§ 2.52 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I beg to move,That, during the present Session, Government Business do have precedence at every Sitting.The Leader of the House who has to do this task does it only out of a sense of sheer necessity. It is most unpleasant to ask private Members to give up the opportunities which the Standing Orders allow them on Wednesdays and Fridays, and I only do it now because I believe that private Members will be only too anxious to assist the Government in getting through a programme which is unusually large and the largeness of which is not owing to the action of the Government. The situation is this: We have been preparing for years for the final stage of the consideration of the constitutional position of India within the British Empire. As I said yesterday, we have had Conferences—round-table conferences and others—and we have had the Select Committee of both Houses which has gone carefully into the whole question. We now have the report of that Committee. It is going to be discussed as a report first of all. The Bill which will issue from it will be discussed on Second Reading before it is brought to the stage of detailed examination and so on. At the same time there is a need which every Member of the House will recognise to go on with the very pressing social legislation indicated in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
Can we postpone either of these great sections of legislation? Can we postpone, for instance, the India Bill? We cannot. It would be one of the most—I was going to say insane—it would be one of the most insane acts of Parliamentary policy if after all the preparations and all the expectations aroused in India we said: "The domestic situation, the social situation at home, is such that we have to postpone for another Session, for another 12 months, the consideration of the report of the Joint Select Committee." It is a sheer impossibility. Whatever view one may take of the Bill, whatever view one may take of the report, one cannot say that handling of the situation would be either to our honour, or advisable from the point of 88 view of Indian public opinion. That the House should proceed with a full discussion right from the beginning to the end, a discussion of the report and a discussion which will carry us right through to the Third Reading of the Bill—that is what the House is bound to face, and we must find time in order to do it.
On the other hand, the Government see no reason why the social legislation should not be proceeded with as well. It is not legislation that can be delayed. We cannot, for instance, wait for another Session to pass legislation that will make the experiment in the special areas effective. One of our critics yesterday said that this was not done and that was not done and the other was not provided for and so on. But I can assure him and those who feel like him that the Government know that perfectly well, and they are going to supplement the announcement that has been made of these appointments by legislation that will clothe the experiment with authority. That cannot wait for another Session. Take housing and the proposals supplementary to the slum legislation and the slum push. Who will say that this House is not going to put itself, if I may say so, to inconvenience in connection with that matter and to place at the disposal of the Government sufficient time to enable that legislation to be put upon the Statute Book?
The House knows quite well that as soon as the legislation is on the Statute Book months will probably be required for the completion of negotiations, the preparation of plans, the study of the best methods and such questions as those raised for instance by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) yesterday: Are local authorities, with the sanction of the Government, going to build huge sunless blocks of tenement dwellings or can something be devised on the lines of the Vienna experiment for instance? Those hon. Members who have seen that very interesting experiment know very well that the description of my hon. Friend does not apply to it. All these things will require a little time, and the Government must not be hustled in such a way that they sanction the building of houses that are not going to be adequate and when finished will leave the position not very much improved. We are going 89 to take the time necessary to consider how the powers which we shall be asking the House to give us in this Bill are to be used. That is all the more reason why without months of delay that legislation should be on the Statute Book, so that the machinery for putting it into operation can be set up. The fact of the matter is that if we try one section or another, either the Indian section alone or the social reform section alone, or try the Indian section completely, with a truncated and altogether inadequate social reform programme, it will be regarded as a test imposed on Parliamentary institutions which this Parliament has not stood. We believe that the House will give us power to do both, so that at the end of 12 months we may have carried into effect every one of the substantial and really pressing tasks mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
In putting this proposal forward I think the Government ought to take the House into their confidence in a way that is usually only done later in the Session, and explain in definite figures what the outlook of this Session is so far as time is concerned. Will the House allow me to go through a recital, which may be a little bit dull, but which, nevertheless, I think is necessary in order to persuade and convince the House that the Resolution that I am asking the House to give us is necessary? After allowing for the usual recesses at Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, there are the equivalent of 108 whole Parliamentary days at our disposal up to the end of July next, and out of that total it is estimated that the usual compulsory and routine business will require 57 days. That will include 33 days for Supply, 13 to 14 days for the Budget and the Finance Bill, a certain number of days for Adjournment Motions and contingencies. The Government have always been very anxious to meet Opposition and other important interests in this House that wanted subjects discussed, and, if all those are added together, it amounts to something like 65 days out of the 108. That leaves 43 days for the Government business, including the India Bill, during the normal Session to the end of July. In those 43 days we have to deal with the India Constitution Bill, the Shipping Industries Bill, the Housing Bills—one for England and Wales and also one for Scotland— 90 the Depressed Areas Bill, and a very necessary Bill, the Electricity Supply Bill.
There may be other Bills that will become urgent in the meantime. Everyone who has planned Parliamentary time, a Parliamentary Session, knows very well that he has never yet succeeded in saving time on the first plan, but that as time goes on new requirements crop up, and, instead of having a very nice comfortable margin somewhere about the middle of July, he discovers always that he is some days in arrears and has to make it up either by the sacrifice of Bills or by methods which are not altogether desirable. The India Bill itself, with its many important issues, will require a good deal of time. In fact, I think that language is a little misleading in its generalness. The Bill must be a long one; it cannot help being a long Bill. It will undoubtedly take up the bulk of the purely Government time available during the Session. Until the Bill is ready, we cannot say how long it will take. We know that last Session the proceedings in connection with the Unemployment Bill occupied, with the help of a Time Table Motion, 25 whole sittings. That was a Bill of 64 Clauses. The India Bill will consist of some 300 Clauses. Then add the others, and it is perfectly obvious to everybody who looks objectively at the problem with which we have been presented that we have to let either one or the other of the important sections of the programme practically go. I do not believe the House would agree to that; I do not believe the House would agree to the dropping of the India Bill; I do not believe the House would agree to taking up practically the whole time for the India Bill and leaving us, perhaps, with one of the social reform Bills, may-be accompanied by a very tiny, second-class contribution to the problems that we want to solve.
Every day until the Christmas Adjournment will be required for this class of business. The Depressed Areas Bill will have to pass, the Electricity Supply Bill will have to pass, the Housing Bill will have to be read a Second time, the Unemployment Assistance Regulations will have to be debated and approved, the India Report will have to be debated, and there must be some Supplementary Estimates, as usual, dealing with depressed areas, and perhaps one or two other matters. I can assure the House 91 that the programme has been carefully considered, and, if we can manage to waste no time, that programme can be carried through.
