necessarily mean that the House would rise at eleven o'clock. The House sits as long as the Debate continues.
It is doubtful, therefore, whether this proposal is going to lead to a great increase in the comfort of hon. Members at the end of the day, in consequence of the earlier hour of meeting. Another consideration which I should like hon. Members to bear in mind is the question of how the sittings of the House at the times suggested are going to harmonise with the effective work of the Standing Committees. I know there are many hon. Members who have had a long experience of our Standing Committees, and I think they have now been 247 accepted as a central part of the mechanism of the House, and they are probably the most successful experiment which the House has made in its procedure reforms for the last 30 years. Up to the present the whole basis of the Standing Committee system has been that, with the exception of rare occasions, the House and the Standing Committees have not been sitting at the same time. Often we find three Committees sitting at the same time and there are 200 Members frequently engaged on Standing Committees upstairs. It is not very easy to see how those hon. Members can properly do their work upstairs and downstairs at the same time.
I am told that there have been only six occasions during the last year in which the Standing Committees sat at the same time as the House, and the experience has been that Members will not stay in the Standing Committee if the House is dealing with a very interesting subject, and often it has been found very difficult to form a quorum on such occasions. I think it is fairly clear that if there is something taking place in the House which is of general interest, you cannot get Members of Parliament to attend the Standing Committees, and on many occasions they fail to get a quorum. With regard to the proposal that the House and the Committee should sit on alternate days, I might point out that, of course, the reason why the Standing Committees were set up was to save the time of the House, the object being that the Standing Committees should be legislating in the morning and the House should be legislating in the afternoon. If the House and the Standing Committees are going to meet on separate days, the very purpose of preventing congestion in the House for which they were established would be defeated. I think that hon. Members should bear that in mind, because anything which weakens the Standing Committees will undoubtedly weaken the effectiveness of the House as a whole, and it will, moreover, largely defeat the object of this Motion. If we wish for some machinery by which we could effectively prevent ourselves from sitting up very late, it would be far better to try to strengthen and extend the Standing Committees and to develop that machinery for the devolution 248 of the business of the Blouse, rather than weaken the machinery which already exists.
There is one other consideration which I think hon. Members should bear in mind, and which, certainly in the view of those Members of the Government with whom I have had the opportunity of discussing this matter, is by far the most important. The Debate up to the present has not made it clear whether it is expected that, if the House met at 11 o'clock in the morning, Ministers should spend their time in this House or in their Departments. Ministers in this House are really acting in a double capacity. They are Members of Parliament, with the obligation of a Member of Parliament to attend Divisions and so on, and at the same time they are the heads of the various Departments of State. I think it is essential, not only to the success of the Government, but to the success of this House, to provide Ministers with the best conditions for properly controlling their Departments.
Many of the most vital decisions of Parliament are made, not by legislation in this House, but as acts of executive policy. For instance, the Naval Conference from beginning to end depends upon a series of executive decisions. Ministers cannot control their Departments, they cannot do their work as Ministers, except inside the Departments themselves. Any proposal that Ministers should do their work here during the morning is quite impracticable. They must see their officials. They have to be able to see any official at a moment's notice, and often several at a time; it is necessary that they should have their files of documents ready to hand; it is essential that for some hour; of the day during the morning, when the House would be sitting, they should be present in their Departments. But, unless there is going to be some entire revolution, Ministers must at the same time be present in this House. If they are not present, the Government will be defeated. There are 52 Ministers, and, unless a Government has a very substantial majority, in all normal times the votes of these Ministers are essential in the Division Lobbies of the House.
Here is a conflict which speakers in the Debate up to the present have not attempted to resolve. I think it would 249 be found that Ministers would in fact have to attend Divisions here, and the result of that would be that they would not be able properly to control their Departments. They would have to act very largely upon the advice of their permanent officials. That would lead to a great increase in the strength of the Civil Service, and a decrease in the powers of Ministers; and we have to face the fact that that might lead to a decrease of the powers of this House, because, if Ministers are not in effective control of their Departments, the House cannot be in effective control of the Departments for which the Ministers are responsible. The Government are prepared to accept a Select Committee if the House so desires, but it is necessary to point out that a Select Committee discussing this one issue by itself, and not discussing general considerations, would, I am fairly convinced, on the grounds that have been stated, come to a conclusion adverse to this proposal. For that reason I think that hon. Members should take into consideration, before this Motion is pressed to a Division, what are the actual difficulties in the way, which it has been only fair frankly to put before them.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
May I be permitted to put a question? Would the Government be prepared to consider the sitting of the House at, say, two o'clock in the afternoon, and make the Sittings under the Standing Orders conclude, say at ten o'clock? That hour earlier at night would make a tremendous difference to a large number of Members of the House, and I do not think that it would hamper Ministers to any large extent.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I am afraid that I am not in a position, sitting here alone, to give an answer to a question of that sort. At present the only statement I make is with regard to the actual Motion before the House.