§ Standing Order No. 14 (4), line 2, alter 'supply,' insert and the consideration of the reports of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Estimates.'
§ Standing Order No. 47 (5), line 11, at the end, insert, and under Standing Order No. 28 (as to selection of Amendments).'
§ Leave out Standing Order No. 49.
§ Standing Order No. 74, line 5, after expenditure,' insert, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the committee may think fit.'
Standing Order No. 80 (3), line 5, leave out from House,' to end of the Standing Order, and insert new paragraph,—
'(4) Mr. Speaker shall nominate, at the commencement of every Session, a Chairmen's panel of not less than ten members to act as temporary Chairmen of Committees when requested by the Chairman of Ways and Means. From this panel, of whom the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy-Chairman shall be ex-officio members, Mr. Speaker shall appoint the Chairman of each Standing Committee and may change the Chairman so appointed from time to time. The Chairmen's panel, of whom three shall be a quorum, shall have power to report their resolutions on matters of procedure relating to Standing Committees from time to time to the House.'
§ The House will remember that just before the Adjournment for the Summer Recess I answered a question put down by the acting Leader of the Opposition with regard to a report which had been presented on Procedure. The answer will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The committee, some of whose recommendations we have put down to-day upon the Order Paper, was set up under the auspices of the late Government. They had not concluded their work when the Dissolution of Parliament occurred, and the work was resumed during the earlier lifetime of the present Government. It was completed and the report has been in the hands of all hon. Members. The committee was drawn from all parts of the House. They were Members of considerable experience, and the report was unanimous. The recommendations which are on the Order Paper to-day are taken 2170 direct from their report, with the solitary exception of one dealing with Standing Order No. 74, which was recommended by the Public Accounts Committee. When recommendations of this kind are made unanimously by a committee drawn from all parties in the House and consisting of Members of experience who have heard evidence, it is obviously the duty of the House to take into very careful consideration what they recommend, but of course the decision of the House is one that rests entirely with Members. These are matters that affect the daily life of Parliament and the daily life of Members, and it is always understood in the House that in these matters there should be the fullest freedom of discussion, and, moreover, that we should attain, if possible, a very general measure of agreement.
It might be for the convenience of Members, and might possibly save tune in the long run, if I were to make a few observations on the points in the Motion which stands in my name. The first Amendment in the Schedule which is proposed reads:
Standing Order No. 14 (4), line 2, after? supply,' insert 'and the consideration of the reports of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Estimates.'
If that Amendment be passed, it will permit the House to discuss matters of importance and of interest connected with the work of the Public Accounts Committee. We have no facility for doing that at the present time unless such matters should be brought down by some special motion in the House, and very often there is considerable difficulty, when Supply Days come along, in finding time for that. I think there is everything to be said for provision being made for the opportunity of debate. I differ from the opinion expressed that a day or any number of days should be specifically allotted for this purpose, and for this reason. It is well known to hon. Members that a great deal of the work on the Public Accounts Committee is of rather a technical character, involving examination of the details of the accounts of the military services and of the Civil Service, and it may quite well be that a. Session may pass in which no matters arise of such general public interest that anyone would desire to
bring them forward in the House. Therefore, we think it is preferable for the House to have the option of debating these subjects if it is so desired.
§ As is well known, the Opposition of the day have the call on the subject on Supply Days, so that it will always be open to them, if there be any subject which the Public Accounts Committee represent to them as deserving further debate in this House, to ask for such a discussion. I understand that it is the view of the Opposition, which doubtless will be expressed during the course of the Debate, that such a proposal is fair and reasonable, and I think it is one which would be of benefit to the House. I know from long experience that sometimes, especially towards the end of the Session, it is not easy to get a very pertinent debate on a subject. Some supply services have been discussed and debated until there is nothing more to say about them, and sometimes there are subjects which one may think worthy of discussion but which do not interest the Opposition, and I think it will be of material assistance to have the function of Supply widened to this extent, and I think it will be, on occasions, of real service to the House of Commons as a whole.
I will pass to a cognate Amendment:
standing Order No. 74, line 5, after expenditure,' insert and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the committee may think fit.'
That is an Amendment of the Standing Orders which we have inserted in reply to a unanimous request in a special report of the Committee of Public Accounts in this Session. The reason for it, I think, is obvious, and when I have stated it I feel there will be no difference in the House as to the propriety of this request. If the terms of reference of the Public Accounts Committee be strictly interpreted they have no power to deal with any other accounts than the Appropriation Accounts of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, of the Civil and Revenue Departments and the Consolidated Fund Account. From a very early date the Committee have not taken so limited a view of their responsibilities, and there are one or two accounts, like the Greenwich Hospital Accounts, which they have investigated for many years; but of
recent years a number of accounts of first importance have been laid before Parliament which certainly ought to be examined. As a matter of fact they are being examined, but I think it would be much better if we could change the terms of reference of the Public Accounts Committee so as to regularise what is the practice to-day and is a desirable practice. I refer to such accounts as the National Health Insurance Fund, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Road Fund, the Miners' Welfare Fund and the Wheat Fund. It may well be that the tendency of modern politics will increase the number of these Accounts, and I think this is a change which ought to be made, and I feel confident that it is one which the House will approve.
Then I come to the Amendments which deal with the proposal which is most novel which is made by the Committee, that is, the proposal to assimilate the practice in Committee upstairs to the practice in this House by giving powers to Chairmen upstairs to select Amendments. There are three Amendments dealing with that point:
Standing Order No. 47 (5), line 11, at the end, insert and under Standing Order No. 28 (as to selection of amendments).'
§ Leave out Standing Order No. 49.
Standing Order No. 80 (3), line 5, leave out from House,' to end of the Standing Order, and insert new paragraph:
'(4) Mr. Speaker shall nominate, at the commencement of every session, a Chairmen's Panel of not less than 10 Members to act as temporary Chairmen of Committees when requested by the Chairman of Ways and Means. From this Panel, of whom the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy Chairman shall be ex-officio members, Mr. Speaker shall appoint the Chairman of each Standing Committee and may change the Chairman so appointed from time to time. The Chairmen's Panel, of whom three shall he a quorum, shall have power to report their resolutions on matters of procedure relating to Standing Committees from time to time to the House.'
The last named Amendment deals specifically with the powers proposed to be conferred. Everyone will agree that the power to select Amendments throws heavy responsibility on the Chairman. I remember very well the Debates on the occasion when such powers were conferred in the House itself. For many years, both as a Member of the Government and in Opposition, I frankly confess I thought this practice desirable, and yet I was doubtful, I was a little
apprehensive about the experiment. We have here an impartial body which has examined most thoroughly this whole question. They have heard evidence both for and against the proposed change, and they unanimously recommend that this change should be tried. It is, frankly, an experiment and I think it is one which is well worth trying.
§ Recognising that this will be an experiment upstairs they have, as I think wisely, made certain alterations, which, I understand, are also agreed to unanimously in the method of selection of the Chairmen, and the omission of such a portion of the Standing Order as we propose to omit deals with the existing Panel, which will be abolished if these Amendments are supported by the House, and we shall have in the future a Panel selected by Mr. Speaker, who, I understand, has expressed his willingness, if the House so desire, to select the Members of that Panel—a Panel of not less than 10 Members who will act as Temporary Chairmen of Committees of the Whole House when requested to do so by the Chairman of Ways and Means. It is proposed that the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy-Chairman shall be ex officio Members of the Panel. This Panel will serve two purposes. The duties of the Panel will become interchangeable between Committee of the Whole House and the Standing Committees upstairs. Thus it is hoped that the Members of the Panel will have opportunities of gaining experience in the conduct of the House which will be valuable to them in the discharge of their duties as Chairmen of Standing Committees.
§ I think it is important that the change of practice should be marked by a change in the method of appointing the Chairman. The two things should stand or fall together. The wording in the latter part of the Amendment seeks to give the Panel an existence as a body, and to enable it to formulate Resolutions to regulate procedure in Standing Committees, which is a function that has hitherto been performed by the Chairman of the Panel. I believe that this is a change which might well be made, and I believe that the method of appointment and the new functions, if I may so put it, of the Members of that Panel, will add a weight and dignity to an office which has always been esteemed in this 2174 House as one of great responsibility, and will make it still more than it has been in the past, an office that may well be desired by Members whose gifts run rather to directing debate than taking part in it, because there are men who very often have peculiar gifts for controlling debate in the House. I am not endowed with those gifts, but I admire them very much. I do not think that I should have the patience, but I do respect men who have them, and I regard those gifts as one of the most important in this House, because, after all, a Panel of that kind is the nursery of those whom we hope in long years to come may succeed in that historic Chair.
§ It is for these reasons—and I have put the Motion as succinctly and as clearly as I can—that we have put down these Amendments on the Order Paper. I commit them as a whole to the good will of this House, and I shall try, as far as I am able, to meet the objections that can be met, or to answer any questions to which answers may be desired in the course of the discussion.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
We on this side of the House agree broadly with the proposals which have been brought before us. I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible, because we have other business to-day of very great importance, and of interest to very many Members. Therefore, I shall abstain from dealing at any length with the general question of our Standing Orders. I would only say that we think there are further amendments and alterations which might be made to the advantage of the business of the House. With regard to these specific proposals, we agree with the first proposal to enable the report of the Public Accounts Committee or of the Estimates Committee to be discussed on allotted days. On the other hand, we have to regard the rights of the Opposition in respect to Supply Days. There may be occasions in which there is not very great pressure on Supply Days, and in which, therefore, the reports of those Committees might very well be discussed by the House; but there may be occasions when there is very great pressure on Supply Days, and we think it would be only reasonable that when that is so, the Government should put down a Motion to increase 2175 the number of allotted days. As Members are aware that can be done under the Standing Orders.
I agree entirely with regard to the Amendment as to the accounts which are laid before Parliament by the Public Accounts Committee. With regard to the proposal as to Chairmen of Committees and as to the powers of those chairmen, we agree that Chairmen of Committees upstairs should be given these powers. Although we are in Opposition, we do not take any different line on this question from what we would take if we were in office, because we consider that when the time comes in which we shall be in office, we shall be concerned to see that this House does its work properly and expeditiously. Undoubtedly, every Member knows that time is wasted upstairs owing to the lack of a reasonable amount of control over Debates. I think the Amendment here is needed. At the same time, my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) has an Amendment down which is designed to safeguard the use of that power, so that it shall be used to see the that full Debate is allowed, and not merely for rushing business through. We agree that if these powers are to be given to Chairmen of Committees upstairs, there should be a reform in the method of their appointment. We think it right that Mr. Speaker should nominate the Chairmen's Panel.
There is a point I would like to ask, and that is as to the exact intention with regard to the allocation of work to Standing Committees. I am not clear as to whether it is intended that when Mr. Speaker appoints the Chairmen of Standing Committees he will also allocate the Bills to the Committees, or whether that is going to be left to the Chairmen's Panel. There is one other matter about which I should like to ask, and that is with regard to proposals as to the Guillotine. I do not know if I am in order in referring to that. It is one of the proposed changes, but it is not actually included in this Notice of Motion. The proposal is that under the Guillotine there should be a discussion as to the allocation of time, and it is suggested that time should be allocated by a small committee representative of the Opposition parties and Members specially interested in a Bill. I should like to ask the Gov- 2176 ernment whether that is merely a reference to informal conversation through the usual channels, or whether it is proposed that in future, when a Time-Table Motion is applied, there should be a Motion setting up a formal Committee to consider the allocation of time. I do not wish to detain the House any further on these points, except to say that, in general, we think these proposals will make for the better use of the time of the House, and we do not think that they infringe the fair rights and opportunities of the Opposition, or unduly strengthen the Government against private Members.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH McKENZIE WOOD
The question of the Procedure of the House of Commons is one of the most important subjects that the House can be called upon to consider, and it is of special importance to the private Member. Therefore, the House will be well advised to scrutinise very carefully indeed any proposals that are made for changing its Rules. These changes are supposed to be chiefly on the recommendations of the Committee on Procedure which reported some time ago. Some of the recommendations which the Committee made have been accepted, and some of them have not, and it would have been well, I think, if we had had an explanation as to exactly why recommendations which were made have not been accepted. The Prime Minister, a few days ago, in referring to this Motion, said it was to give effect to recommendations that had been made by that Committee, but I think I am right in saying that the recommendation in the last paragraph of the Schedule was not contained in the recommendations reported by the Committee on Procedure. It would have been well, therefore, if we had had from the Leader of the House a little explanation as to why the Government have gone out of their way to do something beyond what had been recommended by the Committee.
I have no objection at all to the recommendation in the first part of the Schedule, that included among the days of Supply there should be discussion of other than Votes set down at the request of the Opposition, but the question of giving 'a Chairman of a Standing Committee power of selection in regard to Amendments is a very great change indeed, and the House, if it is going to 2177 adopt it, ought clearly to understand what is its effect. I hope I have not given Members to believe, by the way they have cheered, that from what I said just now I am against this particular proposal. I have gone into it very carefully, and I do not think the House can refuse the Chairman of a Committee this increased power. If he has not this increased power, it seems to me that a minority of a Standing Committee may be able to reduce the work of a Committee upstairs to a farce, and in many cases it has done so. If we are to permit a minority of that kind to continue in the future as it has done in the past to make a farce of the proceedings upstairs, we shall do something which is not consonant with the dignity of the House of Commons, and that dignity is very important indeed. I, therefore, do not think that the House of Commons can refuse, to the Chairmen of Standing Committees this increased power. But we must understand that it is a very great power they are going to receive. You are going to put a Chairman of a Standing Committee in a position of judicial importance, and much greater care will be required in the future in making those appointments. I think the House ought to give attention to that fact. I agree that this increased power should be given to the Chairmen but I would like to know why the right hon. Gentleman did not include in the Schedule the Recommendation of the Committee with regard to the sitting of the Committee. On page 15, in paragraph (vii), the Select Committee on Procedure said:Your Committee recommend that the Standing Orders should be so amended as to reintroduce, so far as Standing Committees are concerned, the old rule that Committees should not sit during the time that the House is sitting without obtaining the leave of the House to do so.You are going to give the Chairman a great power to limit Debate. If they have that increased power the Committee ought not to be able further to oppress a minority by compelling them to sit upstairs while the House of Commons is, considering matters of great importance downstairs. It is not for the good of the House that, when it is supposed to be considering matters here hon. Members should be sent upstairs to consider something else. I hope that it is not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to in- 2178 clude in the Schedule a paragraph incorporating in the changes this proposal which was made by the Select Committee on Procedure.