§ Mr. ALBERY
In saying that there are 108 days of Parliamentary time available, will the right hon. Gentleman kindly say if that includes private Members' time?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, the 108 days include the private Members' time. From Christmas to Easter we shall have to finish off the Bills begun before Christmas but not completed. For instance, we shall take Second Readings before Christmas and then proceed to complete the Bills between Christmas and Easter. The India Bill will have to be read a Second time and start on its consideration in Committee. That is between Christmas and Easter. From Easter to July is the time for the Budget, the Finance Bill, and the completing of the business of Supply. Undoubtedly the bulk of the time will be occupied in the consideration of the India Bill. It therefore comes to this, that the Government require every available day, and, regretful as it may be, private Members are being asked—and I hope they will respond to the request of the Government in the special circumstances of the Session—to agree to sacrifice their privileges to enable important problems of the Session to be dealt with.
I ought to remind the House that the bulk of the private Members' time falls before Easter, and that is usually the overloaded period of the Session when so much time is required for Supply; and it will be specially overloaded now because we cannot postpone stages in legislation that in normal Sessions can be postponed until the bulk of the Supply is dealt with. This fact caused the Government in the past to take the time of the House before Easter. Our problem is the time before Christmas, and we have to be a little bolder in explaining our position to the House and in asking it to respond. This condition comes but rarely, and the cause of it is the situation in which we find ourselves with two supremely important causes—India and home affairs—coming and meeting in such a voluminous way. I should be failing in my duty as the head of the Government if I did not invite the House to face the 92 realities of the situation and ask it to give us time to consider the India Bill without diminishing the power of Parliament to deal with the social legislation which the Government deem it necessary to pass in the interests and for the sake of the tranquillity of the country.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
In ordinary circumstances I should have felt rather apologetic in opposing this Motion because of what Governments which I have more or less supported have done in the past, but I cannot help feeling that the right hon. Gentleman has overwhelmed the House to-day with a statement as to the tremendous programme that is in front of us. I have been trying to search my memory as to whether, when the Home Rule Bill was before the House, Mr. Gladstone found it necessary to move such a Motion. I am not sure, but I think he did no such thing. The Home Rule Bill was accompanied by a. Land Bill and there was tremendous controversy in regard to them, and, although these two Measures were in the end wrecked because the Government was put out of office, it is still true, I think, that the Government did not think it necessary to ask private Members to give up their rights at the beginning of the Session. I am not sure whether that was so or not, but my recollection is that such a Motion was not made.
The only case of which I can find any trace in recent years was a Motion moved by the late Mr. Bonar Law in 1919. The Session opened in February, and because of pressure a Motion was made to take the whole of private Members' time. This was later amended so that the time was taken only until March. Then the position was reviewed, and the Motion was not proceeded with; that is to say, private Members got all the time that remained after March. It must be remembered that the Session started then in February; the limit was March, and after March, I understand, private Members got back their time. This time we have the India Bill and other Measures dealing with domestic questions.
93 I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, and for the life of me I cannot see why he should contemplate that, in the ordinary way of things, it would be impossible to get the India Bill through, provided he did what I think would not hurt it, namely, if we found ourselves at a deadlock for time, carried it over to October. I want to see that Bill through if it is what I hope it will be. I have not seen it or the report, hut, if we are to discuss the Bill properly, I cannot understand why there is such a tremendous necessity for finishing it in July. My friends have not any shooting to do, and we shall not go yachting. If we got a month's holiday we should come back in September, and I should think tht whole House would. I do not know why Members should not come back in September and for once fully earn their salary. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that we should rush up to a certain date. Sometimes we kill a lot of time in the middle of the Session, and then, during the last days, we are driven to finish at a particular moment. There is no law of the Medes and Persians about not sitting in September—and the birds would have a better chance perhaps. It would save treating private Members as mere cyphers.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
In the present House when we first came back I used to say to my friends, "When I sit down on the Front Bench I look round, and I find my opponents behind me, on the right of me very often, on the left of me, and in front of me." Nowadays I find an opposition to the Government to the left of me and an opposition—a very deadly one—being organised right in the centre of the army behind the Government. What can the poor Leader of the Opposition do when he finds so many different competing camps? God forbid that I should attempt to speak for all of them, because they are all quite capable of speaking for themselves, and I do not see why it should always be left to me to try to interpret what is in the mind of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) so that I can represent his opposition to them. In connection with a Motion like this, people often talk of the feeling outside of disgust with 94 Parliament, of the people being tired of Parliament. I do not think that feeling is so prevalent among ordinary people as some of those who talk about it really imagine, but what I have heard in criticism of Parliament is the view that we are all too subordinate to our various parties. It is often charged against us that we are a party who always act together; and so on. Everyone in this House knows that there has grown up a feeling of party loyalty such as was quite unknown years ago, but I think that is largely due to the altered character of the legislation with which the House has to deal. I am quite certain that our present machinery will very soon either absolutely break in our hands or will have to be very drastically amended, but I do not believe that the way to amend it is to take away all initiative from private Members.
When I said the other night that I want to see the time come when Members will be free of the domination of organisation or of majority decisions I really meant it. I would like to see Parliament free of party, but we are as we are and we are bound to have consideration to that fact; and every now and then the House of Commons had to face this kind of situation, a situation in which the Government tell us, "If you want to discuss in an effective manner the legislation which we and you think is necessary, then all that the Members of this House can do is to give consideration only to the business which we think necessary." I think that is asking too much of the House and really destroys the representative character of Parliament. I am quite prepared to hear it said that if my friends were only on the Government benches, or if the Liberal party were there, that we and they would do the same thing; but that is no answer at all. The real point is that in this Session there are several Bills dealing with our own domestic affairs and one big overshadowing Bill which will take a considerable amount of time, and that the Government now come down and say, "In order to find the necessary time private Members must give up all their rights to introduce legislation and resolutions."
It is often said, and sometimes with a little truth, that private Members on occasions raise questions which appear to be quite futile, but I would point out 95 that there is scarcely a big reform which has been undertaken by this House which has not first of all passed through a long series of discussions introduced by private Members. I would remind hon. Members of daylight saving, though I know some Members who represent agricultural areas do not like it. I remember how scornfully the proposal was regarded when it was first introduced by Mr. Willett, but we have lived long enough to realise that in towns, at any rate, it is a very great blessing. Then there was the question of women's suffrage. We may not agree with it but we are all now living under universal suffrage. Proposals for women's suffrage were brought in again and again and again by private Members. The subject of widows' pensions was brought up again and again by private Members. One could go over a whole list of Measures in that category, and it seems to me that all of them have added to the well being of the nation.