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Like other Members who have spoken, I rise in this Debate, not in any sense as the representative of a party, but merely to express an individual view, which in my case is drawn from an experience so lengthy that I am afraid it almost disqualifies me, in the eyes of the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire (Major Pole), from having an opinion 250 worth listening to. A year or two ago I was taken to an amusing play in Paris, in which the hero was a young and able trade unionist who became in turn the Secretary of the General Confederation of Labour, a Member of Parliament, and a Minister. As a foil to him there was an old Marquis, and, in the course of the conversation between them, while the young trade unionist was expounding his views, the Marquis interjected, "Ah, so my grandfather used to say." "Then was he a revolutionary?" asked the trade unionist. "No," was the reply, "he was a reactionary." Here we have the Mover and Seconder of this Motion, and the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire, who feel that they are making a novel and even a revolutionary proposal suited to our new times, when in fact they are trying, as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) has reminded them, to take us back three centuries. Incidentally, it is not to be supposed that, when the hour of meeting was eight o'clock in the morning, as much complaint was not found with the conduct of Members, with their absence from discussions, with their eagerness to get out to dine, or with the hours that they kept, as is the case to-day. Lord Clarendon makes it a subject of complaint that the Long Parliament kept disorderly hours by sitting until two p.m.; and one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, in the same Parliament remonstrated:Against the rush of Members betwixt twelve and one mid-day, such that he was feigne to tell them they were unworthy to sit in this great and wise assembly that would so rush forth to their dinners.If I may be permitted to make a suggestion to the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire, it is that, while the older ones among us owe to the later arrivals a patient and an open mind in the hearing of new proposals that they may have to put before us, they should not assume that, because a thing is old, it is therefore bad, that because it has a precedent it is therefore of no use, or that because it is a growth it is therefore an evil growth. The hon. and gallant Member says that even our Constitution is a mere growth—it has never been thought out. Contrast it with the constitutions which have been thought out and carefully written down. Which type of Constitution, on the whole, has served best the development, the growth, the peace and order of the community? It 251 is rash to suppose that, even if the hon. and gallant Member selected the half-dozen colleagues whom he thought most suited to join him, to rewrite the British Constitution, he would be really successful in producing institutions more suited to the needs of the country than those which have grown by degrees out of those needs themselves, and which have been proved by the experience of generations.
Coming more closely to the question before us, the main proposal, though other suggestions have been thrown out in the course of the discussion, is that we should meet in the morning—11 o'clock seems to be the hour assumed—and adjourn at seven o'clock in the afternoon, instead of meeting in the afternoon and adjourning at 11 o'clock at night. As regards that proposal, I find myself in, I think I may say, complete agreement with all that has been said by the Postmaster-General. No doubt politicians live an abnormal life. No doubt, when we discharge our duties fully, it puts a great strain on the Members of this House, both physically and mentally. I am very glad that there are so many new Members of the House to carry back to their constituents the knowledge that this House is not a place for idleness, and to help to remove the idea that we who give up our lives as professional politicians—I have never disclaimed that—to the public service, have really a soft and "cushy" job that makes no demand upon our physique and upon our minds. It is one of the hardest and most laborious tasks that anyone can be set; but would it really be made easier by such a change as is proposed, and is such a change, indeed, practicable?
Like the Postmaster-General, I would ask the House if it has considered how the Committee work of the House is to be done if the House is to meet in the morning at 11 o'clock? There are the Private Bill Committees. We know how important they cam be in regard to public needs as well as immediate private needs. The Government the other day took special measures to expedite Private Bills as an act of public policy. Therefore, do not treat Private Bills as merely selfish things. Although, according to the technical language of this House, they are Private Bills, they deal with public interests, 252 and they may be of the gravest importance. There are also the Select Committees, and there are the Standing Committees. When are they to do their work if the House is to meet at 11 o'clock? Either they must begin work at eight o'clock or earlier, or, when the House rises at seven o'clock, those Committees must be summoned to meet, and Members of the House will have to pursue their work into the hours of the night, not on the business of the House as a House, but on the business of the House in Committee. But in truth that is not possible. Select Committees to some extent, Private Bill Committees to a very great extent, must be carried on within the ordinary business hours of the day, in order that business people—outsiders, not Members of the House—whose attendance is required may be present at their deliberations. I would beg hon. Members to consider most carefully any suggestion that these Committees should sit at the same time as the House sits. I know that occasionally it ha" to be done, but I think it should be an exception, only used on very important occasions; because one of two things must happen. Either the Standing Committee must lose its fully representative character, by reason of many of its Members wishing to attend the sitting of the House, and in that case all the work will have to be done over again on the Floor of the House, and we shall have lost the advantage that we hoped to attain by sending a Bill to Committee: or the House itself will be impoverished, will be denuded of its Members, because they are engaged on Committee.
I have been now for 38 years a Member of this House. I can remember, as a boy, sitting under the gallery, or in the gallery upstairs, and watching the House, at intervals, for some years earlier—I dare say another 10 years. If I look back to my earliest memories of the House, and imagined myself sitting again in that gallery and looking down, what is the first thing that would strike me? It would be the absence of Ministers—and ex-Ministers, for I am not talking in any party sense and what I say applies to Ministers of every party. The Government are less in touch with the House and, through the House, with currents of opinion in the country, because the work of Ministers has become so absorbing 253 that they cannot give as much attendance on that bench as they used to do. The second thing that I should mark is that Members themselves sit in the House much less than was the case in my early days.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire said that we are not meant to listen to speeches. I beg respectfully to differ from him. If we are not meant to listen to the speeches in Parliament, the very name has no meaning, the place has no meaning. Certainly, we come here with certain broad ideas which have been discussed in the country. On those broad questions of principle we have taken up one attitude or another, and it is probable that discussion will do little or nothing to change our opinions. We have thought matters out, we have gone into them, and it is not without consideration that we have placed ourselves where we are, and it is unlikely that anything new can be said of sufficient consequence to change our minds. But that is not the case when we come to the details of a Measure, or when we come to discussions in Supply. Anyone with any experience of this House knows that again and again votes have been changed by the Debates. Nothing is more untrue than to say that in this House votes are never changed by the speeches. Votes are often changed, and, what is more, Measures are changed, without ever coming to the vote, because the general sense of the House, as shown in the discussions, is more powerful than even a Minister with a great majority behind him. The Minister finds that he cannot sustain his case, cannot force down a case without reason, even with a great party majority.
