§ 4.44 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)
I beg to move,That the Order 127th June] that the Bill be committed to a Standing Committee be read and discharged except so far as Clause 1 is concerned; that the Bill (except Clause 1) be committed to a Committee of the Whole House; and that, when the provisions of the Bill considered respectively by the Committee of the Whole House and by the Standing Committee have been reported 406 to the House, the Report stage of the Bill be proceeded with as if the Bill bad been reported as a whole to the House from a Committee of the Whole House.It is unnecessary for me to make anything in the nature of a Second Reading speech on a problem of this kind. The circumstances are well within the recollection of the House. It was because of certain factors which had arisen in connection with dog-racing tracks, lotteries and other matters that the Government felt it necessary to appoint a Royal Commission. That Royal Commission, having considered and received evidence at considerable length on all of these problems, made their report. It was then the task of the Government to consider these very difficult and admittedly controversial subjects. This was carefully done, and the Bill which is now the matter of discussion was introduced in another place on 27th March, 1934. It had full Debate. All the subjects were discussed and very full expressions were given to different points of view. It is worthy of notice that in the other place there was no Division taken either upon the Second or the Third Reading of the Bill, and the Bill eventually left the House of Lords without any very material alteration except on details.
The Bill was then introduced into this House, and I would again draw the attention of the House to the fact that it received a Second Reading without a Division. Am I not entitled at least to claim this much; that the general view of the House as a whole was in favour of the principle upon which this Bill was based? lion Members had not only had the opportunity of following the Debates in another place, but they had had the opportunity of a Second Reading Debate on the Floor of this House, and so satisfied was the House with the fact that the Bill was following the right principles in dealing with these subjects, taking quite admittedly a middle course in most of these problems between the acute view of either the pros or antis, that it was accepted by this House on Second Reading.
The fact remains that it was then sent to a Committee upstairs. That Committee sat seven days, including two days in which morning and afternoon meetings were held. The Government did not put on great pressure or use the closure un-duly. They gave the greatest freedom 407 for discussion. The result of that is known to everyone who has followed this matter throughout. The House rose to begin the Summer Recess. At that time the Committee had dealt with Clause 1 of the Bill, and it therefore remained for the Government and the House to come to a decision as to what they chose to do. In so far as the Government are concerned, I think I have made it abundantly clear in the discussion upstairs. This is a Measure which is designed to deal with more than one aspect of these problems. The Government decided that they must deal with these as a whole, and that they are not going to deal with one particular section and not the other. That being so, the Government position is that they had to make up their minds, owing to the circumstances of the time, of Which the House is well aware—that this House is going to rise very shortly and that there is a limited time—as to whether they were to drop the Bill or proceed with it. The Government decided that they should proceed with the Bill, and the only practical method by which that can be done, in view of the time, is that the House should be asked to bring some parts of the Bill not dealt with by the Committee upstairs on to the Floor of the House. Therefore, the matter lies in the hands of this House, and it is for the Members to say whether they accept this method of dealing with the Bill. It does not seem to me that it is an undue privilege to ask this House to settle this matter for itself.
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I ask a question? I presume, in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is asking the House to make a very considerable innovation, he will give us some precedents for the action. I presume before he sits down he will tell us if there is any precedent for the course the Government are taking.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
All I would say on this matter is that, of course, the general custom of this House in our rules and regulations has been, as far as possible, to make them flexible to meet the practical circumstances of the times. If the right hon. Member desires me to deal with the question of precedent, I would remind him that, while it may be quite rue that in all detail there may not be exact precedents, there are precedents 408 for the proposal which we are now making to the House. The most recent is that of the Workmen's Compensation (Coal Mines) Bill brought forward in the early part of the Session by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson). That Bill was originally sent upstairs and then brought back to the Floor of this House. I have said that it is not an exact precedent. Then there was a National Insurance Bill, originally committed to a Committee of the whole House. After it had been considered for 14 days a time table motion was passed to transfer certain later parts of the Bill, which had not been reached, to a Standing Committee. That is merely the reverse process. The fact remains that the only solution is for the House to decide to proceed with the Bill by bringing it back on to the Floor of the House, or the Bill goes. That is the issue.
This is not the time or place to enter into the details of the Measure itself. I am very conscious of the fact that there are great differences of opinion on matters of detail. There may be some even who hold differences of opinion upon the whole method of dealing with this matter, but, if that be so, why did they not express themselves when the House gave the Bill a Second Reading without a Division? Therefore, I put the case to the House. It is for the House to decide, and, as far as the Government are concerned, they think that not only this House but the interests of the country desire that the House shall proceed to consider this Measure; and, in these circumstances, I beg to move.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I shall not say one word about the merits of the Bill itself. I rise to make a protest on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself as to the way the Government handle their business. We shall carry our protest into the Division Lobby against this Motion for reasons which I will try to make clear in the course of what I have to say. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this Bill went before another place as long ago as 27th March. It appeared on the Floor of this House on the 27th June for its Second Reading. It is perfectly true that it got its Second Reading without a Division, but, f the right hon. Gentleman is trying to delude hon. Members that the House loved the Bill he knows perfectly well that the 409 House does not believe it for one moment. He knows the House gave the Bill a Second Reading because of the difficulties of the problem that was raised and because the Bill was to go to a Standing Committee upstairs. After the 27th June the Bill went to a Standing Committee. It had, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, seven meetings before the House rose for the Recess at the end of July. At the end of that time it had reached the end of Clause 1.
Now we are faced with a. new proposal. When the right hon. Gentleman is asked for precedents he gives precedents the other way round. That is a new kind of procedure. We are now faced with a proposal that this Bill, after its stormy passage through seven days, having only reached the end of Clause 1, should be brought back to the Floor of the House. The Government knew perfectly well, although they did get a Second Reading without a Vote being challenged on the 27th June, that this Bill was a gamble. They knew that it was a highly controversial Bill. We all know that it is. We all know that there are conflicting interests who have made their voices heard on this Bill. I am saying nothing about them. 1 am merely emphasising the fact that the Bill was obviously a Bill of the most controversial kind. I am not an old Parliamentarian, but I venture to say to old Parliamentarians in the House that no Government ever brought a Bill of a controversial nature into this House for Second Reading towards the end of June and expected it to get through that Session.
The Bill was controversial. The right hon. Gentleman knew the baby was dead when he brought it and deposited it on the Floor of this House on 27th June, and this artificial respiration is not a compliment to the House. Seven days upstairs, one Clause; here we are on 1st November, with a mere fortnight to run before the end of the Session, and the Government calmly tell us they are going to bring the Bill back from the Committee down to the Floor of the House. Knowing the situation, knowing that the Bill was controversial—as they must have done—knowing that they had not had sufficient discussion, as events have shown, with the various interests prior to the introduction of the Bill, knowing the late time of the Session when the 410 Bill came to this House, they ought themselves to have taken steps to deal with the procedure by which they meant to get the Bill on to the Statute Book.
We have had now on the Order Paper, I am told since the last day before the Recess at the end of July, a Motion standing in the name of the Prime Minister, a Motion which the Government put down of their own initiative as being an improvement in our methods of Parliamentary procedure. This Motion—which, at great expense to the country, is printed day by day and will go on being printed until the Government either make provision for carrying the Motion or take it off the Order Paper—is one which, had it been in operation now, would have obviated the situation in which the Government find themselves. The Motion standing in the name of the Prime Minister with regard to the Standing Orders will give the Chairmen of Standing Committees power to select Amendments. We on these benches regard that as a reasonable power that the Chairmen of Standing Committees ought to enjoy. The Government must have thought about that before this Bill was introduced. They must have known about it before the fateful day for the right hon. Gentleman, the 27th June. They did nothing. Knowing what the Bill was, even if they did not want to establish the general principle that a chairman of a Standing Committee should have the right to select Amendments, a right which is enjoyed by the Chairman of Ways and Means in this House, they might have armed the Chairman of that particular Committee with powers of that kind when the Bill went upstairs. Had they done so the seven days in Committee would not have been spent on one Clause The Committee might have made some progress.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that there are precedents, but the precedents that he quotes are precedents the other way. He quotes two precedents. One was the Workmen's Compensation Bill of this year. I speak without having bad an opportunity of looking into the question but my recollection is that that Bill did not come downstairs after it had had an abortive time in Committee. Therefore, that precedent goes. What was the other precedent? He referred to the National Insurance Act of 1911. That 411 Bill started on the Floor of this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) remembers more about that Bill than I do, because I was not a Member of the House at that time. Part I of the Bill passed its Committee stage on the Floor of the House, but Part II was sent upstairs to Standing Committee. That was not a case of a Bill going to Standing Committee and then coming back. It was a case of a Bill being taken on the Floor of the House and for reasons best known to the Government at the time it was decided that Part II should go upstairs. At that time the Standing Orders were different from those which operate to-day. There was no Kangaroo Closure. The kangaroo being an Australian animal was unknown in this country. It was a post-war importation into this country, at least in Parliamentary circles.
On that occasion in 1911 when Part II of the Bill went upstairs it did so with the Chairman of the Standing Committee vested with the same power as the Chairman of Ways and Means, or Mr. Speaker in the case of a Report stage, to select Amendments. That is not the only precedent the other way. In the case of the Railways Act of 1921, in the Debate on which the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) spoke, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir Austen Chamberlain) came forward with a proposal affecting a Bill in Committee on the Floor of this House that Part II of the Bill should go upstairs and that the Chairman of the Standing Committee should have the right to select Amendments and full powers as regards the conduct of the Committee which now rests with Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ Major HILLS
The Bill went upstairs but time was short, and therefore it was divided and Part I was left with the original Committee, and Part II was sent to a separate Standing Committee.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg pardon. I may be wrong in the details. But we are clear that a special Standing Committee was appointed to deal with Part II of the Bill and that the Chairman of that Committee was given powers to select Amendments. That is the substance of my case. In 1930, almost exactly four years ago, the present Prime Minister, then Prime 412 Minister of a Government which has been deceased for three years, came to this House and moved a Motion in regard to the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, and at that time, in spite of the fact that the Prime Minister then had only a minority behind him instead of the large and important majority that he has behind him to-day, he succeeded in carrying the Motion, that the Bill in Standing Committee should be dealt with as regards the right of the Chairman to select Amendments as if it had been dealt with on the Floor of the House.