I now come to the last proposal of the Committee, which is one with which I do not entirely agree. I have no objection to Mr. Speaker making the selection if it be considered necessary, but if the change be made we ought to be told why. It is difficult for Members of the Selection Committee, and particularly Members of the Chairmen's Panel, not to imagine that the conduct of their duties in the past has not been quite satisfactory, in view of the fact that the Government propose to make a change. The Government ought to tell us exactly what has been wrong in the past in the method by which these Chairmen of Committees have been appointed. At the present time, the Committee of Selection are appointed by the House, the Committee of Selection set up a Panel of Chairmen, and the Panel of Chairmen themselves allocate one of their number to take the Chair at a particular Committee on a particular Bill. So far as I know, although it may be a roundabout way, that has worked well in the past, and, if it has not worked well, the Leader of the House ought to tell us in what respect it has not worked well and why he proposes to change it; otherwise, I am inclined to think that the Selection Committee, and particularly the Chairmen, will feel that they have received censure at his hands.
Even if the House considers that this change ought to be made I would like hon. Members to consider if it be necessary for the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy-Chairman to be ex-officio members of the Chairmen's Panel. In the old days, the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy-Chairman were very much more party agents than they are to-day, but there is no doubt that they are in closer contact with the Government of the day than, we will say, the Chairmen's Panel that makes these appointments. I have no suggestion against the present Chairman of Committees or the Deputy-Chairman, but things may change, and I have some suspicion as to the desirability of giving the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy-Chairman power of selection of the Chairmen of Committees upstairs. I agree that they are not given this power 2179 in so many words, but their position as members of this Panel would be bound in future to develop in such a way that they might be able to control the Committees and particularly the appointment of the Chairmen. In future they may be very much in the control of the Government of the day. I therefore think that there is something to be said for keeping the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy-Chairman entirely outside this machinery. By that means I believe that private Members, and the House as a whole would be able to control their procedure without the intervention of the Government. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider these criticisms, which are not directed at the proposal as a whole but are put forward as constructive criticisms in the hope that some improvement may be possible in the proposals that have been made.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am not entirely in agreement with all that has been said in the speech to which we have just listened, but I am sure that the House agree that it was a far more valuable contribution, a critical and constructive contribution, to our discussion, than the usual echoing applause with which the Socialist party so frequently greet the proposals of the National Government. To this particular set of proposals their attitude has naturally been, if I may say so without disrespect, that of hungry cats purring at the prospect of a brimful dish of cream, about to be handed to them, they hope, at no great distance of time. We are indebted to the Lord President of the Council for his succinct—as he called it, and quite rightly—lucid and uncoloured account of what is now proposed. I must say in passing that it would have been more in accordance with precedent if a statement of this kind as to the conduct of Debate and upon the procedure of the House had been made by the Leader of the House of Commons, but we have to recognise that in the right hon. Gentleman we have one who has previously held those great offices with distinction. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned in the first place the proposal that the Reports of the Select Committee on Estimates and of the Public Accounts Committee could be placed more con- 2180 veniently before us on a Supply Day. I think we shall not make any objection to that. It seems a very valuable and desirable reform.
Upon the question of the selecting of the Chairmen of Committees by you, Mr. Speaker, instead of their being selected by the Committee of Selection as has been the long traditional custom, there is, I think, some matter for debate, as the speech to which we have just listened from the Liberal benches has shown. It is a change which the House may decide to make—indeed, I cannot doubt that the House would make any change it was asked at the present time by the Government, supported as they are by the Opposition—and it would be a pity if hon. Members made that change without realising the setting in which these circumstances lie. I was not aware, in the first place, that the old system had broken down. I had thought that the Committee of Selection and the Chairman of the Committee of Selection had exercised their function in a manner which in no way called for stringent reform, or for the removal from them of the discretion and authority which they had hitherto exerted.
I understand from the Lord President of the Council that you, Sir, have expressed willingness to accept any additional function in this respect that the House may desire to cast upon you, but I must say that this proposal to remove decisions of this kind from the purview of a Parliamentary Committee to the authority of Mr. Speaker—to whom I refer, I need scarcely say, with the most profound respect—is contrary to the general drift of Conservative opinion in other matters connected with Parliamentary affairs. For instance, one of file most important issues with regard to the Parliament Act, the certifying of money Bills, was that this matter must be removed from the ipse dixit of Mr. Speaker and placed upon a joint Committee of Privileges conferring between the two Houses. This is a proposal which runs counter to what may be considered in much larger matters to be the main stream of Conservative opinion.
There is another aspect of this matter. The old view, the traditional view, has been that the Members of the House of Commons, the ordinary Members—I think 2181 we had the expression the other day, "the common or garden" Members of the House—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
—were capable of conducting the business of the House to a very large extent without undue interference by the Executive. Ordinary Members were chosen by the Committee of Selection from other ordinary Members, because of qualities which had become known in the ordinary course of Parliamentary business, to discharge the function of a Chairman of Committee. That was the idea. The whole procedure was in the hands of the House as a whole, and was left there unmanaged either by the executive government or by the august authority of the Chairman of Committees, which have been limited to the major and main aspects of our Parliamentary life. This proposal seems to have the elements of creating a peculiar class of Members who specialise in selecting Amendments and other matters of Parliamentary procedure, and who would be, as it were, removed by an invisible but no less perceptible barrier from the ordinary run of the Members of the House of Commons. Whether that is a good thing or not every Member must judge for himself, and I am not at all seeking to pronounce in any decided manner upon it.
It is a new feature altogether that there should be in the House 10 Members associated with the Chairman of Committees and with the Deputy-Chairman, all under the nomination of Mr. Speaker, and who would, as it were, specialise in this class of work, and that those responsibilities will be transferred to this special class from the general body of Members of the House of Commons. It must be well worthy of consideration by the House whether any slight gain in efficiency—I fully admit that there is same—is not more than offset by the change in Parliamentary custom and tradition. On-this, let me point out that while everyone has the greatest confidence in your decisions, impartiality and great knowledge of the aptitudes of Members of all parties, we cannot legislate upon the basis that you will always be the occupant of the Chair.
We have to think also of the future in dealing with the Procedure of the 2182 House of Commons. Parliaments come and go, and there have been many precedents in our history for the election of partisan Speakers. Indeed, the greatest strife and struggle, when a new Parliament began its labours, used to be that which occurred in choosing a Speaker who would be the effective agent of one party or another. Suppose that a period should come of violent political strife, a period of revolutionary change, when there would be a whole mass of enormous Bills to be passed through, with all the Committees working at once, as well as the House, with the greatest activity; and suppose that a Speaker were appointed by the dominant and triumphant party, and the whole of the 10 Chairmen of Committees were equally so appointed. The conditions would be wholly different from any that we live in at the present time, arid it seems to me that in these hypothetical but possible conditions you might easily get a sort of uniformity throughout the whole of the chairmanships of these Committees which would be very detrimental to the fair play which is the right of minorities, and might conceivably be even more detrimental to the prosperity and well-being of the State. I think, Mr. Speaker, that on the question of the creation of a special corps d'elite of chairmen under your eye or the eye of your successors, as against the practice of letting it, as it were, well up from the good sense and good feeling of the ordinary Members of the House of Commons, the House should balance the two alternatives in their minds before they give their decision.
I come now to what is to my mind the much more important question of the powers which are to be given to this new class of Chairmen of Committees. The hon. Gentleman who represented the Liberal party made, in his interesting speech, no concealment of the fact that this is a very important change, and not the sort of change that ought to slip through without anybody in the House even taking the trouble to mark it. Although we may see our liberties and rights fading away, or falling away, step by step, and although we may have no power to resist the will of the administration in collusion—or rather, I will not say in collusion, but in association—with the will of their political opponents, nevertheless it is only right that the 2183 steps on this downward path should be registered and marked, and that Parliament and the public should be well aware of what they are doing.
This kind of proposal, if my right hon. Friend will allow me to say so, arises from what I think is a wrong view of the major functions of Parliament. Parliament is not a mere apparatus for passing Bills. A not less important function is preventing bad Bills from passing. Parliament has many functions apart from its legislative function, and it seems to me to be absolutely essential that people should not try to shape our procedure as if perfection would be attained when legislation was most easy. Most Bills, I believe, cost money, lose votes, create officials, and worry the public, and certainly Parliament has to stand between the great mass of the public and the strong pressure of organised sectional interests, or organised party interests, which from time to time endeavour to imprint their special wishes, or convictions, or fads, upon our Statute Book.
The practice of Parliament must be judged, not by quantity, but by quality. You cannot judge the passing of Bills by Parliament as you would judge the output of an efficient Chicago bacon factory. Out of doors this ignorant idea is much cherished, and you frequently hear people say: "Why don't they sit all the year round, and pass all the Bills they are asked to pass?" But the country would be thrown into great confusion if there were not corrective counter-checks, and if there were not Conservative elements in the country which are not anxious to see continuous rapid change, and all our affairs thrown into a state of flux. It is important, in a well-governed country like this, where so much has been achieved in the past, that a certain amount of time should be given for people to accommodate themselves to circumstances, and for troubles and difficulties to pass away, rather than that they should always be dealt with by petulant and impatient legislation.
In the last 25 years out of the 34 that I have been in the House—indeed, almost since I was first elected, but in the last 25 years particularly—possibly I have conducted through this House more legislation, social and other, than anyone except perhaps the right hon. Gentleman 2184 the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and possibly my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). I have done it in all sorts of conditions, sometimes when there were the most tremendous controversial issues at stake, and when the two great parties, with only a majority of 100 between them, were ranged upon these benches fighting every inch—every Clause, every Sub-section, every word, every syllable, almost every comma; and I was never aware that it was not possible for the Government of the day, with patience and with a reasonable use of their Parliamentary powers, to get their legislation through. What has happened all of a sudden to this Government that it is not able to get its legislation through? I should have thought that the Government had no difficulty about getting their legislation through—that their only difficulty was to think of good legislation to bring before us. What is the trouble? When the Government have this overwhelming power, this colossal majority, this perfervid affection and agreement by the Opposition, what is the need for coming forward at this juncture and making new prunings from the limited shrub of the rights of private Members and of Parliamentary liberty? I have heard nothing from my right hon. Friend which shows us where we are. It looks to me as though we were called together for a month to deal with matters which I imagine would far better have been left undealt with, and, there being a little spare time, this additional improvement in the powers of the Executive and of the Government, in conjunction with the Opposition, over the House of Commons, has been thought to be a very good topic to introduce on one of the closing afternoons of our Session.
I have never argued, and never will argue in this House that a minority should have the power of resisting the settled will of Parliament by dilatory processes, but that has never been the case. They ought not to have that power, they have never had it, and they have not got it now. Surely the Government have quite enough power at the present time, without seeking to add to that great mass of authority which in many respects they seem unable to use. This proposal that the House should make a further surrender of its powers and rights to the Executive—for that is what 2185 it comes to—must also be judged in connection with the decision which the Government enforced upon the House, or extracted from the House, about moving Bills from the consideration of a Committee upstairs down to the Floor of the House, or, as one may imagine per contra, from the Floor of the House to a Committee upstairs. That is a principle which has now been established by the House. It seems to me that a very unsatisfactory situation will arise if, when great Measures are going through the House, parts of them are shifted upstairs, and then parts of them are brought down here—a new Parliamentary process which I venture to define, even before it is put into practice, as shuttlecocking—moving Measures from a Committee to the House and back again, so that neither the Committee nor the House will give full, comprehensive study and debate to the Measure in its integrity, but only to a clipped and shorn series of proposals, some dealt with upstairs and some dealt with here. Proposals of this kind, used by an unscrupulous Government, or a Government which desired to carry through really revolutionary legislation, might perhaps at no great distance of time be found to be of immense consequence to all of us who sit here.
It seems to me that the proposal to extend the power of selecting Amendments to the Chairman of Committees upstairs ought to he very carefully watched by the House. I must say that I myself prefer the Kangaroo Closure. I believe that the Kangaroo Closure is a perfectly effective agent for the passing of Bills, and greatly preferable to the power of selecting Amendments. I remember that we used it a great deal in the struggles before the War, and, although it often excited anger, it is not the same kind of thing as the arbitrary power of selecting Amendments. [HON, MEMBERS "The Guillotine."] I am not talking about the Guillotine at all; I am talking about the Kangaroo Closure. Let us be clear about the terminology. By the Kangaroo Closure I mean the power of the Minister to move, with the assent of the Chair, that a Clause, or even two Clauses, shall stand part down to a certain line or word. The Kangaroo Closure moves on along the face of the Clauses, and it is a very great power. It cuts out all the Amendments relating to the parts which have been dealt with up to that point.
2186 But I would put it to the House and to my right hon. Friend that, with all its severity, the Kangaroo Closure rests in the hands of the House, because the House has immediately to pronounce upon it. A vote is put to the House, and it is the act of the House; and, if a lot of Amendments are cut out, they are cut out by the House. If after the Closure has been carried and a second Division has been taken, there is great feeling in the House—and I have often seen it on these occasions—it is open to those who are opposing the Bill to obtain the assent of the Chair to a Motion to report Progress or to adjourn the Debate. It is then possible to consider the matter, and very often some easier arrangement is made, and some reparation afforded on the Report stage to those who have been prevented from discussing important Amendments.
I consider that the Kangaroo Closure, severe as it may be, and perfectly capable, as it is, of carrying the largest legislation—we carried the Home Rule Bill and the Parliament Act under it—is entirely adequate, and is preferable to what occurs now, which, although I need scarcely say it, is perfectly agreeable to everyone because of the great fairness and discretion and scruple with which it is administered, is inherently an arbitrary procedure. Any number of Amendments may be simply ignored without any reason being given, or any power or right on the part of any Member to ask for reasons or make a protest. To extend that power to these ten Chairmen upstairs, who are to be controlled by the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy-Chairman, is, I think, unduly and needlessly to curtail the rights of the House. It is, of course, quite easy to understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite support all this. They look forward eagerly to the assumption of power; they have a firm belief that they will be able by passing Bills to make everything much better for everyone in this country—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not want to give way. I do not want to delay the House unduly, because I am sure we all want to get on with the Debate on the distressed areas. If the hon. Gentleman 2187 will allow me to say so, it seems to me to be very natural that the Socialist party should wish to have this.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be critical of the power of Mr. Speaker to select Amendments on the Floor of the House. Was he not a member of the Government that gave him that power?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I fully accept what has been decided, that there vas given to Mr. Speaker and the Chairman and the Deputy-Chairman this power to select Amendments, but I consider that procedure a more arbitrary one than what is called the Kangaroo Closure—giving the Closure on a considerable number of lines on the face of the Clauses of a Bill. Power to use the Kangaroo Closure already belongs to Committees upstairs provided the House assents in any particular case. Then why, if this very effective and powerful Kangaroo Closure be already in their power, is it necessary to substitute this power to select Amendments?