Finally, I want to say that we think the Government ought to have waited to see how we got along with the programme of legislation before moving this Motion. No one—not I, at least—likes to be driven or forced to do things. I think I am as soft as anyone in answering a soft word, but I cannot stand being bullied or driven. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman has bullied us this afternoon, because he scarcely ever does so, but he is trying to drive us very hard indeed. The Government ought to take back this Motion and let us see how business goes between now and Christmas, and then bring it forward then if it be necessary to do so. I cannot believe there will be great obstruction to the India, Bill. I cannot believe that the Government's own supporters will try to wreck the biggest Bill the Government are bringing forward. That would be quite a new doctrine—for a Government to start on an undertaking thinking that their own comrades were going to "down them" in this fashion. I cannot believe it will be so. They are much too loyal to their Government. They have proved their loyalty. Even when they have gone into the Division Lobby against them it has only been when they knew perfectly well that it was quite safe to do so. Some of us have done that; I am not speaking with any superior virtue, be- 96 cause we are all inclined to do that kind of thing.
I repeat that no necessity has been proved for the course the Government are asking us to take, in spite of all that long story which we heard, and which I am sorry the Patronage Secretary did not circulate to all of us, because it would have been very nice to have it in front of us and to be able to make suggestions for amending it. Instead of trying to rob private Members of all their time the Prime Minister should try us out until Christmas and then "report progress," as it were, and, if necessary, bring forward this proposal again. The suggestion we put forward from these benches is this: We recognise that it is going to be a heavy Session, and we are not in a position to disprove the fear that there will be great opposition to the India Bill, opposition amounting almost to obstruction, but we contend that the proper course would be to allow the Bill to get as far as ever it can until July and then let the House adjourn, not for three months but for one month. Let the Government give us a good holiday and we shall come back like giants refreshed and be able to gobble up the remainder of the Bill without any trouble. We shall vote against the Motion.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
Perhaps for the first time in this Parliament the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has represented sections in all parts of the House. I am convinced that in his very moderate and reasonable appeal to the Prime Minister he was speaking not only for his own party but for many private Members on both sides of the House. I have a vivid recollection of the Lord President of the Council making a similar Motion and a similar appeal to the House at the beginning of this Parliament that we should grant private Members' time. It was distinctly understood that the powers were asked for only because of the national emergency and of the exceptional situation created by the financial crisis.
In spite of the eloquent appeal made by the Prime Minister. I do not think that he has made out his case at this stage of the Session. He based his case on the India Bill, but there will be general agreement that that Bill is not a party issue but a great constructive, con- 97 stitutional proposal which causes differences of opinion in every section of the House. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) have opinions of their own upon it. Most of us do not know what the contents of the Bill are, and, if ever this House should be a council of State, as it ought to be, and should approach a problem from a judicial point of view, it will be in regard to the Indian constitutional problem. I do not think any section of the House wants to make that a party issue. We ought to criticise the Bill and examine it in detail Clause by Clause, not to wreck it but to improve it and reconstruct it. It would have a profoundly bad effect throughout the British Empire if any section of the House were to use the occasion to embarrass the Government and to cause difficulties. We should, therefore, assume that there will not be obstruction and delay, but only reasonable criticism.
A short time ago we discussed the Betting and Lotteries Bill, which was very long and caused great differences of opinion, but it was not approached from the point of view of party. There were long Debates, but not many Divisions. Is it not reasonable to assume that when we discuss the Indian constitution there will be the same approach and that there will be discussions and criticisms but not many Divisions? I believe I am safe in saying that, if the Government are faced with any real obstruction and opposition, the vast majority of Members of all parties will give them all the necessary powers to get their Bill, whether those powers are in the form of a Guillotine or of a closure.
In reference to the rest of the programme, the Prime Minister is overrating its size and importance. This is a humdrum, ordinary Speech from the Throne. It is true that it includes a Housing Bill dealing with overcrowding, but that is not a party issue. We have all understood that housing as such was beyond party, and I am certain that the vast majority of hon. Members will approach that question in a non-controversial spirit. It is reasonable to assume also that the Bill will go upstairs. I supported the proposal to give the chair men of committees power to select Amendments in order to make it easy for 98 Bills of this kind to be dealt with in Committee. I do not regret doing so, nor do I apologise for doing it. It is an improvement in the machinery of the House, because this kind of Bill, largely a machinery Bill, is better dealt with in Standing Committee than on the Floor of the House.
There is the Electricity Bill. Is it not reasonable to assume also that that highly technical and controversial question, which is not one of party, will go upstairs There is the question of the better housing of the Metropolitan Police. Will that delay the House? The only big Bill of a controversial character is that dealing with the distressed areas. With Members of the Opposition we object to its limitations. We should like to see it extended and bolder, and with more money behind it, but we shall not be able to amend it in those directions because we should be brought up against the Standing Orders. The number of Amendments which we can make will be limited, and our criticisms will take the character of saying that the Bill is inadequate and not large enough.
There is no justification in the King's Speech for the Government asking for extra time, except for the constitutional problem of India. I have been a private Member for many years, and I know that Governments think that they have a monopoly of ability and brains. They get power and position, and they think that in them remains all the capacity to initiate legislation. We should be most careful to retain the very few rights and privileges left to private Members. We have to go through elections every few years, when we are subject to severe criticism and much opposition. Our people are beginning to doubt whether it is worth while our being in the House of Commons except to have a seat on the Treasury Bench, because all it means is that we sit up night after night and attend here day after day to register the decrees of the Government and to answer the orders of the Government Whip. It means long hours, late nights and very few rewards. One thing we still have is the right, on occasions, to initiate legislation, in the dim hope that we may get our Bill on to the Statute Book. The Leader of the Opposition has made a most reasonable appeal. He met the Prime Minister in the spirit of his speech, and I believe that it would 99 be the act of a strong man and not an act of weakness if the Prime Minister would postpone robbing private Members of their rights until, at any rate, after Christmas.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
This is a very drastic and unusual proposal. The Government are making a demand which I have not often heard made in all the time that I have been here. Not since 1921 or 1922 has such a demand been made. This Parliament has not hitherto shown itself careful of the rights of private Members, and it is a remarkable fact that that should be so, in view of the high hopes that were entertained by the new Members who came into the House. One might have hoped that they would have developed a very strong and vigorous sense of its position. Considering that party politics are practically extinct, because of the overwhleming majority of the Government, one hoped that those Members would have been most zealous to preserve the opportunities for freedom open to private Members in the limited time allotted to them. We are always hearing that private Members are not showing that fertility, ability and originality which are necessary to keep alive our Parliamentary institutions, and yet here are the Government taking away those opportunities of legislating and of ventilating large general issues which have always given, to private Members and to young Members in many cases, an opportunity of establishing themselves as Parliamentary figures who would, in time, replace those who sit upon the Front Bench. Why is it necessary for the Government to do this? They have an enormous majority, far larger than they require. But, quite apart from that, on the particular Bill which is to be the main topic in the new Session, the India Bill, they have the promised support of the Socialist Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman was very careful to say that he was anxious to go as far as possible and to get the Bill if he could not get anything better. That is what I understood him to say yesterday; I do not wish to misquote him.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I wish to be quite clear on this matter. I said that we should put before the House our views as 100 to what the Bill should be, and we should move what Amendments we thought necessary, but we should do nothing to obstruct the passage of the Bill—that we should act as I think an Opposition ought to act in dealing with a Measure of that kind.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not think that that was quite what was conveyed to my mind. The idea conveyed to my mind was that the right hon. Gentleman indicated that, although the Bill did not go as far as he and his friends might wish, at any rate they were supporters of getting the Bill through if they could not get anything better—or, as we should say, worse. I think that that is the position. Certainly it is very remarkable how often the Government are supported by their Socialist and Liberal opponents. That ought to make it quite easy for them to get their legislation through. When I came back to the House after the Election of 1931, I was most desirous of voting against the Socialist party, and I do so whenever I get an opportunity, but I always find that the National Government is in the Lobby with them; it is very difficult to separate them. And yet, with this enormous majority, with an absolute docile House of Commons—the most docile that I have ever seen—and with the great measure of support which comes from the Labour benches, and on many occasions from the Liberal benches, the Government have to ask us to make this very great mutilation, in fact complete elimination, of the liberties of private Members.