With these precedents in front of us, we say that what, the right hon. Gentleman ought to have done in regard to the present Bill, knowing the character of the Bill, knowing its difficulties, was to have asked the House at the very beginning to give the Chairman of the Standing Committee the right to select Amendments. I do not want undue discussion of Bills. In this Parliament our party has never been guilty of pure obstruction. It does not want the Government to be rendered impotent by the mere dreary drip of talk. It wants to make things effective. If the right hon. Gentleman after the Second Reading of the Bill had taken such a course he would have got from this House power to the Chairman of the Standing Committee to use his discretion in the selection of Amendments. He did not choose to do so. Instead, we find that in November, with only a fortnight of this Session to run, he comes to the House and says: "Here is my Bill which went to a Committee upstairs. I cannot get it through there. Let me bring it down to the Floor of the House, where there can be a discretion as regards the choice of Amendments, where we can suspend the 11 o'clock rule, and where we can steamroller the Bill through the House." That is an insult to the House of Commons.
I am not arguing about the merits of the Bill. I am dealing with the way the Government have handled the Bill and are handling it in such a way now that next week three whole days and nights will be devoted to it. This is not a party question. Next week, three days and nights are to be given to the Committee stage of the Bill at a time when the minds of the majority of people in the House are exercised more by the plight of the unemployed than they are about this Bill. Those three days next week 413 ought to be valuable time. The Prime Minister told us two days ago that he was going to publish the reports of the Commissioners for the distressed areas, and that we were to have a debate on them. What better subject could there be for three days next week than that? We shall probably be fobbed off with a Friday, or perhaps half a day, or if the Government are generous a whole day in the middle of the week for discussion of a vital national problem which is symptomatic of the economic ills from which the country is suffering to-day, and yet next week three days and perhaps far into the night we shall be discussing the Betting and Lotteries Bill.
These are the things which my hon. Friends wished me to put to the House, not as to the Bill itself but as to the way in which it has been handled. We express our strongest protest against this innovation in Parliamentary procedure. There is no parallel for anything the Government are doing now. There are parallels for the course which I suggest the Government ought to have taken. In view of the pressing nature of other great national problems, in view of the fact that we have the problem of the distressed areas with us now and that we have a very short time available before the Session ends, I suggest to the Government that the decent and courteous thing to do is to take the Bill back to Standing Committee to be dealt with by people who are interested in the Bill, to give the Chairman of the Committee reasonable powers of discretion for the selection of Amendments, and to let the Bill, like all other Bills of the kind, go through the ordinary process of Parliamentary procedure. My lion. Friends and I will go into the Lobby against this Motion, whatever our views may be about the substance of the Bill, and we do it as an indictment of the competence of the Government in handling the Measure.
§ l.12 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I know that there are many hon. Members who are anxious to speak on this matter. I have been asked by my hon. Friends, who are conferring on another subject in another part of the House, to express their views on the subject. When the Bill was before the House for Second Reading it was carried, as we have been re- 414 minded, without any Division being challenged. Later, when it was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill should go upstairs to Standing Committee, although we did not carry our objection to that course into the Division Lobby, I think we told him our objection to it and that we believed the Bill would be endangered. I was disappointed that a Bill which deals, whatever may be said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) with a matter of vital concern, a Bill which had apparently received the support of another place and which had received the support in general terms of this House, insofar as it was represented by an unchallenged Second Reading, should have gone where there was not the same machinery for carrying it through within a limited time.
I do not want to be taken away this afternoon into a Debate on the merits of the Bill. I said what I had to say on the Second Reading. I said that there were many parts of the Bill about which I was apprehensive but that I thought it did carry out the report of the commission which had been set up to consider the subject. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Wakefield in the suggestion that we have to devote the time of this House to the discussion of economic questions. They certainly have a primary claim upon our time, but I dissociate myself utterly from the suggestion that the House of Commons is wasting its time if it concerns itself with a question which touches every town, city and village in the country. If it is to be suggested, and I think it must be for the first time from the benches above the Gangway, that a matter upon which such a grave report was presented after an inquiry set up, if I mistake not, by the previous Government, should be set aside, together with their urgent recommendations as being of no importance, it is a suggestion with which we cannot associate ourselves. We shall be wise, therefore, if we confine ourselves strictly to the merits of the course which is proposed.
The Bill went upstairs against the wishes of many of us, and if we had tackled the proposal there and then, I think it could have been carried through whilst it was fresh in our minds and whilst the public were thinking about it. 415 We could have dealt with it in three or four days. But here we are now with the Bill, and it is clear that if some course such as this is not taken the Bill is dead for the present Session. We cannot very well alter the procedure of the Committee, and, in fact, that would mean more discussion. If we attach importance to the Bill this is the only way in which it can be saved. I am jealous of the privileges of the House but, after all, the House of Commons is the master of its own concerns. The regulations exist for our service, we are not the slaves of our own regulations. This is not merely a Government matter. There are many cleavages of opinion in regard to the Bill, and I think we shall see some extraordinary results in the Division Lobby.
This is the one Bill which cannot be said to be a party Measure. It may be that those who are opposing the proposal of the Government will be those who have opposed the Bill upstairs and will oppose it next week on the Floor of the House. In these matters we have not to be the slaves of our own privileges, they exist in order to enable us to carry through our business, And whilst I should [be opposed to the Government over-riding a minority in the House I think that, where there is general opinion in favour of a social reform, for which the country will be better, a reform upon lines recommended by a responsible Commission, the Government in my view have taken the right course and are entitled to look for the support of those who approved the Bill on Second Reading. We shall not be sacrificing any Parliamentary privilege. We shall be giving to the House of Commons next week an opportunity of declaring its mind on the Bill, and if there is a majority opposed to the Bill, who think it does harm rather than good, the power is in the hands of the House of Commons, because I gather that there will be a fairly free vote whatever may be the pressure brought by the Whips.
§ Mr. FOOT
I missed the phrase and therefore am not quite sure what interpretation is to be placed upon it. This is the one Bill of the Session which less 416 than any other is a party Measure; it is marked by considerable division of opinion which does not run on ordinary party lines. If we think that the Commission did the right thing in making urgent representation and that the Government are right to have had regard to that representation, then it is quite right for the House of Commons to take such steps as may be necessary to carry through a reform which touches so closely the lives of our people at so many points.
§ 5.20 p.m.
I want to back up all that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) has said. The Socialist opposition is really trying to kill the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is what it looks like to me; it is very suspicious, and if that be the case they are running a great risk. The Bill is backed by all people who are interested in the social conditions of the country. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) accused the Government of incompetence and asked them to behave decently and courageously. I am not going to say anything about the right hon. Gentleman and incompetence except this, that if ever there was an incompetent Minister it was the right hon. Member for Wakefield. He came to the House fresh from a by-election and has tried to make a by-election speech this afternoon. This is no party question. It is a matter of really deep concern to the people of this country, certainly among the women of the country. If I have any complaint to make against the Government it is that as soon as they received the report of the Commission they should have acted upon it. The Bill is long overdue. They have let interested persons, what the Labour people call vested interests, get to work and form an opposition against the Bill. That is the only complaint I have against the Government.
In Committee some hon. Members talked and talked over the same question time and time again. There are some hon. Members who do not want the Bill to get through, and they wasted time in Committee. The only chance of getting the Bill is to bring it on to the Floor of the House. I think it is a pity that the Socialist Opposition should think fit to vote against the proposals because they know that they are voting to kill the 417 Bill. I cannot believe that all Members of the Opposition will do that. I hope they will show what the right hon. Member for Wakefield calls dencency and courage and back the Government. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) did his best to kill the Bill upstairs. He was one of the people who talked for hours and hours while we showed great patience in listening to long speeches during the hot weather. I hope that the Government will bring the Bill on to the Floor of the House when I am quite certain that the House will not show the same patience we did in Committee. Many of the speeches would not last for five minutes on the Floor of the House, but we had to bear them in silence last July. The right hon. Member for Wakefield should not take this opportunity of trying to defeat the Government. A few by-elections seem to have gone to his head, and hope those Members of his party who are deeply interested in the Bill and in social reform will not take part in a snap division against the Government with a few diehards on the other side who want to kill the Bill. With regard to precedents, rules and regulations are for our convenience, not to stop our business. Hon. Members who make sham speeches about precedents are doing far more harm to the House of Commons than anyone. I hope all those who really believe in the Bill will not be led astray by the right hon. Member for Wakefield, backed by a few old diehards on the other side of the House.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I have no intention whatever of raising matters of controversy with regard to the Bill but I must certainly register an objection, which every hon. Member is entitled to raise, with regard to the procedure. I have listened to the silent Noble Lady who has intervened in the Debate and would like to call her attention to the fact that according to the Rules of the House if objection is raised to a Motion of this kind Mr. Speaker decides as to its regularity. I am aware of the fact that the House of Commons is the supreme authority, but I am also aware of the delegation by that authority to a body to deal with matters of importance, and by the determination of this House a body competent or incompetent was set up to deal with a certain Measure. That 418 was within the Rules of Procedure of the House of Commons. We proceeded to deal with the merits or demerits of the Bill. While the House of Commons has a right to decide that a Measure shall be brought on to the Floor of the House I contend that in regard to this Measure you are creating a precedent. I am not able to find in the records of the House of Commons anything like a case of allowing a Minister to come forward and, because he has not been able to get a Bill through in time to suit his convenience, say that lie is going to force it through on the Floor of the House. It is most irregular. No Parliamentarian, and I know a few, is able to give me any precedent for a Minister who has got the Second Reading of a Bill which has been sent to a Committee to say that a reservation must be made in regard to a particular Clause in the Bill.
