HC Deb 03 February 1932 vol 261 cc137-91
The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)

I beg to move, That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business do have precedence at every Sitting. In the absence of the Prime Minister, which, I am sure, is regretted by every individual in this House, it falls to my lot to move the Motion put down in his name. It is not mere conventional discretion when I say that I move this Motion with extreme regret. People may think, especially those who have not been long in this House, that the Government enjoy trampling upon the rights of private Members.


Hear, hear.


I was perfectly certain that I should get a not unwilling response to that expression of opinion. When hon. Members below the Gangway become, as they will become in due time, Ministers of the Crown, they will then realise that under our Government system it is inevitable that they should function with every difficulty and with everyone trying to put difficulties in their way, and there is no greater difficulty in the administration of a difficult Department than to be fetched out of that Department to spend all your time in the House of Commons. I am not commenting on the facts; I am merely stating them. It is an immense relief to a Minister to feel that on two days in the week his attendance is not demanded in the same imperative fashion as it is on the days that Government. business is being taken. Therefore, as far as Members of the Government are concerned—and whatever the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition may say in opposition to this Motion he will not be able to deny this—if they had their way, they would like to see private Members occupy the time on every day of the week. I am not going to quote precedents—there are precedents in any amount—but it is the duty of the spokesman of the Government who moves this Motion to make good to the House, if he can, the reasons that have induced the Government t, put it down. I do not think that in this case I shall have any difficulty at all, and I think that I shall be able to carry the majority of Members with me.

The first difficulty we are up against this year is the date at which Easter falls. Over that the Government have no control. By the date at which Easter falls we lose a week of most valuable time before the 31st March, which is the crucial date upon which I would ask the House to concentrate their attention for the moment. There is, as all the older Members of the House know, a very large amount of financial business which must be completed by the 31st March. Let us just look for a moment at the business which must be taken by. any Government before that date. If private Members had their full time between now and Easter, as it falls this year, the Government would have 22½ days sittings at their disposal from to-day to the Thursday before Easter, which is the day on which the adjournment for the Easter Recess is usually taken. What is the financial business that must be taken in that time? There are the accruing Supplementary Estimates, sometimes more, sometimes less in importance. There will be about nine Supplementary Estimates, but I do not think they will be of special importance. Mr. Speaker has to be moved out of the Chair on the Army Estimates, the Navy Estimates and the Air Estimates. There is Vote A for each of those Services, and certain other financial Votes which have to be obtained in Committee of Supply. There is a Vote on account for the Civil Estimates and also the Consolidated Fund Bill which is necessary to give legal authority for the issue of the money that has been voted. The money that has been voted has to carry on the services of this country until the whole of the Supply of the year is through and releases what will be required for the service of the year. That financial business in itself must take about 12 sittings, and there must be a day for the Easter Adjournment discussion. That accounts for 13 of the 22½ days, leaving only the balance for the whole of the legislative business which the Government may have in sight. In addition to the days which have been demanded by the Opposition, one of which has already been taken for a Vote of Censure, the last thing we want is not to afford the House facilities for the discussion of the great subjects that arise from time to time. If allowance be made for that, and the necessary work which we have to do in regard to the finance of the country, the House will see that the time left is infinitesimal for what may and what will require to be done.

The Government, as the House knows, have been engaged during the Recess in considering what action should be taken as the first steps to deal with the situation of the country, the position of the balance of trade, and so forth. There is already a Bill dealing with import duties, the Financial Resolution of which will be moved to-morrow, and which from every point of view it is vital should become law at the earliest moment. That Bill alone, by its character, must take time. That is not the only Bill that will be required between now and Easter. There is the Wheat Quota Bill, a subject complicated in its nature, and it must necessitate considerable discussion in this House. It may well be that there will be other important Measures which we shall be called upon to consider. In these circumstances, it is perfectly obvious that the House will require every moment of the time which can be afforded to it. The question, indeed, that will arise will be whether the time at our disposal, the whole time, the full time, will be sufficient for our purpose.

I am somewhat encouraged to remember the words which the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton)—a man of great independence of character who always maintains the rights of private Members—used shortly before Christmas. He said: It is true that time might be saved when the House meets if private Members were persuaded to give up their Wednesday evenings and their Fridays. That might obtain if there were emergency Measures to be taken. Although the House has always been willing, since I have had the honour of being a Member of this Assembly, to give opportunities to private Members, one might expect confidently in a national emergency that sacrifices would be made."—[OFFICIAT REPORT, 11th December, 1931; col. 2257, Vol. 260.] It is for those sacrifices that the Government are asking to-day. The Motion, if passed, will not preclude private Members from introducing Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule nor will the ballot for subjects on first going into Committee of Supply on the Estimates be interfered with, because those Motions are taken in Government time. I want the House to remember that if we gave private Members all their time on this occasion, we would lose a fortnight. I am convinced, having regard to the character of the last General Election, and the mandate that was given to the National Government, that no supporter of the National Government will grudge the sacrifice to gain this fortnight to help to pass Measures that, in the view of the Members who support the National Government, are calculated to improve our credit and benefit the employment of our people.


I do not intend to raise any question between myself and the right hon. Gentleman as to the amount of business which the Government propose to get through between now and Easter. The figures in relation to the time needed for legislation are probably correct. I am not going to say that the Government are doing anything different from other Governments, or that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), when he becomes Prime Minister, would not carry through some very much more drastic and revolutionary Measure for speeding up legislation and administration. I expect there will be the same sort of speeches, but rather more emphatic, made against this action as are made to-day. With regard to the Motion, one test whether the time asked for will be required depends upon whether or not the legislation to be brought forward will be approved by the Liberal Members. If some Liberal Members of the Cabinet are going to speak and vote against some of the legislation that is to be introduced, the rank and file, or some of them, may be expected, if they are not sheep, to do the same. They should begin to pluck up courage to-day and come out and let us know really what they are and where they are. If we are to give up this time in order to pass legislation which is going to be disastrous to the best interests of the country, then Liberal Free Traders, certainly Liberal Members of the Cabinet—there is not one of them in the House just now—ought to go into the Division Lobby with us. I cannot do better than read a paragraph from a speech delivered by the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) on the 20th of January last, in which he said this—and it is my own-feeling about the present situation: The Prime Minister and his colleagues are inviting the House of Commons to spend the 11 weeks between now and Easter discussing perfectly futile subjects which have no relevancy to the vital needs of the country. That is our case against tariffs— We enter our protest against that procedure. That, however, is not the whole case. We are to be presented, at the expense of private Members' time with Bills which will add to the economic burdens of the country. I hope that Liberal Members will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that statement, because in their view tariffs will do exactly what the hon. and learned Member has said in connection with other legislation. which will throw sand into the wheels of capital and labour. Instead of dealing with vital problems we are to be asked to discuss certain other questions. That puts the case for us in regard to the legislation of His Majesty's Government. We would not give the Government a minute to discuss the proposals they are to bring forward, because we think they will do more harm than good. We shall have the courage to go into the Lobby against this Motion and Liberal Free Traders of both wings will, I expect, support the Government. There is one other point which arises on this proposal, and I hope that I shall be in order in referring to it. The Lord President of the Council said that Ministers would be glad if all the time was taken up by private Members. That is, of course, a little exaggeration. There is a great difference between private Members taking all the time and private Members having no time, no initiative, no opportunity of putting forward any legislative proposals.

Long years ago I came here as a boy and watched the procedure. There is no question that in those days, in 1876 when I first saw the House of Commons, hon. Members were able to take, I will not say a more intelligent but a more active part in the affairs of the country and in the Debates of this House than we are able to do at the present time. I recognise that conditions have changed and that the questions which have to be discussed now cover a much wider range than in those days, but I do think that now, seeing that private Members are going to have so much leisure, we ought at the earliest possible moment to sit down and consider how we all can be brought in, not merely to discuss questions but to put whatever knowledge and experience we possess into the common stock for dealing with problems connected with legislation and administration.

It has often been said that democracy is on its trial. That is not true, nor is it true that this House is on its trial in the sense which its opponents often imagine. What is on trial is our method of procedure, the fact that we are tending more and more to become cogs in a huge machine, moving when we are told to move and sitting down when we are told to sit down. I am not blaming any party because all parties and all groups are exactly alike. They want their members to be disciplined, to act together, and not to say that they disagree even, when they do disagree. Such a procedure means that there is really no place for individual initiative and individual action, and it will go on as long as the House conducts its business in the way that it does now. Mr. Jowett, who was a Member of this House for some years, made a proposal, which might have to be modified before it could be put into operation, for dealing with the matter. His idea was that we should be split up into committees, with actual work to do with or without a Minister. Members would not then be reduced to mere ciphers, as they are now.

I do not know what the new Members of the House, and especially the young Members, feel about themselves in this Parliament, but when they realise that the only thing they are expected to do regularly and with a certain amount of discipline and loyalty is to walk through the Lobbies when they are wanted, and to be anywhere else they please so long as they are here at a particular moment, they will, I believe, agree with me that the time has come when, instead of spending our time discussing this kind of proposal twice a year, we should give some time and thought to creating a better machine for the work of this Assembly. I am sure that on the question of tariffs and protecting our industries, on the question of reorganising our industries, a committee of all Members considering it without any thought of anything else would get much better results. I am quite certain that we should arrive at much better conclusions than we shall in the very slipshod discussions which will take place. It is because I feel strongly on this matter that I shall vote against the Motion, although I am bound to say that I am doing the opposite of what I should do if I were sitting on the other side of the House.

3.30 p.m.


I want to put one or two considerations before the Lord President of the Council from an angle diametrically opposed to the opening remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite presses his opposition to a Division I should not dream of going into the Lobby with him. The considerations which I desire to put before the Lord President of the Council are from the point of view of some private Members among the supporters of the Government. There is not one of them who does not agree with every word that the Lord President has said with regard to the necessity for taking the whole time of the House up to Easter. It is quite clear that the time at the disposal of the Government is curtailed through Easter being earlier this year. I have a dim memory of a very dismal memorandum which was once prepared at the Treasury in reference to the financial procedure before the end of the financial year. It is obvious that these requirements do take a number of days, which must be devoted to routine matters before Easter. Therefore, that the remainder of the time should be at the disposal of the Government before Easter is important.

There is not a Member on this side of the House who is not anxious that a Bill like the Trade Bill should be passed through all its stages with the least possible delay. So far, therefore, as the taking of time until Easter is concerned, I give my most hearty support to the proposal that private Members should give up the whole of their time to the Government. But the position after Easter seems different. This Motion applies to the whole of the Session. There may be abnormal pressure before Easter, but I am sure that the advisers of the Government who deal with the question of calculating time would probably say that the pressure after Easter is not likely to be so great as the pressure before. It is, of course, conceivable that some matters of urgency might arise, but so far as anyone can calculate the days it seems to be likely that a good deal of time might be spared to private Members after Easter. I ask the Lord President whether, if Members who support the Government give up their time quite freely before Easter, he will consider the possibility of giving back to them some of their time at a later stage of the Session. At the moment it looks as if it ought to be possible for the Government to do so. If anything critical should arise, of course the circumstances would be altered. It is necessary to put the point to the Government now. I have never yet known any Government disgorge afterwards what it has taken at an earlier date, unless it has promised to give consideration to such a suggestion.