I am not one who treats our Debates as of little account. I regret the habit which is growing up of Members waiting to make a speech, which often has no relation to what has gone before, and leaving the House as soon as they have made their speech without waiting to hear even one speech in reply to their observations. I do not believe that would have been possible when I first entered the House; the general sense of the House would have been so set against it. The absence of Ministers and the comparative poorness of the attendance of Members do not arise from the fact that this is a generation less anxious to perform its functions. 254 They arise from the enormous strain, immensely increased, which is put upon Ministers and Members alike by the growth and complexity of public business. You will not overcome that by asking Members to meet at eleven o'clock in the morning. As I have said, either they would have to come at eight o'clock to do their Committee work, and would sit as long hours, or their Committee work would not be well done, because they would be engaged at the same time as the House is sitting. The authority of Standing Committees would be destroyed, and the House would have to do on Report and to hear on Report all that ought to have been done and the speeches which ought to have been made in the Committee. I am taking this from the House of Commons point of view. I agree with what the Postmaster-General said—all Members who have served in Governments know the temptations which beset Ministers—that the temptation to suspend the Seven o'clock Rule would be infinitely greater than it is to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule; and just as we have found again and again that the earlier commencement of a Session in the year seldom leads to its earlier termination, so it would be found that an earlier meeting for a particular sitting would not lead to an earlier hour for its termination.
Let me consider one other question. I have already said that I have never repudiated for myself the term of "professional politician"—in the sense that, entering politics early, they have been the principal business of my life, and to the service of this House during its Sittings I have always subordinated all other engagements; but I should consider it a disaster if the House adopted such hours as made it impossible for men who cannot free themselves from all other business to be Members of it. We want to be in the broadest and the widest sense a representative institution. We want for the full discharge of our work the experience which is brought by men of all types from all kinds and conditions of life, and to say that our hours shall be such as make it impossible for anyone who is not in a position to give his whole time to politics to be a Member of this House and to do his duty by it would seem to me to condemn us to impoverishment and to deprive us of an experience which is invaluable and 255 the absence of which would quickly show itself in our legislation and our administration. The hon. Member who moved or seconded this Motion spoke of the hours of the House having been adopted because in old days this House was treated as a club. I do not think it was any more a club in the old days than it is in these days. When the new Houses of Parliament were built I believe somebody observed that they were the finest club house in London, and club house being shortened to club, people have talked of it as the finest club in London. There is, thank goodness, a club able spirit among Members. Our social relations can be pursued no matter on which side of the House we sit; whatever our party differences we may be personal friends; but, in the sense that these hours were chosen merely as a matter of convenience or to suit social habits, I do not believe there is any foundation for the belief of the hon. Member opposite.
The hon. Members who present this Motion start out by saying that the House has become a whole-time job. They are themselves whole-timers, and regard themselves as such at the present time. They have nothing else to do, and it seems simple to them to do their work within the hours that are most convenient to them. But even as a whole-time job you cannot do it within the hours they name, and are not the busiest men the hardest working men in the House, the Ministers, not to have a little consideration? Must not we have a little consideration for their efficiency and for their control of their offices. The Postmaster-General quite rightly said that it is only through Ministers that this House can control administration, and if Ministers lose control of their offices the House loses control also. Ministers have to see their officials to do the work, and there is a certain amount of work which can only be done in the offices, and they have to see other people and to see them within the business hours of those people. They cannot postpone the whole of the work that they now do in the morning or the early afternoon until after the House rises at seven or eight o'clock.
For my part, I should have liked to see some effort made to apply that Rule which was passed in 1918 enabling the 256 House to adjourn on certain days after Questions in order that those days might be devoted to Committee work. In practice, the House has never found it convenient to adopt that process. It is possible that if the system of Committees further develops it may be necessary, and it may be possible, to devote certain days to Committees and certain other days to the House; but as long as the Committees and the House have to meet on the same day and as long as Ministers have not only to discharge a duty in Parliament but to direct and administer great offices, I do not believe that we shall find any hours more convenient to the public service than these which we maintain. We might find other hours more convenient to individual Members, particularly to the least hard worked and the most idle among them: but, just in proportion, Members who are in the Government will be inconvenienced by any great change from the hours which are now set. If this Motion is carried to a Division, I shall vote against it, and I do not think any report from a Select Committee is likely to produce new arguments in its favour which would cause me to alter my mind.