I hope the House will consider that there are two sides to this question, and I hope it will not be supposed, because the Government and the Opposition are in agreement, that no one need worry or be anxious about it. I have put these few remarks before the House in order that they may be considered during the course of the Debate. I address myself particularly to the Lord President of the Council when I say that the vitality and life of the House of Commons is one of the real interests of those who wish to see constitutional government maintained. To crush out the liberty of the House of Commons and make it an organised voting machine will detract from its influence in the country. I am shocked that, when a whole afternoon is available for discussing these reforms in Parliamentary procedure, no more constructive plans have been put forward. I saw a report of a Conservative Committee which had most admirable plans for improving the Procedure of the House, for enabling us to have Debates with short speeches and so forth. I am sorry that when my right hon. Friend has come to put these Measures forward, he has not found it possible to adorn them with constructive measures which would have the effect of adding to the dignity 2188 of the House, but has only found it possible to make proposals for larger encroachments upon our old liberties.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I rise to associate myself with the criticisms offered by the right hon. Gentleman though I want to add this word of protest. He says we have an afternoon available to discuss this matter, but we are discussing it under the feeling that we are stealing time from the overmastering consideration of the depressed areas. I want to protest to the Lord President of the Council, who puts the matter before the House, that after a Committee has been considering this matter for an extended period of time the final result of all its deliberations should be placed before us on the last effective day of the Session and with only a breathless opportunity of pronouncing upon it, because we do not want to interfere with the other discussion which is the main business of the day. I suggest even now, having laid the matter before the House, and speeches having been made which indicate the importance of what we are being asked to do, having given the matter as it were its first airing, it should now, or in the course of a. very short time, be withdrawn and introduced in the next Session.
I can remember the genesis of this matter. If I am not mistaken, it arose because there was in a previous Parliament considerable agitation among back bench Members, particularly on the Government side of the House—it arises in every Parliament—a large proportion of Members on the back benches, men who have been playing active and responsible parts in various activities outside the House, who have been heads of businesses or involved in trade union work or carrying on professional work, and after they have been here for some six months they find that they are reduced to nothing but. voting machines. They found it irksome. They wanted to feel that the House gave them fuller opportunities for exercising their experience, their knowledge and their skill. The agitation was for a change in the Procedure of the House. One of the principal suggestions was that round about each Government Department should be associated a, group of Members who were specially interested in this work, and that they 2189 should be drawn into more responsible parliamentary work than merely walking through the Lobbies when the Whips called them.
This is really not something which gives the rank and file Member a bigger status, but something which makes him more of a robot still. I am amazed at the speeches made from the Labour Front Bench and by the hon. Member behind me. I am glad that he made criticisms, but he promised support, which means to say that the private Member in any part of the House is faced with this great coalition. I ask my hon. Friends behind me if they did not make a mistake when they withdrew and came across here—if their hearts are not still in the coffin there with Caesar? I suggest that hon. Members above the Gangway should cease to denounce the Prime Minister as a traitor and should hail him as a great pioneer who has crossed the Rubicon before them. It is reducing Parliament to a very empty farce indeed if we are to be presented with a situation in which the private Member becomes tied up with the Standing Orders. It is in keeping with the spirit of the age. We are being mechanised. We are being run on the roads by robots and Belisha beacons. We might as well throw up the sponge and accept the complete mechanisation of our souls. I hope it works out in the next world because a soul—an intellect—seems a futile possession to have in this world at the moment. The right hon. Gentleman says this is experimental. I hope I am not so conservative as always to want to resist experiments, but if I am going into a laboratory to experiment I want to know that the door is open so that I can get out in the event of an explosion. I know that it took years to get to the point of inserting these Amendments in the Standing Orders. The Lord President knows that, once they are inserted, it will require another agitation to bring them out. Has he any proposal for limiting the period of operation till the House sees whether they work satisfactorily or not? He says they are left entirely to the free discussion of the House, as is proper, because they are matters concerning the House very fundamentally. May I ask him if the decision as to whether we are to accept them or not is being left entirely to Members without any of the normal pressure?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Certainly, so far as our main proposals are concerned, but I can give no such pledge as to Amendments that may be moved.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am very glad to hear that. It makes a tremendous difference. I suppose our party leaderships will be implementing that. I hope it does not give any trouble. I think the House, if the House were only present, would be ready to preserve its liberty. It is all very well to say that these 10 Chairmen who are to be selected will in process of time acquire the qualities and capacities which are at present to be found in the Chairman, in the Deputy-Chairman and in Mr. Speaker. It may be that in process of time they may arrive at it, but at the moment, or in any given Parliament, they have not these qualities. They have not reached that stage of judicial detachment. You may take it that they are partisan people without these special qualities. It may be me; it might be the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison). It might be anyone who might be one of these 10 people sitting in the Chair, and there is not the faintest guarantee that, if you give them this power, it is going to be exercised impartially. Without being rude or unkind to Chairmen, I have seen the man who is leading for the Government go and say something in the Chairman's ear, and I have seen the whole procedure changed as the result.
I can imagine myself sitting in the Chair in Committee upstairs, but I cannot see myself as this detached person without any feeling on one side or the other. I am not prepared to give to myself the right of deciding what Amendments I am going to allow to be discussed and what I am not. I have the ability to decide which are in order and which are not. That in itself is a tremendous power. I have often wondered how the Chairman came to his decision. To say to, the Chairman, "When you are in that Chair, take what you like and leave all those that you do not like," is to place a tremendous power in the hands of any Member who only sits here with the same qualifications as the rest of us, and who has persuaded some constituency somewhere to be foolish enough to elect him. I will first make an appeal to the Lord President of the Council and to the Chief Patronage 2191 Secretary to agree that this matter, having been heard to-day, should be withdrawn and presented to us on a subsequent occasion. Failing such an agreement I would urge the Members of the House themselves, having been given a Free Vote on the matter, to see to it that they send it back for further consideration.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
No one has yet spoken entirely from the point of view of the private Member except the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). It is not the first time on these matters of Parliamentary Procedure that I have found myself in a large measure of agreement with the hon. Member. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has given the House a great deal of advice, and his experience of the past has been gained through acting in an official capacity either as a Member of the Government or as a Member of the Opposition. The private Member also has his views, and perhaps the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I endeavour to give expression to those views. These proposals are an indication of the deterioration of the practice of Parliament. Looking back over the events of past years one might wonder how we managed to get along without the rigid restriction and coercion of private Members in debate. The procedure has not always been abused when a group or party has been accused of obstruction. Obstruction used with discretion and restraint is very often the only weapon with which a, minority can ensure consideration of the reasonable views which they hold. I have seen Rules modified and made much more workable owing to strained and rigid resistance at the opening stages. The legislation of Parliament would be entirely one-sided if it were divorced from the rights of the minority, and, whatever might be decided to be the policy and intention of the Government of the day, it would in the end destroy not only constitutional government, but the practice of Parliament.
The private Member is not sent here as a mere machine to register votes. He is sent here to give informed and reasoned judgment and to endeavour to obtain decisions from time to time, not 2192 necessarily always in accordance with the views of his party, but for the benefit of the country. Whole classes of legislation must, if it is to be successful, be of a compromising nature. Therefore it is with the greatest regret that these proposals should be made to limit the freedom of the private Member in Committee upstairs. If the Government of the day had a little more patience and a little more tact, they would find that it would be much easier to get their legislation through without adopting powers which their predecessors had not found to be necessary.
With regard to the latter part of these proposals, I look with regret upon the setting aside of the Committee of Selection. As a Member of it I have seen it work for some years. It substantially represents all parties in the House, except the party of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, who has not yet obtained representation, and during the time that I have been a Member of the Committee it has arrived at its decisions unanimously. If objection is raised and opinions are expressed by one party or another, it does not necessarily follow that the majority view is adopted. I have been there as a member of the Opposition and as a supporter of the Government of the day, and we have met all views and arrived at unanimous decisions on all matters. There are ways and means of giving power to change the Chairman from time to time, of removing friction and difficulties which may arise, and of framing new procedure for the conduct of the business of the Committees. The House should be chary of piling duties and responsibilities upon the occupant of the Chair. The duties which the House is able to perform and the responsibilities which it can discharge itself, ought to rest on its own shoulders.
Unless it can be shown that very serious complaint has been made of the appointment of the Chairman of a Committee, the House should be very reluctant to depart from its old practice and existing Standing Orders. I understand that this addition to the proposals made by the Government does not emanate from the Committee on Procedure but from some other source. This is the end of a Session. Many Members are absent, 2193 and we ought to be very careful how we make a change in the absence of a full explanation of all these matters. We look around us and still see our Parliamentary system working fairly well. We see other Parliamentary systems working miserably and sometimes breaking down. Our old method of procedure has been proved by the storms of trials of years past. If we make changes we should be well assured that they are absolutely necessary and are in accordance with our traditions, and not contrary to the practice which has seen us through so many troubles.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
As I was a Member of the Committee on Procedure, I think that possibly the House will permit me to say a few words. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) says that our Parliamentary institutions are working fairly well on the whole, and that therefore we should be very careful as to making any changes in them. The Lord President of the Council, in introducing the Motion that these Rules and changes in Standing Orders should be made, mentioned the fact that the Committee on Procedure upstairs heard a great deal of evidence and came to a unanimous conclusion. It is true that we did hear a great deal of evidence, and the bulk of the evidence was in the direction of new plans of all sorts and of large measures to supersede our present method of Parliamentary Procedure. After hearing at great length all the various expositions of varied views as to chambers which represented trade and industries and various things of that kind, we finally rejected the whole of the suggested changes in our Parliamentary Procedure, and put forward a very humble report containing the very modest changes in Procedure which we propose. From the speeches which have been made so far, and particularly from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who found himself in the strange company of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), both of whom seemed to look upon these matters from identical points of view, very great complaint is made that these proposals—and there is really only objection to one of them—are an undue limitation of the rights of private Members and of their powers, such as they be. 2194 I have served on a good many Committees upstairs, and hon. Members who have been on some of those Committees upon which I have served, will not accuse me of not having taken full opportunity of opposing Measures with which I found myself in disagreement, and which I believed would be deleterious to the public weal if they were passed into law. I have observed from time to time, when there has been strenuous opposition to a Bill, and it has been making a certain amount of progress, that when we have got rid of pet-flaps a page of Amendments after a few sittings, many more pages of Amendments have been put down on the next occasion. The Paper has been covered all over with starred Amendments, looking as if it had suddenly had an attack of the measles. I do not think that that sort of thing is necessary in order to defend the rights of private Members.
As a Member of the Committee I added my name to the unanimous report in favour of the proposal to give the power of selection of Amendments to the Chairmen upstairs. I did so largely because, as the hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) pointed out in his very useful speech, in which he gave generous support to that proposal, it was coupled with the proposal to which he called attention on page 16 of the report, Subsection (7), paragraph (12), in which it is proposed that the sittings of Standing Committees during the sittings of the House should be very strictly limited. It was because I felt that there was an abuse in the procedure of Standing Committees owing to the fact that it had become the common practice to sit a couple of hours in the afternoon at a most critical and important time of the Session, taking away from the House a large body of Members who ought to be here discussing important questions before the House, and I wanted to see that practice stopped, that I considered that the Chairman of the Committee should be given some further power of curtailing unreasonable Debates. That is where I come into opposition with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. He said that the Kangaroo Closure is a much more reasonable method, and I think he went so far as to say that it secures a better examination of the details of a Bill in Committee than the selection of Amend- 2195 ments. I do not agree with that. The Kangaroo Closure deliberately blots out certain parts of a Bill and allows no discussion on them at all. Therefore, I think that the selection of Amendments by the Chairman of the Committee, whether under the present system or under the new system, which I think will be an improved system, makes for the dignity for the proceedings of Committees upstairs. I am convinced that the Chairman in Committee in exercising these rights will do so feeling the full responsibility that rests upon him of seeing that the Bill under discussion shall receive reasonable and complete examination, Clause by Clause and line by line. From the considerable experience that I have had in opposing Bills I am certain that under that system, the reasonable selection of Amendments, there will not be the slightest difficulty in raising Amendments which are good and necessary.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Epping when he says that there are people who think—they are mainly outside, because I do not believe there are many in this House who think it—that the greater the output of legislation the more Parliament is attaining to perfection. I do not want to see an unreasonable output of legislation of a kind which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, might be turned out by the machinery of a manufactory in Chicago. The proposal will be a great improvement in procedure and will leave ample check in the hands of private Members. At the same time it will so operate as to allow hon. Members to attend Debates in the House in the afternoon instead of being kept in Committee upstairs. I do not believe that the proposal will injure the rights of private Members. The principal opposition has been that we are going to deprive the private Member of his rights of criticism. If that were so I would not give my consent to it. I am convinced that reasonable opportunity will still be given to the private Member for the careful examination of Bills if the Chairman has the right to cut out Amendments which are put down simply to obstruct the passage of a Bill, and not to examine it in detail and make Amendments which ought to appear in the text when the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. 2196 In spite of the argument put forward by hon. Members with whom I am usually in complete agreement, such as the hon. and gallant Member for Burton, I would say that speeches have been delivered under a misapprehension. The proposal put before the House by the Lord President of the Council ought to be passed, and will be an improvement in our procedure. We have been told that the Government are seeking to push this thing through in a breathless ten minutes. That is not so. To-day was allocated specially for the discussion of these Amendments to the Standing Orders which have been on the Order Paper for days. It was made perfectly clear that the Debate on the distressed areas should come up on the day when the Government's proposals were put forward. To-day we were to deal with the question of the Standing Orders, and it is giving a false account of the actual state of affairs to say that the Government are trying to push these Amendments through in ten minutes at the end of a crowded Session. These matters are not matters of first importance, and, therefore, they come at the end of the Session. They are not like a first-class Measure.