If the House of Commons is going to stand by this proposal it will be laying itself open to many abuses. At any moment Members of the House can be called together and a Committee can be set up. It may be a packed jury. If the Minister is to get a decision by a packed jury are we to take it that he is going to have the power to come to the House of Commons and say that as this jury are not going to give decisions in conformity with my wishes therefore there must be reservations in regard to a particular Clause. I contend that so far as Parliamentary procedure is concerned it is most irregular and open to great abuse. I shall also contend that it is an insult to the Standing Committee and to the House of Commons. It is insulting to the Committee because certain deliberations did take place and there was a tacit agreement with the Minister that if certain things developed by arrangement something else might follow. The Minister made such an arrangement. The right hon. Gentleman is here and can contradict me if he sees fit to do so. I could read the quotation from the OFFICIAL REPORT if necessary. If the Committee did not deal with the Bill as the Minister required them to do he has no right to make a reservation, in this Motion, of the particular Clause of the Bill that was dealt with by the Committee.
I shall ask the Chair to give a Ruling. I know beforehand, by the courtesy of the Chair, what the Ruling will be. In 419 spite of that I would point out the danger of our constitutional rights being filched. It is not a question of opportunism but a question of carrying out a constitutional understanding. From the point of view of expediency it is not expedient to rush any matter through the House of Commons when on things of vital importance it has not received the fullest criticism and discussion. I am dealing only with the constitutional point and not with the merits of the Bill. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule that the procedure is irregular, that it is unprecedented, that as far as the customs of this House are concerned it is not the ordinary procedure of Parliament and that it ought to be ruled out entirely.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I gather that the hon. Member is putting to me a point of order. In reply, I am not aware of any question of precedent for the present proposal. At the same time, as the hon. Member is aware, this House has complete control over its own procedure. If it seems good to the House to pass a Resolution such as is on the Paper, obviously both he and I and the rest of the Members of the House must bow to the decision.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
Apart from the question of precedent, which may or may not be important, it seems to me that the only valid ground for objecting to the course which the Government propose to take is the fear that if the Measure is brought to the Floor of the House it may not receive the same attention as it would receive upstairs in Committee. If that means a smaller number of lengthy speeches than we were accustomed to in the Committee, it may not be altogether a bad thing; but if it means that the Measure will not be properly debated and will not be considered on its merits, that is quite a different matter. That is what I am afraid of. We all know what it means when the Government Whips are put on. It means that supporters of the Government will vote against Amendments, not on the intrinsic merits of the question but purely on the wider ground of their loyalty to the Government that they were returned to support.
420 There is no more loyal supporter of the Government than I am, and no one who is more reluctant to damage its prestige, but I believe that the prestige of the Government depends on doing what the country wants. There are very definite Amendments to the Bill that the country does want to see carried. I shall not attempt to go into the details now. I cannot prove what the country wants, but one is entitled to say that certain resolutions that have been carried in conferences throughout the country would lead one to suppose that amendment of the Bill was wanted, and I believe it would be a safe bet that a resolution could be carried in favour of an occasional sweepstake at almost any public meeting in the country. Be that as it may, the only thing I ask is that the Government should try to hear the voice of the country on this matter. I think the best way to do that is to leave it to a free vote of the House. It is all very well to say that Members should have the courage to vote according to their convictions, and perhaps there may be some of us who will vote against the party Whips. I might myself. But I say quite frankly that if I thought that by doing so I would turn out the Government I certainly should not vote against them. Obviously for a paltry Measure like a Betting Bill one would not be justified in shortening the life of a Government which has done so much to restore prosperity and reduce unemployment. But I do not see why those wider grounds should be brought into the question at all.
This Bill is not the embodiment of any national principles. The Government was not returned pledged to introduce this Measure. I see no reason why the Government should think that they might lose face by accepting Amendments moved by their own supporters in order to improve the Bill. So far as I can see it is entirely a non-party issue. I think the spokesman of the Socialist party agreed with that, and also the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). Surely the Bill ought to be dealt with purely on its merits, and the duty of the Government ought to be to do what the country wants. If the Committee stage is left to a free vote of the House the details will be decided on their merits and the voice of the country will be heard, but if the Whips are kept on it will mean that 421 matters will be decided by party loyalty, that the merits of the case will be brushed aside and the voice of the country will be forgotten. It is because I am desperately anxious that the Government should carry out the wishes of the country that I ask them to consider leaving the Bill to a free vote and thereby give themselves a chance of carrying the country with them.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I intervene for only a few moments, and I need say less because the hon. Member who has just spoken has talked on a theme upon which I wanted to speak. A great deal depends on what the Government mean to do about the Bill if they get it on the Floor of the House. This is an unprecedented Motion. The Government are bringing the Bill here because they want to get it through. The Home Secretary said something about the House deciding. That was rather an enigmatical saying. Does it mean that the House is to have a free vote? That question should be cleared up definitely.
§ Colonel GRETTON
Then we have a quite definite answer. The Government intend to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House in order that they may push it through. The Bill has not been making progress, but the Government are determined to have it and want to have it down here. It is a particularly unfortunate Bill to cram through the House at a very late date in an expiring Session. It is a Bill which excites considerable feeling on moral issues in some quarters, and undoubtedly it interferes with the social habits of the people, their recreation and relaxation. It is a social Bill, and one of those Measures to which party pressure should not be applied if it can possibly be avoided. I look upon it as very unfortunate that a Bill of this kind should be pushed through this House in Committee. I confess that like many other hon. Members I did not vote against the Second Reading. For private reasons, I did not even take part in the Debate. In a Standing Committee Amendments are freely discussed; the procedure is less rigid, the private Member has a better opportunity and the Government are sometimes more willing 422 to accept Amendments. I view with great alarm this procedure of the Government. I know definitely the feeling excited in some quarters by certain provisions of the Bill. I trust that the Government for their own sake will not persist in the course which is indicated, and if the opposition to this Motion is carried to a Division, I shall be compelled to vote against it.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I do not pretend to be an expert in Parliamentary procedure, but I ask those who are responsible for the procedure proposed here where they got their authority? This issue has not been raised at any election in which I have taken a part during the 16 years I have been a Member of the House. No one said that he would introduce a Bill of this character. When we were talking upon the Disaffection Bill I heard an hon. Member say that he was quite in favour of search in the case of people who were carrying on certain activities. What are the Government's intentions I We are told that the Whips will be put on. What is that to be done for? To put the Whips on is to intimidate the loyal Members of the Tory party to vote for the Bill whether they like it or not. Otherwise, they will be in danger of losing their seats at the next election.
I am not going to argue the merits of the Bill. In my view it has none. What I am going to argue is that you have no right to alter all the rules and procedure of Parliament in regard to a matter of this kind. As I understand it, when a Bill gets its Second Reading in the House, it is usually sent to a Committee and is amended if necessary and then comes back to the House for further consideration. The whole procedure is being altered in this case. The first Clause of this Bill was considered in Committee. Is it going to be considered afresh? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There you are then. The Bill is not going to be recommitted. What is the precedent for that? One of the most important Clauses, if not the main Clause of the Bill, has already been considered and we are now told that the Bill is not to he recommitted in respect of that Clause. As I say I am not an expert, in procedure like the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) but I know that if a Bill has gone through its Committee stage and if the Govern- 423 ment are not satisfied with what has happened, they can recommit it. I have never heard of a Bill being recommitted leaving out the main Clause, and that is what is being done in this case. Yet people who profess to be great constitutionalists, who go up and down the country preaching democracy, are going to support a proposal of that kind.
The Bill is a bad Bill as everybody knows, and if a free vote were allowed many of those who now pretend to support it would not be found in the Division Lobby in favour of it. I stand for the right of the working man to have a shilling on a horse if he wishes. I have heard of some of my friends acting on behalf of people who gamble in another way. It is all right gambling with stocks and shares but it is all wrong to put a "bob" on a horse in the opinion of certain people. I stand up, however, for the right of the worker to spend his shilling in his own way without any interference either from pussyfoots or any other kind of people who want to interfere with him. But this procedure and this interference with ordinary Parliamentary practice gives us an indication of what we can do in our turn when we get the power. We, too, may be able to do this kind of thing, and I hope you will like it when we do it.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. PIKE
When the right hon. Gentleman was giving his reasons for this decision and asking the House to assent to it, he said that no objections were raised to the Second Reading of the Bill, and he argued that that proved conclusively that the House desired to support the principles upon which the Bill is founded. I agree that in substance his statement is true, but the right hon. Gentleman, in my opinion, might have gone a little further. He might have given us the reasons why the House did not wish to challenge the Second Reading of the Bill. When the Bill was introduced in another place guarantees and assurances were given that under no consideration would the Bill be forced in any way without the closest possible scrutiny and consideration of all criticisms, from whatever quarter they came I suggest that had those of us who are opposed to certain phraseology or legal parlance in this Bill known that we were not to be 424 allowed to criticise the Bill freely in Standing Committee, whether constructively or destructively, we would not only have opposed the Second Reading but would have been firm in our opposition to the Bill as a whole throughout all its stages.
I am going to take a different line from that which has been taken by other hon. Members. I am going to oppose the proposal that the Bill should be brought back to the Floor of the House because of the Bill itself. I am going to oppose it further because I believe that if the Bill is brought back to the Floor of the House, it will give the opponents of the National Government a great political weapon as far as the future constitutional affairs of this country are concerned. The hon. Member who has last spoken very plainly and frankly admitted that that was how he regarded the proposal. It will give those opponents power to do in regard to much wider and more important Measures than this things which at present are not possible under the constitutional procedure of Parliament. The Bill is to be brought back from the Standing Committee because, the right, hon. Gentleman says, he wants to get it before the end of this Parliament. He did not tell the House on the Second Reading that he wanted to get the Bill before the end of this Parliament, although there was the obvious conclusion that that was his object. But what he told the Standing Committee from the first moment it sat was this: "'I not only want the Bill before this Parliament ends, but I am going to have it by hook or by crook. You will have to take it or leave it and do what I suggest or the Bill will be taken out of your consideration and brought back to the Floor of the House."