I must point out that no answer has yet been given by the Government to the very reasonable suggestion which was made by the Leader of the Opposition—on this occasion, as an exception, functioning in his normal constitutional capacity—that, if the India Bill takes longer than is expected, it should be carried over to the Autumn Session, and Parliament should come together at such earlier date as may be necessary to secure a fair and full discussion of so momentous a Measure. No answer has been made to that suggestion. The Prime Minister's argument is quite watertight and holds together as long as you assume that at the end of July Parliamentary activities must necessarily come to an end, and the Session must be brought to a close before the House 101 adjourns. But nothing of the sort is the case. We can go for a short recess to the country, and then come back to resume our labours. We ought not to scamp our duties on a matter which may effect, perhaps permanently, the whole fortunes of this people and the great Empire in India.
Let me point out that, if we are in this difficulty, the fault is entirely that of the Government. We have been called back for the last month to waste our time upon two Bills, the Betting and Lotteries Bill and the Disaffection Bill—two Measures singularly ill-conceived and of very questionable utility. We have been wasting a whole month, taking the glamour off the beginning of a new Session, wearying the House with late sittings almost every night. If those days since we were recalled here at the end of October had been saved, and the Session begun then, there would not be the slightest need to take these 21 days from the private Members. It is sheer mishandling on the part of the Government that has got us into this position. Having blundered on, plodded on, forced their way ahead with this resistless, dumb, blind force which they have at their disposal, having thrust their way on in spite of every warning, they have now got into a difficulty, and who is to pay the price? They are breaking their way out through the procedure and privileges of the House of Commons, and the private Members are to be the losers. That is where we stand to-day. Do not let it be said for a moment that the reason why the private Members have to give up their time is that, besides the usual time for the India Bill there is to be a great programme of social reform. The reason is that the Government are reluctant to call the House together in the early Autumn, and they have got into such a mess with their Betting and Lotteries Bill and their Disaffection Bill that they have taken the whole bloom off the new Session of Parliament.
There is another way in which I imagine the right hon. Gentleman might endeavour to facilitate the progress of our business, and that is if he would develop the practice, which he has observed to-day, of coming down himself and leading the House. Really, the right hon. Gentleman need not look so impatient. I have seen greater men than 102 he occupying his position, who have valued, quite as highly as the position of Prime Minister, the honour of leading the House of Commons; and a great deal of facility is given to business by the personal touch and personal contact and relationship established between the Prime Minister and the House when he acts as Leader of the House in Parliament. I remember the late Lord Balfour, who was always most assiduous in his attention to his duties in the House. It is really no use the right hon. Gentleman keeping aloof from his fellow Members—standing off like an absentee landlord giving orders to evict, collect rents, and so forth, and having the estate managed for him. I am sure that, if he were able to come down and watch the proceedings for himself, he would not be called upon to adopt the drastic and roughshod measures which he has found it necessary to propose to us to-day.
I am not sure that I should have risen to take part in this discussion at all but for the remarks which the Prime Minister made yesterday about the India Bill. He seems to have adopted a tone of menace with regard to that Bill. He would give what he thought fair time, but no licence. But since when have Members of Parliament had to get a licence? We have our rights, and you, Mr. Speaker, are the judge of our exercise of those rights. It is certainly not for the effective Government to be the sole interpreter of what is reasonable in discussion and what is stepping beyond those bounds which they think convenient to their conduct of public business. It seems to me to be a most unusual, and, in fact, I think unprecedented, thing to suggest, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested quite plainly, the adoption of a Guillotine procedure before a Bill has even been presented to the House. It is customary, as indeed, the Leader of the Opposition has indicated, to allow a Bill to run a certain distance, and then, if it is seen that discussion is being pushed beyond what is due and normal, the feeling of the House supports the Government in asking for a special time-table for their Bill.
At the moment nobody has seen the Bill. Theoretically it does not exist. We were told that the Government could not make up their minds about it until certain conferences had been held, and 103 so forth. The report has only come into our hands this afternoon. But the Prime Minister knows that the Bill contains 300 Clauses. What grounds are there for assuming that the tactics by which it will be resisted will be dilatory tactics? As I said the other day, I do not consider that it is justifiable, or ought to be possible, for a minority to resist the settled will of Parliament by means of purely dilatory tactics, but there must be upon a great Measure of this kind party and controversial discussions and occasions when there are sharp differences, which perhaps afterwards are composed and a more smooth passage assured for the Measure.
It is a great pity to destroy the whole freedom and life of Parliamentary discussion by making the House Debate within the Guillotine. I certainly think it most unusual and most undesirable, and a bad precedent, that the Prime Minister, months before the Bill is introduced, should already be threatening private Members with the application of these drastic proceedings. Moreover, it is not only unusual. It is a very unwise thing from his point of view to let the country know, when many important discussions have to take place in the country, that the Government are perfectly resolved, if they can have the power and if authority is given to the Leader of the Conservative party as well as to the Prime Minister, with the aid and support of the Opposition and in association with them, to ram this Bill through Parliament by the most drastic measures. I hope that will be widely known throughout the country and borne in mind by all persons who are taking an interest in this controversy.