I know that both the Lord President of the Council and the Prime Minister, when in oppposition, have expressed a wish to consider, as indeed the Lord President has done to-day, the rights of private Members. My proposal might call for some alteration of the Standing Orders, but in abnormal times there really can be no objection to Standing Orders being made to serve the use of Parliament in a matter of this kind. There is another consideration. Ministers at the present time are being given unusual freedom of speech in Parliament. The reason is that the times are abnormal. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there are matters which private Members value and which they might have an opportunity of bringing forward, either by Motion after a ballot in the usual way, or in the form of Bills which in due course might get through. I think it would be regrettable, from the point of view of the House of Commons, if at a time when Ministers are granted unusual freedom of speech, there should be the possibility of private Members having their time curtailed more than is necessary. Therefore, while I gladly support the Government in taking private Members' time up to Easter, I ask them to consider the possibility, if circumstances and business allow, of giving back to private Members some of that time at a later period of the Session.


There is a difference now compared with the last time that the Lord President of the Council moved such a Motion. The last time the right hon. Gentleman took away private Members' time and got the Opposition to agree with him. Why the Opposition should have agreed with him when he had a weaker ease than he has now, I cannot understand. But the right hon. Gentleman had a weaker case then. He asked for private Members' time up to the adjournment for Christmas, and he had no business to state to the House. If my memory serves me correctly, the purport of the speech that he then made was this: "Only grant us the time up to Christmas and then private Members will be assured of their rights." Now he comes along and says that he wants this further time of private Members. The whole of his speech indicated that the Motion would apply to time only up to Easter. The right hon. Gentleman said "We need so much time for Supplementary Estimates, so much time for financial business, so much time for the Consolidated Fund Bill, so much time for the Adjournment, so much time for Votes of Censure up to Easter," and then he dismissed the matter as if after that private Members would have their full rights restored.

I am not strong in precedents, but in my casual examination of precedents I can find none for the Government taking such a long period of time. Precedents for taking time up to Easter I can find in abundance, but not a precedent for taking such a long period as this Motion proposes. The Motion is not aimed at the Opposition. Let us be frank about it. Officially the Opposition number 46; unofficially they number six. That is 52 in all, a small proportion of the House. Taking the ballot on an ordinary arithmetical basis, it means that the 52 as against the rest of the House have a relatively small chance of securing private Members' time. We have only about one chance in 14 as against the rest of the House. If we got a chance to move Motions they would be Motions that the Government could defeat with an overwhelming majority. If, for instance, the official Opposition got an opportunity to move a Motion, one of the first things they would do would be to move a Motion about the means test, about unemployment benefit, about workmen's compensation, about the 48 hours week and things of that kind. On every one of those subjects the Government could muster full support and defeat us.

At whom is this Motion aimed? No one on the Government side is pleased with the Government—[Interruption.] I cannot understand the Conservatives in this matter. I can understand my Labour friends. Our incomes depend on Parliament, but hon. Members opposite are not dependent on Parliament. Look at the Tory speeches delivered in the country. Hon. Members opposite are all dissatisfied, and, as the weeks go by, their dissatisfaction must increase. [Interruption.] I wish the Prime Minister were here. Everyone knows what he will do. The difficulty with him is that he does not know himself what he wants to do, and he "takes back" every one who does know. He dallies. The man who dallies is not looked upon by hon. Members opposite as he was looked upon by us. With us the Prime Minister was only second to the great Creator himself. Everything he did was right. You might analyse it and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was wrong but you were told, "You have proved that it is all wrong but Mr. MacDonald says that it must be right and it will turn out all right in the end."

That is the argument which is being used with hon. Members opposite and the result is that, as their anxiety increases and as their knowledge increases, private Members' time must inevitably be taken from them because private Members Motions from hon. Members opposite can give far greater anxiety to the Government in the Parliamentary sense, than such Motions from this side. This Government, composed as it is, does not want any annoyance. I have to smile at the influence exercised by what was the smallest party numerically in the House—though that honour has now been taken from them by my hon. Friends here. I have noticed it as a curious thing in my Parliamentary experience that the Liberals, though the smallest party seemed to dominate the policy of Parliament. They dominated it in the time of the last Government. True they did it from outside then, but now they dominate it from inside. Naturally the Liberals do not want private Members to have time because then the Tories would come in with their own Motions and their own theories. Two or three Liberals inside the Cabinet apparently can dominate the great majority in the House of Commons. Let hon. Members opposite say now what they think and say what they know. Let them say the things which they say in their own Divisions sometimes when they think they are not being reported.

There is another reason why I raise this matter. It is true that our chance in the Ballot is small, but it is a chance, and I want to preserve these private Members' Motions for a reason which possibly only two or three of us here would regard as a fit reason. I am not going to discuss the question, but I mention it in order to show how these private Members Motions may affect us. For some time past two or three of us have been very much annoyed about a tendency which we think is showing itself on judicial benches in this country. We are not allowed to criticise a single judge without a Motion appearing on the Paper and that Motion cannot be discussed unless the Government grant time. That means, in effect, that such a Motion is never taken if the Member putting it down belongs to a small group. We could quote cases in which we think the judicial bench has been departing from its legal responsibilities and taking a class line, and we would like to challenge that and debate it in the House of Commons. Our only opportunity of debating sentences which we regard as savage and cruel would be by getting a Motion in private Members' time.

There is another reason. The right hon. Gentleman said that all this time was wanted up to Easter. Does he recall that the House adjourned very early in December? We put down a Motion asking that the House should meet earlier. Why are we now overcrowded with business? It is not our fault. Private Members are the sufferers, but let it be remembered that this overcrowding of time is not the fault of those who have to suffer for it. It is the Government's fault. The Government adjourned the House early in December and did not summon the House until late in the new year. If they had remained sitting a week later in December, if they had summoned the House a fortnight earlier, they would have had practically all the time that the private Members want. But they did not do so.

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that Ministers like to have their leisure. When one looks at the benches opposite to-day where hon. and right hon. Gentlemen—whether private Members or Members of the Government—are taking their leisure, there does not seem to be much strength in that argument. But it is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to use that argument. Ministers of the Crown can have the business allocated so as to allow themselves a fair amount of off-time.

The right hon. Gentleman assumes that each Supplementary Estimate will take one day, but as a matter of fact many of the Estimates are trivial and do not take much time. This Motion is nothing but an attempt by the Government, knowing their own folly, knowing their own incapacity to face the situation—[Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Gentleman opposite anticipated me as to that, but great minds usually think alike. But hon. Members opposite know that the Prime Minister dallies and wastes time and then shoves the responsibility on to other people. You Conservatives are allowing your time to be taken. You are told that the Tariff Bill must be got through in the country's interest. But there is one man who has found out the Prime Minister already, and that is Lord Beaverbrook, and I wish to congratulate him. All these chaps sitting above the Gangway found him out before, but they were too much afraid to say so. If you were not afraid you were flung out because you were not afraid. But they all knew him. Now Lord Beaverbrook, who is not in the right hon. Gentleman's pocket, has found him out too. He says that, while the private Members might not do very much with the time, the Government are going to do less. This proposal is only playing with the problem. It is an attempt by the Government to mislead people into the belief that they are doing something when they are doing nothing. Lord Beaverbrook honestly and fearlessly says that this Government must be swept out or else do something for which they were elected.

The choice before the House of Commons is whether power and initiative and time are to be taken from private Members from now to the end of the Session, or whether this Government, led by a. man who in my view is inept and in- capable of leading any Government—[Interruption.] His whole history shows it. It is a history of delay, of inability to face situations as a man would do. You have his record; every Member of the House knows his record, and you are asked now to decide whether you are going to give a man with a record like that the power to take private Members' time and waste it in folly and stupidity. I hope that at any rate the Conservative Members who are freer economically than Members on this side were, will make a stand in this House for at least some of the liberties which they ought to possess.


I apologise for rising in this particular corner of the House, but I can assure my hon. Friends that that circumstance is entirely due to overcrowding and is not because of any sympathy between myself and the Members of the Opposition who sit in front of me. In fact, there is a great gulf between us. I rise to enter, not a vigorous, but only a mild protest against the action of the Government in taking completely the time of private Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) has made a case to which I think an answer ought to be given as to the taking of time after Easter, and that case, I think, has been substantiated by those experts in Parliamentary procedure, the hon. Members from the Clyde. There is another point. Could I have an assurance from the Chief Whip that when business does not last until Eleven o'clock, he will give an undertaking not to move the Adjournment of the House, so that in such cases we shall have the opportunity of discussing any private Members' Bills which may be on the Order Paper at that time?

The Leader of the House made a point that, this being a National Government, it was very appropriate that they should take the whole time of the House, but let me draw attention to the Measures in which we are for the moment, except for to-morrow, about to indulge. They are the Town and Country Planning Bill, about which there is no great national emergency; the Children and Young Persons Bill, no doubt a very desirable Measure, but the whole nation is not clamouring for it; and yesterday we heard that we are to have introduced a Bill to regulate hire purchase in Scotland. I do not know whether my hon. Friends from the Clyde wish to stop that Bill, but this is not the sort of Measure for which the whole country is clamouring and for which we should give up our ancient rights.

I want, however, to approach this subject from rather a different angle. I eiect to sit on this side of the House, and I look at the Front Bench opposite me and realise that that is a so-called National party, but it has not yet welded its followers into a party. That, I think, is true, and what these Gentlemen sitting on the Government Bench have to realise is that there exists to-day a position which has never existed before, and that is that that whole bench could be swept away and filled again twice over with just as representative members of the National party. Let them think of that before they get too proud and haughty. That is a very curious position, and I hope other hon. Members will impress it on them from time to time.

What have they done so far to weld their followers together and make them a party? Let me quote from what happened before Christmas. We came here full of enthusiasm to be up and doing, and what did they do? They put two dirty tricks across us. They made us vote on a resolution which we did not really want to carry, about India, and they made us pass a thing which we also did not want, and that was the Statute of Westminster; and now, the moment we start this part of the Session, enthused by three weeks of not being in contact with them, we get another pinprick in the taking away of our ancient rights as private Members. I was shocked yesterday when the Prune Minister, in talking about Members' time, said that if there was any spare time, they would give it to the Opposition. No thought of their followers. Those did not come within the purview of their ideas at all. This miserable Opposition does not count.

I am a prophet. I am like Cassandra. When I give words of advice to the Leader of the House, he never believes me, but I am always right, and let me tell him this, that the danger for the Government Bench does not come from this side of the House; it comes from all around you on that side, and what are you doing to save yourselves from that danger? Are you trying to win the affection of your followers? I am not against you. I think you are an admirable lot, and I do not want to turn you out, but for yourselves you must try to make a party by trying to win your followers and not by alienating them. This is the third time we have had these pin-pricks, and I want to tell the Government that they are playing with fire, and playing in the presence of some very inflammable material.