§ Sir B. PETO
They are of vital importance and they are being discussed on the Floor of the House, and it is perfectly reasonable that we should arrive at a favourable decision on them.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
A free vote brings about some very strange alliances. Certainly, one of the strangest Parliamentary alliances is that between the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on this matter. There is one thing that the right hon. Gentleman for Epping did not notice, and that is that these proposals are only to apply when the House of Commons has given a Second Reading to a Bill, that is to say, when the House has expressed its desire that that, Bill should be discussed and that it should finally come down for further consideration and be passed into law. The real question is, to what extent should that desire of the House be made effective or be obstructed? I was 2197 interested in what the right hon. Member for Epping said about the procedure in Committee upstairs. I have had a good deal of work at different times in Committee upstairs and I do not remember having had the honour there of seeing the right hon. Member. I do remember one Bill which was introduced before the War which the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual brilliance, carried through in the face of the sternest opposition, but I do not remember anything in those years which accounts for his zealous championship of the rights of private Members to-day.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The same remark applies to the hon. Member for Bridgeton. It is true that it is possible for a few Members—
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am always delighted to be put in the same category as the right hon. Member for Epping, but if the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) is saying that I do not know anything about what takes place in Standing Committee in recent times, as I understood he was saying about the right hon. Member for Epping, then he is very badly informed as to the facts. I am frequently in those Committees, much to the annoyance of the others who are there.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The point is the extent to which a few Members shall be able to set at nought the desire of the House as expressed on Second Reading. Time after time every one of us who has had to take Bills through Standing Committee have been confronted with the possibility, in the absence of this power which it is proposed to confer upon the Chairman, of a few Members keeping a Bill going for days or even weeks, without making any substantial progress. It is fair to assume that the Chairman of a Committee upstairs should be in a position to enable the will of the House as expressed on Second Reading to be given effect to. I remember in the last Parliament of which I was a Member moving a Resolution conferring on the 2198 Chairmen of Committees upstairs these powers. It would mean in the alternative that a special Resolution of the House would be required every time that this power was proposed to be conferred on the Chairman of a Committee. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Epping that the credit of Parliament, notwithstanding what he says, depends upon the efficiency with which Parliament can give effect to what has been declared as the national will, and I suggest that a good deal of the discredit that is said to attach to Parliamentary institutions arises out of the fact that Parliamentary institutions do not function efficiently in giving effect to the popular will. It is a question whether amendment is required to make Parliamentary institutions more efficient in that respect.
This is an improvement which on many occasions in the past I have suggested should be made, that power should be conferred upon the Chairman in Standing Committee, and I was delighted when I saw that the Select Committee had unanimously come to that conclusion. It will certainly make for the efficiency of Parliament, it will add to its credit as an effective instrument and it will in no way curtail the proper opportunity of every Member of the House to bring forward anything which ought to be discussed. It will enable the Chairmen of Committees upstairs to make sure that the will of the House shall not be set at nought by mere dilatory Amendments. All of us have known occasions when that has been done, and I am glad that the Committee has unanimously recommended a, change.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I feel considerable difficulty about this Debate. The late Lord Balfour once said to me, in the middle of the Peace Conference, that the trouble about the Peace Conference was that all its business was transacted in the intervals of other business. Here we are attempting to transact a, piece of business, in which the country as a whole takes the utmost interest, in an interval of other business. There is no commoner sentiment in the country than the sentiment that reform of the House of Commons is far more necessary than reform of the House of Lords. It is a subject which excites great attention in the country, and here we are discussing it, in spite of what the hon. Baronet 2199 the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) says, in the intervals of other business. I am one of those importunate young people—if I may still call myself young —who was a nuisance to my hon. Friends by placing before the Select Committee a lot of drastic proposals. I have been concerned with a certain memorandum drawn up by Conservative Members of Parliament on this subject.
I think it is urgent that we should have a drastic reform of Procedure, not a reform which will make the House of Commons something new, but a reform which will restore to it its old power of dealing with great issues. In the face of all my humble attempts, and the attempts of much more distinguished people, to get a real consideration of this question, we find ourselves presented with a number of, may I say, measly proposals. That may not be the fault of the Government, it may be the fault of the Select Committee; but there it is. Am I to vote for these proposals as being the only answer which the Leader of the House can make to the attempts of many people in the House, and an enormous number of people in the country, that this question shall be comprehensively considered? That is on the one hand. On the other hand, I notice that the opposition to these proposals tends to come largely from that section of opinion in the House which is determined to oppose any reform of Procedure. I exclude the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) very nearly comes under that definition. That may be a little too strong, but there is no doubt that the opposition to these proposals is to a considerable extent an opposition to taking any drastic step to make this House a more efficient machine of legislation.
In my judgment, it is not the main function of this House to be an efficient machine for legislation, and that is why I deplore the omission from the proposals of the Joint Select Committee and these proposals, any measures to restore to the House the power of debating great issues on the Floor of the House, quite apart from legislation. Every hon. Member must have been struck by the fact that our Debates are never so fully reported and never awake so much popular interest as when we are debating issues 2200 which may appear to us to be academic. The public want the House to debate questions of principle; they do want the House to absorb itself in interminable discussions in Committee on questions of detail. The question of machinery is of immense importance, not for the purpose of turning out more legislation but for dealing with the kind of legislation which this House ought to be passing. Standing Committee upstairs was intended to be a method of relieving this House and enabling it to make more expeditious decisions on legislation. Conditions, of course, change from Parliament to Parliament, according as to whether parties are evenly balanced or not, but, broadly speaking, we all know that Standing Committee upstairs has become a less efficient method of getting complicated legislation through than Debates on the Floor of the House. It has broken down for the purpose for which it was originally set up, and this House cannot sit down under a breakdown of a piece of its machinery.
When you relate that to the sort of legislation which it seems to me this House ought to pass, the situation becomes more important. Do we sufficiently realise a Minister of the Crown, who finds that a department of the law ought to be reformed, is immediately subjected to the pressure of the Whips and his own permanent officials, that if he reforms that body of legislation comprehensively, sets it out plainly, he will present such an enormous front to Committee debate that the Bill will never get through. That is the reason why you have all this piecemeal legislation by reference and never get a comprehensive reform of departmental law. I shall be much surprised if we are not faced in the next Session by a Housing Bill which, instead of reforming and strengthening the whole body of the law, is merely piecemeal legislation; otherwise it could riot be passed in reasonable time. These proposals of the Government will not solve that problem. They will have to deal with it far more comprehensively. In itself, I think on its merits it is justified. I know it is dangerous, but there is no greater danger than a breakdown of the machinery of this House. Nothing has harmed the prestige of this House more during the last two years than the attempt to deal with complicated 2201 Bills on the Floor of the House by the Closure. It is much better to deal with them upstairs, if you can do so.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Yes, if necessary—I mean by the selection of Amendments by the Chairman, if necessary. For that reason I have made up my mind with great reluctance to vote for these proposals. One must sometimes vote on the merits of a question, but at the same time I would implore the Lord President of the Council—I do riot speak only for myself—to realise that there is a growing feeling among the whole section of the younger Members of the House that this question does need to be far more fundamentally and courageously considered. There has been an intense feeling of disappointment during the whole of this Parliament when these ideas have been floating around that no attempt has been made by those responsible for the business of the House to gather opinion and meet those who feel like this. That feeling is very serious, and worthy of attention, and I implore the Lord President and the Patronage Secretary to realise it, and not to take a vote in favour of these proposals as meaning that we are satisfied, because really we are intensely disappointed with the handling of the question.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
The right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) has said that he is going to vote for the proposals, but it semed to me from his speech that he gave all the reasons he could against them. Up to the present no young Member of the House has spoken, and in speaking as a Liberal I have never felt more acutely than I do this afternoon the gulf there is between the Liberal party and the Socialist party. From the speeches which have come from the Labour benches I gather that they regard Parliament merely as a registration' machine for their own decrees, instead of the great inquest of the nation. I am afraid that I am responsible for another strange coalition in finding myself associated with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and I hope he will not find my support. embarrassing.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
I view those proposals with some alarm. This Parliament has 2202 already witnessed several encroachments on the powers of private Members, small encroachments but perceptible, nevertheless. There has been the appointment of the Imports Advisory Committee, which to some extent has taken from us the initiative on taxation, though we still retain the final decision. There has been the Unemployment Act, which has taken from us to some extent the power of reviewing and having examined the grievances of our constituents. We are losing powers as private Members, and with the loss of these powers we shall inevitably lose something of our power, prestige and authority in the constiuencies and with our constituents. It is not a question of any hon. Member being concerned with his own personal position in his constituency. With the decline in prestige of Members of this House will inevitably go the decline in the prestige of democracy. Where Parliaments abroad have no prestige it is because Members who compose them have no prestige. We have seen Parliament after Parliament abroad collapsing under the hammer blows of force. Why? Because in the majority of cases its Members did not resist the encroachments on their powers by the executive while it was yet time. In the case of the German Reichstag, government by decree came into existence with Dr. Bruning, and was continued by von Papen. Hitlerism came into power long before Hitler himself finally entered the German Chancellory. These Standing Orders are the title deeds of our liberties, and we ought to be most careful in seeing that they are not whittled away in any degree whatever. The Lord President of the Council has said that he hoped there would be unanimity on the question. The Debate has shown that there is no such unanimity, and I hope that the Government will not proceed with them.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
On this occasion I am going to support the Leader of the Government. The other day I supported the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) because I thought he was right. Let me take a case from our experience. When we were in office we took a Measure upstairs dealing with the question of control of trade. The division of parties did not leave us with much in hand unless we had the Liberals with us, and in Standing Committee we were not 2203 quite sure of the Liberals time after time. They left us, and, therefore, we had no chance to get that Bill through Standing Committee. We had to come to the Floor of the House and get permission for the Chairman to exercise greater powers.
I look upon Parliament in this way: We go to the country with certain well-defined plans, our programme. When the country sends a party to the House of Commons it intends that the party shall get its Measures through Parliament. Then the Opposition determine by hook or by crook to defeat the party. The House must be invested with power to allow that party which is in office to get through its Measures. What do these Amendments of Standing Orders do? They give to the Chairmen of Standing Committees the same power as is given to the Chairman in this House. If that proposal is wrong, it is wrong to give the power to the Chairman in this House. When Bills are delegated to a Standing Committee it is for the purpose of getting done work which the House has not time to do. In this House we give to the Chairman of Ways and Means power to select Amendments, as a business-like proposition. Is it wrong to give the same power to the Chairman of the Standing Committee? I do not think it is wrong. I think that we are taking a step in the right direction now in granting these powers.
Some speakers have referred to the failure of the House in the country. We are told that the country is watching this House. So it is. But the electors do not want business to be obstructed. The electors want us to get on with our work and to get it done. If a Government fails to get its Measures through it stands condemned in the country. When we get power from the people there should be nothing to stand in our path and prevent our getting our Measures through. Though I am opposed to the Government on many questions I am supporting them in this proposal. From time to time a Government proposes things that a Member feels he can support, and in this matter of Procedure I feel that I am entitled to give the Government my support. I do not believe a Member ought to vote against a Government on every occasion irrespective of what he believes to be right.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
On this matter I am very much distressed because the proposal before us seems to me to be a further extension of the Closure. My memory goes back to 1880, when there was no Closure. After the Reform Bill of 1885 the Irish Members came in definitely as enemies of this country, for the purpose of wrecking the institution of Parliament. The ordinary Opposition and the Government then were more or less united on one subject, and that was to secure the good of the country, though they suggested different ways of setting about it. But the Irish Members came here with a totally different idea, and they brought about the most regrettable introduction of the Closure. It was a great disaster to Parliament that the Closure ever had to be brought in. It took away enormously from the prestige of Parliament. All the glory that Parliament derived in former generations was due to the fact that it was a place of free speech, that there was no Closure. The very word Parliament means a place where men can speak their own minds.
In following the history of Parliament I have regretted to see the gradual growth of the use of the Closure and of the idea that the majority are bound to get their own way and the whole of their own way. The right hon. Gentleman who last spoke for the Labour party has indicated that the Socialists ought to be able to get the whole of their own way. That is not the idea of Parliament. The basic idea of Parliament is that people meet together and discuss freely and continuously and finally come to some sort of arrangement which is a compromise and is not exactly the will of any one party. We never had proper Parliaments in Scotland. Parliament is a purely English institution, arising out of the genius of the Englishman for compromise. We fought in Scotland and did not come to settlement by debate. Only the English had the genius to meet and discuss and come to a settlement that did not represent the whole will of anyone. Every part of the Closure which defeats that idea is cutting into the prestige and the honour, the dignity and freedom of Parliament.
After all, we are the only Parliament that survives. The rest of the countries of the world are more or less under some form of dictatorship. If we are to have 2205 this which is in a way a form of dictatorship we are going to injure Parliament. What is the idea? Is it to get more legislation through? It was the great Lord Salisbury, who said "more legislation, more taxation." It means more officials, more of that sacred priesthood of untouchables, the civil servants, who must have jobs found at the expense of hard-working members of the community. We do not want more legislation. There is far too much as it is. It is what America has suffered from. And look at her fate. She has innumerable small Parliaments, and her legislation is contained in more than 500,000 Statutes. The result is that no one knows the law and no one can know it or follow it. The legal decisions are contained in 5,000 volumes. I have little belief in Statute law. Customary law is always the best of all law, because it grows with the nation. It is like your skin, which generally fits you. Statute law is like your clothes, when you depend on your tailor. In Parliament there are too many tailors, with the result that nearly all statutory legislation is a misfit; and just as time goes on and your figure alters and the old clothes do not fit so do statutory enactments. That is why a very large proportion of the time of the House is taken up in undoing the mischief of previous legislation.
Therefore, I say that Parliament should never get through any legislation which any substantial minority was determined it should not get through. The constituencies will deal with that particular and obstructive minority at election times. If they think that it has been a fractious and unreasonable minority its Members will cease to be Members of the House. But now a temporary majority by sending things upstairs is to get its legislation passed. We had an instance of that a short time ago. A Bill was sent up to a Standing Committee and could not get through. It would have been an immensely popular result in the country if it bad finally failed to get through. But the procedure of the House was used in a wrong way, the Bill was brought down to the Floor of the House, and it got through to the great indignation of vast masses of people.