It is quite true that with the power at the disposal of the Government they certainly will be able to steam roller and plough down the opposition. That is why people in the country who have an opportunity of considering these matters should walk very warily, because of the greatness of the responsibilities which are thrust upon them in a matter of this kind. It seems to me that we have before us a sombre, a melancholy and an ill-starred Session. What is going to happen may give great satisfaction to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are going to witness, first of all the deprivation of all the rights of 104 private Members, secondly, the application of the Guillotine Closure with great severity to enormous constitutional measures of historic importance, and, thirdly, the process of the Conservative leaders trampling down and dragooning their followers amid the cheers and war whoops of both the opposition parties which are constantly and busily engaged in attacking the Conservative party in the constituencies.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am getting rather tired of hearing this subject debated, particularly when it is always debated as though it was a question of depriving private Members of their rights and privileges and taking 21 days from them. You are not taking rights or privileges from private Members and you are not depriving them of 21 days in which to air their views. You are depriving the country of a legitimate opportunity of carrying on the principles of the British Constitution. After all the main object of Parliament is criticism of the Government. You are depriving the country, and not private Members, of some 40 opportunities of criticising the Government. Naturally no Government likes criticism, but the balance of our Constitution as it is developed up to now is that the Government should not be all powerful in choosing the subjects of Debate or getting their Measures through. There should be a balance in the opportunity of democracy of making its voice heard and its criticism felt.
It is possible for a Government to avoid criticism unless they are forced, in a Debate on a Resolution or a Bill, to make up their mind and state their case. I think nearly all the Bills introduced on Friday afternoons are Bills that a sensible man would vote against, but it is very good for the people who introduce Bills to hear the case stated against them, and then in the following year they can recast them on better lines. As for Resolutions, I have no hesitation in saying that the most valuable part of Parliamentary work is the opportunity once a week of bringing in a Motion which shall elucidate one side of Government policy. The Government hate having to state a case, because they have to take a more or less hard-faced, brutal Treasury line on nearly every Resolution that is brought forward. After all, if we are going to 105 educate the country, if people outside are to know the pros and cons, they must have the Debates on such questions in the public Press.
The Government by this Motion are not robbing private Members of anything; they are robbing the country of an opportunity of understanding and criticising the Government. That, I think, is the line that we ought to go on in opposition to it. The whole struggle at present is a struggle of the executive and the permanent officials against the country as a whole. Every Motion that they bring forward to curtail and censor the opportunities of criticising Ministers—everything done in that direction still further eccentuates the authority and power of the executive and still further deprives the people of the country of that very proper and right control over the permanent officials and the executive.
Are not the Government taking their fences before they are quite ready for them? In connection with this India Bill for instance, we have watched during the last 10 days the amazing and very regrettable results of the General Election in India. You have now elected in India an Assembly the elected Members of which are pledged to one thing and one thing only, and that is opposition to this constitutional Measure that we are going to inflict upon India. Surely it is inconceivable that, against the wish of the Indian Legislature we should pass a constitutional Measure and enforce it upon them. The Assembly is to discuss whether it will or will not accept the Bill based upon the Report of the Committee. When the decision is taken, it is quite possible that every member elected for a general constituency will vote for the status quo rather than for the new Measure. If that comes about, is it conceivable that we shall have spent all the rest of the weary time going through the further stages of that Bill which, when we pass it, will not be accepted and cannot possibly be forced upon an Assembly which, so far as the elected part of it is concerned, is unanimously opposed to it. If we are going to take 21 days of private Members' time and hand them over to a Bill which will not be accepted by the people for whom it is intended, we might wait and see what the result of that vote in the Assembly will be before we rob the country of opportunities of criticism.
106 There is one other thing to remember. There are lots of Members who merely act as genial conveyors to the public of certain Bills. There is my hon. and learned Friend opposite who is associated with divorce law reform. He had never heard about it until a Bill was put into his hands. It is, however, the people outside who are suffering. I, myself, am interested in only one or two little private Bills. One is to enable the rating of land values instead of houses. I also had hope of introducing a Bill to enable the Government to buy up property at 25 years purchase of its scheduled value. All these things are stopped by this Motion. It is not that we are deprived of the opportunity of moving Bills, but that the country, which wants the advantage of discussion of these problems, is deprived of its rights.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
I cannot think of a stronger argument in favour of the Government's proposal than the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). I would ask hon. Members to cultivate a little sense of proportion. However desirable any other legislation may be, there can be no matters of greater urgency than the programme of legislation that we have to get through. Some Members—the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) is certainly one of them—seem to me to argue as if this were a proposal to alter the practice of the House of Commons, and permanently to deprive private Members of their opportunities and put all authority in the hands of the executive. It is nothing of the kind. What the House has got to consider is whether, in view of the programme of legislation, this is a reasonable proposal or not. I consider, in the present circumstances, it is reasonable that the Government should have made this exceptional Motion.
The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley said that private Members' time served an extraordinarily useful purpose, because frequently Measures which were ultimately adopted by the House and the Government—and he instanced the Daylight Saving Bill—have been first introduced in this House by private Members. That is no argument in the present circumstances. Any of these new Measures may be very useful, but his own argument was that they did not ultimately become 107 law for three, or four, or perhaps a greater number of years. Here we are not dealing with social Measures that can be postponed for three or four years. Tramp shipping cannot wait; slums cannot wait; none of these things can wait. One of the Bills we are possibly going to consider, if time permits, is for checking ribbon development along our roads, which will be perfectly useless two or three years hence; it will be locking the stable door after the horse had escaped. I repeat that hon. Members must really cultivate a sense of proportion in these matters.
The main argument, however—and this was particularly developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—relates to the Government of India Bill. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place, but, in spite of that, I must be allowed to say that it seemed to me to be the most illogical argument. He inveighed against the Government. He even talked about the possible restriction of debate by Guillotine Motion or anything of that kind. I should be absolutely with him there, but what sort of an argument is that for depriving the House of the time to be given by this Motion to consider that very Measure? We must admit that the Government have the power, if they want to use it, to drive through the India Bill, which we have never yet seen and know nothing about, to move Closure Resolutions or to give to you, Mr. Speaker, power to select Amendments, to skip over Clauses of the Bill and get through, somehow or other.