§ Mr. J. JONES
In the list of Motions that we have a right to bring before the House in the event of success in the Ballot, this subject stands in a very prominent place. A most remarkable thing about the Debate is that all the speeches that are supposed to be against the Motion are in its favour. We come here in the morning if we are fortunate enough to be selected on. Committees, though we are generally put on Committees that we know nothing whatever about and are kept off those we know something about. I have had, not 38 but 11 years' experience, and I have never yet been placed on a Committee of the details of which I have had much knowledge. There are other Committees upon which I could do some good but I have never had a chance of a snap at them, and I am not the only one. Even some of those who are on the Front Bench now have gone through the same experience. We are not asking for the time to be arranged to suit our convenience, but to suit the convenience of the people we represent. We are supporting the Motion with a view to the appointment of a Committee to go into 257 the whole business connected with the working of the House. We are told that Ministers are not able to do their work in the time allotted them. I have heard of Ministers who have never tried to do the work they were paid for. They are conspicuous by their absence even at the most critical moments.
We think the time has arrived when a radical alteration should be made in the methods of procedure and the hours of business of the House. We get here in the morning, if we are on a Committee, and the House starts in the afternoon. We talk nothing for a very long time. About 11 o'clock we start talking less than nothing. During an all-night sitting we might as well be sitting on the Thames Embankment as far as the work accomplished for the benefit of the electorate is concerned. We are asking that the past shall be allowed to be forgotten and that we shall adapt our procedure to modern methods. Why should we not do the same as our great public authorities do Why cannot we departmentalise the work of the House and have large Committees, representing all parties, dealing with all the questions Parliament is likely to be called upon to deal with, and let each Minister be chairman of a Departmental Committee dealing with the business of his own Department. [An HON. MEMBER: "They will get halos."] No, they will not get halos; they will get brickbats. If things go on as they are at present, the work of the Departments will get so congested that no one man will be able to control them. It is not merely the Minister who should be held responsible. Parliament is responsible in the last resort. A Minister is the representative of Parliament, but he is not the boss of it.
I suggest that this Select Committee should go into the whole procedure of Parliament, and bring forward some commonsense method of dealing with our business. I am not particular about the hours, because I have enjoyed myself best after hours. Yon can start at 11 o'clock at night and keep on until nine in the morning if you wish. That does not make the difference. What really makes the difference is the way you take the work in hand. The average Member of the House is nothing else than a voting machine. We back bench Members are told we must not do this and 258 we must not say that, and we are asked to hold our tongues. Every Member of the House has equal rights and, if we have equal rights, we ought to have equal responsibilities and equal opportunities. A large number of us are barred from real service. We are simply here to go into the Lobby when the bell rings. That is not good enough for some of us. I was led to understand that we are all agreed upon an alteration in the method of conducting the business of the House. Hours are not the main question. It is the method and the conditions under which business is done. Hours are secondary altogether. A Select Committee is essential, and all parties ought to agree that the time has arrived when some reorganisation of our business arrangements should be taken into consideration and, therefore, I am going to vote for the Motion.
§ Mr. EDE
I am going to follow my hon. Friend with every confidence, as I always do, into the Lobby. I feel that it is high time a Select Committee was appointed to consider the matter. If the two Front Benches are so sure that their case is absolutely sound, they can have no hesitation in allowing the Committee to sit. I have always found that, when it has been a conflict between the Private Members' opinion and the Front Bench Members' opinion, the more unanimous the two Front Benches are, the more likely it is that the back bench Members are right. There is in these matters apparently a very good understanding, quite irrespective of the people who happen to sit on the Front Benches, that on these matters the back benches should always be resisted. It is very unfortunate that a mere illustrative remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) has been seized upon as the basis of this discussion. I do not think he meant more than to illustrate his remarks by mentioning the time of 11 in the morning. I admit that there is some weight in what has been said by the Postmaster-General and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) with regard to the duties of Ministers, but changing conditions may quite easily admit of change in methods of control in the Departments, and I do not think the last word has been said on that subject.
259 I wish chiefly to complain about this: We have a habit of sitting on until a few minutes past 12. The hours of the House were fixed at a time when practically every Member lived within walking distance, but Members no longer all live within the City of Westminster. A very substantial number, especially on these benches, find the rents charged in the City of Westminster, beyond their means while the Parliamentary salary remains at its present figure. After eight minutes past 12 there is no train to the district where a number of Members, including myself, live, and we have to wait for a half-hourly tram service just underneath Boadicea's statue. I sometimes see the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) there. Of course he has not the opportunities that some of us have owing to his habits of finding solace for such discomfort. I see several hon. Members, including the Deputy-Speaker of the House, waiting there. Towards the end of last Session there was an agreement whereby, when the 11 o'clock Rule was suspended, there was a general effort to get the House up before midnight, but it was very disconcerting when certain Members opposite felt that their remarks in support of someone else sitting beside them on some trivial point were so important that we must go on till a quarter-past 12, and we were put to the discomfort of a tram journey lasting for 40 or 50 minutes. I would far sooner have an all-night sitting that lasted till six o'clock in the morning than I would sit until a quarter or half-past 12. I do not like all-night sittings, but, from the point of view of our personal comfort and fitness for duty the next day, they are preferable to sittings that end up just after midnight.