As an hon. Member opposite has suggested the Bill is now to be pushed through not by the force of intelligent voting but by the force of the loyalty of the majority of Members to the Government. I suggest that that is a bad and an unfair precedent to set. As I suggested in a supplementary question to the Prime Minister, the Government have no mandate for the Bill. They have never even yet submitted to the country any considerations in regard to the Bill, and I submit that they have no right to take up valuable time in the House of 425 Commons in discussing the contentious Clauses of this Measure when it could be much more effectively dealt with upstairs. I submit that the Bill is of such a nature that it ought to be dealt with upstairs. It is a Bill of 31 Clauses. I have read carefully every word of it and from my practical knowledge of the general psychology and outlook of the people of this country, before I could allow the Bill to pass through either this House or the Standing Committee, I should feel bound, personally, to put down no fewer than 149 Amendments. If the Chair accepted those Amendments and if I could mystify the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary or bring him to realise the significance of those Amendments, and get his acceptance of them, they would necessitate a further 212 consequential Amendments. I am only one Member of the House representing an industrial community and many people whose only bobby, probably, is a little flutter now and then, whether on the dogs or by means of a ticket in a sweepstake or lottery.
This Bill as it is worded needs very close consideration and when the Whips are put on the House is not given an opportunity for that intelligent consideration of a Bill which this Bill demands. I admit that if the Bill is brought on to the Floor of the House it will go through. But, as I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman upstairs it will lead to the evils of betting being multiplied to a degree almost inconceivable at the present time. Has the Bill been brought here because it was obstructed upstairs? I notice that the right hon. Gentleman was careful not to mention that the opposition upstairs had grown too strong or too' inquisitive but I noticed a nod of assent to the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) when she suggested that certain Members of the Committee had obstructed the Bill's progress. How far had the Government an opportunity on Clause 1 of the Bill of putting its constructive programme before the Members of the Committee? There were 326 columns in the OFFICIAL REPORT as a result of the deliberations of the Committee at seven meetings and of those 326 columns the Government and the supporters of the Bill—those who desired to give the right hon. Gentleman the greatest possible power to push the Bill 426 through—occupy 147 columns. The wicked opposition to whom the Noble Lady refers as having attempted to harass and obstruct the progress of the Bill, only occupied 151 columns.
§ Mr. PIKE
Thus the difference between obstruction and construction from that point of view was a sum total of four columns. When the Government have 147 columns and the Opposition only 151 columns, how can it be said that there was sufficient obstruction to warrant the breaking of all constitutional precedents by bringing the Measure back from the Committee to the Floor of the House? Any hon. Member who takes the trouble to read the report of the Committee stage must come to the conclusion that those engaged in the consideration of the Measure had only one concern, and that was to improve it so that it would conform to general requirements and public rights. While the Government did defeat us on the major issue, how did they do it? We lost on the main Clause of the Bill by seven votes, the voting being 31 to 24, and in that 31 there were five Departmental votes. There was the right hon. Gentleman and his private secretary. There was the private secretary to the private secretary and there was the private secretary to the two private secretaries. If that is not obstructing the free expression of opinion by members of a Committee on a contentious Bill, I have not yet learned the meaning of the word "obstruction."
§ Mr. PIKE
I would give way willingly, as I usually do to a lady, but I have sat in the Committee upstairs with the Noble Lady and she has been on the opposite side from me, and unless it suited her own convenience she never gave way. It does not suit my convenience to do so at the moment. The great reason why this Bill ought not to be forced through in the Division Lobbies by Members who will not have heard the discussions here or the previous discussions in Committee, is that in its present form it is not desired by the country.
The Noble Lady has said that the great Christian forces of the country are supporting the Measure. That is not true. 427 They are supporting—those who are supporting it—the recommendations of the Royal Commission in respect to the Bill, but the Bill does not embody some of the most important of those recommendations, and all the pamphlets that I have read from the supporting organisations of the churches and other societies in the country are very apprehensive of the Government's action in not including what they regard as the Betting Commission's most urgent request, namely, control to a much greater degree of the use of the totalisator on the tracks. 1 would go a step further. If that be the evidence upon which the Government have brought the Bill back to the Floor of the House, do they take no notice of the conference that was held at Bristol? The Under-Secretary says "No."
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Captain Crookshank) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. PIKE
Well, he gave a nod in the negative. When I used to ask my employer for a rise in wages, and he nodded his head in the negative, I always knew it was no use pursuing the point, but here I am permitted to pursue the argument, and I say that that conference was representative of hundreds of thousands of working men in this country. Whether they had a political outlook or not, there is one thing that is true. Almost every representative at that conference was representative—
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
On a point of Order. On the Motion before the House, is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to the declarations of a party, and is this House in any sense ruled by an outside organisation?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I cannot say that it is out of order for hon. Members to refer to the deliberations or decisions of a body outside Parliament. At the same time, I cannot see how any such decision could possibly affect the question as to whether this Bill should be considered on the Floor of this House or in Committee upstairs.
§ Mr. FOOT
Would it be in order for me to refer in a Debate here, as a direction to Parliament, to the decisions of my party organisation, or would it be in order for members of the Labour party to quote as part of the directions for Parliamentary discussion what is done by 428 the Trades Union Congress or a labour organisation outside?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Speaking on the spur of the moment, I cannot say that it would be out of order, though it might be quite immaterial.
§ Mr. PIKE
My reason for referring to the conference was that there were hundreds of delegates, representing thousands of National Government supporters, all determined, at least by their votes, to show to the Government that they were fully alive to the dangers of this Measure and also to the actual requirements of the public in respect to Part II of the Bill. I will admit that the Government had no time to reply at that Conference. Had they chosen to have it on the agenda a little earlier, they would have had time, but when they left the Mover and the Seconder the last five minutes of the proceedings without the necessity of having to reply because the clock had struck time, it is hardly fair to suggest that what was done was not representative of the views of the people of the country.
I suggest that the Bill should not come down to the Floor of this House until it has had closer scrutiny upstairs, because the one great factor that is going to make the Bill a workable success, if it ever becomes law, is willingness on the part of the public to work within its limits, and unless the Government can thoroughly understand—the Betting Commission's report will never enable them to understand it—the psychological outlook of the whole of the community—the betting community, if you like—on the operation of the Bill, they will never be able to present anything that will be practicable legislation. I am surprised, more especially in view of the speeches that I have heard the Under-Secretary of State make on many occasions in this House on the preservation of the rights and liberties of individual Members and the traditions of this House, that he should join the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary in asking that this Motion should be carried. It is plain to anyone who has been associated with the Bill upstairs or in the country that it will create an atmosphere of second-rate political importance during the next 12 months, and certainly of first-rate political importance when the public at large begin to understand its operation. 429 It is idle to ask this House to believe that the Committee upstairs are incompetent to deal with the Bill, when the Government have decided to allow the only Clause that the Committee has been allowed to deal with to remain where it is. Clause 1 of the Bill, the most contentious Clause in the whole Bill, was thoroughly thrashed out by the Government themselves occupying 147 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT in its explanation, and it was thoroughly thrashed out by the Opposition in the 151 columns of their answers to that explanation, but the Committee upstairs was composed of only a few Members of this House, and there are hundreds of Members who, I know, will be directly opposed to the general principle of Clause 1 and who will oppose it not only on social grounds but on political grounds. To suggest that that shall not come back to the Floor of the House for reconsideration is the greatest violation of Parliamentary rights that this House has ever had perpetrated upon it, and if the right hon. Gentleman is going to bring back the Bill, I ask him to bring it back wholeheartedly.
I shall accept the words of the right lion. Gentleman that this is not a great political issue, and I suggest to him that, in view of his action, if he brings the Bill down to the Floor of the House without giving rightful consideration to its Clauses, I shall be within my rights, without the slightest violation of my pledge to the National Government, in going into the Division Lobby on every Clause on which I consider it necessary to oppose their action or their intention; and much as I respect loyalty to the Whip, it is my intention, out of sheer protest at this great violation, to go into the Division Lobby and vote against the Government, and I hope to take the rest with me.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I did not intend to takepart in this Debate at the commencement, and I am not going to bandy words with the Government or the Opposition on the merits of the Bill, because, in my view at least, they arise to a very small extent on this discussion. As far as I know—I am not, of course, suggesting that the last speaker was out of order—we have made an innovation to-day even greater than I thought if, under 430 this new procedure, it is possible to have a second Second Reading Debate on a Bill which has once gone upstairs. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), whom I am sorry not to see in her place, suggested that all those who were objecting to the course taken by the Government were actuated solely by the fact that they were opponents of the Bill. That is not true in my own case. I did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading, and I do not know that I shall vote against any of the Government's views on the Bill when it comes to be discussed next week.
I am concerned with another point of view, and I regret that it should fall to my lot to put it, because I am fully sensible of the fact that there have been, at any rate in the past and in the immediate past, Members in this House, on the back benches here, who were far better able to put a point of view connected with procedure and precedent than I am; and as one of the older Members of the House, I rather regret that in recent years we have not had, as we used to have, in all parts of the House, and in all parties, Members who took the deepest interest in our procedure. It seems to me that any corporate body, especially a body like this honourable House, with all its great traditions, should have at any rate a small proportion of its Members who take a real and lively interest in its traditions and procedure. We had such in the old days in men like Lord Banbury, the late Sir Henry Craik, and others, who occupied very great positions in this respect and who, when they put points on pure questions of procedure, precedent, and points of order to the Government of the day, were listened to with respect, even though they were in opposition to that Government. I have no hesitation in saying that to-day we break through every procedure and precedent: I would venture to suggest that the rules of the House and the interpretation put on those rules by Erskine May and other authorities and by the rulings of Speakers and Chairmen of Committees, together with precedent, constitute what I may call the domestic constitution under which we work and which, in its turn, supports the great and free Constitution under which we live.