That is what you get if you use such powers as these. We do not want to give 2206 these powers to Committees so that a temporary majority in the House can pass more legislation, for all Governments and all majorities are temporary. A Government is just like a new ship. When a ship is launched and goes to sea it has a clean bottom and moves swiftly, but from the day it takes the water it begins to collect algae, barnacles and other things on its bottom. After a time it is found necessary to put it into dry dock and there it gets its bottom cleaned. That is the way we govern. No sooner do a Government come into power than they seem to begin to go wrong, and they have to be dry-docked, and another Government take their place. All Governments are creatures of the time. Now that we have no strong second Chamber but a mere ghost at the other end of the passage, are we going to give more power to temporary majorities? I hope not. I would like to see the Kangaroo abolished. It would be a more healthy state of affairs if there were no Closure. Do not let us extend it. I ask Members of every party, independently of what their expectations may be, to vote against the proposal. It is no use appealing to the Front Benches. They are all alike. As the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, it is a common illusion of Governments and ex-Members that they are the only people fit to govern. This proposal is going to take freedom of Debate from the vast mass of Members of the House and will add to the powers of Closure, which would be disastrous to Parliament and the country.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I rise to say what has been said by other speakers, and I must leave the House to judge how far they carry out what they have said. Since I occupied the position that I now occupy, on two or three occasions I have had to deal with Motions for taking the time of the House, for putting the Guillotine into operation, and I have always felt considerable difficulty in standing up to oppose them. When I was a Member of the Government we were again and again forced to do these things. I think it is rather cant when I am on this side of the House to oppose what I know very well I would do if I were on the other side. I have done my best or worst in difficult circumstances, and I must leave. 2207 it to the judgment of those who sit in judgment on other people. On this particular issue I have no hesitation whatever in asking my friends to stick to their unanimous decision to support these alterations. We shall not put on any Whips.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should think the right hon. Gentleman would be extremely glad if he sat opposite and had a united party behind him. I do not think it lies in his mouth to take the self-righteous attitude he is taking on these subjects. I happened to have been sitting upstairs when Mr. Speaker Brand closured a Debate on his own initiative and started the series of Amendments to Standing Orders that have taken place since. He took that action because there was no other means of bringing the Debate to an end. You can read the whole story in Morley's "Life of Gladstone." I want to see Parliamentary procedure entirely revised. I believe we were the first Opposition to ask the House to give three days to a Debate on unemployment—purely as a Debate by the whole House. Many Members considered that we did wrong in that, and that it was a waste of time merely to debate an issue. As far as this party is concerned anything which the Government propose which is worthy of support will have our support even though we are in Opposition. We have got away from the old idea which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) thinks we ought to follow, that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose, even if the Measures proposed are Measures which they feel they ought to support.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I tried to make it clear that I thought the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right from his own point of view, 'and from the point of view of the party which he leads, in supporting the proposal.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I have no motive in supporting the proposal other than the fact that it appeals to my mind as a rational and reasonable proposition. 2208 There is no more danger in giving a Chairman the power proposed here than there is in giving a Chairman power of that kind on a special occasion and by special Resolution of the House. I cannot see any logical difference between the one and the other as far as any possible danger is concerned. I hope that soon the House will be able to settle down to a real discussion on these matters and that they will not end that discussion until they have drastically reformed our Procedure. We very often waste a great deal of time over Amendments which are put down for no other purpose than that of obstruction. I do not think that that practice adds to the dignity of Parliament in any way. For those reasons, I personally support, as I hope my hon. Friends here will support, the proposals now before the House.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I rise to speak as a private Member of the House, and I wish, in the first place, to express my agreement with the view of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) that the measures which we are considering this afternoon are inadequate to deal with what, in the opinion of Members in all quarters of the House, amounts to inefficiency in the Parliamentary machine. There is a very strong feeling, widely shared by hon. Members and expressed by nearly everybody who has taken part in this Debate so far, that. we ought not to be discussing this vitally important subject with the feeling that we are preventing the House from proceeding with the discussion of the question which is uppermost in all our minds at the present time, namely, the condition of the distressed areas. The importance of this question is shown by the fact that Members in all parts of the House have taken part in the Debate. We have had no fewer than three speakers from the Front Opposition Bench, including the Leader of the Opposition and the only other Member of the Opposition who has been in a Cabinet. We must all realise, therefore, the importance even of these limited proposals which are before us, but I am sure that behind all the contributions which have been made to this Debate there is a feeling that we ought to have an opportunity of discussing even wider measures of reform.
2209 The last thing I want to do is to take up the time of the House in dealing with any points other than those contained in this Schedule, although there are many interesting cognate questions that could be raised on this occasion. Indeed, I desire to confine myself to one particular issue, but, first, there are two small points which I would like to mention. So important is the main proposal made in this Schedule that the last proposal affecting the method by which a Chairman is to be chosen assumes in our mind a special importance. I do not wish to discuss it now but I associate myself with what has been said on that subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood), and other Members and I hope that the Government will take that point into careful consideration. Another point which I regard as of great importance is that Committees in future, particularly if they are to be given machinery for the more expeditious transaction of their business, ought not to sit while the House is sitting. Members ought to be released from their duties in the House when they are required to sit upon Committees and therefore the sittings of the Committees ought not to be at the same time as the sittings of the House. I ask the Lord President of the Council whether, if he receives our support on these proposed measures, he will give us some indication that that point will be dealt with, because it is one to which Members in all parts of the House attach importance?
Now I come to the central issue of this Debate which is whether or not powers are to be granted under the Standing Orders to Chairmen of Committees to select Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has made a strong appeal for the rejection of that proposal. He says that Parliament must not be regarded as an apparatus for passing Bills.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
For merely passing Bills. The right hon. Gentleman warned us as to the need for protection against bad legislation and the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) also said that legislation was not the only function of Parliament. It is however, a very vital function. Indeed the right hon. Gentleman himself having made 2210 those assertions went on, with engaging and characteristic frankness, to inform the House that of all the Ministers who had introduced huge masses of social legislation he was among the chief, and I think he has a right to be proud—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I did not say that for the purpose of boasting, but in order to show that it is possible under the existing system to carry far-reaching legislation.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am only pointing out that it is a vital function of Parliament to carry these great masses of social legislation, and that the right hon. Gentleman played a great part in that respect before the War. I know of course, that he did not mention the fact as a matter of pride, but I say that he is entitled to be proud of it. We, for our part, are entitled to say that legislation is a vital function of Parliament and that it is essential to free the Parliamentary machine for the more efficient discharge of that vital function. Parliament has to deal with the great causes of discontent among the people. There are, at present, 2,000,000 people out of work in this country with 2,000,000 more people dependent on them. We talk about freedom and about equality of opportunity. What freedom have those people; what opportunity of any sort have they got of living fuller and richer lives? Where have they to go to find remedies for their discontent but to Parliament? It is our boast that the democracy of this country can find remedies for their discontents here in Parliament. Therefore, it is vital that we should make this Parliamentary machine more efficient, and see that the measures are taken which are necessary for that purpose.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping painted a picture of the revolutionary situation which he seemed to fear might be upon us at any moment when a Parliament returned: by a discontented population would put a partisan Speaker in the Chair and would be prepared by any means to carry violently revolutionary measures. Does he think that in those circumstances a Standing Order would be a safeguard? I understand that the right hen. Gentleman in other spheres of policy is very suspicious as to the efficiency of paper safeguards. I venture to think that in a situation such 2211 as he has described the existence of the absence of a Standing Order would be a very small safeguard. We cannot legislate for circumstances of that kind. What we have to legislate for is the ordinary efficient working of Parliament and therefore it seems to me that measures of this kind which will make for greater efficiency ought to be supported.
We know that some of these Standing Committees have spent days, and even weeks, in discussing one line of one Clause of a Bill. That is the kind of thing which brings discredit upon Parliament. I would also draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that at the end of the Parliamentary Session the Bills which are crowded out are not violently controversial measures or revolutionary measures which have a great mass of public support behind them. A Government always makes certain of getting through those measures. The measures sacrificed are humble, often useful, non-controversial Bills which nearly everyone is in favour of but behind, which there is no great force of public opinion. They are sacrificed because there is no time for them—because the machine is inefficient and has been clogged in doing its ordinary duty.
This Schedule if passed will involve no deprivation to private Members of their privileges or their powers. We have learned, whatever the composition of different Parliaments may be, to trust the impartiality of our Chairmen and it is far better for the private Member that the selection of particular Amendments as being useful for discussion and as containing the core of the issues which Opposition groups wish to raise, should be left to an impartial Chairman than that the Kangaroo Closure should be employed, arbitrarily cutting off great chunks of debate including debate on many matters which it would be right and proper to discuss. Therefore, I am not in this matter going to join this motley crew of conspirators against the National Government which I find in the garden of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. In this matter I am going to support not the Government but the findings of a non-party Committee.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
An all-party Committee of private Members. The Chairman of the Committee was the present Secretary for Mines, but he was appointed to the chairmanship of the Committee at a time when he was a backbench Member of the House and all the Members of the Committee were backbench Members of Parliament. We very often say to the Government as has been said to-day, "Why do you not pay more attention to the private Member? Why do you always sacrifice his rights, his privileges and his powers? "It was not this Government but the last Government which appointed this Committee of private Members. They said "What do you want to have done about procedure?" They gave those Members the opportunity of hearing evidence from representatives of every kind of opinion. The Committee studied the subject carefully week after week. That Parliament came to an end before they had finished their consideration of the problem and when the new Parliament assembled the Committee was set up again and continued the careful hearing of evidence and consideration of the problem. Now, after our fellow private Members have gone to all this labour at the invitation of the Government, and have considered it carefully, with all the experience which they possess, and bring before us those carefully considered proposals—I wish the Government, as a matter of fact, had given effect to more of them—I think and hope that the House of Commons will decide to extend their confidence to our fellow Members who served on that Committee and will give their support to these proposals.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I view these proposals for the curtailment of the freedom and privileges of Parliament with grave misgivings, and the very eloquent speech which we have just heard from the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in no way caused me to alter my opinion. When he commenced his speech, its main purport was that Governments went to the country in order to get certain reforms, as they called them, carried, but if that same argument were pursued, it would justify the curtailing of all our Debates and the giving of still greater powers to the Government of the day, in order to thrust through Parliament all the things 2213 they asked a mandate for at the election. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said he was glad to think he did not believe in it being the first duty of an Opposition to oppose.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I say it is their first duty to oppose, not necessarily every word, but to secure that every proposal of the Government of the day is adequately considered. What have we had to-day? We have had speaker after speaker on the Socialist and Liberal benches given the privilege of the Opposition to expose weaknesses on the part of the Government, and every one of them supporting the Government. We had the same state of affairs on a Bill that has been before the House in the last few days. We have had speaker after speaker, called from those benches, as is the custom of the House, and given the opportunity to criticise the proposals of the Government, not criticising, but supporting them, and those few Members who are really criticising the Government have only had a very limited opportunity of so doing. As the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) said, the whole meaning of Parliament is that it should discuss Measures introduced before it, and in the Bill to which I have referred we found, by discussion, flaw after flaw which had been overlooked by the Government and their technical advisers. It is only by giving way here and meeting a point there that we get adequate legislation which will be approved by the people as a whole, and if that be the case with regard to legislation, it is 10 times more necessary with regard to rules affecting our procedure, rules which have grown up with the history of Parliament and which ought not to be altered with any levity.
I have never heard a matter of this importance introduced with less explanation or reason given for it. As has been said, this important matter of the procedure of the House is brought in on the last day of the Session, when many Members have already left to go to their Homes and constituencies. I have heard it said, "Oh, you need not wait until to-morrow, as it is only some procedure Motion," and I say that Members who have not studied this matter carefully 2214 might very well have thought so. It was the duty of the Government to make Members realize the importance of this matter, gravely affecting, as it does, the rights and privileges of Parliament. It is bad enough to have a debate curtailed in the House, with men like Mr. Speaker, in whom everyone has confidence, in the Chair, and men like the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of Committees. It is very special mentality and capacity that is fitted for these great responsibilities, and there are only very few men in the House who, in my opinion, are to be trusted with them, men who, over a long period of years, have shown that they command the confidence of all parties. If you give these immense powers to a Chairman of Committees upstairs, there will not be the same belief in the impartiality of the Chair that we have to-day.
We have not yet heard how these Chairmen are to be chosen. Are they to be chosen in proportion to the members of the various parties in the House? The Socialist party is a very small party and it is possible—I am not thinking of any individual Member—that there might not be a person among their small number who, in the opinion of Mr. Speaker, or of the Committee of Selection, if they still have it to do, is suited by his training—
§ Sir W. Davison
Without casting any section of political thought, there might not, in such a small body of Members, be the most suitable persons to select, but in such a case I think there may be a great grievance. They will say there may be a great grievance. They will say there is not a single Socialist Chairman chosen. There are all kinds of objections, in my opinion, to giving these enormous powers to a Chairman upstairs. It is said that we already do it by Resolution of the House, and I agree. If, on a particular Bill, where passions may not be greatly excited, the House, after consideration, gives these powers to a Chairman upstairs, then the House has done it in that instance, but it ought to be in every instance, but it ought to be in every instance by the decision of the House. We have never yet had for these proposals, nor have we been told that the 2215 present procedure has broken down. I do not think it has. I see no sign of its having broken down. It simply means that each Government of the day wants to force through legislation, far more legislation, far more legislation than Parliament is able to deal with.
As to the suggestion that legislation is the least important work of Parliament, I think the present Father of the House would have done well to have given the House his advice, from his long experience of the House, on these proposals. The old Father of the House, the late Mr. T. P. O'Connor, often reminded Members, from his long experience of 30 or 40 years in this House, that the primary function of Parliament was to be the great inquest of the nation, a place where the people of the country could realise that their grievances would be discussed, and discussed from all angles; and that the other great function of Parliament, which is sometimes overlooked, was that any tyranny, any infringement of personal liberty, could be raised in this House within two days at Question Time. That is why I always reject the suggestion that Question Time should be curtailed, for those things are the most important. We should be the inquest of the nation, to redress grievances and to see that the individual and the country are not tyrannised over. It is only because Governments desire to force through far more undigested legislation than Parliament can properly deal with that we have these proposals. We recently had an all-night Sitting, and we were told by the Government that the Amendments were mostly drafting Amendments, but all through those hours, in spite of the fact that our faculties were not at their brightest, although they kept fairly bright, I think, we found flaw after flaw in those Clauses, and a whole lot of things that the Government had never thought of, just by discussion.
I say that this stifling of Debate and saying that out of 20 Amendments we shall only take four, is all wrong. It is a most difficult thing to select Amendments. It is all very well with the great prestige and our great confidence in Mr. Speaker and in the Chairman of Committees, but when it is done upstairs it is different. There will be endless complaints of partiality, and I say that it 2216 is bringing this House into disrepute. I cannot think that any adequate reason has been shown for this great change in our procedure. I do not think it is desirable. We were told by the Lord President that it was in the nature of an experiment. Is it likely that any Government will clip their own wings in the future? Of course they will not. It is an experiment that will be perpetual as long as Governments think so highly of themselves as Governments usually do. It will be a perpetual manacle on the freedom of Parliament, and as we have a free vote on this matter, I beg hon. Members not to commit suicide by placing these manacles in the hands of the Government of the day.
§ 6.26 p.m.
I make no apology for continuing the Debate, and I hope that those hon. Members who rose with me will do so again when I sit down. I think this is a matter of the utmost importance, and that its discussion should not be shortened. I know there are others who want to talk on other subjects, but I have not the least intention of curtailing my remarks to that end. This is a matter worthy of the greatest study, and one of the most satisfactory features of the Debate has been the number of people who have realised its importance and taken part in it. I yield to no one in my interest in and anxiety for the rights of private Members. I have never been accused, I think, of being a slavish unthinking henchman of the Government, and I have also believed that it is most important that this House should safeguard in every possible way the rights of minorities. I have great sympathy with a great deal of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and others have said about the dangers of innovation, and particularly what the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) said about the danger of too much legislation. I do not think that more legislation is needed; I think on the whole it is less.