I believe in this, as in other countries, the system of parliamentary government is on its trial. People outside the House are not nearly as much impressed with the efficiency of Parliament and the value of its great traditions as people inside the House are apt to be. We have seen in a number of European countries the system of parliamentary government scrapped and dictatorship set up in its place. I believe a very great deal of the ordered progress this country has been able to make has been due to the faith the people have had in the efficiency of 260 parliamentary government to deal with the various situations that arise. The area of human affairs that we are attempting to govern by parliamentary government to-day is far greater than it has been in the past, and the duties placed upon individual Members of Parliament are greater than in the past, and if we imagine that hours fixed in the last century are the last word, I think we shall find that Parliament, as a machine, will break down. Not fixing myself to any hour which may have been incidentally mentioned by anyone in the course of the discussion, I feel that a case can be made out, in the experience of most of us, for an inquiry into the possibilities of the situation and, for that reason alone, I shall vote for the appointment of the Select Committee for which my hon. Friend asks.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. McSHANE
I rise with some reluctance following the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). I thank those who heard him will agree that, if there was anything at all to be said for the continuance of the present practice, his extraordinarily rich and varied speech, in which he drew upon a wide experience, would have convinced any who may still have been doubtful about the continuance of the present system. I think that the Motion which has been moved this afternoon is so narrow in character that, as previous speakers on the Back Benches here have mentioned, it does not enable us to deal with or attempt to deal with the remedy which, in my opinion, inevitably must come. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham showed that those who sought to be revolutionaries in this matter were actually going back 300 years, but he also used another argument which mutually excluded his first point. He showed how rich was this constitution which was built up from the wisdom of centuries.
Similarly with regard to the Postmaster-General. I think, with great respect, that he was guilty of a perfectly clear non sequitur. He said that from the date that the time of the sittings had been changed from 12 o'clock to 11 o'clock a number of suspensions of the Eleven o'Clock Rule had taken place. It is not because the hour has been 261 changed from 12 o'clock to 11 o'clock that a number of suspensions of the Eleven o'Clock Rule have taken place. It is because of the increasing amount of business thrown upon this House. It is that which has made it necessary. Every Government is so overwhelmed with work that it must safeguard itself by moving the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule. Is not that precisely one of the most serious criticisms that can be made at the present time against the continuance of the present practice? If there is a formidable Opposition that cares to prevent business from being done, as I have in my short experience already seen in this House, it can on the most trivial and ridiculous matters, and with very serious detriment to the dignity of this House, carry on discussions for hours, when it is notorious that there is scarcely a quorum in the House to listen. Many Members are to be found asleep in the libraries—wisely so—and others may be attempting to pass the time in whatever way they possibly can find.
There were two speeches in the earlier part of this afternoon against this proposal both of which were extremely capable and well-delivered. They were the speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. K. Griffith). There were two things, which were the main burden of both speeches, with which I totally disagree. The first was that the work of this House is so exhausting and so compelling that if anyone is really sincere and anxious to do his duty as he ought to do it, he must be here at 11 o'clock in the morning and must continue in the House as long as the House sits, so compelling and so insistent is the work. Having put forward that as a reasonable argument in favour of the continuance of the present system, they both laboriously sought to show that that was not so. They showed how it was necessary sometimes for the enrichment, intellect and experience of this House that we should have within it men, who, in the earlier part of the day, were still in contact with the life of the country earning their own living. They cannot have it both ways. If it is so insistent and so compelling that one needs actually the whole day and part 262 of the night to do the work, surely that excludes the possibility of any man earning his livelihood outside, and therefore being able to do this work well and intelligently and as speedily as he ought to do it. Does not that also bring us to the same point which they make in favour of the continuance of the present system?
It was stated, I think on the part of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford, more or less with a sneer, that one should not care to be a professional politician. If I may strike a personal note, I had, when I was young, a very hard life. I managed through my own efforts—if I may jump over what I shall never forget in a sentence or two—ultimately to get to the university. I became the headmaster of a large school. I was secure in my position. I was comfortable. I need not have troubled about anything at all. Yet no thoughtful person—and it is only a digression to show how it bears on the point with which I am dealing—with any imagination at all can look at our country and at the mass of our people to-day without being profoundly moved and urged, at any rate, to do something. It was therefore in that spirit, and in that spirit alone, that I jeopardised my whole future in order to do what I thought I might be able to do to help humble working men and women, the class from which I sprang. How can anyone suggest with a sneer that the life to which I have dedicated myself can be in any sense a life inferior to the life of any other professional man? How also can it be suggested or implied that we who deal here with the making of laws to protect children from poisonous food should in some extraordinary fashion be looked upon as inferior to the doctor who goes to prevent that child also from being poisoned from some other source? How can it be suggested that we who deal with maternity, with hospitals, and indeed with the whole ambit of human life in our law-making, are in any sense inferior in dedicating our lives to that work to those members of any other profession?
The truth is that the difficulty in which the House finds itself this afternoon is due, as I have said, to the narrow nature of the Motion. This Motion cannot be divorced from the procedure of the 263 House. I have looked on with amazement when the British House of Commons of 600 Members has sat in Committee. I have always heard it said that the best Committee is a Committee of three, with two of the members always absent. How it can possibly be suggested that with 600 Members acting as a Committee, with each of the 600 Members in the House having a right to speak, you can get efficient and effective business done is beyond me altogether. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, to whom we all listened with such profound attention, got close to the point when he hinted at the extension of the Committee system. It is upon the extension and development of the Committee system that we are bound to make progress. Here, as my hon. Friend the Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) suggested, large numbers of the Members of the House remain more or less voting machines, and in a sense unemployed. We are anxious to do what we can to help in the work of this House, and to mould legislation which will benefit this country. There might be Committees upon which we might be specially interested, education, health or transport. If there were Committees set up based upon each Department, and upon which we should be distributed according to our predilections, I suggest that each day that passed we should save an enormous amount of the time of this House, and we should be able to work more intensively in regard to the business which we ought to undertake.