It happens that I made some remarks at the close of the Session before Christmas which have been quoted to-day. At that time we were discussing the period which the Government would have at their disposal to deal with public business before Easter if the House should meet on the 2nd February, as it has in fact done. We were not contemplating that the Government would come to-day, on the 3rd February, and ask private Members to give up the whole of their rights for the whole of the Session. I have searched my memory, and I cannot remember any precedent for the Government taking the whole of Private Members' time on the first or second day of sitting in the new year. Surely the Government cannot believe that they are not making a precedent in taking the whole time of the House. If they search, I am sure they will find that at any rate on one day during some part of the Session private Members have been allowed to ballot for Motions. There is something to be said perhaps for surrendering the whole of the Fridays, because the Government are leaving the right to bring in Bills under the Ten. Minutes Rule, and such Bills are generally approved by the House on First Reading and have an opportunity of getting a Second Reading and going upstairs to Committee, but surely the Government might leave at least one evening during the Session on which to discuss Motions. If such an Amendment were made, I should be obliged to support it, but I hope that nothing of the kind will be necessary and that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will do something to make this Motion less drastic, to meet the House, and not ask private Members to surrender the whole of their privileges, unless he finds, as the Session progresses, that he is obliged to take more from them than he has made out a case for doing to-day.


Might I suggest that the reasonable appeal put forward by the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) should be given consideration by the Government? I think the right hon. Gentleman, when he moved this Motion, made a very strong case under the present conditions of an early Easter, but I would remind him of his very emphatic pledge given on the 11th November last, when he said that when we met again he hoped there would be a prolonged Session in front of us and there would be ample opportunity for private Members to put down Bills on days when they might fairly hope to have them considered. He vent on to say: I may just add, for the comfort of the House, that under our present Rules such Wednesdays as are sacrificed between now and Christmas have to be made good in time before the Easter Recess. What the House stands to lose is the Friday, and they will lose just as many Fridays as happen to come in the time that we are in Session between now and Christmas. Supposing, to put the most favourable aspect upon it, that it will be about three, then that is the total sum of the loss which the private Member will suffer. That is the situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1931; col. 105, Vol. 259.] 4.0 p.m.

That is the situation. It is rather early to disillusion the House. We know that promises, like piecrust, are made to be broken, but it is rather discouraging to a new House of Commons, largely composed of new Members, when the Prime Minister and the Government—this all-powerful Government—have to take away Members' special privileges of promoting Bills and moving Resolutions. But there is a way out, and the right hon. Gentleman, who has years of experience not only as a Minister, but also as a Chief Whip—[Interruption]. Yes, he was joint Chief Whip before the hon. Member ever thought of becoming a Member of the House of Commons. He was joint Chief Whip in Coalition days. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] It was, I think, when Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister, but the point is really unimportant. The fact remains that the right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge and experience, has put forward a practical proposal, and I suggest that the Government should give it favourable consideration, because it would be an encouragement to the House to go on with its work.


I am sure that the House will have been delighted with the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), and I want to join in the appeal which has already been made to the right hon. Gentleman, at any rate to relax a little in his attitude. This House some time ago appointed a Select Committee to inquire into this very problem and the right hon. Gentleman himself came before the Committee and pleaded rather vigorously, if I remember correctly, for the rights of private Members in the House of Commons. I feel sure that he will not mind if I quote some of the words he used to the Committee upstairs on this subject, and I know of nothing better to support the opposition which we are now putting up to his Motion. He said before the Select Committee: I have always got the private Member in my mind. I dislike the Guillotine. As a matter of fact, the Guillotine was never more severely used than by means of the Motion he has put before the House this afternoon. He went on to say: I am sorry that the Guillotine came in, but I recognise that it had to come in. I never enjoy using it (against the private Member) and I should only use it when it is necessary. I hope the time has not come yet when it will become the regular method. I have been a Member of this House for 10 years, and I have seen Parliaments come and go, and have heard Prime Ministers and Leaders of the House moving the exact Motion that the right hon. Gentleman has moved to-day. Ten years is not a long time to be a Member of this House, but I do not remember a Motion taking at the beginning of February the whole time of the Session, because that means up to the end of July. I hope that hon. Members who are new to this House will bear in mind that until the production of this Motion there was a chance for the ordinary Member, whether he supported the Government or was in Opposition, to bring new points before the House. In fact, there have been occasions when an ordinary back bencher has been able to move a Motion, or bring forward a Bill on his own account, and it has received the unanimous assent of every part of the House. If this Motion be carried to-day, I feel positive that it does not matter what issue is raised by any hon. Member; however important the issue may be, he will have no chance at all of bringing it before this House except under the Ten Minutes Rule. We shall apparently be confined henceforth entirely to the Ten Minutes Rule. Let us see what that Rule does. Hon. Gentlemen in this House have received several circular letters about the coupon trading system. I do not know very much about this subject, but I know sufficient to say that it is a nuisance to every decent trader in the land. There is, indeed, in every party in this House a growing feeling that something ought to be done to abolish that pernicious system of trading. What chance is there of bringing any Motion or Bill before this House, except under the Ten Minutes Rule, to abolish that system of trading?

Let me say something else as to how the House of Commons is being deprived of its rights. I am very glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in his place. He was the chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, who had to question the Leader of the House of Commons as to his views about the rights of private Members. Let me quote the answers to some of the questions put by the Parliamentary Secretary. This is what the right hon. Gentleman who sponsors the Motion to-day said: I would be most reluctant"— See how the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind! I would he most reluctant, unless it were the desire of the whole House, to take away from him (the private Member) the opportunity he has of ventilating some subject in which he is very much interested, which he may not be able to discuss in the House of Commons at any other time, anal, as you say, of hearing the reply that may be given to it. Surely what was right last year in the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman before the Select Committee on Procedure cannot be wrong to-day. Really, we have a definite grievance in that the right hon. Gentleman has not givsen us an indication, although he has practically planned the whole of the Business of this House right up to Easter, why he should not concede the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Labour. As far as I understand the position, we can say goodbye for the whole of 1932 to any opportunities whatsoever for the private Member to introduce any Motion in this House. That is a very serious state of affairs, and hon. Members will know me well enough when I say that I protested even when our own Government have tried to do the same thing. The private Member has a right as an individual in this House. After all, he is not here merely as a supporter of the Government. I am not here merely as a member of the Labour party. I am here representing a constituency as well, happily the most intelligent constituency in the country.

I like quoting the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President because, at any rate, he is always plain and straight to the point. He makes no hesitation in telling people what he thinks about certain questions. This is what he said in reply to another question before the Select Committee on the very issue with which we are dealing now. In fact, the committee of which the hon. Gentleman was chairman dealt extensively with the problem we are now discussing. I hold in my hand the Blue Book which is the report of the Select Committee on Procedure before which you, Mr. Speaker, were good enough also to give evidence. Let me quote from the right bon. Gentleman once again on another question which was put to him regarding private Members' time:

I do not think anybody who was leading the House of Commons would propose any change in the existing system of allocation of time for private Members' Bills unless he was satisfied that quite 90 per cent. of the private Members would welcome a change of that kind. Have 'we got 90 per cent. of the present House of Commons supporting the right hon. Gentleman's Motion to-day? I doubt it. I have listened to the speeches, including the very strong speech made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman be-hind me. In fact, the tone of that speech made me think that he ought to have joined our party. The speech of the right hon. Gentlemen behind the Government was very critical, too, and I am expecting the Liberal party on that side of the House to come out strongly this afternoon in favour of the rights of private Members. I was very pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) on this subject. We collected, as I said, a vast amount of evidence on this very issue for the Select Committee, and I wish the Prime Minister were present, because he was almost more emphatic on certain rights than the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He said: If you are going to give private Members time, you have to be fair to them. and give them time which they can really use profitably. There have been complaints that on Wednesday, when the ordinary Member has secured a place in the Ballot for a Motion, that he has not used his time wisely. Let me say from my experience that it does not follow in the least when a back bencher stands up in the House of Commons and the Front Government Bench is absolutely empty, that the back bencher does not influence public opinion. I have felt very often, with my limited powers of oratory, that when I have addressed this House I have not had the slightest chance of affecting the mind of the Government, but I believe I have convinced people outside the House of Commons who will some day, I feel sure, agree more and more with our point of view.

I have been through some of the records of the House of Commons to find out what subjects private Members really are interested in. After all, the interest of politics cannot be confined exclusively to tariffs. Let us see what we did during the five weeks before Christmas. We argued about turnips, cabbages, tomatoes and carrots. Surely, all the people of this country could not be said to be interested for five weeks in nothing but garden produce. That was what happened in the House of Commons before Christmas, and if the Government, led by the right hon. Gentleman, brings forward a Bill to-morrow to place duties on other commodities, I cannot conceive that they will be less interested in problems of the kind I am going to mention. Let me ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.- Colonel Moore) what chance he will have, if this Motion be carried, of putting forward his idea once again for the humane slaughter of animals? It is a burning question to a large number of people. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has done 4 great deal of propaganda in this House, and even introduced a Bill on the subject and secured its revision upstairs in the Standing Committee. If this Motion be carried, he can be assured that his Bill will not have a chance of passing into law during the whole of 1932.

A large number of Members of this House, and a considerable number of people outside, are intimately connected with church life. Hon. Members on all sides know that dog-racing is carried on in this country on Sundays on a considerable scale, and that is an offence to a large number of our people. What chance shall we get during 1932 of dealing with that? If this Motion be carried, there will be no opportunity whatever to ventilate that grievance, which is a serious menace to the life of the nation. What opportunity will there be for raising the issue of local option for Wales? Wales, as is known, is ready for local option to deal with the drink traffic.

Viscountess ASTOR

It was defeated by Welsh Members.


It was defeated because the Noble Lady supported it. That is one of the unfortunate events in her political career. Such issues, which are burning in some parts of the country, will never be raised at all in this Session. Let me pass to a point in which I am personally interested. The Government are doing by administrative action a considerable number of things of which the ordinary citizen is not aware. But I know now that no chance will occur, although I am as audacious as most Members, of raising the point in which I am interested. The Minister of Health has taken upon himself to administer the whole of the benefits of the Army and Navy Health Insurance funds. He has taken the business away from insurance committees, who have approached me and asked me to take the matter up in the House of Commons. Where can I have an opportunity of discussing that problem if this Motion is carried? There will be none whatever. The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House of Commons a long number of years and has held all manner of offices in Governments, and I should like him to reply to this point: I understand authoritatively that there has been no precedent for this Motion since the War. If that be the case, and I think that it can be vouched for, the House of Commons ought to be very careful lest this Government take away more of its liberties.