That is a course which I should regard as absolutely disastrous, for whatever views this country or India may take on this subject—and the arguments of the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme were very strong in connection with the elections and their results—I am certain that it would not be tolerated that this Bill should not be given ample tithe for full debate and full criticism of every important vital Clause. It is not a Measure likely to recur. Surely only once in a century will this Parliament have to deal with a question so wide, far-reaching and momentous. It is because of that that we must make sure, so far as we can, even at the inconvenience which is caused not only to private Members but 108 to the public—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that point—by taking private Members' time for this one Session. We must have time to debate that Bill. It is vital, and, therefore, as this is a Motion to ensure that, I cannot myself resist the Government's proposal.
The right hon. Gentleman made a suggestion to the Government that they should postpone this Motion until after Christmas, to see what measure of progress is made and the necessity for it. I venture to suggest that that would not really help matters. Surely it would not be of any use to private Members or possible legislation if initiated to postpone this Motion until Christmas, with the prospect of Bills having gone a certain distance and possibly one or two Resolutions debated. But, so far as the Bills are concerned, nothing would get upon the Statute Book, and merely a certain amount of time would have been occupied in the ventilation of certain subjects which might be given legislative effect two, three or four years hence. That, I submit, in the present circumstances, is not a suggestion which meets the case at all.
The right hon. Member for Epping and I do not think alike with regard to two Measures passed recently. The Betting Bill did not pass this House in the form I should have liked, and does not do the amount of good I should think it could have been made to do. But surely it is a subject which, if ever it was going to be tackled, could only be tackled by a Government constituted like the present one. Then with regard to the Incitement to Disaffection Bill, I am thankful to see that on the Statute Book, much as it may have been misrepresented outside. That, again, was a thorny subject which it was vital should be tackled, so that those who promote seditious practices should come within the arm of the law. I think both those Measures were useful and essential features of legislation. Therefore, I do not regret the time taken in passing them.
Another suggestion has been made from the Front Bench opposite, and supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. He said, let Parliament adjourn for a brief recess, say, for the month of August, and come back refreshed so that we should be able to swallow the remainder of the India Bill. With my right hon. Friend's years of 109 experience and high office in every Department of State, I should have thought he would be the very last man to make such a suggestion.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I never did. The expression was "gobble it up," and it was made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ Sir B. PETO
I apologise. I gave my right hon. Friend credit for one of those oratorical phrases which was not his own. After all, if we are asked to take that view, let us consider what would be the general effect on the machinery of Government. I think it would be a fatal thing if Parliament, even for a single year, were to sit for 11 months and leave those who have the conduct of public business only a month to get into contact with Departmental work and prepare legislation. We should be ham-stringing the Session which would succeed this one, and making it impossible for any useful legislation to be properly considered for the session following. Therefore, as I see it, this Motion of the Government is inevitable, and I think that we have to recognise that, considering the peculiar circumstances, we have got to deal with a very exceptional situation which is not likely to recur, I would say, in the lifetime of any Member now in this House. We cannot be said to be creating a precedent. We are not even adding to a precedent, because conditions at the present time are such as will not return.
Though I have not the slightest regret in finding myself in opposition to the views of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, or those of the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), I do regret that I cannot see eye to eye in this matter with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, for in many of the Debates that are coming in the Session, I shall probably find myself in close agreement with views he may put before the House; but because I think it important that we should take any step necessary to ensure that no part of the Government of India Bill should be passed through this House under rules and restrictions to curtail debate and discussion, although I do not welcome it, I am prepared to accept and agree to the proposal made by the Prime Minister.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. PALING
I was rather amazed to hear the remarks of the last speaker. I have been in this House a good many years, and it is not often that I have been able to agree with the hon. Member on questions of policy, but I have always looked upon him as being one of those Members of the House to claim his rights as an individual Member of Parliament. Therefore, when he got up to-day, I was pretty sure he would be one in opposition to this Motion. If my memory serves me aright, I believe it was not long ago that he nearly got the sack from his party because of the line he took upon a certain matter. I should hate to think that because of the pressure put upon him he has become so complacent as to support the Prime Minister whether right or wrong. From that point of view, I was very disappointed with his speech this afternoon.
With regard to the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who is not now in his place, I did not dislike to hear him attack the Government, for I think this Government is so bad that I can almost welcome any ally from wherever the attack may come. I do not know that I agree with him that when he comes down here he always finds the Socialists in the Government lobby. I do not think that he is an expert on that business. He is not here often enough to be a good judge. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping selects the time at which to come to this House very judiciously. He comes when he can get the maximum amount of limelight, and he certainly gets it. He is not a good judge as far as the number of times the Socialist party find themselves in agreement with the Government. God forbid that we should be criticised in the country for supporting, and voting for the Government in respect to the retrogade legislation which they have put through since 1931. The Prime Minister states that this is to be an arduous Session, with a long list of legislation to be got through. That is always said, and I think that, after examination of the position, on this occasion, everybody will agree that probably the only Bill to be submitted in the present Session will be the India Bill. The Prime Minister says that it is likely to be a long Bill containing a lot of Clauses and that it will take a long time to discuss, 111 but I do not think that that is a sufficient reason for depriving individual Members of all the time of which they have a right in this House.
§ Sir B. PETO
What ground has the hon. Member for saying that the India Bill is the only Bill that is going to be introduced this Session Surely, the strongest argument for the Motion is to ensure that domestic legislation is not cut out.
§ Mr. PALING
The India Bill was the only Bill described as likely to take a long time. It will be a big Bill in that sense. I do not say that other Bills will not be important, but I do not think that they will be big in the sense of the India Bill, or will take a long time. The Prime Minister advance a rather new Argument. Re used arithmetic, and said that the Unemployment Bill last year contained 64 Clauses and took 25 days, and that the India Bill will be one of some 300 Clauses, the idea being that it will be about five times as long as the Unemployment Bill, and that, if the Unemployment Bill took 25 days, it is legitimate to argue that the India Bill will take five times 25 days, or something over 100 days of the Parliamentary Session. Does the Prime Minister or anyone else really believe that that will be the case? That was really the only argument which he put up.
He referred to the Bill to deal with the depressed areas, and I should have liked to have believed that that Bill was to have such important things in it that it would be likely to take up a lot of Parliamentary time. I think our opposition to that Bill will not be so much on account of what is in it as what is not in it. It promises to be the most emaciated Bill which this Government have ever introduced to deal with a very important problem. The Prime Minister mentioned the Housing Bill. Is that to contain such an overwhelmingly new principle that it will be likely to take up a lot of time? He mentioned that we might have to discuss whether the new houses to be built in towns should be of the Vienna type. Is that an indication that the Bill will make provision for houses of that type? If it be the best Bill that one can imagine, the right hon. Gentleman need not expect much opposition from us. We shall be only too glad to help him if it be a good Bill.
