HC Deb 15 March 1932 vol 263 cc251-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Sir F. Thomson.]

7.0 p.m.


This Motion illustrates again the way in which the Government are treating with disrespect the rights of private Members. I should not criticise the Government unless I felt that there was good ground for doing so. Here we are rising at 7 o'clock with ample opportunity of proceeding with Bills which are very much desired by persons outside the House. I protest against the Government calling upon this House to adjourn when there is a reasonable opportunity of proceeding with other Orders on the Paper. The very next Order, which is in my charge, is a Bill which has been passed by this House seven times in the last 25 years, and, during the last meek-end, resolutions in support of this Bill have been passed by large representative conferences in the country. I do not press the matter further now, but I ask the representative of the Government to communicate to the right quarter the view that, when there is reasonable time in this House not required for urgent public business, reasonable facilities might he given to pass Measures which do not interfere with public business, and which are in response to urgent public demands outside.


I desire to associate myself with what my hon. Friend has just said. This is not the first time that this has occurred, because on three successive Fridays we have had three or four hours left, and now we have four hours left. Yet the Government are not only not giving time for private Members' Bills, but they are not putting forward their own Bills. There are quite a number of Bills which might have been proceeded with, but which have been put off until to-morrow. If the Government do not wish to occupy all the time of the House, they might give an opportunity to private Bills. To show that I am not personally interested in the matter, although I have two Bills down, which I agree are somewhat controversial. I would be perfectly willing to pass them over and not to raise them if the Government would give an opportunity to pass the Rights of Way Bill, which is non-controversial. I would urge the Whips to make an exception tonight, and to grant facilities for the passage of that Bill.


I support the hon. Member on the general principle that private Members should have some of their rights restored. I do not object to the hon. Member's Bill, although I object to both Bills of his colleague behind him.


They are both progressive Bills.


They may be, and I am glad to find somebody more advanced than I am. I am not concerned whether they are progressive or not, but I oppose them. Nevertheless, I think that the discussion on these Bills might be taken. The Government ought to consider seriously, if they will not give back our rights for Bills, at least to give us back some of our rights for Motions. It may be too much to ask the Government, with the programme they have in hand, to give time for private Members' Bills, but time ought surely to be granted for Motions. The Government have done a lot of work to-day, and perhaps the people to blame are the Opposition for not opposing enough. There seems to be a coalition to allow this bad, rotten Government to do what they like. The Government seem able to do very much what they like. They put down a fairly full programme of business to-day, and actually took the precaution of suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule, although it is the Seven o'Clock Rule that they ought to have suspended. Is it not possible for them to restore time for Motions? One of the Whips has already said that, as far as Bills are concerned, the Government have already got enough to keep the Committee going, and that to allow Bills to go ahead would be wasting time. Assuming that there is something in that argument, it does not apply to Motions. If the Government would restore that right, then the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) could bring in a Motion about rights of way, and the Government could take it as the unanimous desire of the House to proceed, not with the actual Bill itself, but with the principle of the Bill.

It would be as well if we could have some discussion on a number of important matters. There is rent restriction, on which we have been promised a Bill. Private Members who have no other way of raising this issue ought to be able by Motion to give the Government some definite idea of what is in the mind of the average back bencher. If private Members do not have time to raise these issues, then the caucus becomes more powerful because the caucus takes no notice of what the back bencher desires. Back benchers, particularly Ministerial back benchers, should bring pressure to bear upon the Government so that private Members' Motions can be restored. Besides rent restriction, there are the questions of rent and rent payment, which is the great burning question in Scotland at the moment, and of unemployment allowance. That is a question of almost starvation in many districts, and we should like to raise the question of unemployment benefit and its administration.

These questions ought to be forced upon the Government, and the best way would be if some back benchers could put down a direct Motion calling upon the Government to abolish the means test and restore unemployment benefit to the normal position. If private Members' time were restored, the Opposition would be able to put down a Motion to this effect. This is the gravest human problem of our cities at the moment. The suffering in Glasgow at the moment is appalling. One of the things that makes me almost ashamed of politics is the quarrel going on at Dumbarton as to who is right and who is wrong about the means test. Behind all this playing with words is the human suffering arising from the administration of this test at the moment. It is shocking that private Members should be deprived of the right of raising these grave issues of human suffering among our people. It is true that we have had time to debate tariffs and currency and the stabilisation of the pound, but we cannot debate these human issues which involve the lives of our own people. It is more important that we should have this time when the Government have such a large majority than it is when the Government have only a small majority.

I see the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) on the Government Front Bench. When he occupied a seat on the back benches no one fought for private Members' rights more than he did. He was always keen about the rights of the people of Grimsby, and the reason he held his seat in good times and bad was not because he was a Conservative, but because he was constantly watching and fighting for Grimsby's interests and using private Members' time to raise these interests. Yet, now that he is occupying the Front Bench, he is taking part in this conspiracy, or at least he is allowing the Government to take time which would otherwise have been better devoted. I ask the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot). who is the nearest to Cabinet rank on the Front Bench at the moment—he is the only one who might be said to he approaching it, and that is no discourtesy to the other occupants of the Front Bench—I ask him to use his influence with the Cabinet in order to get private Members' privileges restored. We want a restoration of the ballot for private Members' Motions. The right hon. and gallant Member may be diametrically opposed to my views, but he knows the human issues that are at stake.

Sir FREDERICK THOMSON (Treasurer of the Household)

The hon. Member has shown great Parliamentary skill in raising a good many questions in which he is interested on this Motion for the Adjournment of the House. He has spoken with great eloquence. Let me say, in the first place, that the business put down for to-day was a heavy programme of work. It included the Report stages of the Air, Navy and Army Estimates. Clearly one would have expected a full day's work, but it has happened that the business has gone through more quickly than was anticipated. At the beginning of the day one might have thought that the Government had put down rather more business than could be completed in the day. It has not been the custom in the past to put down the Report stage of the Votes for the three Services on the one day. Such business has generally occupied two days. To-day's programme was, therefore, heavier than normal. As to private Members' time, the House decided by a large majority that it was necessary in the national interest for the Government to take the time of private Members in order to complete a great programme of business of national importance. Private Member's Bills could not possibly get through their later stages, because all the time of the House is already mortgaged. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) knows quite well that the Government have much important work to do, and that it was necessary to take all the time of the House.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes after Seven o'Clock.