I agree with an hon. Member who said that Members on points of procedure always complain to each other, personally and privately, against what the Government are doing, but when it comes to the point of speaking or voting they are dumb. Now is their time to protest against taking away their liberties as individual Members of Parliament. In the constituencies that I know in Lancashire I am sure that hon. Members will not be asked at the next General Election what the Government did, what the Prime Minister did, or what the Lord President of the Council did. They will be asked what they did in the House of Commons. That is the question they will have to answer, and they will not have an opportunity of doing what they in their individual capacity think right if they help to carry this Motion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously if he can see his way to make a promise that if all Private Members' time is taken before Easter we shall have some time after Easter.


I beg to move, in line I, to leave out the words, "for the remainder of the Session," and to insert instead thereof the words. "until the Adjournment of the House for Easter."

I am sure that the Lord President of the Council will realise that the trend of the Debate has been in accordance with the final words of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), and that private Members' time should only be taken up to Easter. However willing the right hon. Gentleman may be to concede that he cannot do it without an Amendment. The Amendment which I propose will, under Standing Orders, leave the Fridays after Easter up to Whitsuntide available for Second Readings and further stages of private Members' Bills. The Lord President told us that the real reason why this Motion was required was that the Government had no control over Easter. It must have escaped his memory that, as a great example of the futility of many private Members' Bills, there is an Act on the Statute Book which empowers the Government to fix Easter, but nothing has been done, or is ever likely to be done with regard to it. When the hon. Member for Westhoughton makes a great plea for private Members' time, his is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, because all his party are committed to exactly the contrary view. He will remember that in the evidence which he has quoted, the late chief Whip of the Labour party, Mr. Kennedy, said less than a year ago: The time devoted to private Members' Bills and Motions on Wednesdays and Fridays should, I think, be at the disposal of the Government. I say this because I have a very strong conviction, as I have said already, that the Floor of the House should not be degraded to the level of a debating society. That is the considered view of the chief official responsible for Government business in the time of the late Administration, and therefore it is not surprising that we have not heard the plea from private Members on that side of the House. A remark which fell from the Prime Minister yesterday was ominous so far as most of us in the House are concerned. When he was being cross-examined about this business, he said rather graciously that if the Government had some time to spare, that is to say, if the calculations with regard to days necessary did not come up to expectations, we shall be very glad to devote it to ways congenial to the Opposition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1932; col. 35, Vol. 261.] Private Members' time is not a question as between the Government and the Opposition, but between the Government and private Members, and it is not a satisfactory solution to most of us for the Government to say that, if there is any time left over, it is to be devoted to the antics of the Opposition. All kinds of subjects might arise, and he would be a strange prophet who could say what we might want discussed after Whitsuntide. I hope that, in view of what has been said and the conciliatory speeches from all quarters of the House, the Lord President will consider accepting an Amendment such as I am moving.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do not by any means think that the Government have gone too far in taking the whole of private Members' time, for these are abnormal times; it is an abnormal Government, and we have to take abnormal measures. If the Amendment is carried, it is more than likely that a new Motion will have to be put forward after Easter to take private Members' time for the rest of the Session, but we ought to take one bite of the cherry at a time and not go the whole hog. I think the Government are right to take the time up to Easter, because we were definitely elected in October to put forward various Measures to cure the trade balance. We were elected to do certain specific things, and the country elected us to treat this Session as perhaps the most momentous Session during the century. The Government have a great task before them, and the House cannot spend unnecessary hours and days debating what are largely platonic Motions and introducing Bills which have no possible chance of being put on the Statute Book.

In the last Parliament which I was not in, and the Parliament before which I was in, it frequently occurred that on Wednesdays and Fridays the House was counted out. Bills were introduced on Fridays, largely by Opposition Members in order to try and trap the Government's support for something. That is an old game. The House was frequently counted out between one and two o'clock. On Wednesdays the House was also frequently counted out by dinner time. Everybody appeared to look upon Wednesdays and Fridays as non-working days, and they took the opportunity to go off to their constituencies and to their businesses or to play golf and to do anything else they wanted to do, and only a handful of Members was present. Some people have talked about Parliament not having the confidence of the country that it used to have. I think that that is largely true, and it is due to the feeling of a great many people with regard to the futility of certain proceedings in this House.

I look upon a large amount of private Members' time as being particularly futile. I often talk to constituents in the street and in the train, and they have frequently remarked on the House being counted out on Fridays and Wednesdays. What is the feeling of these people who are interested in politics and who elected us in this House to do something? They say, "It is a waste of time, and why are they not doing their job?" That feeling has become more prevalent during the past few years. I was in the House sufficiently long ago to remember that we had Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for private Members' Motions. That that worked very much better because we had Government business up to 8.15, and then a private Members' Motion until 11 o'clock. As we often had an important Division at 8.15, a large number of Members were here, and, instead of going away, they stayed for the Debate on the private Members' Motion. It was a mistake to do away with that system.

4.30 p.m.

This is an exceptional year, and I do not second the Amendment in any particular hope that the Government will be able to carry it into effect, even if they accept it, because I think that there will be a vast amount of legislation to be brought forward, not only up to Easter, but after Easter, which will carry the House well on to August. The Tariff Bill to be introduced to-morrow will certainly occupy a great deal of the time up to Easter. Soon after that will come the Budget, which will be an extremely complicated Budget, as it will bring into effect many new taxes. Then many Orders-in-Council which will have been referred to the House by the Tariff Board which, I understand, is to be set up, will have to be considered. There will be innumerable Votes of Censure by the Opposition, who obviously do not think this Government can do anything right. Also, Reparations, War Debts, India, Shanghai—every other conceivable subject—will have to be discussed. Although it may be unpleasant for private Members to realise it, in this Parliament they will be more or less cyphers, so far as their own pet schemes are concerned. And at the beginning of a Session, whenever a Motion has been put forward to take the time of private Members, I have always thought there was a certain amount of unnecessary self-righteousness and unctuousness about the speeches of those who have defended the position of private Members. They know that a great deal of what they would propose would be perfectly futile, and that it would be better to get on with Government business. This year the country expects the Government to get on with the job for which they were elected as quickly as possible, and that is to cure the adverse trade balance and try to put our finances on a sound basis. For these reasons, I beg to second the Amendment.


As I understand the proposal of the Government, it will take Wednesdays and Fridays right up to the end of the Session, to the end of July, and that will prevent any private Member from giving complete expression to his opinions by introducing private Bills, except under the limited Ten Minutes Rule, when the time allotted is quite inadequate for him to deal with his problem. It is preposterous for the Government to come forward with this proposal after they have had eight weeks' holiday. Any business of extreme urgency arising out of the mandate given during the election could have been dealt with if that holiday had been Shortened, and that would then have left time for private Members to introduce Bills. An hon. Member sitting on this side, a supporter of the Government, I think, said it depended entirely on the majority of the Members of the Government what should be done, and I agree, but in my short experience of this House I have never seen any great number of supporters of a, Government showing sufficient audacity toturn down the proposals of their Government. In my short experience of prison life—an experience which others may have shared—I discovered that a prisoner is expected by his warders to lock himself in when he enters his cell. A properly-disciplined prisoner is expected to pull the door to after him, and lock himself in the cell. The supporters of the Government now have the same opportunity of shutting themselves up, and I expect that I what they will decide to do. Those brave legions who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, go down to their Divisions and denounce all sections of the Government for not getting a move on, for not getting things done, will probably vote away all their rights to the Government in response to this plea of urgency.

A great deal has been said about subjects being "talked out" on private Members' nights. That sort of thing does not happen only in the case of private Members' Bills. I remember many occasions when the House had to be summoned for a, "count" because 40 Mem- bers, out of 615, were not present to deal with the Government business. [An HON. MEMBER: "In the dinner hour!"] No, not in the dinner hour. It is well known that after 4 o'clock, after the occupants of the Front Benches have delivered their speeches, hundreds of Members leave the House and do not come back until after 10 o'clock at night. [interruption.] My hon. Friends may dissent, but my own eyes and ears do not deceive me. I have seen them troop into this House from all corners of London. Therefore, the time of private Members ought not to be taken away on the plea that business is occasionally "talked out" on their nights. Surely private Members have a right to introduce Measures which affect their own constituencies, or which affect the country or affect sections of the working classes. We are told this is the freest debating chamber in the world. When you are pleading for Constitutional Government you point out the opportunities that private Members have. If those opportunities are to disappear we might as well end this sham and pretence of democratic government and give the Cabinet, with its divided sections, the opportunity of carrying through its policy and its programme, sending hon. Members back to their divisions and not troubling to call them here at all.

Under the guise of urgency, an urgency which I cannot see existing, we are rapidly moving towards a complete dictatorship by a few persons. Of course the Liberal Members in the Cabinet may vote with us to-day against the taking away of private Members' time, now that they have an opportunity to vote as they like, now that we have a sort of "go-as-you-please Cabinet." Within the limits of the Parliamentary system, in so far as I understand it—not too thoroughly, I quite admit—I can see only odd opportunities for a Member of Parliament to express his own point of view, and this Motion means that for the whole of this year we are to be deprived of even those limited opportunities. I speak as an interested Member on this point, because I had anticipated taking part in this ballot, and, if I had the opportunity, introducing certain Bills which affect the whole of the working class, and I protest against the Government taking that opportunity from me. Anyone who is in this House knows that nine-tenths of the time taken up by the Government in Debates is occupied with speeches which are only what might be termed "a fill in," intended to waste time. Sometimes it is difficult to get enough Members to rise to continue Debates. Debates could be shortened if necessary, and that would leave time for private Members. Some of us have a strong suspicion that there is very little democracy in this House, but we want to see preserved such limited opportunities as remain to private Members to express their antagonisms in whatever way they desire.

An Amendment has been moved providing that the. Government may take the time of private Members only up to Easter. May I remind hon. Members that it is only after Easter that the possibility of real trouble in this House arises? Members are resigning their rights effectively to criticise the Government for not doing the things they were returned to power to do. We are having a repetition of the cunning and cute (lodge with which the Prime Minister used to be taunted in the last Parliament, that of buying time, trying to protect his position for a period. The game to-day is to attempt to get a stabilisation of the Government forces to the end of this year, so that the House may not effectively deal with him in respect of any mistakes that may be made during that period. Hon. Members who are continually boasting throughout the country that they are free men should remember that. I know there is a feeling in the country that when a man becomes' a Member of the House of Commons he ceases to be a human being. I cannot altogether agree with that view, although I admit that it is very largely the case. In almost 95 per cent. of cases a man ceases to be a human being, with a right to think and a right to act as a free man, in the interests of his constituents, and in the interests of the working class.