112 He says, "We will not be hustled." When the time comes for the present Government to go to the country, the last criticism which the country will make will be that they were hustlers. If any criticism be made of the Government at the present time it is, not that they hustle, but that they are apathetic and complacent and are really doing little of any importance. The Prime Minister is not here at the moment, but I will say this in his absence, though I wish he had been here. If there has been any hustling done in the present Government, it has been hustling on the part of Tory Members, who have managed to hustle the right hon. Gentleman, away from principles which he has propagated all his life. That is the only hustling that can be put to the credit of the Government to-day.
There was an important book written by a member of the legal profession—I am not sure that he was not a judge—some years ago pointing out the dangers of bureaucracy and the growth of bureaucratic government and how the executive was taking unto itself more and more power, and how individual liberty was being suppressed. I do not know that I agree with all that was said in that book, but there was an element of truth in it. It is that which is being done in the Motion proposed this afternoon. The Government are making this Motion in order to carry out the particular legislation that they want and to deny to any Member the right to initiate any legislation. Important as the Government consider their legislation to be, whether it relates to housing, depressed areas or anything else, there are other important matters, some of which may be equally important to the mind of individual Members and also to the country. It is not fair that the country should be denied the right of having such legislation put into operation.
There is the question of Wednesdays usually devoted to private Members' Motions. I have heard it said many times that they serve no useful purpose. Perhaps they do not serve as big a purpose as was intended, but it so happens that in the course of a Session there are questions which crop up in the country, and in which the country is vitally interested, and it is sometimes a very good thing that such questions can be put down for discussion here on some Wednes- 113 day afternoon and be fully debated. Now we are to be denied this privilege. The Government have not made out a case this afternoon for taking away private Members' time, and I hope that hon. Members on the Government side of the House will resist the Motion. In 1921 the Government tried to do a similar thing, but the opposition from their own part of the House was so great that they had to withdraw the Motion to take private Members' time for the whole of the Session and to limit the period to about six weeks. If hon. Members will do that on this occasion, we shall be able to maintain the rights of private Members in this the most complacent and reactionary of Parliaments.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
This is not a question on which any hon. Member need fear examination of his personal record. Personal consistency is not the issue. If a Member is a Member of the Government he will naturally not be averse, faced with a situation in which awkward discussions are raised and awkward demands are made for declarations of Government policy on embarrassing points, to those opportunities being taken away from private Members, nor will he be averse to using the time which is at the private Members disposal. If the rights of private Members are to be defended, and if the encroachments of the executive upon those rights are to be resisted, it can only be by private Members. Just as private Members in 1921 successfully resisted the Government of that day, I hope that private Members in all quarters of the House will resist the demand which is being made by the Government this afternoon. The Prime Minister has described to us this gargantuan feast of legislation which the Government have spread before us, but if we look at it, there is only one matter, and that admittedly a huge matter, of controversy. It is controversy that wastes time. I would rather say that it is on controversy that time is spent. Matters such as the Housing Bill would receive a Second Reading here and would, I hope, go upstairs to Standing Committee, the Chairman of which would be armed with his new powers. Questions of type of house, whether it shall be Vienna houses or some other type, are appropriate to be discussed by Standing Committee upstairs, and there is no 114 reason why the time of the House should be taken up by such matters.
The right hon. Gentleman said: "Here are two great subjects, India and social reform. Can we postpone either of them?" The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) said: "Let us have a sense of proportion." Apply a sense of proportion to the tasks which the House is set and to the time available in which to discharge those tasks, and there is no case for the Motion which is being put before us to-day. On the one hand, there is no case because these Measures are not likely to make large demands upon the time of the House as the Prime Minister suggests, and on the other hand because—and this is the point I wish particularly to make—the time at the disposal of the House is much longer than the Prime Minister suggests. I say to the Prime Minister, and to the Patronage Secretary, that it is not true to say that this House of Commons has only 108 days as its disposal. I say advisedly that that is not true. I have here the actual days spent in Sessions in recent years by the House of Commons., In 1925 there were 125 days, the next year 150, the next year 143, the next year 115, the next year 100, the next year 187, the next year 185, the next year 183, and the next year 141. In all those years there has been only one year in which the number of days allotted for the Session has been as small at 108.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Captain Margesson)
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that the Prime Minister is juggling with figures, or, if not, what exactly is he trying to suggest?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I have made a perfectly clear statement of which I challenge contradiction. It is a plain statement. The number of days in the Sessions in the years from 1925 onwards is as I have stated.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)
We want to be clear about this matter. I thought that the information had already been given. I understand that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to the end of the Session, and not to the end of 115 July. I understood that the Prime Minister's statement referred to the end of July.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am referring to the end of the Session. Why should the Prime Minister limit himself to the end of July?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I limited myself to the end of July in order that the House might see what was available up to the end of July, and the days, which would perhaps be fairly numerous, over and above that would have to be taken in a normal Session.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That may be what the Prime Minister is concerned about, but the House of Commons is concerned about whether there is any justification for this encroachment by the Executive upon the rights of private Members. I am saying that in fact in recent years there has been only one year in which the days available for public business in a Session has been fewer than 108. In every other year we have had far more days available than 108. In the year 1912–13 Parliament devoted 206 days to the transaction of public business. Does the Prime Minister say now that the present Government, supported by an unprecedented majority, far greater that that at the disposal of that Parliament, are only willing to give 108 days to public business in this Session as opposed to 206 days?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. and gallant Member must be careful. The question is, up to the end of July. In those years, how many days had the Government available? Much less than he has indicated. That is very important.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
With respect, they were not less than I have indicated. I have not indicated the number of days devoted to Public Business up to the end of July. I am putting to the House this question: Are we to allow the rights of private Members to be encroached upon by the Government, when there will be available, not 108 days this Session, but any number of days, even up to 206 days, which was the number in one year? If the number of private Members' days is 21, and we add that to 108, we get 129 days. That has been the normal number of days for the work of a Session in recent years.
116 Perhaps I have put my point a little too provocatively. I did not wish to do so. I do not wish to suggest that the Prime Minister or the Patronage Secretary were deliberately trying to deceive us. It is beyond their power to wish to do that, and we do not suggest it for one moment, but we do suggest that it would be misleading for the House to allow this question to be discussed on the lines put by the Prime Minister. If it were true that we had to bring our deliberations to an end at the end of July, that would be a very formidable fact, but it is not true. There is far more time available for the House of Commons than has been suggested, and there is no justification for proposing at the very beginning of the Session that the time of private Members should be taken. There has been only one precedent for it, and that was in 1932, when the Government had been returned at the General Election, and they were starting the Session in February and not in November. Therefore, they had a much shorter time, and they were in the middle of the crisis, when great new Measures had to be brought forward. The conditions then bear no comparison to the conditions now, and yet that is the only precedent upon which the Prime Minister can rely for making the demand that private Members should give up the whole of their time from the beginning of the Session.