If a Division takes place, I shall certainly vote in favour of the Motion mainly because I consider, as has been said, that if the nation's work is to be done well, there must come a change in the procedure of this House. It is because I want to see the hope of democracy realised, and the machinery made more elastic that I have given expression to these opinions, and I shall certainly vote for the Motion.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
The interesting speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane) has induced me to say a few words. The term "professional politician" has frequently been used in this Debate. I do not think that it has been used in any derogatory sense.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I have listened to most of the speeches and that is not the impression I have gathered. I think the term was used in the sense of a man who devotes the whole of his time to work within this House. The hon. Member for Walsall told as how he resolved to devote all his life to the services of the country, and we appreciate his decision very much. The point upon which we laid such stress is not confined to hon. Members on this side of the House. A very weighty speech was made by the Postmaster-General in the same sense, namely, that we do not want to cut out from the service of this House the men who are in contact with the realities of the life of the country. The lawyers, the doctors—some of them—the leaders of commerce, the bankers—we want them here. As was well said by one speaker, the reason why this House is so valuable is that it consists of a mixture of all types. It is that mixture which makes it such a great Assembly. We hear a great deal about the decadence of Parliament, but there is very little weight in that remark. The country values its House of Commons and respects it.
§ The Mover and Seconder of this Motion said that their object was to carry on better the work of the nation. I think that the nation in a very short time would not want its work to be carried on by such an Assembly as would be produced by the effect of this Motion. We have only to look at the United States of America. The Congress there is not looked upon with the respect we should like to see paid to a popular Assembly. The remedy lies in our hands. I say this most respectfully. Let us shorten our speeches. Let us have a self-denying ordinance that no speech shall exceed 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour, except say on the Second Reading of Bills, or when the House chooses to extend indulgence to speakers on certain occasions. If we made that self-denying ordinance and shortened our speeches, we should not have the sort of speech that one heard in "The Apple Cart," for instance, where the Prime 265 Minister gives a moat amusing parody, or perhaps I should say imitation, of many speeches one hears in this House, and I think that we should have far more time for real business. If we take a copy of the Debate in the OFFICIAL REPORT and go through it, what Member of this House could not shorten his speeches by one half? And we are all sinners in this respect. Sometimes we do not think out our speeches before we make them and, therefore, we cannot put our points concisely. If we did so, think of the happiness of the Press Gallery! The present hours of work would then be amply sufficient without the frequent suspension of the Eleven o'clock Rule. Therefore, I suggest that shorter speeches and better considered speeches would be a remedy for the present state of things.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am strongly in favour of the Resolution, and I am also in agreement with the view that we ought to have had something more far-reaching to meet the actual requirements of the House. Reference has been made to professional politicians, an unfortunate reference, which was intensified by the hon. Member referring to the American legislature as having been largely a failure on account of its having been composed of professional politicians. I am very glad that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) took no exception to the allusion as regards himself, and made no disclaimer. My own feeling is that we have more need for professional politicians, in the sense of people taking a deeper interest in the concerns of this House and of legislation generally than they do at the present time. Unfortunately, one section of the Press has adopted the systematic plan of ridiculing Parliament as of practically no use. That is a very remarkable situation, which links up that section of the Press with the most revolutionary element prevalent in this country. That is a very dangerous situation.
Whoever may come here to discharge their duties must realise that business is congested. Speaking from my experience of over seven years, I submit that the House is overloaded and that there is a strong necessity for taking in hand the working system of the House. The House becomes a fiasco on many a night when we are supposed to be dealing with 266 serious business and we find hon. Members speaking against time, simply putting on the hours, while other hon. Members are waiting in the Lobbies or in the smoke room or elsewhere for the Division to take place. Would it not be possible for the sittings of the House on Mondays and Wednesdays to begin at the same hour as on Fridays, namely 11 o'clock? That would mean an earlier meeting and an earlier closing on those days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, which days are allotted for meetings of Standing Committees, we could meet at the usual hour and the Committees could meet before the House meets. If we had an extension of our Committee system we should be able to find work in Committees for those hon. Members who are not at present looked upon as being necessary for Committee service, as compared with others. The allusion which has been made by the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) is perfectly correct. Many of us have not opportunities of sharing in the responsibilities of Committee work, and we are faced with the necessity of simply being in attendance in the House to listen to speeches which go on for ever so long, subject to no time limit. That is unfortunate.