Hon. Members are looked upon as having pledged themselves to support something that they cannot explain. A few men on the Front Bench give orders. They meet in secret conclave and then say, "We have decided to introduce this, and you have got to support us, or else we will withdraw the Whip from you, withdraw the money bags; we will turn you adrift, and you may not remain a Member of the House of Commons.' That is the sort of threat we in this House continually get, and I resent it. I resent the encroachments on the liberties of private Members. I cannot see that there is any urgency at all. A great deal of the business that will be discussed from now until tile end of July could be disposed of in a very short space of time. If the Government are really pressed for time they ought to do without the usual eight or 10 days' holiday at Easter. The working class do not get the holidays that we get. We are continually preaching to the workers that hard work is the only thing that can save the nation, but the people who tell that to the workers have no intention of doing anything but dodge work in every shape and form. If, therefore, there must be a speeding up here, and the limited opportunities of private Members are to be taken away, I protest against the House being given another holiday of eight or 10 days at Easter.

Really this proposal is only a cunningly devised scheme to prevent supporters of the Government from expressing their real antagonisms during a most difficult period of the year. They are being gingered up from outside to do so. It is known that the Government are led by a man whom not a single Member of the Government trusts. There is not a man of this Government who, if he were honest enough to confess it, has any faith in the man who is Prime Minister. He is a shuffler in the greatest degree. I beg pardon. I believe the Member for one of the Nottingham divisions has real faith in the Prime Minister. But, again, I say, it is the old game that is being played. In the last Parliament the Labour party were continually taunted with "buying time," with being led by the Liberals, being kept in office by the Liberals. When the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs {Mr. Lloyd George) saw any of the Liberals going into the Tory Lobby he would throw a few Liberals into the Labour Lobby in order to keep the Government in office. We know those old tricks, which would not deceive even a man with only one eye, and they ought not to deceive the Liberals in the present Government. As the hon. Member for Gorbals has said, they are dominating the situation very fast. After all, I am prepared to admit that if there had been a complete break during the election, if there had not been those frantic appeals from the Prime Minister and the President of the Council, the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and others would have gone the road that many other Liberals went.

The object of the Lord President of the Council, in moving this Motion, is to allow the least possible time for discussion, and the result will be that we shall probably arrive at that dangerous period when every hon. Member will be out for the blood of the Government. The Government are taking time by the forelock and stealing the time of private Members. I want to impress upon all the Members of this House what they are letting themselves in for by passing this Motion. They ought fully to recognise that this proposal is a cunning game of bluff to protect a Government which is already falling to pieces.


The House is well aware that hon. Members opposite always have the courage of their convictions, but perhaps they will allow me to express my regret that they have taken this opportunity of making a personal attack on the Prime Minister at a time when he is unable to be present in the House. [Interruption.] I shall take this opportunity of supporting the Motion which the Government have put forward to-day. Up to the present moment I think the whole of the speakers in the Debate have been more or less hostile to the Motion. The Amendment before us is one which is hostile to the mails Motion. As far as I was able to follow the speech of the Seconder of the Amendment, I am quite content to leave the opposition to it to the arguments which he put forward. I gather that the only objection of the hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Amendment is that he desires to have two bites at the whole hog. We have had an excellent exposition of the futility of private Members' time, and the wasteful purposes to which it has been put.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) advanced an argument to which I should like to reply. The hon. Member was very strong about the rights of private Members, but it does not seem to have occurred to him that one of the prime rights of the private Member is to assist in the achievement of the purposes for which the Government were elected. We all know that discussion, and a furtherance of ideas, is one of the objects of this House, but personally I am more interested in the practical achievements of this House, and I am here for the purpose of assisting in the achievement of those purposes. There is far too much vain and useless talk in this House, and far too little achievement. Most hon. Members are agreed that the percentage of achievement in this House has tended steadily to decline. We talk more and get less done, and discussions as to how we should spend our time are the most futile of all our ways of wasting it.

What has produced the need for this Motion? In my view, it is the inadequacy of the machinery of this House. Last December I invited the Government to employ some of the abundant material at its disposal in the experience possessed by ex-Cabinet Ministers and the zeal of younger Members in an attempt to deal with this problem. I suggested that there was a very fruitful precedent to be followed in the method applied to a Church Measure where you have a specialist assembly in conjunction with a specialist committee of the two Houses of Parliament. Pending a solution of the wider problem, I think we ought to devise some better method of dealing with the problem of how to use to the best advantage the limited time which is at our disposal in present circumstances. A proposal has been frequently made that there should be a Standing Committee to which should he referred all the Government proposals to override Standing Orders except the purely formal ones. A Standing Committee of that kind would be able to do full justice to private Members and would also be able to allocate a reasonable amount of time to the various Bills brought before Parliament. In that way justice might be done to all parties, and we should then be able to make the best possible use of the time at our disposal.

May I advance one argument to the Opposition alone. The Opposition should realise that it is more important to them than to any other party that this House should be an effective instrument of action, rather than a mere instrument of talk. I am looking forward to a long life for the present Government, but that life will end. A strong Government of the Left capable of fulfilling its duty may then be of great value to the nation. It would certainly then need to use all the devices which tend to increase the efficiency of Parliament. I hope the Opposition will not join in support of the Amendment, because they above all should realise the necessity of having an efficient House of Commons. I suppose that I occupy an exceptional and rare position as one who has been a Member of four Parliaments who on every occasion has supported proposals to concentrate our time upon essential subjects. For these reasons, I shall vote wholeheartedly in support of the Motion which has been moved by the Lord President.

Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

I would like to refer to a promise which was given by the Prime Minister just before Christmas in order to obtain our support in favour of taking private Members' time. On that occasion we were assured that the rights of private Members would not be interfered with during this Session. We have now been asked to sacrifice once more the time of private Members for the sake of important Bills, and I think it is obvious that we shall have to give that sanction. I do not think that that sacrifice is necessary for the purpose for which it is asked. We all differ as to what we consider is the most essential business of this House. An hon. Member has already pointed out the number of Measures to he passed before Easter.

5.0 p.m.

On these benches we look upon private Members' time as a sort of alternative to the Cabinet, and we use that time for pushing on Bills which we think are quite as vital to the interests of the country as some of the Bills which the Cabinet decide to put forward. That makes me feel very keenly the sacrifice which we are now called upon to make. I do not see anything very useful in the proposed Amendment. I have worked out the result. If we take 12 Fridays and we come back early in April, then the last Friday will fall on the 24th June. There will therefore be only a little over a month left for any private Member's Bill that has reached the Third Reading, and that arrangement will be useless. For these reasons, I do not think that the Amendment would be of the slightest assistance in getting Bills through Parliament. I have concluded that the private Member is not going to have any rights, and we shall have to make the best of it. What is the way out? The only way out, as far as I can see, is for the Government to take over such Bills as would otherwise have been advanced by private Members, and carry them through as Government Measures, and that is the pith of my few remarks. After all, we feel that we are Members of a National Government. A National Government is supposed to handle national Measures calculated to promote the national welfare, and, if ever there were two Bills which could properly be handled by a National Government, they are the Bill which I had the honour to try to push forward a little last Session—the Slaughter of Animals Bill—and the Exportation of Horses Bill. Those two Bills cut across no party or political interests; they will not offend the tenderest susceptibilities of any Member of the Cabinet, and will certainly not lead to any political crisis. If the Government were to accept my proposal and take over those two Bills, it would mean that in the one case they would give a reprieve to the suffering of something like 15,000,000 animals who die that we may live, while in the case of the Exportation of Horses Bill, which is now generally agreed by every section of the community, including its former opponents, the farmers and the National Horse Association, they would reprieve the sufferings of thousands of worn-out horses who have given their whole lives to man's service; and, surely, now that they cannot give any more service, it is the duty of man to see that their passing is made as easy and simple as possible.

The Lord President of the Council has made out an unanswerable case for the giving up of private Members' time now, and, for the reasons I have given, I do not see that Fridays will be of any use to us after Easter, while, as regards Motions on Wednesdays, I think that those days might reasonably be given up to the Government. In any case, under existing conditions, Motions have never led anyone anywhere, and on such occasions, as has already been pointed out, we have seen the House counted out time after time. That is inevitable, because generally a Motion is the particular fad of one particular person; but a Bill is generally the common united desire of a vast number of people in this country as represented by Members of this House. Therefore, I would make a present of Wednesdays to the Government, provided that they will compromise with me in bringing forward as Government Bills the two national Measures to which I have referred, and which would be welcomed by every section of this House and by every section of the country outside. I trust that the Lord President of the Council may be able to see his way to give us a few comforting words before the Debate closes.


I think the whole House will agree that, in the present circumstances, the Government must have full use of the time that is available, but I would join with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) in asking the Lord President of the Council to give a little kindly consideration to Measures introduced from time to time by private Members and having a very substantial bearing upon large interests outside. I think the Lord President of the Council will recall the fact that in Birmingham a very large industry is constantly being affected because of the violation of its identification marks as a result of unfair foreign competition. A small Bill has been introduced into this House by private Members year after year over a long series of years, and my hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary—


On a point of Order. I do not want to interfere with the rights of private Members in this Debate, but I want to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if it is in order for Members who are going to vote away private Members' time to make the speeches now that would be in order if private Members' time were continued?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

I have often heard hon. Members argue one way when they intended to vote in another way, so obviously the fact is not an unusual one.


I am afraid you have missed my point; I am sorry if I did not put it with sufficient clearness. I cannot recollect any occasion on which I voted in one way and talked in another, but the point I am making is that the previous speeches on the Motion which is now under discussion, to take private Members' time, have discussed the merits of private Members' Measures, and I would ask you if it is in order in this Debate to discuss the merits of either the Slaughter of Animals Bill or the Birmingham Cheap Jewellery Bill?

Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

On that point of Order. If I may say so in answer to the question that has been raised by the hon. Member, I was merely endeavouring to show why the Government should take over Bills instead of giving to private Members time which we cannot have, and I was merely using the two Bills I mentioned as an illustration to show how urgent is the necessity that the Government should do something of the kind.


I thought that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) was urging the Government to take up Bills which, if this Motion be carried, he would be unable to promote. I do not think this is out of order.


I do not propose to discuss the merits of the Bill to which I referred, but was only pointing out that Measures which have been held up because of the necessity for the Government taking control of the whole of the time of the House might have the opportunity, in exceptional circumstances, of receiving Government support and being passed into law. I think that the first principle of active operation in this Parliament is that the Government should have the whole time of the House and the full support of the House in giving expression to the country's mandate to put into operation great Measures for the passing of which the country has returned them, and that no Member ought to quibble or quarrel or criticise as to the appropriation of the whole time of the House for these great objectives. I congratulate the Patronage Secretary on having the courage to put down this Motion, not in a half-hearted way by taking a single bite and then going the whole hog, but going the whole hog in the first place. I am sure that., in the pressing circumstances in which the country finds itself, the whole House will unanimously support the Government.


The hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Amendment argued mainly against it; I desire to support it without reserve. The country has sent most of us here with a certain mandate, namely, to support the Government in providing a comprehensive and decisive system of Protection and in restoring a satisfactory balance between national incomings and outgoings. But, when that is done, I think there will be considerable dissatisfaction in the country, and also on the back benches of this House, if this Motion, when carried, is used to pass into law Departmental Bills for which the country does not wish. What the country needs, after the vital Measures are passed, is a period of rest from heroic legislation and a period of wise, economical administration.