I must apologise to my Noble Friend, whom I now see opposite, if I appeared 431 to jeer at some of her remarks, but I cannot accept her view that this question of precedent is not important, and I cannot accept the view, which is far too common, that rules are only made to be broken.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I am glad I have put a wrong interpretation on the Noble Lady's speech. This body of rules and rulings and other things to which I have referred is roughly analogous to the laws, judicial decisions, and customs of the courts of law, and I suppose—I am no lawyer—it may be presumed that it frequently happens that a judge, especially if, as is usually the case, he is a man of humane temperament, has a case before him in which he only wishes he could give a decision in another direction, but he is bound to act in a certain way because he is acting under the law; that, broadly speaking, should be the attitude of the House of Commons. I will short-circuit what I was saying by observing that in my opinion we should not make breaches of precedents unless there is a very good reason for so doing.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had an extremely difficult task in commending this Motion to the House, though he had this great advantage in commending it, that he is personally one of the most popular Home Secretaries I have ever known, in any party. Therefore, he of all men should be able to use an argument that is not very valid or watertight and, as the phrase is, "get away with it," but the right hon. Gentleman literally gave I10 reason beyond the old argument that it is a matter of convenience for the Government. The House will recollect that the famous "agreement to differ" was just a matter of convenience for the Government, and therefore the House of Commons accepted it. It is, therefore, no answer to say that the House can decide in the matter. Of course it can, but the House usually decides in matters of this kind as the Government ask it to decide, and without being cynical I may observe that with a majority of 400 the House invariably decides as the Government ask it to decide. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule. When a question of breach of precedent or an innovation in our procedure 432 is a manifest injustice, the general sense of the Rouse usually induces the Chief Whip or the Leader of the House to recede from the position he has first taken up. But I say quite frankly that I do not think there is any manifest injustice here; it is only, I think, a somewhat dangerous precedent. I will give the reasons why I think so.
Let us consider the position of Committees upstairs. In my 30 years' experience of this House the powers given to Chairmen of Committees have greatly increased. When I was a member of Committees upstairs he had practically no power. Now he has far more power. Therefore, it cannot be said that when a Government send a Bill upstairs they have lost all control over how the proceedings of the Committee shall be carried on, because they have the majority on the Committee and the Chairman has very considerable powers. Everybody who has been a member of Committees as I have been knows that it often happens that the Committee as a whole hears the views of Opposition Members and that even the Minister is impressed by the reasonableness of objections put forward. Without saying anything against the House, one must face the obvious fact that in a discussion in Committee as a rule the majority of the Members do not hear the arguments. How often have we known in the history of this House times when practically the whole of us have been united on a certain point, when Members supporting the Government—not any particular Government—have one after the other urged the Government to give way, and when the Government have not had a single supporter for their point of view. The Division has been called, the Whips say "aye" or "no," as the case may be, and the question is settled by Members who have not heard a word of the discussion. You do not get that upstairs in Committee to anything like the same extent, and there is consequently more often a corporate view based on fairness and reason.
Let us visualise this situation. A Minister comes before a Committee with a Bill. His supporters on the Committee are impressed by the reasonableness of the opponents to the Bill, and in consequence the Minister gives way, as he is entitled to do, and the Bill on the first 433 Clause is altered. Then the Prime Minister, or the Chief Whip or some member of the Cabinet, comes forward, and says, "The Committee has been much too weak; we must stop this sort of thing and bring the Bill downstairs." I suggest that that does derogate from the position of Committees. It derogates to some extent from the independence of Members of the House as individuals. I do not want to be over-critical of my right hon. Friend, but I do say this—and I am not making any attack on the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House—that when you make a breach in precedent, as you are doing this afternoon, it ought to be fully explained in a reasoned speech by the Leader of the House who is the person responsible. We are always having innovations. We had one this afternoon when a Minister asked leave to make a statement after Questions. I always understood that you could make a statement only in answer to a question, unless it was a personal statement. When we make these changes there ought to be a reasoned explanation.
I do not know that I am going to vote against the Government, although I do not think that I can vote for them, but I do want to emphasise the point I have tried to put to the House, namely, that we ought not lightly to abandon our precedents unless strong reasons can be shown for so doing. I repeat what I have said before, that the whole tendency in this Parliament—I do not say that the Leaders or the Chief Whip are to blame, for it may have been necessary in the circumstances—has been to create precedents in all sorts of ways, and it is going to give to this party when it is in Opposition, as it is bound to be some day, a very nasty whip with which to be beaten. That has been the whole tendency of this Parliament, and it always arises in a Parliament where there is an enormous influx of new Members not familiar with the procedure of the House. For these reasons, I hope that before the conclusion of the Debate we shall have more reasoned arguments for the course that has been advocated by the Government than we have had hitherto.
§ 6.20 p.m.
Captain ARTHUR EVANS
He would be a bold junior back bencher who 434 attempted in any way to challenge the authority of the Noble Lord on questions of precedents and the rules and customs observed by this House, but I support the Motion for purely practical reasons. I do not think that even the Noble Lord challenged the competency of the individual members of Committee "D" or the Committee as such to examine this important question in all its details, but we are faced with the present situation. Some of us might regret that owing to Parliamentary arrangements it was not possible to commit this Bill to a Committee of the Whole House in the first instance. Whether that be a matter for regret or otherwise does not substantially affect the position at this time. We know full well, as practical politicians and Parliamentarians, that if this Motion were defeated and the Bill were further considered in Committee upstairs that, owing to the limitation of power possessed by Chairmen of Committees, there would not be the slightest opportunity of the Bill coming down to the Floor of the House for the Third Reading before 16th November. It is obvious from the speeches which have been made from all sides of the House to-day that there is a grave and substantial difference of opinion on questions of major interest, whether under Part I or Part II of the Bill. For that particular reason I venture to think that the Government are wise in giving the House of Commons as a whole the opportunity of expressing fearlessly and freely any opinions they may hold on this question.
There is another point of view I desire to put. There is not the slightest doubt, as the Home Secretary told the House of Commons and the country, that this is definitely not a party matter. He told the House on the Second Reading of the Bill, he told the Committee upstairs before we rose for the summer vacation, and he told public audiences at Glasgow and throughout the country. That is the official view expressed by my right hon. Friend who is the representative of the Government. That view has been supported this afternoon by the spokesman of the official Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) on behalf of his party. It was supported also by my right hon. Friend who sits below me. We therefore have agreement on one 435 point of great interest; all three parties represented in the House agree that it is not a party issue. Therefore, I feel that it is right that even at this late stage one can appeal to my hon. Friends to agree to this Motion and to allow the more important questions of detail, which will be considered by the Committee of the House on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week, to be examined purely from a public interest point of view and not allow themselves to be bound in their decisions by the party Whips.
I do not want to enter into the arguments which have been addressed to the House on the Bill itself. Whatever one has to say about the Bill can be better postponed until next week. I appeal to my hon. Friends who have taken such a great interest, particularly in Part I of the Bill upstairs—and really that is the only Part of the Bill which we have had an opportunity of considering—to realise that if they defeat this Motion they will not have an opportunity of expressing their views further because for all practical purposes the Bill will be dead. We know that if the Bill is withdrawn in this Session owing to the pressure of public business on Parliamentary time there is not the slightest hope that it will be included in the King's Speech for next Session, and that in 1936 it is doubtful whether any Government whether national or party, will feel it advisable to introduce such a controversial Measure on the eve of an election. Therefore, if they are logical in their view they will defeat their own ends, and I ask them to support the Government so that Members in all parts of the House may have an opportunity of expressing their feelings on this matter one way or the other. There is not the slightest doubt that the country itself would not like to see its representatives muzzled on this question.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I should like to say a few words on the point of view of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). He pointed out that the Government are setting very dangerous precedents which may be used to the full by this party whenever it comes into power. I am not concerned to deny that. If alterations are made 436 we shall be as entitled to use them as any other Government. What I am concerned with is the fact that we consider there are parts of the Parliamentary machine which want reforming, and we do not think the right way to do it is by setting these kind of ad hoc precedents. They are set purely to suit the exigencies of a Government who have not conducted the business properly. They have not been thought out. Here we have a complicated Bill of a type which involves a large number of vested private interests. It always means, when we are regulating a business in which there is money, that there is bound to be a lot of controversy over details. I have always held, ever since I came to the House, that it is impossible for the House to discuss and decide on details. You cannot get that in an assembly of the size of this House, and the proper procedure is for the details to be thrashed out upstairs and to leave this House to deal with broad matters of principle. If that is to be done it is obvious that the Committees upstairs must be properly constituted and have proper rules of procedure.
Broadly speaking, committee work upstairs divides itself into two separate categories. There is the dog-fight and there is the business-like committee. It is an appalling waste of money to have the kind of dog-fight which we have seen sometimes when, after days and days of wasting time, the Committee gets about half-way through the first line. That ought not to be allowed. I want the Opposition always to have a full chance to put its case, but it ought not to be allowed to waste public time in that way. Therefore, when a Government had a Measure of this kind they ought to have realised, with the extent of lobbying there has been on this matter by vested interests, that they would have a difficult time upstairs. They ought to have come to the House and said, "We want to get this through; it is a detailed matter, and time is short. Let us do what we have done on other occasions and give proper powers to the Chairman of the Committee." That was not done. They chanced their arm upstairs, and now they try to bring the Bill down to the House at the fag-end of the Session. Suppose this Motion is carried. We shall then have three days in which to go through some 30 Clauses, and no one can say that 437 the work will be done satisfactorily. We have seen Bills considered in Committee on the Floor of the House with an elaborate time-table. Is there to be any time-table for this Bill? Is there to be anything to prevent a number of speakers taking up the whole of the time on minor points, with the result that the really important points are not discussed at all.
The Government plead necessity for their action. Necessity is a very bad plea in a matter of this sort. An hon. Member below the Gangway suggests that time is very short, and that otherwise the Bill would be lost altogether. That is one of the ways of whipping-up supporters of the Government—to say that this is the last chance, that this is the last opportunity for securing a great social reform. It is not so. The noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), who has just interrupted, is very influential, and I gather that others who want this Bill are influential, and if they can persuade the Government to bring the Bill on to the Floor of the House after it has been partly considered in Committee they can also make the Government agree to carry it over to next Session. We had a big change in precedent quite recently, when a Bill was not only carried over from one Session to another but from one Parliament to another. I have always regarded the "massacre of the innocents" every year as representing an appalling waste of time. I would not have procedure altered just because of this Bill. I do not think such things ought to be done on a special occasion merely because the Government ask it. What we want is a proper consideration of the way in which this House works. The Noble Lord said we have constantly, day after day, little changes and more little changes, and I entirely agree with him that that is the wrong way of doing it. I agree with him that we ought to have a collective feeling for the way in which this House does its business. Anyone who has taken the trouble to consider any ether Constitution knows the kind of almost indescribable points that make up the business procedure of this House. We cannot put them down on paper. They are matters of convention, custom and so forth, and it would be a very dangerous thing to allow them to be done away with merely because we have a 438 Government with a very large majority and with the minority putting up a fight.