With regard to Debate, as in our public authorities, the plan could be adopted of special allowance being made in exceptional circumstances for those who are bringing forward Measures, or who have any special business to put before the House. There is great necessity for an extension of the Committee system in order to give opportunities for the transaction of business which is not getting fair consideration. The hon. Member who referred to America overlooked the fact that each of the States has its own separate legislature. A question was put to the Prime Minister to-day whether he would appoint a Secretary of State for Wales, but he could not see his way to do it. We have a Secretary of State for Scotland, who had an unfortunate part to' play yesterday in the Naval Conference, for whereas the Free State Government was represented by a gentleman who spoke on behalf of that country, the poor Secretary of State for Scotland was not able to say anything. There is need for consideration of the particular requirements of the country as 267 a whole and of parts of the Kingdom being dealt with by the countries themselves. When the two Front Benches are agreed upon a position, we might as well say that it is time for us to vote against it. The rank and file have to face the fact that when the two Front Benches say, "It would be very inconvenient for us," the House is "us." We of the rank and file have our opportunity to-day to say to the Postmaster-General, as representing the Government, that we want this matter to be looked into. We are going to have a free vote to-day. That is a blessing. I hope that something practical will result from our proceedings.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
I have listened to the greater part of the speeches, and I have been struck with the unanimity of feeling that late sittings should be stopped at any cost. I do not believe that there is any considerable body of opinion on the Front Benches or the back benches in favour of the present pernicious system of late sittings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday each week, which is the practice that we have had to endure. We lack unanimity, however, as to the method by which it is suggested that late sittings could be abolished. I do not think that it is necessary to consider the advisability of the House meeting at 9, 10 or even 11 o'clock in the morning. I do suggest that the suspension of the Eleven o'clock Rule should be abolished and some alternative rule brought in providing that if business has not been finished at 11 o'clock one evening, the House should meet 1¾ hours earlier next day, say, at one o'clock instead of 2.45 p.m. Under that arrangement the work would be done just as efficiently. I think that hon. Members would rather miss their lunch time than lose their sleep, and would rather miss their lunch time than lose their last train or tram home. When there is a residue of work to be done, there would be less objection to the Friday sitting being extended from 4 o'clock, rather than that the Eleven o'clock Rule should be suspended on other days and the sittings extended very late, as was evidenced quite recently when we sat until 8 o'clock next morning. By a little re-arrangement of hours it could be so managed that late sittings could be abolished without interfering with Committee work or with the privileges or procedure of this House. For these reasons, 268 I support most heartily the proposal that the whole matter should be brought before a Select Committee. The way in which late sittings are to be avoided is for a Select Committee to investigate, and I see no reason why a Select Committee should not go forward to investigate it.
Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND TROYTE
I intervene because of one remark made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour). He suggested that Monday would be a suitable day on which to meet at 11 o'clock. I would point out that a great many of us live in the country. The week-end is the only time we can visit our constituencies and our homes, and there are no trains that can get us here by 11 o'clock. Therefore, the suggestion that Monday should be a day for an earlier sitting is the worst suggestion that could be made, because it would completely knock out the week-end of those of us who live in the country, and would prevent us from visiting our constituencies and our homes, unless we travelled back on Sunday. The Postmaster-General and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) showed how impossible the Motion is, and I heartily agree with them in opposing it.
§ Mr. SANDHAM
I have been struck by two forms of complex which seem to predominate in this House. The first is the complex that the expenditure of this nation should be governed by the income of the nation. I object to that. I object also to the complex that intimates to back benchers that if we want anything in the form of alteration of procedure in this House, we have perforce to consult the convenience of the Front Bench Members. I object to that. If we are out for developing a new sense of democracy, surely it is the will of the greatest number in this House that should prevail. Is that the practice? I submit that it is not. The strongest arguments that were put forward by the Postmaster-General, in reply to the first portion of the Debate, gave one to understand that the proposal of the Resolution was almost impossible of accomplishment because of the position of the Ministers and the Governmental Departments. Equally important work is transacted in first-rate city councils in this country, and if the city councils can conduct their business in a satisfactory way by departmental work, this House, provided it has the will to do it, Can develop sufficient capacity so to 269 arrange its duties and its times as to conform to the will of the largest number in this august assembly. What we want to do as Members is, in the first place, to express our will and to say that we want an alteration in procedure. Too much attention has been paid this afternoon to the detail work which should automatically go before the Select Committee which is to be appointed, and with the experience given us by Members of the two Front Benches there is surely ample evidence to justify some very interesting reports from a Select Committee, if the House decides to appoint it. I hope we shall have the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House so that this Select Committee may give us its report with new ideas as to the procedure of the House and the better use that might be made of the time at our disposal.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
May I call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that what he wants done is not covered by the terms of the Motion? They are confined to the hours of the sittings of the House and would not allow the larger question of procedure to be discussed at all.
§ Mr. LANG
I regret that it is not possible for me on this occasion to support my hon. Friends who have brought forward this Motion. My reasons are two. In the first place, the Motion commits us definitely to meeting at an earlier hour, and I am perfectly sure that will mean that I shall not be able to discharge my own duties properly to my constituents. There is a very serious postal business with which hon. Members representing industrial constituencies have to deal, and I think constituents are entitled to careful and ample attention from their representative on all germane matters which they submit to them. Sometimes constituents require attention on matters which may not be very germane, but it takes up a considerable amount of one's time. I should also be very sorry if, as a Member of this House, I am not to have any further association with what I may call the world outside. The danger here is not that we get too much contact with the world of law and commerce and religion, but that we may get too little. We may find ourselves marooned here with academic discussions about things which may not be very interesting and not always very important. May I 270 say with great respect that my observation since I came to the House of Commons leads me to believe that the people who pay the scantiest attention to our Debates are not the people who are engaged elsewhere? I have marvelled at hon. and learned Members, who are exceedingly busy in the day, who seem to come here very quickly and remain here during our Debates, and it would be a great misfortune if the House were to be deprived by earlier sittings of the services of men who by their industry and ability have made themselves masters in various departments of life, all of which can be brought to bear most usefully on the deliberations and decisions of this Assembly.