It has been said in this Debate that the House of Commons is losing the respect of the country. If that be true, and it is true to some extent, it is due to the fact that the country is coming to regard this honourable House as a machine that is only moved at the will of Ministers, which is very often the will of Departments, who wish to get certain Measures of their own passed. To take private Members' time is to add to that possibility, and to that extent to diminish the influence and power of this House in the country. Contempt has been poured upon the use that private Members make of their privileges, but on that point I need only refer to what was said by the Minister of Health yesterday. He bore testimony to the fact that the Bill which he, as a private Member, introduced to preserve the amenities of the countryside, was largely instrumental in producing the Bill which he introduced yesterday.

I ask the House to support the Amendment. It will be perfectly easy, when Easter arrives, to prolong, if circumstances require it, the privileges given to the Government, and I think the result would be, instead of diminishing the respect in which this House is held by the country, to increase it.


Two important points in favour of the Government Motion have been entirely omitted. I have always been a strong supporter of the rights of private Members, but I have also been a strong opponent of the folly of most private Members' Bills. Nearly every private Member's Bill means the spending of more money, and we know that this House was returned to stop spending money. [Interruption.] Certainly; to get the national purse in a proper and fit state by really drastic economy. That is one of the reasons against the bringing forward of a large number of private Members' Bills by quite irresponsible people, promising to this or that section of the community gifts for which the community cannot possibly afford to pay at the present time. [Interruption.] There are still in this House Members who belonged to the last Socialist Government, which was a totally irresponsible. Government, though it is possible that, when a man gets out of bad company into good, he may improve.

The other point is this: It has always seemed to me that, when there is a Ballot for private Members' Bills, some peculiar goddess looks over the drawing of lots and always favours the biggest cranks in the House of Commons. Sometimes they sit on one side of the House and sometimes on another. They bring forward what I suppose I should not be polite if I called half-witted Measures, but at any rate Measures which are not of extreme urgency, and I think the country would he shocked and scandalised if sonic of those Measures occupied the time of the House on Wednesdays and Fridays during the coming weeks. [Interruption.] I could say a great deal about my feeling as regards the Government, but I am rather too old a Parliamentary hand to rise to the flies which are cast by the Clyde group, if I may put it in that way.

I congratulate the Government on having at last made up their mind that it is really necessary and urgent to get on with their business, and I will do everything I possibly can to help them to do so. [Interruption.] Because my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) cannot understand my point of view, that is no reason why he should libel a very good Government. There are sections of his own party with whom he disagrees; let him settle that quarrel first. I would ask the Leader of the House whether he does not think that rather more consideration should be given to the ordinary back-bench private Member. We want to know how this time is going to be used. We shall know in due course, but I think the House is justified in asking for an assurance that all sorts of what I might call internecine, inter-party political views will not be fought out on the Floor of the House of Commons in this time that is being taken from private Members. Are we to have prolonged periods of speeches from Samuelites, Simonites, and Lloyd Georgeites? I hope the time of the House will not be taken up in that way.

May I also make a very simple suggestion. Not many years ago, when a Conservative Government was in power, we had four or five Debates on unemployment on the Vote for the Ministry of Labour. They were almost identical. They were pure waste of time, and they really produced nothing. We have an Opposition, and we have at the same time a great bloc of some 400 Members who by ordinary means can never have any real influence in the affairs of the country. Many of them have great knowledge of various things. Would it not be possible to bring one small change into the House of Commons? If, say, 50 or 100 Members make a real definite suggestion which might bring trade and help the country, and sign a memorandum to the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House, could not they have a day for discussion? I will mention a point that I have in my own mind. There has been a great appeal to keep British money at home. All the representatives of the seaside resorts want that money to be spent here. If they brought a proposal, which could easily be embodied in a simple Measure before the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House, could not they have an opportunity of bringing it forward? Again, would it not be possible, if a second group of entirely different Members wanted something, to give them an opportunity if there was anything practical in their suggestion? I am the last person to wish to take all power from the Opposition. The more feeble an Opposition is the more carefully it should be nursed, because it may be a valuable feature some day or other, but, above all, in this time of national crisis I think the Government should endeavour, among other things, to see whether they cannot put to some real use that enormous bloc of 400 Members who feel very strongly that they can have little or no part in the affairs of the country, and who would like, if possible, to take their share in helping and reconstructing the country in this very difficult time.


I support the proposal as one who tries to behave like a man of business. The opportunity of speaking to-day enables me to vent a feeling of irritation that I frequently experienced during the last Parliament. Quite early I came to the conclusion that, if one wanted to speak and to enable one's constituents to see that one was not a silent Member, Wednesdays and Fridays were the best days to attend the House, so I was a pretty assidious attendant on those days. But after some considerable experience I came to the conclusion that they were for all practical purposes a waste of time. A statement by Mr. Kennedy has been quoted that private Members' days reduced the House of Commons to the level of a debating society, and that is what I constantly felt. The attendance was always poor, and there were seldom any Ministers here. Might I ask those who oppose the Motion how many of them were regular attendants on Wednesdays and Fridays? It was quite a common experience in the last Parliament to get home at two or three in the morning. On a Thursday one would be kept here till the early hours and on Friday the House was counted out at two o'clock, leaving one with a sore feeling that a state of things like that certainly spelt ineptitude. The counting out on Fridays was frequently done by the Whips. They would come in at the door, creep along the benches and ask Members, Are you not wanting your lunch? Is it not time to go? The House would be naturally stripped of its Members, and they then had the opportunity that they wanted of counting the House out, although some of us might have taken some pains in preparing and been prepared to talk about the Measure. The discussions never led to anything. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said there were a large number of Measures that he was interested in.


I did not say a large number. I said there were one or two that I was interested in, and, if successful in the Ballot, I should desire to bring them in.


Does the hon. Member allege that there is any real likelihood of being able to carry them into effect? What chance was there of the various Motions and Bills that were brought forward on Wednesdays and Fridays ever being legislated upon? Because, speaking from my experience as a rank and file man, Wednesdays and Fridays in the last Parliament were so constantly wasted, I am prepared to give strong support to the Government's proposal. It may be desirable that Members should have more say in the management of our national affairs, it may be that many of them desire to take a larger part in the work of government, but they are not going to do so by continuing our present system of Wednesdays and Fridays, and I gladly suport the proposal not to waste those days with the work of a debating society but to deal with the important Measures that we were sent here to carry through.


I should not have risen but for the remarks of the last speaker. It is rather astonishing to be told that the reason why private Members should surrender what little liberty and privilege they have left is that private Members are so lacking in authority that they cannot make the Government take them seriously. I should have thought that was a reason for continuing to defend whatever privileges are left. If private Members looked upon themselves and their proposals with more respect, they might be able to make the Government look upon them with more respect. Now we have the extraordinary doctrine that the private Member ought to be entirely eliminated and that the practice of legislation being initiated by a Resolution in the House ought to be permanently abandoned, because that is the logic of the hon. Member who spoke last. That would be a very disastrous thing. I am amazed that in a new House of Commons more indignation has not been expressed against this proposal. One would have thought that these 400 young Conservative idealists would be boiling over with ideas of how to save the country in its time of distress. One would have imagined that they would be demanding as much time as possible in order to bring their ideas forward. But these 400 Members have such a paucity of mind, and have so little contribution to make, that they want to be relieved of any opportunity at all of telling the House and the country what they would do if they had the power to do it.

5.30 p.m.

I can understand the House taking the view that a strong well-informed Government should have as much time as possible. We have just come from the constituencies, and everyone is anxious for the Government to have the fullest opportunity of making its proposals, but the last election was a very extraordinary one. The country was not asked to give the House any definite instructions. No specific policy was laid before the country. The House has not met for the purpose of carrying out a definite mandate at all. Indeed, it has met for the purpose of evolving a, mandate in the course of its life, and its Debates, therefore, are of great importance. So long as the National Government have a national policy I can understand their supporters saying, "We do not want to interfere with the Government or take away their time," but, having no specific mandate from their constituents except to support the Government, and the Government itself having no mandate, I should have imagined that this is the time for the House of Commons to take the thing into its own hands, because the country has no policy, the House has no policy, and now the Government have no policy. One would have thought the time had come when the House itself should have an opportunity of expressing its views on what should be done in the circumstances of the case. But for the Government to come forward at this stage and take all private Members' time in order that we may be edified by the spectacle of disagreement upon the Front Bench is not a dignified thing at all. If the House has no more respect for the conventions of Parliament and no more vitality than is indicated by this docile giving up of its privileges, the sooner this Parliament ends the better. There are many Members on these benches and, I believe, in other parts of the House who wish to have an opportunity of bringing forward certain matters in which they are interested. I regret that it has been said that private Members' time has been taken up by cranks. A few very useful Bills were initiated in the last Parliament in private Members' time. A Workmen's Compensation Bill was placed upon the Statute Book after it had been introduced in private Members' time. I do not know whether that sort of thing is regarded as useless or not. If Members of this House have no other idea of what to do with their membership of Parliament than to surrender their initiative to a Government which has already shown its lack of initiative, the sooner they resign and give other Members a chance the better.


I have rarely listened to such a concensus of opinion in a Debate in this House. There must be some defect in the Motion, which Members, almost without exception, have condemned. If the Motion is pressed to a Division and carried, I wonder what the public will think to-morrow if it reads in the papers that after an almost unanimous opinion expressed orally in this House those Members who so forcibly expressed themselves against it voted in the Aye Lobby for its adoption. It seems to me that that is what will happen if we give to the party the allegiance which is expected. This is one of those occasions when the Government should study the private Member a little more and also the general feeling among Members of the Government. The Lord President of the Council has been accused of timidity on many occasions. It has often been recalled how, in the 1924 Government, with their magnificent majority, very little use Was made of that majority, but I, and other Members, must modify our opinion of the Lord President of the Council, because if he persists in this Motion he will show a remarkable courage. How often, when we meet our constituents, are we reproached for having done nothing, for having played with the state of affairs, for having merely scratched the surface instead of having gone forward and justified the mandate which we have been given? We feel humiliated—I am speaking personally—when we cannot justify our existence. We are not giving the country a fair deal. We can do more, but we are not doing it. The Mover of the Amendment has opened the door and shown a way of escape from the entanglement or the impasse into which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has placed himself.

We have on several occasions—I think that the majority of Members will agree with me—voted because of our allegiance to the party when we would rather have voted in apposition—[Interruption.] I am speaking for myself and others who agree with me. I was told that when I got into the House of Commons I should be submerged, a mere cog in the wheel and would have to obey the Whips or my life would not be bearable. When that day comes I shall be glad to walk through those doors and never re-enter them. I have a duty to my constituents and to the country at large which overrides any allegiance to any party however big, and as a back bencher it is my right and privilege to say to-day that the time has come when the Mover of the Motion should realise the feeling, not only of this House, but of the country at large, and give the back bench Member an opportunity of making himself an audible Member of this House instead of merely being one of a perambulating band walking through the Lobby like a gang of football spectators.