It would be a different matter if the House seriously considered that alterations in its procedure were required. Such alterations have been made a great many times in the course of the last 40 or 50 years, and they have been necessary in a period of great change, because we do not want to have a static procedure; but to undertake such changes on a well-thought-out plan is a different matter from this method of constant eating away, undertaken for the convenience of Ministers and the Government. The last three years have seen a greater invasion of the historic rights of Parliament than ever occurred in a similar period of time. If Lord Banbury and others had been here I do not think they would have lasted the three years, in face of these invasions upon the control of the House. On these benches we are not taking sides on the Bill—personally, I am not interested in the manufacture of totalisators or the running of dogs—but we take the view that this is the wrong way of doing things, and that the Government ought to have come down to the House to say either that they were going to give the Chairman upstairs the proper powers to get the Bill through in face of obstruction or to say, "This is a matter which must be settled, and we want it fully considered in Committee and we will carry it on in Committee." Above all, we think that the Government, who have been in office for three years now, ought to have considered the major changes, and not the minor changes only, in our procedure which are necessary to get business through in time.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
I would like to associate myself with everything which has been said by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). This is a far bigger matter than any question of either dogs or totalisators: it concerns the procedure of the House of Commons. This House has always been very jealous of its rights and privileges, and of the procedure which it has established to secure those rights and privileges, and I trust the House will hesitate to-night to alter that procedure, on this particular matter, without the most careful consideration. I had proposed to show that there was no precedent for the course proposed by the Government, but 439 in view of the Ruling of the Deputy-Speaker that there was no precedent, it is unnecessary for me to deal further with that aspect of the matter. The Deputy-Speaker added that while that was so it was, of course, within the power of the House to do anything which it desired, and of that, of course, we are aware. That is what is now really before us—whether what is proposed is desirable in the interests of free speech and the rights and privileges of this House, and with the permission of Mr. Speaker I will venture to quote three sentences from a memorandum which Mr. Speaker himself submitted to the Committee on Procedure in 1931, because they have a very direct bearing on this subject:In criticising the present procedure of Parliament many things have to be taken into consideration. It must first of all be remembered that the procedure of Parliament has not been established, as it were, at one stroke by any Committee or body set up for the purpose; on the contrary, it has been gradually evolved under the working of Parliament through long ages of time, every rule being the result of experience, additions, alterations, amendments being made from time to time to meet changing circumstances and the needs created by different events that have taken place. It must not, however, be said that for that reason present circumstances do not need changes to meet them. On the other hand, it is right to say that changes must not be lightly undertaken without fully realising and very carefully weighing what the ultimate effect may he, perhaps quite contrary to what may be anticipated.Further he said:It has been truly said that Parliament should be the mirror of the Nation, but it must be remembered that that does not mean only one side of the mirror, and we must be careful in any rules or alterations of rules of procedure that we make that we safeguard the full rights of the minorities, so that their views may be fully and amply expressed. It ought not to be forgotten that the minority of one day may he the majority of another, and vice versa.I think those wise words ought to be taken into consideration by the House. Rules should not be altered to meet a particular emergency, particularly an emergency of a Government of the day. There is another quotation I would like to make and it is from the report of the Committee before whom Mr. Speaker gave evidence:Your Committee recommend that power to select Amendments should be given to all Chairmen of Standing Committees. They are of opinion that the practice of con- 440 ferring this power on a Chairman of a Standing Committee by resolution in the case of a particular Bill is objectionable and, by causing resentment, leads to waste of time. Such resolutions give the impression that the Government of the day desires to push through a particular Bill without full discussion.Nothing could be more apropos of the present case. The altering of our procedure to meet this particular emergency is what the Committee said was highly undesirable, and I beg the House to associate itself with the opinion of the Committee. This proposal affects a far bigger matter than any particular Bill. As the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), who has just spoken from the Opposition Front Bench, said, the precedent we lay down to-night may carry us a great deal farther in the future than we now realise. If we lay down a new precedent we cannot expect that it will not be used by other Governments. The Prime Minister and many of his colleagues have plumed themselves in recent speeches on the fact that this country was not as other countries, that owing to the National Government we have no dictatorship. The Prime Minister said that the National Government had shown, that this country was truly the home of popular liberty. Does 'a Motion like this confirm that opinion An hon. Friend who spoke so eloquently a few moments ago asked if there were a universal demand from the country to pass this Bill immediately. What are the facts? As he said, whenever this Bill has been brought before any popular assembly in the country—and it has been brought before a number—it has been turned down by overwhelming majorities unless substantially amended. So far as the country is concerned, I would remind the House that the Conservative party are the largest party in the House, and therefore its supporters have some right to express an opinion.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
It does not look like it, but I am not a voice crying in the wilderness. It has been said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad, and here the Government are carrying out the idea that they know better than the people themselves what the people want 'and what is good for the people, and it is that which is causing animosity to the Government and rousing 441 feeling against it. I am a supporter of the National Government, I recognise that they have done great things for the country, and, therefore, I regret more than I can say that they should be so obsessed with their own sense of self-sufficiency as to try to force down the throats of the populace things which the people do not want, and that in doing so they should even go to the length of altering the procedure of this ancient House. I have quoted the views of the Committee which considered this matter, and I have quoted the evidence of Mr. Speaker, who said that the House ought to hesitate before making changes in procedure to meet particular difficulties, especially the difficulties of the Government of the day. I beg the House to pay attention to those calm and considered judgments, without heat, and looking only to the good of the country and the good of the House, and if that is done I feel confident that this Motion will he rejected.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
I beg to move, in line 3, to leave out the first word "Clause," and to insert "Part".
The effect of this Amendment, if carried, will be to bring down from the Standing Committee only Part II of this Measure and to leave Part I to the consideration of the Committee. I feel some diffidence in moving this Amendment, because there is one Member in this House who is far more qualified than I am to speak on this matter. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred with regret to the absence of Members who have made a special study of procedure and have a great knowledge of it. There is one such Member present, the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs, who could, were he free, handle this matter better than any of us. If there is one Member to whom this subject would appeal and who would handle it excellently it is the Under-Secretary. In moving this Amendment I feel rather as Elisha must have felt when Elijah was carried to Heaven in a fiery chariot, only in this case he has been carried not to Heaven, and I find him a willing captive in the House of Rimmon and one of the acolytes of the Priests of Baal. It is only left to me to re-echo the prayer that a double portion of his spirit may fall 442 upon me in moving this Amendment. If there is any disposition to mock at my poor efforts, those who do so may have to fight with a bear later.
I regard the proposal of the Government with the very greatest suspicion. It far transcends in importance the question of the Bill. I have never made any defence of my attitude on the Bill. I shall oppose it resolutely as long as one condition remains in it, but even if I supported it I should still adopt the same attitude about the Motion which the Government are putting before us. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) made an impassioned appeal to us to support the Government because she wants the Bill. She took such an enormous interest in it that out of the seven days which were devoted to it in Committee, she was absent for three of them, and only gave us the smallest amount of her time during the rest of the deliberations. She has asked us to support the Motion of the Government on the ground that it is the only way we can get the Bill. I dispute that contention, and shall put to the Government a suggestion which will still enable them to get their Bill without violating the precedents of the House.
The matter of precedent is one of very great importance, and of much graver importance than many Members attach to it. Here we are making a new departure, and a very dangerous one, because it is in effect a damping down of the power of the private Member. The Standing Committees differ, as my Noble Friend has already stated, from a Committee of the Whole House in two particulars. The first is that, as a rule, they allow a much closer investigation and a much more careful discussion of the Measure before the House than is allowed in Committee of the Whole House, and consequently the Debate often sways an appreciable number of votes. It is a most peculiar thing that those who are always loudest in praising the democratic system of our Parliamentary Government deal it the most savage blows. I say in all seriousness, and believing that I am not exaggerating in the least, that the power of Parliament in this country is the power of the private Member. It is the belief that it is in the power of the private Member to criticise and influence 443 events, and if that power is curtailed, so will the influence and the prestige of Parliament be curtailed. I sincerely believe that that power will be curtailed if this Motion be passed to-day.
Consider the possibilities. It has been admitted that there is no precedent. There have been many precedents for dividing a Bill, a famous case being the Railways Bill of 1921. There have been precedents for giving wide powers to Chairmen of Standing Committees, but never before has a Bill which has been partially discussed, and in which the vital principle is in the process of being discussed—and remember that in this Bill Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 hang very much together—been changed from one tribunal to another. It is in direct contravention at least of the spirit of Section 2 of Standing Order No. 46 where it is laid down that a Bill may be committed to a Standing Committee in respect of some of its provisions and to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of other provisions. The Bill has been committed to a Standing Committee in respect of one provision, and now it is to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of the same provision, and I maintain—though I have no doubt that it is technically within the power of the House to do it—that the effect of that procedure is to fly straight in the face of the spirit of the Standing Order. It also is a blow at the whole of the Standing Committee procedure, because what, in effect, the Home Secretary and the Government are saying is that the Standing Committee is not competent to carry out the deliberations which it began.