Notwithstanding all these things, notwithstanding even the speech of the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), I still support these Resolutions, because my experience in Standing Committee has led me to believe that 2217 they are in fact necessary, and, further, that they will not unduly restrict the rights and privileges of the private Member. The Resolutions with which we are dealing are roughly two, because the others, I fancy, will cause no controversy. One is to give to the Chairmen of the Standing Committees power to select Amendments, and the other is to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to set up a Panel of such Chairmen. To deal with the first and more important one first, I have always held that it is the right of any private Member to use any political means in his power to oppose Measures of which he disapproves, and I have acted on that in Standing Committee on many occasions, but my experience has shown me that those powers are excessive and that it is possible under the Rules to-day, with the knowledge of procedure that can be obtained by Members of this House, for two or three Members to stultify the proceedings of a Standing Committee, in a way that was not intended by this House when those Standing Committees were set up, and that in fact some curtailment of the power of obstruction in Standing Committee would be to the benefit of Parliament generally and to the private Members themselves.
It often happens that the proceedings are stultified as a result of obstruction, to cap it by its right name, which for some reason is never attempted in this House, though I do not see why Members should not be proud of it, for it is a very difficult feat and a very difficult thing to do it successfully. One result of obstruction is very often that important concessions which might have been included in a Bill get ruled out, and I think that is eminently undesirable. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping suggested that the present power of kangaroo Closure was preferable. I venture with respect, as a comparatively new Member, to differ from him, notwithstanding his great experience and knowledge of these matters. I think that the procedure of the kangaroo Closure is the most vicious and severe that the House can inflict. I pay no attention to the contention that it is more valuable because it is set up by a special Resolution of the House. I think the argument stands condemned by events.
The right hon. Gentleman fears the suggested procedure because of its possible abuse by a revolutionary 2218 majority. How much more easily could a revolutionary majority abuse the kangaroo Closure. If we have a majority in the House which is prepared to misuse its powers in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, the whole of our Parliamentary procedure as we know it at present will come to an end. The great feature of the whole of our procedure and proceedings, and the feature which makes us greatly admired in other countries, is the impartiality of those who occupy the chair in various capacities. I do not for a moment believe that while Parliamentary Government continues in its present form we shall ever need to fear the partiality of the occupants of the Chair. I believe that that standard and tradition of impartiality and fairness will persist, and I would much sooner have Debates curtailed by a power in the hands of a panel of Chairmen than by a power in the hands of the Government of the day.
That brings me to the next and equally important question of the selection of those who are to take the Chair and wield this power. The lion. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) put forward a pertinent query when he asked why the procedure was to be changed. I do not know how much the hon. Member has frequented Standing Committees, but if he has frequented them much he will agree that, while genuine impartiality is an invariable quality of the Chairmen of those Committees, an exhaustive knowledge of Parliamentary procedure is not so invariable. I will quote three instances in my short membership of the House. I have seen a Chairman of a Standing Committee refuse to hear a call for a Division and refuse to allow a discussion on a vital point in a Bill raised by an Amendment, and then discover that he had ruled out the principal objection to the Bill because he had not foreseen the consequences of not allowing that Amendment to be divided upon.
I have seen a Chairman of a Standing Committee of his own volition, when matters were approaching a. deadlock, decide that it was time the two sides had a discussion, and, feeling that a compromise could be achieved, he adjourned the Committee for half-an-hour to that end. I have seen a Chairman of a Standing Committee, when he was tired of the Debate, endeavour to imitate Mr. Speaker Brand and move the Closure of 2219 his own volition although no Motion to that effect had been made; and when it was suggested to him that that was not in consonance with the rules and traditions of Standing Committees, he deliberately asked some Member to move it for him. The system has worked all right in the past because the powers of the minority have been so great that any slight lapse of that kind has not had much effect.
If we are to arm Chairmen with these considerable powers, it is essential not only that they should be the very best men the House can produce, but that they should have such training as the House can give. I hope, if I may venture to express such a desire, that when this Panel is set up the members of it may frequently occupy the Chair of this House and get here the experience which will enable them satisfactorily to wield the great additional powers which they are to be given upstairs. I do not share the apprehensions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping with regard to what he calls a segregated class, still less do I share the objection of the hon. Member for Banff to the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy-Chairman being automatically on the Panel. I think it is desirable that the original intention of the House when it set up Standing Committees, that they should be a mirror of the House, could be further carried out by having the Chairmen who take the Chair in the Committee stage of the House also taking it upstairs. While there are only two as at present that is obviously impossible, but if there is to be a panel of those who take the Chair both in the House and upstairs, it will make the connection between this House and the Standing Committees a much more real thing than it is at present, and a very desirable thing.
No one is more keen than I am to ensure that the rights of a majority—which I always regard as an unsatisfactory sort of justification—should not be unduly exercised. I am not one who believes that majorities are always right, but I do think that in the conditions as they exist to-day and in the mass of legislation with which we have to deal—I wish we had not—these reforms will definitely be advantageous to the prestige of Parliament, and will do little or no harm to 2220 that most valuable and necessary part of Parliamentary Procedure, the right of private Members.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The discussion has been interesting and, as in all discussions on matters of Procedure, it has aroused considerable interest in the House. I would like, before entering on the few observations I propose to make, to apologise for the absence of the Prime Minister, who has been engaged the whole afternoon in presiding over a very important Committee of the Cabinet, at which I ought to have been also. The point was raised by the acting leader of the Liberal party and alluded to by the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) with regard to Committees sitting while the House is sitting. I agree that that is an objectional practice, but I believe that, if this Amendment to the Standing Orders is passed, it is much less likely to be necessary in future than it has on occasions been necessary in the past. As it is impossible to do anything to-day with regard to it, and as I see very little chance, at any rate in the early part of next Session, of dealing with that problem, I would suggest that we wait, and, if this be approved, see how it works. I have always felt when I have examined these questions as an individual and have tried to make up my mind whether a particular reform should be adopted or not, that I should be very reluctant to interfere with the right of a Committee to do what it thinks fit with regard to its own sittings. Committees are very independent bodies, and when they have decided to sit in that way I know there must be a serious necessity for it. I believe that if this reform, as I regard it, were to take effect, the necessity for that in future would be less.
There is one thing I must just mention, because some stress was laid on it by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and it was alluded to in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). They spoke as though two days were given for the Debate on derelict areas and as if we were taking time out of those days for this discussion. There is not a word of truth in that. Every Member knows that there has been but a short time since we came back before the Prorogation. Out of that time we gave 2221 two full days to the Opposition for the discussion of derelict areas and disarmament, and I think that they felt we had dealt not unfairly with them. Later on, long after we had decided to take this question to-day—and we took it to fulfil a pledge we made at the end of July—we realised that although a whole day was given to discuss derelict areas, the House would be only too glad of an opportunity of prolonging the discussion. We told the Opposition that when this business was over we would gladly surrender the rest of the day, except that, in case of need, we would take the Lords Amendments to the Betting and Lotteries Bill. I am glad to say that there have been no Amendments; therefore that is out of the way. I want to clear our character in regard to that. I do not always guard my character with care, but on that point I am a little delicate.
I want to refer to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, because when he takes the case in hand he is inexhaustible in bringing forward all the objections that can be brought forward from any corner of the House, and what he omits is hardly worth discussing. I will confine myself to one or two points he raised. Incidentally, I had the pleasure of working with him for many years, and I should like to tell him with what pleasure I see him entering on what he would call his "thirteenth lustrum," or what I would call "sixty next Tuesday." He is in a much more mellow form than I remember him when I first came into the House. There is no form of kangaroo, guillotine, closure or steam-roller that he and his friends did not apply to me, and the House will hardly believe' that when this mellow old man used to come into the House in those days, it had the same effect on the Opposition as if you poked your umbrella into a beehive. I am glad to find him in his old age standing up for the interests of those who suffered under him in those days. The right hon. Gentleman asked what has happened all of a, sudden to make us bring this in. The answer is "nothing."
I ask hon. Members to take note of what has been happening over many years. As the country becomes more democratic the Government have, for that very reason, to interfere more and more in the lives of the people. That is putting very broadly and very simply a ten- 2222 dency which has been growing during the whole of the last generation. The result is that, whether we like it or not, and whatever party be in power, the amount of legislation in this House must be far greater than ever was the case in the old clays. And if it be the case that the reputation of this House is not what it was—which I am not prepared to admit—there is no better fuel for that particular fire than reading of our inability to get our work completed and reading of odd incidents of. obstruction such as sometimes happen—seldom in this House, but not so seldom upstairs. Reports of them do the House harm and do harm to the reputations of Members of this House.
That being the case, it was obviously felt by the Members of the Procedure Committee, and is felt by many Members of this House—I do not say all, but I say many; there are others, I know, who do not take this view, but it is felt—that Procedure upstairs does need some reform, and if we are going to undertake a reform I cannot see what hardship there is in having upstairs the same regulations for business as we have in the Chamber itself. Stress has been laid by two or three Members, and I think properly, on the point that by far the most drastic form of curtailing Debate is the kangaroo Closure. I myself feel that, although the power to exercise it has existed upstairs for some time, the reason it has been so seldom applied is that the Chairmen themselves—I have not consulted the Chairmen on this, I am thinking of what my own feelings as a Chairman would be—are reluctant to apply a, Closure of that kind, which very likely wipes out a whole sheet of pertinent and not obstructive Amendments; whereas by giving the Chairman power to select Amendments we can ensure that there is discussion on subjects which really ought to be discussed.
It may be said, and is said, that there is difficulty in finding men qualified to undertake that work. I do not believe the difficulty is as great as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison). I have such faith in responsibility that I am not at all sure that, if he were selected by Mr. Speaker to preside over a Committee, we might not find that he would exercise high justice in that office. I think that among Members of all nationalities in 2223 this House there is a fundamental sanity and desire for justice, and that there are very few men in any representative body of our fellow-countrymen who, if the responsibility were placed upon them of exercising judicial qualities in the Chair, would be found wanting. That is what I believe, and I have every confidence that if the House sanctions this experiment it will be successful.
The point was put to me, and a very fair point too—I think by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—that if the experiment once becomes an Order it will never be changed. I do not think that will necessarily prove to be true in a case like this. It is of such immense importance to the reputation of the House that the functions of the Chair and of the Committees should be successful that if, contrary to all my expectations, it were found that the experiment was not successful, the Government of the day, for its own reputation, would be prepared to say, "This has been an experiment, it has not come up to our expectations, and we will ask the House to abandon it." That is a thing which might well happen; but I do not think the experiment will fail.
There is a great deal more that might be said, and if this were a day on which, merely for the sake of talking, I desired to keep the attention of the House for some time, there were two or three speeches which led to both interesting and useful lines of thought, but I think I have said all I desire to say on the extremely narrow point that has come before us. It will be a change upstairs, and it will be a great change, but it will assimilate the practice to that of this Chamber. I believe the change will justify itself. I am perfectly content that the House should have an entirely free vote, because, as I said at the beginning of my observations, any change in these Orders requires as general an assent as can be gained for it by the Members of the House.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question I put to him with regard to the allocation of Bills?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
As to the allocation of Bills, there is no change. It will be done by Mr. Speaker as before. With regard to the Chairman, he is the selec- 2224 tion of Mr. Speaker. I think the hon. Member asked one other question—and I apologise to him for having omitted to answer—about the Guillotine. I am not suggesting putting down any Motion about that.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood), with which I associate myself, as to who would actually appoint the Chairman of each Standing Committee and allocate the Chairman. We understand it will be Mr. Speaker, but on whose advice will he act in making those appointments?
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I beg to move, in line 4, at the end, to insert:Standing Order No. 1 (2), line 1, after clock,' insert, or at the expiration of half an hour since a Motion for the Adjournment was moved, whichever shall be later.'Some complaint has been made that all the items in the report of the Procedure Committee have not been brought before the House and that we have not had an opportunity of expressing an opinion on them. I have endeavoured to remedy, to some extent, that omission by putting down this Amendment, which carries out one of the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. It was in these words:Your Committee agree with Lord Winterton"—One of the most senior Members of this House—that the Standing Order regulating the interruption of business should he so amended As to provide for a full half-hour's discussion whenever a Member has the opportunity of raising a question on the adjournment previous to half-past eleven at nightThis privilege of raising matters of general importance, or of importance to one's constituency, for half-an-hour at the end of the day's proceedings is greatly prized by Members, and it has been very unfortunate that the half-hour has been so often cut down to 20, 15 or 10 minutes, and I am asking that the Government will, if they are asked to do so by all sections of the House, consider again the possibility of adopting this unanimous recommendation of the 2225 Committee. One cannot look behind the secrets of the future, but I understand that it is at any rate possible that the Government may seek to take more of the time of private Members next Session. If there be anything in that view it is an additional reason for adopting this recommendation, and in that way extending the privilege of private Members, rather than taking a little away from them, as is being done in the other proposals which have been brought forward. All I ask my right hon. Friend to do at this time is to be good enough to see what measure of support this particular proposal receives from different quarters of the House, arid if he finds there is a wide expression of opinion in favour of adopting this proposal, or some adaptation of it, to consider bringing forward a proposal on these lines on some future occasion—not now, because I realise that it would be rather difficult to do so.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I beg to second the Amendment.
I agree with all that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has said as to the privilege which hon. Members feel it to be to have this extra half-hour at the end of the day. On many occasions we get an opportunity of bringing forward certain points that were not made quite clear at Question Time. Also, there are many questions on which hon. Members feel they would like to have further discussion, and, though they know there cannot be a Division on the subject, it gives them a chance of airing what they have in their minds and gives the House a better opportunity of understanding the question.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I can understand an Amendment of this kind appealing to many hon. Members, but there is another side to the position which I ought to point out. The Standing Orders say that the House shall stand adjourned at half-past eleven. It often happens that an hon. Member gives notice of his intention to raise something on the Adjournment, and he may find that for two or three nights running there are a Closure division and a division on the main Question after eleven o'clock with, possibly, Gas Orders and Electricity 2226 Orders to be taken afterwards, and lie may be left with only five minutes or get no time at all. That, I agree, seems hard. But let us look at the other side. The right exists, of course, to raise questions on the Adjournment—and no one would dream of taking it away—and it is exercised, but not by any means on every night, and I think it would lose something of its power if it were exercised every night. It is exercised on occasions, and only on occasions, and there should be no difficulty, unless a. Member be in a very great hurry to ventilate his subject, in finding a clear evening. I have no figures worked out, but there are many nights when the business closes at eleven and there is a full half-hour left.