The Government seem to be troubled because there is not time to do the Business of the House. I can give them an efficient remedy—the only objection which can be made to it is that it is a business remedy—which is, to put a time limit upon the speeches of Members of the House. There are a few of us here who have sat hour after hour listening to an interminable waste of words and "gas." To a business man, the position is simply intolerable. I would undertake to accompany half a dozen hon. Members of this House into a committee room and in one hour we would carry through matters which would take a month to accomplish in this House. I was discussing the position with a fellow Member this morning. I said, "Why cannot you ginger up matters? Why cannot we carry on our work as if we were a business concern? If we were a business concern, we should be bankrupt within three months." "No," he said, "You must study the Parliamentary procedure." It is the Parliamentary procedure which makes it impossible for the private Member to have a voice. The time has come, and it is very rapidly approaching—[Laughter.]—I am not the first man to make a bloomer in this House, and I am not taking two bites at the cherry. The danger with which I am confronted is, that if I were to tell the House what I want to say to-day, Mr. Deputy-Speaker would rise and say that I was not in order, but it would be what all Members want to hear. I am going to venture very near to that dividing line, even if I am pulled up by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. They say that the outsiders see most of the game, but I am going, if Mr. Deputy-Speaker will permit me, to show how the Government of this country no matter of what party have never represented the country in the work they were sent to do.

If the Members of the Government Front Bench would come with me, not in their Rolls-Royce saloons but into the tubes or the trains or the streets, having disguised themselves so that they would not be known, and hear what was said about them, they would not come here again. They would go for their holidays, they would have a breakdown in health, any possible excuse, so as not to have to come here again.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not Members of the National Government?"]—The National Government is a Collossus with feet of clay. The Government is ill-assorted and it cannot possibly endure, and the time has come when we have to realise the fact. Many years ago I wets on a holiday with friends and we got into a first-class compartment with third-class tickets. [Interruption.] It was not intended.


I am not quite clear what the hon. Member's reminiscences of past travelling have to do with the question of whether the Government should take or should not take private Members' time.


Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that is what I want to explain to you. I am endeavouring to show the need of cohesion among the Government. We got into a first-class carriage, and immediately the train started a discussion began as to whether we should get out at the next station and get into another carriage, which meant that the Liberal Members must join the Labour party, or should we sit still and hope that the Lord would not send the ticket examiner before we reached our destination by abstention from voting, or should we be like men and pay the first-class fare, and ask the Liberals to go the whole hog of Protection? That is the position to-day. It is no use trying to keep up a so-called National Government when there are so many tendencies splitting it up, and which sooner or later will bring disaster upon it. A Member said to-day that the chief opponents of the Government Front Bench are Members of the Government party. He was right. We feel that we want to justify our existence. How many times has it been said that when we come here we find nothing but a talking shop, and that the only time our constituents hear of us is when we come to them for their votes at the next election I should be sorry to have to face my electors unless I was able to tell them that I lifted up my voice, that I was not an inaminate object and that I had the courage of my convictions and was prepared to face the cost of my temerity. I support the Amendment.


I do not wish to add any more to the epithets which have been poured upon the heads of the Government and upon the right hon. Gentleman who is taking the responsibility for it to-day. I am not going to call it a Colossus, or a whole hog, or a cog in the wheel, or two bites of the cherry, or anything of that sort. My sympathies are with the right hon. Gentleman because of the fact that for many years now, whenever this particular job has had to be done, whether on the Government side or the Opposition side, he has always been the man who has had this particular baby to hold. If I may say it without offence, he is the best confidence trickster in this particular game that the House of Commons can produce. He comes forward and persuades us that it is in our own interests that we must rob ourselves. "You just lend your uncle £5,000 and it will be all right. You can be quite sure the money will be perfectly safe in our hands. "We do it every time. He 'has never failed to walk away with it. Like all these people, confidence tricksters or blackmailers—I am not using the term in the more offensive sense—like all that type of criminal, every time he comes back to us, 'he comes with a bigger de- mand. He wants more. It is just a week or two at first, and then a month or two, and then on this occasion he comes and asks for absolutely everything, and we are left stripped and naked.

It is true that a very devastating case can be made out against the private Member for the way in which be has used his time in the past. I do not think that a more devastating case against the private Member can be made out than that against the Governments of the past, because day by day we have seen exactly the same waste of time on Government days as we have seen on private Members' days. To-day is a Government day, and if I am not very much mistaken we shall be going home by about seven o'clock.


Abnormal importations!


Certainly. We could talk from 7 o'clock to 11 o'clock on abnormal importations—"Illuminating glassware, tissues in the piece, cordage, ropes and twine, loaded cartridges." Why you should be shutting out cartridges at a time when you may be needing them, is something I do not understand. However, here is a Government day which is going to be wasted in so far as producing any effective action for dealing with the major problems of the country is concerned. Therefore, if a case can be made out against the private Member that he has not utilised well the time that he has had in the past, equally a case can be made out against the Government, seeing that day after day they bring us here to deal with cheap and trivial stuff. If the Government had come forward with some type of Guillotine that would have pushed into smaller compass the time allocated for the discussion of the detailed Measures upon which the House was already aware that an overwhelming majority were supporting the principle, it would have been a much more intelligent and defensible proposition than the one now before the House.

The reason why private Members' days have been frequently futile in the past is not because of any difference in the intellectual stature of private Members' and Members of Governments, but because Governments knew and private Members knew, that however fine the Bill intro- duced by a private Member or however good the Motion passed, it finished there. That created the academic discussions and turned the House into a debating society. Because a Measure was introduced by a private Member instead of a Cabinet Minister, it was the understood thing that although one could carry a Motion and carry a Bill, even up to the Second Reading, for dealing with big and important matters, even after getting the majority of the House in support of it, the Government would sling it into the waste paper basket, and that finished it. If the House wishes to develop as a democratic assembly, it will not proceed along the road of depriving private Members of ineffective time, but will proceed to make the time that private Members have effective. There would be no slacking, no staying away, no counting out if there were included in our Standing Orders a rule which said that when a Motion has been carried by a majority of the House, the Government must proceed to give effect to it within a reasonable time. That is one direction in which House of Commons reform should go to make the democracy of the House a real thing.

If we are going to follow the line that has been pursued from the beginning of the National Government up to now, the method of stifling independent thought and independent initiative and of cutting down the rights of criticism to the minimum, we are definitely going along the road of dictatorship, by which the Government of the day, independently of the elected Members of this House, take their own course and follow their own desires and will. I am not very seriously concerned whether the House of Commons takes the democratic road or the dictatorship road. From my point of view, the only difference it makes is the difference in the nature of the struggle that the working classes of this country must carry on. The working-class movement has determined that the working class is going to get more out of life than it has had in the past in this country. It has taken up till now the road of Parliamentary democracy, believing that in that free institution, with established democratic rights, it could find expression for all its grievances and the machinery for the rectifying of those grievances. If that democratic machine is going to be destroyed in its essentials, it does not mean that the working classes are going to have their desire for economic freedom taken away from them. It merely means that as government in this country becomes more dictatorial, so the working-class movement will take on more clear and more definite lines of class struggle, and the struggle will have to be carried on by them in cruder and harsher ways than by the way of Parliamentary Debate and General Election.

Hon. Members may say that to put such a point of view on the Motion now before the House is to take too serious a view of a very simple step, but in my short time in this House I have seen this tendency growing and growing. I have seen the power of the House of Commons, its real and effective power, being steadily diminished by the House itself, by the acquiescence of the House in the development of undemocratic methods in the House. Serious times lie ahead of this country. I do not for one minute imagine that we are through the crisis. I do not believe that we have reached the crisis in this country. I believe that the happenings of the next few months will create bigger crises, and that more rapid changes in public opinion and in the thought of the people will take place even than that which flung this Government into power on a very great wave—a wave, I believe, mainly of fear. Panic is a very terrifying thing. That type of mood in the population is remarkable when it throws a Conservative Government into overwhelming Parliamentary control. It has been a great party score that the fears of the people have been played on sufficiently well to give the Tory party power, but it is an unstable basis for a Government.

The panic, the fears, the doubts that affected the people in October and December, 1931, may turn into the anger of desperation in any month in 1932, and if this House is to be deprived of its capacity to be the place where the genuine, legitimate feelings of the nation can find free and effective expression, the feelings of the people will find expression none the less if not here, by our Parliamentary methods, then elsewhere by some other methods that will be less agreeable to a large proportion of the present Members of the House. Therefore, I resist at this stage the proposal to take away the democratic right of this House, which is going to be voted away quite lightheartedly and irresponsibly by Members of this Chamber. Every one of them talks about the dignity of our Parliamentary institution, how we have been the model of the Governments of the world and how we have set the way in the development of democratic institutions, but after they have talked like that they walk into the House in the most irresponsible way, with carelessness of demeanour, and they vote away bit by bit all the little principles and practices that have made our Parliamentary institution worth while. I, therefore, resist with whatever little influence I have in this House the imposition of a further reduction in the already limited powers of Members of this House.

6.0 p.m.


In a Debate of this importance the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) and the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) call for some form of protest from the other side of the House. It is absurd for the bon. Member for Bridgeton seriously to maintain that what he called the growing tide of angry desperation in the country is going to be assuaged by a repetition of that organised waste of time that we used to see in this House every Wednesday and Friday in the discussion of private Members' Motions, which everybody knew were not of the slightest importance and could not or would never be carried into effect. I do not believe it for a moment. If the day ever comes—I hope it will not, but you never can tell in this world what will happen next—when the hon. Member for Bridgeton finds himself at the head of a Government, with a clear majority of Members of the Independent Labour party, with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale by his side, and he is seeking to put into operation as quickly as possible "Socialism in our time," I very much doubt whether he will accord to private Members from the Opposition side of the House full opportunities for the expression of their views to move Bills or Motions, or exercise that individual initiative upon which he has laid such stress to-day. I do not think we shall hear the hon. Member, should he ever become Prime Minister, talk very much about individual initiative. Indeed, the main object of his policy is the suppression of individual initiative on every possible occasion. I would remind the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, whom I have often heard hold forth on the inefficiency of this House and of the necessity for further drive and co-ordination, that in this modern world, when things move so rapidly, unless you do have efficiency in the central Government, democracy is in the greatest peril. If you allowed private Members the same sort of liberty as they had in the spacious pre-War days the whole efficiency of modern government in the modern economic conditions of the world would be destroyed. I suspect the hon. Member of harbouring some fell design in his heart, and that he advocates giving private Members so much time in order to bring still further into disrepute the democratic machine of this country so that upon its ashes he may create the sort of Utopia he has in mind.

May I remind him and the hon. Member for Bridgeton, who professed such anxiety for the welfare of democracy, that one of the conditions for the survival and existence of democracy in these modern times is an efficient executive Government. There lies the power; and nowhere else. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that the present Government have no policy. I would advise him to wait until to-morrow. And if the Government have no policy, then his proper course of action is to vote against it, to overthrow it and put in a Government which has a policy. The only point at which power can lie in modern democracy is in the executive Government; it can never lie in the private Member and, therefore, the right and proper way for those who are dissatisfied with the Government is to overthrow it. The private Member who has confidence in the Government should give it all the powers it requires to put its policy into operation.