The Government may say, "The Standing Committee breaks down if you and your friends get up and talk a lot in opposition." But hon. Members of this House have the right to use any Parliamentary means in their power to oppose a Measure of which they disapprove. I am the last person to suggest that the Standing Committee procedure does not need amending. I think that it does. In my short Parliamentary life I have sat on a good many Standing Committees, and in my view the procedure needs speeding up. The Government have on the Paper a Motion to alter it. This procedure flies right across the whole of the principle of the matter, and the re- 444 vised Standing Orders are being flouted by this Measure. What is the good of altering your Standing Orders if you are to change the procedure by an ad hoc resolution in respect of any Measure when it suits you? Consider the dangers to which this may lead. Imagine a Government with a long Bill containing certain controversial Clauses, with not much time at their disposal. Up the Bill goes to Standing Committee, and the procedure is started. The thing becomes difficult and down it comes to the House for the controversial and vital Clauses. Up it goes again to be finished off. In fact, it goes on and on and on, and down and down and down and round and round and round. This sort of thing inevitably must lead to a curtailment of the time allowed to private Members for discussion. The only way in which any opposition in the House, be it from the back benches of the Government or from the official Opposition, can interfere or really affect government legislation is by the time factor, and this new procedure is reducing the time factor materially. I do not think that, in view of the amendment of the Standing Orders, it is a good thing, and I am not sure whether, when we get into Opposition, we shall not deeply regret having given such a precedent to hon. Members opposite. As has already been said, if any procedure is altered, the proper way is to amend the Standing Orders, and not to give ad hoc changes for special cases. The departing from precedent whenever it suits one is a most dangerous practice.
Among other hobbies, I claim to study the science of heraldry. The other day I was looking through a book and came across the arms and the motto of the ancient and honourable family of Gilmour, and on inspection I found that the family motto was "Non penna sed usus"—not the pen but custom. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to be true to his family motto and to its traditions. The Government are in a difficult situation over the Bill. It is not their fault, and not the fault of the Opposition. As the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) pointed out, not only did the supporters of the Bill speak almost as much as we did, but the Closure was applied only four times during the ten sittings. But there is a way out which I belive would be better. We should take Part II on the Floor of the 445 House, and I do not believe that there woud be opposition to that course—certainly not from us. There might be a little from hon. Members opposite. Let the House deal with it on the Floor of the House, following not innumerable but several precedents. Give the Chairman of the Standing Committee the wide powers of selection of Amendments which are to be given when the new Standing Orders are passed. When you have done that to facilitate the progress of the Bill, then let the Bill take its chance. I believe that you could in those circumstances get it through. You would have done everything you were justified in doing to facilitate its progress, and if you lost it it would be less disastrous even from the point of view of the Government than if they have this new and most undesirable procedure.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to see their way to accept the Amendment as a possible way out of an extremely difficult and dangerous situation, which they have entirely created for themselves. This Bill was committed to a Standing Committee just before we rose for the Summer Recess. The Committee, even though it sat on more than its normal number of occasions per week, was only able to have 10 actual meetings. Surely, it is for the Government to realise that it is humanly impossible to examine a Bill which was so contentious and so unpopular with a great many Members of this House and certainly with the majority of the people of the country in 10 sessions of the Standing Committee. If the Government had wanted the Bill to have been properly considered, it should have been committed to a Standing Committee at a reasonable time, so that they could have inquired properly into the Bill and reported to the House in plenty of time before the end of the Session. I think that it would be a monstrous untruth to say that there was any obstruction at all in those 10 meetings. Every Amendment which was put was a reasonable Amendment, and on no occasion do I remember hearing an irrelevant speech except from some of the supporters of the Measure from time to time. Therefore, it does not seem that this lack of 446 time for the consideration of the Bill is in any way the fault of the opponents of the Measure, and if that is the case there is no excuse whatever for bringing the Bill downstairs. As has been pointed out by more able Parliamentarians than I, it has never been done before, and leaves an extremely dangerous precedent for the future.
I was more than impressed by the awful picture drawn by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) who visualised this House, playing battledore and shuttlecock with the Bill upstairs and downstairs whenever it suited their convenience, and I can see that that may well happen. It may mean that if this procedure goes on we shall find alternate Clauses being taken upstairs to the great confusion of the House and the ultimate destruction of reasonable Parliamentary government. There must be some reason for asking the ordinary Member of this House to support this fanatical desire of the Government to proceed with a Bill which they know not only to be unpopular, but unworkable. I do not know that I shall be in order in discussing the Bill at all on this Motion.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was about to remind the hon. Member that the Motion itself has nothing to do with the provisions of the Bill, and the Amendment has still less to do with the Bill. So far neither the Mover nor Seconder has referred to the Amendment which they are proposing.
§ Mr. WISE
I will endeavour to come to the Amendment on the Paper. This Amendment proposes to leave Part I of the Bill with Standing Committee D and to bring in Part II, if the Government so wish it, down to the Floor of the House where the Government can use all the Parliamentary machinery they like to secure its easy passage. The object of leaving Part I with the Standing Committee is that the Committee has after some difficulty got through one Clause, and the remaining Clauses of Part I of the Bill are very closely connected with Clause 1. I think it is not fair on the Committee of the whole House to expect them to proceed to the consideration of the remaining Clauses of Part I of the Bill without having heard the arguments on Clause 1. There is also the fact that by leaving Part I 447 with the Standing Committee, we avoid a very serious breach of precedent and keep in conformity with the established custom of this House. I wish the Government would consider the matter on these lines. Clause 1 was the most contentious Clause, and, having disposed of that, it, is reasonable to assume that the passage of the remaining Clauses of Part I would not be so difficult, because many of the Amendments to subsequent Clauses have already fallen owing to the rejection of Amendments to Clause 1. The Committee of the whole House would be able to consider Part II, which is not in any way connected with Part 1. and deals with a totally different set of subjects, which, I think, would be better dealt with by a Committee of the House. The Standing Committee, I found after a little experience, was an unsympathetic one from our point of view. It had on it an almost unprecedented number of Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries, which made the task of the Opposition extremely difficult. I doubt much prefer to see Part I considered where representatives of the whole House are able to speak adequately. I do appeal to the Government to accept this Amendment and to relieve their supporters from a great deal of anxiety about their present procedure. By doing this they would also go a good deal of the way towards meeting the very reasonable demand of the Opposition that this quite unconstitutional procedure should not be resorted to.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. LEVY
May I as a Member of the Standing Committee be allowed to make a few observations? The Bill was an exceptionally contentious one. It obtained a Second Reading without a Division because it was well known that it was to be sent to a Standing Committee where it would have a thorough examination, and where an unpopular Bill would be made into something that would be workable. That Committee for seven days considered the Bill, and its most contentious Clause was licked into shape. Now it is proposed that the Bill should be brought down to the Floor of the House. We must accept the fact that there is no precedent for doing this after one Clause has been passed by the Standing Committee. One may well ask what is the object of the Government in bringing a 448 contentious Measure containing 31 Clauses down to the Floor of the House with an allowance of only three days for discussion, when it has already taken seven days of discussion upstairs in Committee to deal with one Clause. One may also ask whether it is better that the Bill should be discussed and fought out on the Floor of the House rather than in the Standing Committee. Members know that if the Government bring even a bad Bill down to the Floor of the House, with their huge and loyal majority they will pass it, even though the majority of the Members do not hear a word of the discussions for or against. Every Clause will be passed in the Committee stage, whether it is good, bad or indifferent. Members will vote in the Lobbies whether they have heard the discussions or not. Surely it is better to leave the Bill to a Standing Committee where the Members are present all the time and constitute a corporate body. They would listen to the discussions, they would be able to weigh the reasonableness of any suggestion put forward and they would be better able to deal adequately with the Measure than any other body.
Part II of the Bill prohibits entirely the holding of lotteries. At a conference that was held in one of the provincial towns recently, it was unanimously decided by our party—by delegates representing millions of people—that lotteries should be allowed. My right hon. Friend may be right in ignoring that, but he is opposing the vote that was taken at a conference of our own party, of which he is such a distinguished member. That resolution was passed only a few weeks ago, and it is within the recollection of every Member of the House. Now it is proposed that this Bill should be rushed through the House by means of all the machinery that the Government can use, with practically no discussion. This is a Government Measure and loyal Government supporters would not feel themselves justified in voting against the Government on a Measure of this sort, even though they may disapprove it. Is this the kind of thing on which you would defeat the Government? It is ridiculous to suppose that any loyal supporter of the Government would vote against the Government on a Betting Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment which the hon. Member is speaking to deals only with Part I of the Bill.
§ Mr. LEVY
The point I really wanted to make was that we are here breaking all precedents by proposing to bring this Bill down to the Floor of the House with the object of running it through with the minimum of discussion. I will conclude by saying that in my opinion the Bill is a bad Bill, and you cannot make it a good Bill because you force it through the House by making full use of the Government machinery.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
Perhaps I may be permitted to say a word or two on this matter. It is a curious fact to note that with the exception of the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), everyone who has spoken in favour of this Amendment is an opponent of the Bill. It is perfectly right and proper from their point of view to put this subject in the form that they have done, but there is no doubt that this is a wrecking Amendment. It could have no other effect but to kill the Bill. Obviously the circumstances of the time govern this case. We have only till the 16th of the month to deal with the problem. If this Amendment were accepted it would impose an impossible position both upon those interested in the first part of the Bill, who would be asked to sit upstairs, and upon the Government, who are responsible for every part of this Measure. It is obvious that if this Amendment were accepted by the House it would mean the end of the Bill. In these circumstances, there is no use in arguing about it. The matter is perfectly clear, and I hope the House will refuse to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. M. BEAUMONT
I do not take the same view as the Home Secretary on this question, but if it will provide a way out, I am quite prepared to withdraw the Amendment so that we can continue the Debate on the Motion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
As a Member who has been here for some years and who has listened to every word of this Debate, I wish to say that I do not hold the view that we should not make new precedents to suit the occasion. I have always held the view that those who want to reorganise the whole of our 450 procedure are taking on a job which is very dangerous. It is far wiser in the interest of the House of Commons that when you find a difficulty you should endeavour to meet it. One illustration of this is the very remarkable position in which we are placed with the Government's alternative to-day. But what was the alternative given to the House by the leaders of the Socialist party? They suggested that instead of doing this you should give the Chairmen of the Committees upstairs very big powers in the selection of Amendments. I have seen the Chairman of a Committee upstairs exercising those powers, and never in my life have I dreamt of anything which so cut away the power of ordinary private Members. In the 1929-31 Parliament, the private Member was wiped entirely out of the House of Commons.