Let the House look at the consequences of altering the Rule. Everybody would know that there would be a clear half-hour for him on any evening he chose. It would mean that on very many occasions the House would not rise till 12 o'clock. That in itself may not seem very serious, but let the House remember that the officials and the servants of the House have to remain at their posts until the House rises, and this concession, which quite frankly I do not believe is necessary, because I believe that nine times out of ten a Member can get the period he desires under the present arrangement, could be granted only at a considerable expense to a great number of other people. That last half-hour makes a good deal of difference in the comfort -and facilities of Members and officials, and I very much regret that, unless I have much more proof of the necessity for what the hon. Member has put forward, I could not hold out any promise that we could support that Amendment.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
May I ask a question? Suppose you have a Session in which you have one Bill which may be highly contentious. A Government may then be obliged to suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule night after night but there may be an occasional night without the suspension of the Rule. Would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to safeguard the right of private Members on a night like that to have the extra half hour which they may otherwise never get?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I hope profoundly that such a tendency will not arise. I think I can see what my hon. Friend has float- 2227 ing before his mind. So far as it may be in my power I hope to be able to see that there still may be occasions when he and other Members may ventilate any grievances.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman would consider a question of the sort that did arise recently when night after night there was no opportunity for anyone to rise on the Motion for the Adjournment because of the operation of the Guillotine and the time taken by Divisions?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I should be quite ready to consider that. But if there were a Guillotine in operation it would depend rather on the time at which the Guillotine fell.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My right hon. Friend, in spite of his most agreeable and genial speech, has not responded adequately to the requests made to him from the Liberal benches. He has hardly made an adequate return to the hon. Gentlemen on those benches for the vigour of their support on this occasion. In view of the rhetorical exertions made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) on behalf of the Government the Lord President of the Council might have paid a little more attention to the humble and not wholly unreasonable request of his followers. The right hon. Gentleman opposite is carrying this Debate into an atmosphere which it had not otherwise entered. For him to describe these few gentlemen who feel it their duty to make some observations about the curtailment of the rights of private Members as a motley gang of conspirators against the National Government is rather extreme. I really wonder whether the Government ought not to make some special act of concession on account of the Billingsgate that the right hon. Gentleman has been slinging. Considering that he is himself the leader of a party much smaller than those who represent what I may call the traditional Conservative view on this question and considering that he is the leader of a handful of Members nearly all of whom can vote on this question with great impartiality because they are not likely to be troubled with the consequences of it in another Parliament, I think he might have kept within reasonable bounds in 2228 this Debate, especially as most of us said nothing provocative and most of us listened with great pleasure to the eloquent speech and watched with enthusiasm the expansive gestures with which his harangue was adorned. But I am not going to return evil for evil. My right hon. Friend has not repaid good with good, but I will not repay evil with evil.
I am bound to say I think there is something to be said for the proposal that has come from the hon. Gentleman who proposed this Amendment. I was astonished to see that this matter, which undoubtedly will give more latitude to the House to discuss subjects in which it is interested, should actually have received a measure of lukewarm support from the official Opposition. It is most refreshing to see any steps on their part towards discharging the customary functions of an Opposition, and insisting on reasonable opportunities for the raising of topics in Debate. We must remember that the old practice of the House in relation to a Motion for the Adjournment of the House on a matter of urgent public importance was that the Motion should come on directly at a quarter to four. When I first entered the House that was the invariable rule, and many a great debate have I heard spring up in a flash. [An HON. MEMBER: "Surely not!"] Oh, yes, I am speaking of times long before my hon. Friend was even born. Straight away I have heard the late Mr. John Morley and others raise a point and a debate spring up. There often resulted a dramatic debate in which the whole country was interested, because the things that the House was discussing were the things that the country was thinking about at the moment.
Then it was thought by the Conservative Government of 1900, of which I was not a member, that it was a little hard on Ministers to have to face some of these large and important issues of public policy, connected with the South African War or foreign affairs and so forth, on the spur of the moment across the Floor of the House. Therefore, the system was introduced of holding over the debate until after the dinner hour, until 7.30. That, of course, took all the spring and snap out of these Parliamentary occasions, and that was one of the many steps taken in my lifetime 2229 which have tended to make the Debates of the House less and less a mirror of the thought of the country, and of less and less interest to the public at large. That change which has been enforced prevents these matters being raised and surely a little more latitude might be given, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, at the other end of the day.
There are all sorts of questions which ought to be raised. There is no absolute obligation for Ministers to attend, but there are questions which ought to be raised, and which Members and their constituents wish to raise here at the very first opportunity. As I understand it, all that the hon. Gentleman says is that there shall be always half-an-hour after eleven o'clock and that if there is a Division, or possibly two Divisions, the half-hour shall begin when the Divisions are over. I am glad to have got it right, because I was not sure that I saw quite what the hon. Gentleman wanted. I do not think that this is a very unreasonable request. I think that the Lord President ought to consider it, particularly a request coming like that from a small and ardent band of his supporters who do not often make any requests but who generally do all they can to play the game of the National Government—though they were unhappily sundered from the Government on one particular issue. A misunderstanding arose. It would have been more generous on the part of my right hon. Friend had he been able to meet the hon. Gentleman. We have heard rumours, and I believe it has also been stated in the newspapers, that in the next Session the time of private Members is to be taken by the Government. If that is to be the case much more then is it necessary that this safety valve should be kept open, and that there should be some time or other in the course of the 24 hours when urgent matters affecting a group of Members or a part of the country can be brought forward.
Would it not be possible for the Government to agree to the Amendment providing that it was understood that this was only applicable in any Session when the private time of private Members was taken by the Government? I suggest that as a compromise, because I am most anxious that the unity between the Liberal party and my right hon. Friend here should be restored. I should have 2230 thought that a compromise of that kind was thoroughly in accord with the English spirit, which my right hon. Friend always extols and often exemplifies. If that could be done, I am quite sure it would enable this Debate to terminate in a far more satisfactory temper than that unfortunate lapse from good taste, good manners and good feeling which we have witnessed in the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I wish to acknowledge the support which the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has given to this Amendment, and I very much regret that the little verbal flick which I flung out about a motley crew should have given offence to him. I did not think that he was so thin-skinned. On this occasion I do very gratefully welcome the support he has given to this Amendment. I would commend the Amendment very seriously to the consideration of the House and the Government. Let me say at once that it would satisfy those of us who support this Amendment if it were to apply only when the Eleven o'Clock Rule is not suspended; that is to say that if the. Rule is suspended we are not to have a late Sitting then, as nobody would want to keep the servants of the House up for an extra half-hour after midnight. The Patronage Secretary says he does not understand. It is surely quite simple. It very often happens that the Eleven o'Clock Rule is not suspended and, as the Lord President of the Council has said, we very often have two Divisions, one on the Closure and one on the main Question. By that time it is 20 minutes past 11 and there is only ten minutes for a discussion to take place. Even with one Division there may be only a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes available for a discussion, which is a very short time, and I think we should substantially remedy a grievance which is felt by Members in all quarters of the House if we could have this concession made to us when the Eleven o'Clock Rule is not suspended.
If I may venture to do so, I would also speak to the Lord President of the Council from the very short experience I have had as a Minister. It sometimes happens that as a Minister you are told that some Member wishes to raise some subject of Debate, and you have to be 2231 there in attendance yourself, and to have perhaps one or more of your officials in attendance too. It is a very great pity that so much time should be wasted by private Members and Ministers and important officials. The Lord President of the Council has questioned how much difficulty there is on the part of private Members in getting time to raise matters. I can assure him that it is a very real difficulty. There is one Member of this party, the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) who has been trying for 10 days or a fortnight to draw attention to the case of the potato merchants who have been refused licences under the Potato Scheme. This is a subject which is raising great anxiety in all quarters of the House and the hon. Member has been trying for 10 days or a fortnight to draw attention to this subject.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I quite see that there may be occasional hardships, but this Amendment, which does make a distinct change in your procedure, is one that I should want to investigate very carefully before I could come to any conclusion about it. I am prepared to consider it, but. I cannot accept it to-day. I will look into it, with my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary; we will consider at the beginning of the new Session, when we see what the course of business is going to be, what hardship there is, if any. We will investigate it very carefully in the light of the experience of last year, and I am quite willing to consider whether the difficulty which has been raised can be met, without pledging myself to accept the exact words in which it has been put forward.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the statement which he has made, in view of the fact that this important proposal requires further consideration on the part of the Government and that he is willing to give it further consideration, whether it would not be better, considering the length of time that we have already spent upon this matter and the work which we have already to do, that further considertion of this subject should be postponed. That would give an opportunity to the Government in the new Session to present in entirety their schemes for the reform of Procedure, including some of the pro- 2232 posals put forward by the Noble Lord. I take advantage of the right hon. Gentleman having admitted very candidly and very fairly that this is an open matter which requires further consideration, cannot be dealt with piecemeal and cannot be settled at the present time to ask whether he cannot allow the Debate to be adjourned so that we may get on to the far more grievous issue of the distressed areas, in regard to which so many Members have been waiting for a long time in the House to enter upon Debate?
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
We have been considering the other questions for a long time, and we are quite clear in our minds about them. This question we have not considered, beyond deciding that it was not one of the Recommendations that we should take up. I have not considered it from the point of view that has been presented, and I think it deserves it and am prepared to do that. Regarding the other subjects, our minds are quite clear, and we are prepared to leave them to the House itself for decision when the time comes.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Since the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to leave these questions to the decision of the House, will he not be prepared to leave the question of whether we should have further time to discuss the subject also to a free vote of the House? A large proportion of Members are not satisfied that the main Question has been fully discussed. I want to get on—I am anxious to get on—to the question of the distressed areas. I have made one intervention on this matter, and I have sat here ever since. I want to ask you, Sir, whether you would accept a Motion for the adjournment of the discussion.
§ Mr. MANDER
In view of the promise made by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council to look into the matter, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.2233
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
The Lord President of the Council came down to the House to-day on this rather important matter and said that the Leader of the House was unable to be
§ present, as he had to attend an important Cabinet Committee. That is treating the House of Commons rather roughly. We ought to have much more time to consider this matter. I hope that the Government can give it to us in order that many other hon. Members may have an opportunity of participating in the Debate.
§ Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 24; Noes, 178.2235
|Division No. 413.]||AYES.||[7.21 p.m.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Hartington, Marquess of||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Janner, Barnett||Remer, John R.|
|Bernays, Robert||Knight, Holford||Rickards, George William|
|Bracken, Brendan||McKeag, William||Sandeman, sir A. N. Stewart|
|Buchanan, George||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Magnay, Thomas|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Maitland, Adam||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Maxton, James.||Mr. Churchill and Sir William Davison.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Duggan, Hubert John||Leckle, J. A.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Dunglass, Lord||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Lees-Jones, John|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Leonard, William|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Levy, Thomas|
|Assheton, Ralph||Elmley, Viscount||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Lindsay, Noel Ker|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Lister, Rt. Hon. sir Philip Cunilffe|
|Banfield, John William||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Buck., Aylesbury)||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Mac Andrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Mac Andrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C.||McLean, Major Sir Alan|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Goff, Sir Park||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Goldie, Noel B.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Gower, Sir Robert||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W. Riding)||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Burghley, Lord||Grigg, Sir Edward||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Grimston, R. V.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Groves, Thomas E.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)|
|Carver, Major William H.||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Milner, Major James|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Moss, Captain H. J.|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Harris, Sir Percy||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.|
|Clarke, Frank||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||North, Edward T.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Headiam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Nunn. William|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||O'Connor, Terence James|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Hopkinson, Austin||Orr Ewing, I. L.|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Hornby, Frank||Peake, Osbert|
|Cove, William G.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Pearson, William G.|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Penny, Sir George|
|Cross, R. H.||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Daggar, George||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Petherick, M.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||John, William||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovil)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Ker, J. Campbell||Ray, Sir William|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Dickie, John P.||Kirkwood, David||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Dobbie, William||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Doran, Edward||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.||Lawson, John James||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Russell, Hamer Field (Shef'ld, B'tside)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Selley, Harry R.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Sinclair, Mal. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Skelton, Archibald Noel||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles||Wilmot, John|
|Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)||Thorne, William James||Withers, Sir John James|
|Somervell, Sir Donald||Tinker, John Joseph||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzle (Banff)|
|Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Train, John||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Tryon. Rt. Hon. George Clement||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaka)|
|Strauss, Edward A.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Strickland, Captain W. F.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward and Mr. Blindell.|
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I beg to move, in line 6, at the end, to insert:Standing Order No. 28, at end, add: (2) Provided always that this Order shall not be deemed to confer the power of selection for the purpose of concluding the consideration of any business within a specified time, unless such specified time is in pursuance of an order of the House.This Amendment is in the nature of a Proviso that the new Standing Order shall not confer the power on Chairmen of Standing Committees to take the time factor into account too severely. However much I thought our Proviso was justified, the Debate on the other Sections of the Standing Orders makes our Proviso appear much more reasonable than before. It is obvious already, from the result of the Division just taken, that the new Standing Orders will be accepted by the House, and we on these Benches are quite willing that the Chairman of a Standing Committee should have the power to select Amendments. I have a personal reason for speaking on this subject. I do not think that many Members of the House during the past ton years have taken a much more active part in the proceedings of Standing Committees upstairs than I have on certain Bills. Knowing, therefore, what can happen in Standing Committee, I have no hesitation in supporting the proposal that the Chairman of a Standing Committee shall have a similar power of selecting Amendments to that which the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy-Chairman possess on the Floor of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has been taunting us and hon Members below the Gangway with supporting the present Government, but really the issue that we are discussing to-day cannot possibly fall into the category of ordinary partisan politics. I care not what political opinions a Member may hold in the 2236 House of Commons; we are all, I think, desirous of seeing that the machinery of Parliament shall work properly. When the right hon. Gentleman taunts us, as he has on several occasions recently, I begin to wonder what he is up to nowadays. It seems to me that he is having rehearsals for a bigger event; that he is trying to find out during this Session what support he can get for another combat with the Government in the next. At any rate, his army in the last battle was about the smallest of all. One night last week he got as many as 75 to follow him into the Division Lobby, but the number has fallen to-day to about 20 odd. The Government in the next Session of Parliament, so far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, are obviously safe. But that is not the issue before us.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The right hon. Gentleman put forward something else when he was speaking, and I did not interrupt him. I do not agree with him and others who take the view that Parliament is of no avail. The right hon. Gentleman and other Members of the Tory party have said on more than one occasion to-day that Parliament does not function properly, that things are not going right in Parliament—
§ Mr. DAVIES
If the hon. Member will look at his speech to-morrow morning, he will find that he too argued that we should not do what is proposed in these Amendments to the Standing Orders for the sake of Parliament itself. That is what I understood—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. We are very anxious to proceed to the other Debate. I understood 2237 that we were going to have first a general discussion of the proposed Amendments to the Standing Orders. We have now come to the discussion of a particular Amendment, and I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, if what we are now discussing is not merely the particular Amendment which the hon. Member is moving?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I certainly called the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) in order that he might move his Amendment, but different Members have different methods of approaching their Amendments. I was rather hoping that the hon. Member would come to his Amendment soon.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I will certainly adhere to the Amendment. If I may say so, his is my first intervention in the Debate, in spite of the fact that I was Chairman of the first Select Committee on Procedure before the hon. Gentleman took over that position in this Parliament. I was therefore a Member of the Committee which made the recommendations we are now considering. The simple point raised in our Amendment is that, when power is given to the Chairman of a Standing Committee to select Amendments, we are a little afraid that he might, quite unawares, maybe, look upon that power as implying that he had to complete the business of the Committee by a given time, and that in selecting Amendments he will allow the factor of time to overwhelm the question of the substance of the Amendments.