May I be permitted to say one word on the Amendment which has been moved? The case has been put by some hon. Members that they would agree to the Government having the time until Easter, but that they would like to have the use of the time after Easter. That is similar to the request which came from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.- Colonel Moore). I have the greatest sympathy with what the hon. and gallant Member said. He met most fairly and generously the claim of the Government, but he pleaded that they should take up the Bills in which he has taken such a great interest for so long a time. It is not a question of taking up Bills any more than it is a question of giving private Members their time. It is a question of work. It is quite true that in putting the Motion before Christmas I hoped that it would not be necessary to make this request after Christmas. In the long drawn-out Session of 1928 and 1929 the whole of private Members' time was taken in two bites. It was taken up to Easter and then after Easter, and it was taken because it was necessary to complete the programme of the then Government. There would be no excuse for taking the time of private Members unless we were convinced that it was necessary, and it would be misleading the House to say that we want the time until Easter but that we hope it will not be necessary to take it after Easter, and then after Easter to come and say that we are sorry we shall have to take all the time after that date.

Before Christmas, we did not know how much legislation would be involved. The Government had not definitely decided on the Bills which would be necessary to put their policy into effect. Bills dealing with financial and fiscal questions are of necessity much more complicated when you come to put them on paper than they are when you have the policy in your mind. There is another thing which must be taken into account. No one seriously suggests that it is necessary to take the time of the House to carry through Bills like the Town and Country Planning Bill, but it must be remembered that all these financial Bills will have to be taken in all their stages on the Floor of the House. Other Bills can be sent to Committee upstairs, but you cannot send an important Import Duty Bill upstairs, or a Wheat Quota Bill. Far too many people are interested in these questions and they affect so many people in so many ways that they must be examined by all parties on the Floor of the House. Those are Bills which have to be dealt with, and there must be other Bills before the Summer. I doubt very much whether both these Bills can become law before Easter. Certainly the Imports Duty Bill must become law, because once it is introduced it is essential to get it through as quickly as possible in order that the revenue does not suffer.

The passage of these Bills alone will take up all the private Member's time for which we are asking, and I can assure the House, and particularly those with whom I have a closer concern, speaking as one who has had a long experience in the conduct of business through this House, that if we take all the private Members' time there is, we shall be occupied, unless a revolution Domes into this House, into August. If the four days are surrendered they will have to come out of the Easter or Whitsuntide holiday, or we shall have to push further into August before getting the Summer Recess. For the effective conduct of business. which really is my chief concern, I tell the House that this surrender is necessary. It is disagreeable, and I know the objections which can be put forward against it. I have listened to all the speeches made this afternoon, and I could have made most of them myself—not all.

There was one point referred to by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to which I must allude. The next business on the Order Paper which deals with Orders made under the Abnormal Importations Act, is by no means, as he would infer, trivial business. It is business upon which the House of Commons, in a businesslike mood, may well exercise its abilities, for it covers an immense range of manufactures, although some may be small, and covers a large section of the great cotton trade of Lancashire. That is business which may take some time for discussion. It is exempted business, and while I do not desire to see the House sitting late, at the same time do not desire to see the House of Commons neglecting its duty. Having regard to the work which lies ahead, I hope the House will see fit to take a decision on the Amendment and also on the Motion, if it does not desire to continue the discussion.

Captain HOPE

As the Seconder of the Amendment, I beg to ask leave, in the absence of the hon. and gallant Member who moved it, to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 358; Noes, 42.

Division No. 45.] AYES. [6.12 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle) Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)
Adams, Samuel vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Crookshank, Capt. H, C. (Gainsb'ro) Hume, Sir George Hopwood
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Croom-Johnson, R. P. Hurd, Percy A.
Albery, Irving James Cross, R. H. Hurst, Sir Gerald B.
Allen, Sir J, Sandeman (Llverp'l, W.) Crossley, A. C. Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.) Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Curry, A. C. Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) James, Wing-Corn. A. W. H.
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Dawson, Sir Philip Jamieson, Douglas
Aske, Sir Robert William Denman, Hon. R. D, Jesson, Major Thomas E.
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe Dickie, John p. Joel, Dudley J. Barnato
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J.(Kent, Dover) Doran, Edward Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Duckworth, George A. V. Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)
Atholl, Duchess of Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Duggan, Hubert John Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Ker, J. Campbell
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Eady, George H. Kerr, Hamilton W.
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Eden, Robert Anthony Kimball, Lawrence
Balniel, Lord Edmondson, Major A. J. Kirkpatrick, William M.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton
Bateman, A. L. Ellis, Robert Geoffrey Lambert, Rt. Hon. George
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Elliston, Captain George Sampson Law, Sir Alfred
Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th.C.) Elmley, Viscount Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)
Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Leckie, J. A.
Bernays, Robert Emrys- Evans, P. V. Leech, Dr. J. W.
Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Lees-Jones, John
Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn) Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Lennox-Boyd, A. T.
Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Levy, Thomas
Blaker. Sir Reginald Everard, W. Lindsay Liddall, Waiter S.
Blindell, James Falie, Sir Bertram G. Lindsay, Noel Ker
Boothby, Robert John Graham Fermoy, Lord Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest
Borodale, Viscount Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Lloyd, Geoffrey
Boulton, W. W. Ford, Sir Patrick J. Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn.G.(Wd.Gr'n)
Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Fraser, Captain Ian Lockwood, John C- (Hackney, C.)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)
Bracken, Brendan Fuller, Captain A. E. G. Loder, Captain J. de Vere
Braithwaite, Maj. A. N- (Yorks, E. R.) Ganzoni, sir John Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Glossop, C. W. H. Lyons, Abraham Montagu
Broadbent, Colonel John Gluckstein, Louis Halls Mabane, William
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Goff, Sir Park MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Goodman, Colonel Albert W. MacAndrew. Capt. J. O. (Ayr)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) McConnell, Sir Joseph
Browne, Captain A. C. Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas McCorquodale, M. S.
Buchan, John Graves, Marjorie Macdonald, sir Murdoch (Inverness)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T, Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Macdonald, Capt. p. D. (I. of W.)
Burghley, Lord Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John McEwen, J. H. F.
Burnett, John George Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. McKeag, William
Caine, G. R. Hall- Gunston, Captain D. W. McKie, John Hamilton
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Guy, J, C. Morrison Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton
Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley) Hales, Harold K, McLean, Major Alan
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon) McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)
Carver, Major William H. Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Magnay, Thomas
Castle Stewart, Earl Hanbury, Cecil Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Hanley, Dennis A, Mander, Geoffrey le M.
Cayzer, MaJ. Sir H. R.(Prtsmth., S.) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Harbord, Arthur Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.
Chalmers, John Rutherford Harris, Sir Percy Marjoribanks, Edward
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Hartland, George A. Marsden, Commander Arthur
Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric Harvey, George (Lambeth,Kennlngt'n) Martin, Thomas B.
Chotzner, Alfred James Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)
Clarke, Frank Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) May hew, Lieut.-Colonel John
Clayton Or. George C. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Merriman, Sr F, Boyd
Cobb, Sir Cyril Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Millar, Sir James Duncan
Collins, Sir Godfrey Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford) Mills, Sir Frederick
Colville, Major David John Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Milne, Charles
Conant, R. J. E. Hepworth, Joseph Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)
Cook, Thomas A. Hillman, Dr. George B. Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)
Cooke, James D. Holdsworth, Herbert Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres
Cooper, A. Duff Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston) Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C, R. (Ayr)
Copeland, Ida Hore-Belisha, Leslie Moreing, Adrian C.
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. Hornby, Frartk Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Horobin, Ian M. Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, F.)
Craven-Ellis. William Horsbrugh, Florence Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Crooke, J. Smedley Howard, Tom Forrest Morrison, William Shephard
Moss, Captain H. J. Ropner, Colonel L. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Muirhead, Major A. J. Rosbotham, S. T. Summersby, Charles H.
Munro, Patrick Ross, Ronald D. Sutcliffe, Harold
Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) Tate, Mavis Constance
Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth) Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.(P'dd'gt'n.S.)
Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld) Runge, Norah Cecil Templeton. William P.
Normand, Wilfrid Guild Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Thorn, Lieut-Colonel John Gibb
North, Captain Edward T. Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield. B'tside) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Nunn, William Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury) Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
O'Connor, Terence James Rutherford, Sir John Hugo Thompson, Luke
Ormiston, Thomas Salmon, Major Isidore Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G, A. Salt, Edward W. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Palmer, Francis Noel Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart Todd. Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Patrick, Colin M. Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D. Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Peake, Captain Osbert Scone, Lord Train, John
Pearson, William G. Selley, Harry R. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Peat, Charles U. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Turton, Robert Hugh
Penny, Sir George Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Vaughan-Morgan, sir Kenyon
Petherick, M. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar) Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Bliston) Simmonds, Oliver Edwin Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Pickering, Ernest H. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Pike, Cecil F. Skelton, Archibald Noel Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Potter, John Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Powell. Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H. Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.) Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Pownall, Sir Assheton Smith. Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Procter, Major Henry Adam Smith. R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine. C.) Weymouth. Viscount
Raikes, Henry V. A. M. Smith-Carington, Neville W. Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Somerset, Thomas Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Somervell, Donald Bradley Wills, Wilfrid D.
Ramsbotham, Herwald Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor) Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)
Ramsden, E. Soper, Richard Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Rankin, Robert Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E. Wise, Alfred R.
Ratcliffe, Arthur Southby, Commander Archibald R. J. Withers, Sir John James
Rea, Walter Russell Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L. Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Reid, David D. (County Down) Spencer, Captain Richard A. Womersley, Walter James
Reid, James S. C. (Stirling) Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Reid, William Allan (Derby) Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Remer, John R. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. Westmorland) Worthington, Dr. John V.
Rentoul, Sir Gervals S. Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur Wragg, Herbert
Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip Stones, James Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U. Storey, Samuel
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Strauss, Edward A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Robinson, John Roland Strickland, Captain W. F. Sir Victor Warrender and Captain Austin Hudson.
Rodd, Rt. Hon. sir James Rennell Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)
Attlee, Clement Richard Grundy, Thomas W. McEntee, Valentine L.
Batey, Joseph Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) McGovern, John
Bavan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Maxton, James
Briant, Frank Hicks, Ernest George Parkinson, John Allen
Buchanan, George Hirst, George Henry Price, Gabriel
Cape, Thomas Janner, Barnett Salter, Dr. Alfred
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Thorne, William James
Cripps, Sir Stafford Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Tinker, John Joseph
Daggar, George Kirkwood, David Wallhead, Richard C.
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawson, John James Williams. Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Edwards, Charles Leonard, William
Graham, D. M, (Lanark, Hamilton) Logan, David Gilbert TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Lunn, William Mr. John and Mr. Groves.

Ordered, That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business do have precedence at every Sitting.