One has to look at this Motion from the point of view of whether it is justified in the circumstances, or whether it is not justified. Most of our information goes to show that there is no precedent at all for cutting a Bill in half upstairs. I have not heard anyone speak of the Railways Bill of 1921, and I am not sure whether my memory is right or wrong with regard to it; it might be worth while to inquire about that particular Measure; but, from the point of view of Committees upstairs, I say that if, when the House has solemnly said that a Bill should go to a Committee, and has appointed a chairman and particular people to give their time and service in the mornings to deal with it, and if, when it has run a certain time, it is to be possible by a Resolution of the House to bring it down from that Committee, and away from the Chairman of that Committee, and deal with it on the Floor of the House, very few private Members will take the trouble to attend Committees upstairs. It is a vast strain on many Members to have to attend Committees in the mornings, and the Chairman makes a vast sacrifice in undertaking his job upstairs; and, if this is going to be part of the normal procedure of the House of Commons, it will strike a blow at Committees upstairs, which the House of Commons ought to be very careful in doing.
I said earlier that I do not mind changes and the making of new precedents, but it should only be done if there is no other way out. I would ask why in this case the Committee could not 451 have been told by a simple Resolution of the House three or four sitting before the Adjournment—it could have been done quite easily, and without disturbing the work of the Committee—that they must go on sitting through July and August until they had finished their work? I am perfectly innocent in the art of obstruction, but I think there are occasions when, if a Committee were told to go on sitting, just as we have all-night sittings here sometimes, the ultimate effect might be a very good one in getting a Bill through. I am not binding myself to that form of procedure, but put it forward as a suggestion which might be considered that there are other things that might have been done. I have listened to Members of the Socialist party saying that the whole programme of the Government was not very well constructed, but, of course, their own programme was so bad that nothing in it was ever well constructed; but I think that the Government might well have made the House sit an extra week in order to deal with the Bill on the Floor of the House if it so important a Measure as the Government maintain. That would be a perfectly fair constitutional method of dealing with it, and would not be creating a precedent.
I am not going to vote against the Government on this occasion, and I am not going to be tied down to the position that the House of Commons must not make a new precedent to cover a very difficult position; but I do say that, if the Government are going to make an entirely new change, we have the right to ask that those people with the greatest experience of the House of Commons, of whom the Home Secretary is certainly one—those who are responsible for leading many of us in the country—should come and give us the strongest views as to why the change should be made. We are told that the House of Commons is the greatest constitutional assembly in the world. We are making an entirely new change here, and surely, if this is the greatest constitutional assembly in the world, it is worth the while of our leaders to tell us why we are making this considerable change. No one knows better than I do the great capacity of the Home Secretary, but I think that the Conservative party, if they are asked to swallow this kind of thing, have a 452 right to ask that their leaders, to whom they are responsible, should come here and tell us the real reasons for this innovation. For that reason, while I shall not vote against the Motion, I reserve my right to do absolutely nothing, because I do not see why a Member should be committed to a precedent of this sort unless we are told very much more clearly that there is a need for such a change with respect to a particular Measure which has never, so far as I know, received any great support from our leaders on any political platform.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I apologise to the House, which I see is very anxious to divide, for intervening in this discussion, but I will not take up more than about two minutes. As one who has consistently supported the Government since its inception, I do not like this step which is being taken to-day. I cannot agree with many of those Members who are opposing the Bill—I venture no opinion one way or the other as to the merits or demerits of the Bill—nor do I agree with the view, which has been put forward very eloquently, that this is a violation of constitutional principles. It has been said that the House of Commons is breaking its own rules, and I agree that precedents should be observed as far as possible and that it is really very dangerous to interfere with established principles.
On the general merits of bringing a Bill of this sort down to the Floor of the House, I venture to think there are very grave objections. I believe that a Bill of this nature, which cuts right across the ordinary lines of party divisions, is better dealt with upstairs, where there is generally a slightly less heated atmosphere, and certainly a somewhat more judicial frame of mind. I believe that you get at least as good, and probably better, examination of a Measure in that way. Therefore I object on these grounds to bringing the Bill down to the Floor of this House. I do not think that any adequate reason has been advanced for doing so, except that the time is very short; but is it not possible for the Government, without any loss of prestige, at this juncture to postpone the Bill to the next Session, and then to have another Second Reading and take up the Bill again? I think that the Bill is receiving a great deal of opposition in the country 453 as a whole. I am not interested about that, but I do think that the Government are incurring a very grave danger of annoying, quite gratuitously, a considerable number of their own most loyal supporters in the House of Commons by the step which they are taking. I may say that I do not regard the Motion to-day as being of sufficient importance to vote against the Government. I do not think it is a matter of enormous importance one way or the other. But I know that other Members who are supporters of the Government feel very strongly about it, and if any Government, in small matters, annoys some of its most loyal supporters, it runs a very grave risk for the future.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Captain ARTHUR HOPE
I agree very much with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) with regard to the question of precedents. I believe it to be essential in any assembly, when any emergency arises, to create precedents, but it should only be done in a case of real emergency, in connection with a Bill which is of real importance to the country. I cannot believe that anyone seriously thinks that it is a matter of national interest that this Bill should be passed into law before the end of the present Session. It was introduced at a very late period of the Session, and it was common talk in this House and in the Lobbies that when the Bill was introduced it was only an even-money chance (a), whether the Government wanted it passed at all, or (b), whether they thought that it had any chance at all of passing. As a Member of the Standing Committee which investigated Clause 1, I came to the conclusion that the attitude of the Government, as expressed
§ by the Home Secretary, was that they were unwilling to concede one single thing to those who opposed the Bill. I myself moved several Amendments, which I think were perfectly reasonable Amendments.
§ The reason why we did not divide on the Second Reading, of which the Home Secretary has made a point, was, not because we liked the Bill or approved of it in toto, but because we thought that it ought to be sent to a Standing Committee in order to try to make something of the Bill and improve it if possible. The attitude of the Home Secretary, with no doubt, the full authority and concurrence of the Cabinet, was that nothing should be given away at all. Perfectly reasonable Amendments were brought forward, some of which the Home Secretary got very near to accepting. We all know the old saying that you can fake a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. We got the Home Secretary's mouth very near to the water once or twice, but up went his heels and away he went. We really made very little progress with the Bill, and the reason for that is that there is no popular demand for it in the country. It cuts right across party issues, and I do not think that such a, Bill, for which there is no great demand, affords an occasion for making a precedent in this House. As I said at the beginning, precedents have to be made sometimes, but I do not think it ought to be done in this case. Therefore, I shall, almost for the first time in my life, vote in opposition to the Government on this Motion.
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 211; Noes, 62.455
|Division No. 378.]||AYES.||[7.29 p.m.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P.G.||Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E.R.)||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey|
|Albery, Irving James||Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Cooke, Douglas|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cooper, A. Duff|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Courtauld, Major John Sewell|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Critchley, Brig.-General A. C.|
|Apsley, Lord||Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks.,Newb'Y)||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Burghley, Lord||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Butler, Richard Austen||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.|
|Balniel, Lord||Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)|
|Barclay- Harvey, C. M.||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Beaumont. Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.)||Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Bernays, Robert||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Denville, Alfred|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Chamberlain, Rt.Hn.Sir J.A.(Birm.,W.)||Dickie, John P.|
|Blindell, James||Chapman, Col.R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Doran, Edward|
|Bossom, A. C.||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Drummond Wolff, H. M. C.|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Clarke, Frank||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Duggan, Hubert John|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Liewellin, Major John J.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Loder, Captain J. de Vera||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Loftus, Pierce C.||Ruggles-arise, Colonel E. A.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||mabane, William||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||McKie, John Hamilton||Selley, Harry R.|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Magnay, Thomas||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Maitland, Adam||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thnees)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Waller D.|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Smithers, Sir Waldron|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Mayhew. Lieut.-Colonel John||Somerset, Thomas|
|Grimston, R. V.||Meller, Sir Richard James||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Milne, Charles||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'moriand)|
|Hartland, George A.||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Stones, James|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Storey, Samuel|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Morrison, William Shepherd||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Hopkinson, Austin||Moss, Captain H. J.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Munro, Patrick||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hornby, Frank||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||O'Connor, Terence James||Sugdan, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Templeton, William P.|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Patrick, Colin M.||Thompson, Sir Luke|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Peake, Osbert||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Hurst. Sir Gerald B.||Pearson, William G.||Train, John|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Peat, Charles U.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Penny. Sir George||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Janner, Barnett||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Blist'n)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Power, Sir John Cecil||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Jones, Sir G. W H. (Stoke New'gton)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Ker, J. Campbell||Pybus, Sir John||White, Henry Graham|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Radford, E. A.||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Kirkpatrick, William M.||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Knight, Holford||Ramsay T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Lambert. Rt. Hon. George||Ramsbotham, Herwaid||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Ray, Sir William|
|Lees-Jones, John||Reá. Walter Russell||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Sir Frederick Thomson and Lieut.-|
|Levy, Thomas||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward.|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Renwick, Major Gustav A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Grundy, Thomas W,||Paling, Wilfred|
|Anstruther-Gray. W. J.||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Pike, Cecil F.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Jenkins, Sir William||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Banfield, John William||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Kimball, Lawrence||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Kirkwood, David||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E.A.(P'dd'gt'n,S.)|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Thorne, William James|
|Cape, Thomas||Lawson, John James||Tinker. John Joseph|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Leonard, William||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Daggar, George||Logan, David Gilbert||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lunn, William||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, Dr. John H. (Lianelly)|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Williams, Thomas (York. Don Valley)|
|Edwards, Charles||Mainwaring, William Henry||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Maxton, James||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Mills. Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Milner, Major James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Nall, Sir Joseph||Mr. John and Mr. G. Macdonald.|
|Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding)||Nathan, Major H. L.|
Bill read a Second time.
|Bill (except Clause 1) committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.|