If any Chairman of Committee, having received the power to select Amendments, should select Amendments only with a view to finishing the proceedings of the Committee within a given time, it would indeed be fatal, and we seek to provide by our Amendment that, where an Amendment is in order and is one of substance, it should not be subordinated entirely to the question of time. I feel sure I can convince Members of the House of Commons that our proposal is reasonable, because, if these words are not inserted, we are afraid that the time factor may become predominant and not the substance of the Amendments. I have looked up the proceedings when Mr. Asquith proposed the selection of Amendments on the Floor of the House by Mr. Speaker or by the Chairman or 2238 Deputy-Chairman of Committees, in 1909, and in his speeches then he had in mind the very point that we are putting forward now. He said that, although the House of Commons had always to be careful that an Amendment selected should be in order and be one of substance, the time factor should not be given too much significance in the selection of Amendments. This is, of course, a very technical matter, but I hope I have made the point clear.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I do not think I can accept this Amendment, but, as the hon. Gentleman has said, it is of a highly technical nature, and I think it would be of some use to the House if, perhaps, the Chairman of Ways and Means, who is very much interested in this matter, would give the House some information on it. All that I wish to say is that, subject to further information which might develop, I could not see my way to accepting an Amendment which would distinctly fetter the freedom of action, not only of the Chairman of Ways and Means and of the Deputy-Chairman, but also of Mr. Speaker.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I am very happy that on this occasion, when an experiment is being tried, the dog on whom it is to be tried is not necessarily to be a dumb animal. I have every sympathy, if I may say so, with what is in the mind of the hon. Member who moved this Amendment, though, knowing his humorous ways, I was rather inclined to wonder whether he had not put down the Amendment for the express purpose of trying to draw out the secrets of the Chairman's room as to the particular methods which are adopted in selecting Amendments. While, however, I have every sympathy with the idea at the bottom of the Amendment, I very much hope, and I say so with some confidence, knowing the hon. Members who have put it down, that they will not press it.
I say that for two reasons. The first is that I am perfectly certain that the Amendment would have no practical effect. I would ask the hon. Members whose names are attached to the Amendment to try and imagine an occasion on which the point would arise of the time factor coming into the Chairman's 2239 mind. If the Chairman were a man who would take the time factor into account —I will come to that in a moment—and if he were directed by a Standing Order of this kind not to do so, I am perfectly certain that he would find half a dozen other very good reasons for not selecting the Amendment. That is why I say I think the addition of these words would have no practical effect. I should, however, like to reassure the hon. Member and others by saying that to the best of my own knowledge and belief, and I have taken steps to make pretty sure that I am correct in this, no Chairman or Deputy-Chairman—of course I cannot presume to speak for you, Sir, although the same thing would, I believe, apply to Mr. Speaker—has ever taken the time factor into consideration in the circumstances referred to in this Amendment. It is recognised as one of those things which should not be taken into consideration, unless under some very exceptional circumstances and I can assure the hon. Member that, so far as my Deputy and myself are concerned, that will continue to be the case in the future.
Perhaps I shall not be going outside the bounds of the discussion on this Amendment if I give the hon. Member a little further information as to the kind of way in which this power of selecting Amendments is exercised, because I notice that in the speeches, for instance, of the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), there was apparently a misunderstanding as to the precise position which is adopted by the Chairman of Ways and Means and his Deputy in a matter of this kind. We do not regard ourselves, and never have regarded ourselves as being in a position where it is our duty to help the Government of the day to get through the Measures which they bring before the House—
§ Sir D. HERBERT
I apologise to the hon. Member. There was another remark of his to which I will refer in a moment. I want to make it quite clear that the way in which we regard our duty in the matter of selecting Amendments is this, that we should make the machinery of the House of Commons work in such a way that, as far as the 2240 House will allow us to do so, subject to any guillotine Motions or matters of that kind—that we should make the machine work in such a way that every important point of principle raised by an Amendment, and every important, or even unimportant, point of view which is represented in the House, should get a hearing; and that subject to that—not the proposals of the Government—but the proceedings of the House or the Committee should be carried through without undue waste of time.
Therefore, I would put this point to the House, that, if a Chairman is to be entrusted with this very responsible and difficult duty of selecting Amendments, it would be a fatal mistake to hedge his powers about with any kind of directions as to how he should use them. It would only result, in the case of a Chairman who was such a bad Chairman as to require to be kept in order in that way, in his finding another method of carrying out what the Standing Orders directed him not to do. It is a power which could only be exercised satisfactorily by leaving it to the most absolute and uncontrolled discretion of those to whom the power is given, and the House has its remedy, which it has never yet had to use and I hope never will have to use, of coming to the conclusion that the Chairman has exercised his powers so improperly that he must not continue to hold the position which gives him the power to do it.
If I may refer to the hon. Member for Banff, about whose speech I made a mistake, the particular remark that he made —I was glad to hear him say it—was that the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman had now less connection with the Government than they had in earlier days. But I gathered from his speech that he still had an incorrect impression as to what the position is that is taken by the Chairman of Ways and Means with regard to the Government. I should like to give him some information which I think it well that the House should know. The Chairman of Ways and Means is in my experience entirely unconnected with the Government. It is true that he has to be in communication with the Government Whips from time to time in regard to carrying on business, but he is equally at the disposal of and in communication with representatives of the Opposition and any other party in the 2241 House, or indeed any individual Member of the House, and during the time that I have had the honour of holding this office I think it is quite correct to say that I have seen far more of the Opposition Whips or representatives of the Opposition in discussing the business of the House than of the Government. As a matter of fact, it was only two nights ago I had an opportunity for the first time since we came back of shaking hands with the Patronage Secretary and asking him how he had enjoyed his holiday. It was not until this afternoon that I had spoken to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Motion, and I have not yet spoken to the Prime Minister at all, since we came back.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's view at all. If he recalls the letter of resignation by the last Deputy-Speaker, written when the new Government was formed, it gave a totally different interpretation from what the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward now. It clearly bore out the fact that the party had asked him to resign.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
I do not think that alters what I have said with regard to the conduct of my predecessor while he held that office.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is very important, and it is quite novel to me. I have always understood that the Chairman of Committees was a party appointment. This is an entirely new interpretation.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
The right hon. Gentleman is right to this extent, that there is this difference between the appointment of the Chairman of Ways and Means and the appointment of Mr. Speaker. The appointment of Mr. Speaker is always traditionally moved by a back bench Member. The Motion for the appointment of an individual Member of the House as Chairman of Ways and Means is always made from the Government Bench. That, I agree, is true. It is a matter of regret to me that that should be so, but it is a, fact. I think I remember the Prime Minister, at the time that he was the first Prime Minister in the Socialist Government, giving expression to a somewhat similar regret. But, notwithstanding that fact, what I have described as the position of the 2242 Chairman of Ways and Means once he gets into office is, I believe, a perfectly true and correct description, and I think it is a correct description of the attitude that was taken by my immediate predecessor up to the time of his resignation. Perhaps I may have gone rather outside the immediate narrow limits of the Amendment. I hope, at any rate, whatever differences of opinion there may be in the House as to what the position of the Chairman of Ways and Means is or ought to be, hon. Members will recognise that any attempt to limit the discretion of the Chairman who is making this selection of Amendments will be unfortunate in its effect.
May I draw attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman in moving the Amendment did not disclose quite what it meant? I am not quite sure whether he realised it himself, because he spoke of this direction in regard to considerations of time applying to the Chairman of Standing Committees, but, as the Amendment stands on the Order Paper, it would apply not only to Standing Committees but to the House in Committee and to the House as such and to Mr. Speaker and to the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman as well as to Chairmen of Standing Committees, and therefore I think that perhaps adds strength to the appeal which I make to him not to press it.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I should like to say a word or two on the very authoritative and comprehensive statement that we have just heard. I am sure I speak for Members in all parts of the House when I say that we are deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having made that statement. It was very clear and precise. Perhaps, however, I may be permitted to say what was in our mind when we put this Amendment on the Paper. I hope I may completely reassure the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy-Chairman, if they have entertained the idea that we were in any way reflecting upon their conduct in the Chair in the past, that such is very far indeed from the case. We have the completest confidence in their entire impartiality, but we are in this position. This is naturally very delicate ground on which I have to tread, and, if I say it awkwardly, please put the fault down to 2243 myself and not to the intention that we had in moving the Amendment. We have to keep in our minds quite clearly the point brought out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). We all know that the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy-Chairman have been understood to be Government appointments. They vacate office when the Government vacates office, and, if a different Government follows, it has the right to appoint their successors.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
That is not strictly correct. They are appointed by the House and for the duration of the Parliament not during the period of office of the Government. It has been the case in the recent past that, where the party complexion of Parliament has altered at a General Election the previous holders of the office have not been re-elected. But their term of office is in no way limited by, or coeval with, or in any way connected with, the term of office of the Government.
§ Mr. JONES
I cannot, of course, pit my information against that of the right hon. Gentleman. He has obviously a much closer knowledge of the matter than I have. But I must admit that his further information comes as news to me. It sometimes happens that we have on the Order Paper during any given Session a very large number of Amendments in the names of Members in all parts of the House. The Chairman naturally desires to serve the best interests of the House and not the best interests of the Government. It is natural that the Chairman as such, like all other Chairmen, likes to see the business on the agenda gone through that day and the House able to retire at a reasonable hour. But sometimes a very long discussion takes place on the first two or three Amendments, and, consequently, an undue proportion of the time available is taken, and it is natural, therefore, for the Chairman, as such, not thinking of the Government, to feel that the time is rapidly slipping away. He becomes unconsciously aware of the flight of time.
Our point is that, if consumption of time takes place through undue discussion, it is the business of the Government to move the Closure at the appropriate time and, if time is being 2244 consumed unduly, it is the responsibility of the Government that that time has been lost, and not the responsibility of the Chairman or of anyone else. We desire to bring out that simple point, that it is the responsibility of the Government, if undue time is being consumed, to bring the discussion to an end rather than to throw the responsibility unwittingly upon the Chairman or his deputy. That is the whole point that we have in our mind. I hope I have made it without in any way reflecting upon any officer of the House, for such is far from our intention. I hope I have made clear the intention that we had in moving the Amendment. However, we have listened with delight to the lucid explanation given by the Chairman of Ways and Means, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR
I sincerely trust that the House will not accept the Motion. I feel very deeply that the House is gradually losing all sense of the proper functions and duties that it is called upon to discharge. It has always been my view that the principal function of the House is not to pass legislation but to be a control and a check on the Government. My right hon. Friend has referred to the great increase in the number of Bills passing through the House year by year, but, if we go back to the immediate post-War period, many of those Bills which have become Acts of Parliament could be well done without, and we should have had a more prosperous Britain. It is due to the increasing facilities for putting legislation upon the Statute Book that we owe a great deal of our troubles and distresses in this country.
I would press on the attention of the House the need carefully to consider this increase in facilities for putting Bills through and passing them into law at such a speed. I find from a rough check which I have made of legislation this year that some 52 public Bills, 53 private Bills and no fewer than 1,156 Orders have had the full force of the Statute. We have arrived at a crazy position in the House of Commons when we think of nothing but passing Bills into law, not discharging what is our true duty, and, indeed, 2245 not having the time to discharge our true duty, of exercising a really sound check upon His Majesty's Ministers and preventing them from being the tools of the Departments and taking Bills which the Departments place into their hands, often without understanding their full purport, and without the House of Commons understanding a quarter of what the Bills contain, especially in a Parliament with such a huge majority under the guise of a National Government. I question whether time after time Members have understood what was in such Bills. Bills are presented and passed into law because they know that by sheer deadweight, with the Whips on, they can put them through without any reasonable consideration being given by this House.
I sincerely trust that my right hon. Friend will reconsider this matter. It is not a matter of any personal conflict or division in party politics, but one which should deeply interest every back bench Member of the House of Commons. Have
§ we time, first of all, to discharge the primary duty of being in a position to check and control Ministers? Any Bills which emerge under the pressing necessity of governing the country properly we should always find time to pass into law. Tinkering about with everybody's affairs and passing all kinds of Bills and putting them on the Statute Book without any time for mature consideration is likely to be of great danger to the country. I assert definitely that if we had not passed more than one out of every six Bills which have been passed since 1914 we should not have been experiencing such an outcry to-night to discuss the depressed areas. We are creating distress by our Acts of Parliament, and the sooner we restore to this House its proper duty and functions to control its Ministers the sooner we shall find a happy and prosperous Britain.
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 144; Noes, 24.2247
|Division No. 414.]||AYES.||[8.3 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Milner, Major Jamas|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Glyn, Major sir Ralph G. C.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Gower, Sir Robert||Nunn, William|
|Banfield, John William||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||O'Connor, Terence James|
|Batey, Joseph||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks.W. Riding)||Orr Ewing, I. L.|
|Blindell, James||Grimston, R. V.||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Groves, Thomas E.||Peake, Osbert|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Pearson, William G.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Penny, Sir George|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Harris, Sir Percy||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hasiam, Henry (Horncastle)||Petherick, M.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Hopkinson, Austin||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Hornby, Frank||Ray, Sir William|
|Carver, Major William H.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Choriton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Janner, Barnett||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Clarke, Frank||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Selley, Harry R.|
|Coiville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||John, William||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Kirkwood, David||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Cross, R. H.||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Leckle, J. A.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lees-Jones, John||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Davies, Maj.Geo.F. (Somerset,Yeovil)||Levy, Thomas||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||Lindsay. Noel Ker||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dobbie, William||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Doran, Edward||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Train, John|
|Dunglass, Lord||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||McCorquodale, M. S.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Ward. Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Elmley, Viscount||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wailsend)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Martin, Thomas B.||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Williams, David (Swansea, East)||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Wilmot, John||Worthington, Dr. John V.||Mr. Molson and Mr. Michael Beaumont.|
|Withers, Sir John James||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Buchanan, George||McKeag, William||Remer, John R.|
|Burghley, Lord||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Richards, George William|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Maitland, Adam||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Maxton, James||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Moss, Captain H. J.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Liewellin, Major John J.||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Mr. G. Balfour and Mr. Bernays.|
That the Amendments to Standing Orders relating to Public Business, as set out in the Schedule attached hereto, be approved by this House.