In view of the present position, I feel that the Motion might operate in a manner which I am sure hon. Members who support it would greatly regret. I am certain that there are many hon. Members who will find it impossible to remain Members of this House if the only income they are able to enjoy is the income which is paid to them as Members of Parliament. I think my hon. Friends may well consider the number of Members who find it essential to augment their income in other ways. They may not all practise in the Courts but many of them write for the Press, and that cannot be done while they are sitting in the Chamber. If the Motion is carried and the Select Committee reports in favour of meeting earlier, some people whom we want to see here might find it impossible to become Members of Parliament because their Parliamentary income by itself is certainly not sufficient. Some of my hon. Friends are in that happy position, which I envy but which I would not desire to alter, whereby they represent great working-class movements and are able to supplement their incomes by a salary, but I hope they will not forget the position of other hon. Members who, in order to do their duty properly to their constituents, have to augment their incomes in other ways.
Then, again, some of us have always found that we can do our best work towards evening and when I compare our proceedings at Question Time with our proceedings later on in the evening I do not know whether that is not also true of what takes place in this House. No doubt a case has been made out for developing the Committee work and the 271 method of approaching it, but I do not think a case has been made out for commencing the work of the House earlier in the day, and before we commence to tinker with a problem like that I think we should arrange for the whole matter to be fully canvassed and discussed otherwise there is a danger that our last state will be worse than our first. I came here with a desire to be of real service to the House and through the House to the community at large and my constituents in particular. I have considered this matter from that point of view. I must pay considerable attention to their correspondence and I must be here; and
§ if I am to be of any use in the Chamber I must be here to hear what is going on. During the Recess I wrestled with a manual of our procedure and a book written by one of the learned clerks at the Table. It gave me great assistance, but one can only grasp our Rules of Procedure when sitting in the Chamber and hearing what is being said and done. I am sorry to have to disagree with my hon. Friends on this subject but, as this is a free vote and as the Motion definitely pledges the House to meet at an earlier hour, I must oppose it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 169; Noes, 139.273
|Division No. 115.]||AYES.||[6.40 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Johnston, Thomas||Raynes, W. R.|
|Arnott, John||Jones, F. Llewellyn (Flint)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Ritson, J.|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Romeril, H. G.|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Kelly, W. T.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Kennedy, Thomas||Rowson, Guy|
|Batey, Joseph||Kinley, J.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Bennett, Capt. E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Sanders, W. S.|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Lathan, G.||Sandham, E.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Law, Albert (Bolton)||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Law, A. (Rossendale)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Bowerman Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Lawrence, Susan||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Bromley, J.||Leach, W.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Brooke, W.||Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)||Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)|
|Brothers, M.||Lees, J.||Sinkinson, George|
|Buchanan, G.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)||Lindley, Fred W||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Logan, David Gilbert||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Longbottom, A. W.||Smith, Tom (Pontefeact)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Longden, F.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Lowth, Thomas||Snell, Harry|
|Compton, Joseph||Lunn, William||Stephen, Campbell|
|Cove, William G.||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Stewart, J. (St. Rol
|Daggar, George||McEntee, V. L.||Sullivan, J.|
|Dallas, George||McKinlay, A.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McShane, John James||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Dukes, C.||Malone, C. L' Estrange (N'thampton)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Ede, James Chuter||March, S.||Toole, Joseph|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Marcus, M.||Tout, W. J.|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Markham, S. F.||Townend, A. E.|
|Egan, W. H.||Marley, J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Mathers, George||Walker, J.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Matters, L. W.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Maxton, James||Watkins, F. C.|
|Gill, T. H.||Messer, Fred||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Gossling, A. G.||Mills, J. E.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Gould, F.||Milner, J.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Morley, Ralph||West, F. R.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Mort, D. L.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Muff, G.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Murnin, Hugh||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Haycock, A. W.||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Palin, John Henry||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Hayes, John Henry||Paling, Wilfrid||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Perry, S. F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Herriotts, J.||Pole, Major D. G.||Mr. McElwee and Mr. George|
|Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Potts, John S.||Hardie.|
|Hoffman, P. C.||Price, M. P.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Foot, Isaac||Morris, Rhys Hopkins|
|Albery, Irving James||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Ayles, Walter||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Gillett, George M.||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Palmer, E. T.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gray, Milner||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Bennett, Sir Albert (Nottingham, C.)||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Benson, G.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' w.)||Pybus, Percy John|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Boyce, H. L.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Bracken, B.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Buchan, John||Harris, Percy A.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Hartington, Marquess of||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Cape, Thomas||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Horrabin, J. F.||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Hurd, Percy A.||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Sexton, James|
|Chater, Daniel||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Christle, J. A.||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Church, Major A. G.||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Lang, Gordon||Somerset, Thomas|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Strauss, G. R.|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Lymington, Viscount||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Dickson, T.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Tudor|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Edge, Sir William||Marjoribanks, E. C.||White, H. G.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Elmley, Viscount||Middleton, G.||Withers, Sir John James|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Mond, Hon. Henry|
|Fermoy, Lord||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Fielden, E. B.||Montague, Frederick||Commander Southby and Captain|
|Sir William Brass.|
That a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the possibility of this House meeting earlier in the day and rising at a more reasonable hour in the evening, and to recommend, if it thinks fit, the necessary alterations in the Standing Orders.