I know that the Prime Minister is only moved by a desire to get business through, but I would appeal to him to reconsider the matter. For our part, we are not likely to make any extreme demands, and I do not think that private Members will make extreme demands. We ought to have a sense of proportion, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) said. Why not allow things to run on until Christmas, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. That was a reasonable suggestion. There is nothing in the Government's programme that we on these benches wish to fight, on principle, as a vitally controversial matter. Therefore, we shall not be holding things up by obstructing the business of the Government. Let us make an effort to work together. I think that private Members in all parts of the House will want to get the programme through. Therefore, let us work together until Christmas and see what progress can be made.
117 I do not feel any antagonism towards the Government or any desire to hamper them in the programme put before the House. Why cannot the Motion be postponed and consultations take place through the usual channels? Such consultations took place in 1920, I think it was, and in 1921—there are two or three precedents—and very useful conclusions were reached. The consultations were carried on with good will. That would be a happy precedent to follow. I can assure the Prime Minister that we are not in the least anxious to hamper or trip up the Government or to obstruct its programme. All that we are anxious for is that some understanding should be reached. Failing such an understanding, we shall feel bound to defend the rights of private Members and to vote against the Motion.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I am very reluctant to address the House to-day, after having taken up a few minutes yesterday, but I feel impelled to make a protest against the Motion now under consideration. It has fallen like a bombshell upon us. We had heard rumours that the Government might require all the time of the House during this Session, but it is only when the Session has opened that we find this Motion on the Order Paper to take the time of private Members. It is not treating the House fairly to try and carry a Motion of this far-reaching importance without giving a little more time for consideration, and without allowing the House to see the Measures which are given as the reason for this very drastic Motion, and to form a conclusion whether the proposal of the Government is a wise one. I agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) that before we make sacrifices we ought to be sure that there will be ample discussion for that vastly important Measure, the Government of India Bill.
What is there in the other Measures so controversial as to make it necessary for the Government to encroach on the rights of private Members? As the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has pointed out, the other Bills will go to Committees upstairs in the ordinary way. I am not one of those who think that it is vital that private Members in every Session should be 118 able to bring in Bills and to have them discussed. That principle is the least valuable of the rights which we are now asked to sacrifice. What I look upon with very great concern is the proposal that during the whole of this Session private Members shall be deprived of any right whatsoever of bringing forward Motions to discuss subjects of vast importance, which cannot be reached in the ordinary procedure of the House on the proposals of the Government, and which do not attract the Opposition by way of Vote of Censure or otherwise. I look upon that as a very serious and most unnecessary encroachment upon the rights of Parliament. If it be not too late, I suggest that the Government should seriously consider meeting the case by allowing a limited number of Wednesday afternoons or Wednesday evenings to private Members for the introduction of Motions. I do not ask that the whole of the privileges of private Members should be maintained, in view of the statement that has been made by the Prime Minister, but I do suggest that on Wednesday afternoons or Wednesday evenings private Members should be allowed to bring forward Motions, if they have been fortunate in the ballot. In the absence of any kind of concession or consideration, I can only say that if the question goes to a Division I shall very reluctantly find myself obliged to register my vote as a protest against this very drastic proceeding at this period of the Session.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
I have a great deal of sympathy with the last point raised by the right hon. and gallant Member, but I have no sympathy whatever with the attitude of the Opposition in this matter. Surely, if there be a complete waste of time it must be a private Bill brought in by a Member of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it has no hope at all of being passed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is bound to be opposed by those who are against the Opposition. I am nervous in speaking on this matter because my experience is so short—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—but in the present Parliament I do not think that any private Member's Bill of any substance introduced by a member of the Opposition has been successful. Apart from that, I do not think there is much in the complaint of the Opposition to- 119 day of not having an opportunity for bringing forward private Member's Motions. If there arises any point to which they want to draw attention, they can always do it by a Vote of Censure, and that is something which supporters of the Government cannot do.
The whole sacrifice is really being asked from supporters of the Government. Those of us who think that England is the mainstay of democracy against dictatorship must feel nervous about any suggestion of an encroachment upon the rights of private Members, but I do not think that such fears come in in this case. We are really faced with this position: "Do we want to spend our time considering comparatively unimportant Measures or do we want to carry out the work outlined in the Gracious Speech?" I have looked at the list of private Members' Bills which were successful in the last two years. Only 12 of them were passed, including the False Oaths Act, the Trout Act, the Registration of Births Act and the Firearms (Amendment) Act. I agree that these may be useful Bills introduced by private Members, but it would not be right to postpone such Measures as those relating to housing, the distressed areas, the Government of India, and shipping for the sake of calling attention to little Measures.
I am not nearly so happy so far as Motions on Wednesdays are concerned. I have looked up the list of Motions proposed during the past year, and I find that the questions considered included shipping, air defence, Empire development, the fishing industry, Japanese competition and road accidents. These are important questions, and since that time most of them have led to legislation or will lead to legislation in the future. Of course, on a Motion no action is taken, and it is only a question of talk. We want action, but it must be action along the lines of supporters of the Government. I believe the Wednesday Motions give a very good opportunity for supporters of the Government to voice their views before a Bill is drafted, which gives a much better chance of their views being produced in the Bill than by way of Amendments, once the Government have introduced the Bill. Moreover, the discussion of these Motions gives the Government an opportunity of gauging 120 public opinion on these Measures. The Government are depriving us of an opportunity of voicing our views and depriving themselves of an opportunity of learning what their supporters desire. In return for what we are giving up, might I ask the Government to consider Amendments put forward by their own supporters a little more sympathetically than they have been doing lately in the case of the Betting and Lotteries Act? I am sure that that is the best way of keeping the Government in step with their own supporters both in the House and in the country.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. ALBERY
When I first saw this Motion on the Order Paper I felt, as a private Member, a considerable amount of resentment. During the 10 years that I have been in the House the position of a private Member has tended to deteriorate. There is a, constant endeavour to hasten legislation, and it is almost impossible for the average private Member to take an intelligent interest or an active part in the legislation which goes through. Amendments which are put down by private Members to Bills are not called for the most part, and, therefore, a proposal to take away the time of private Members during the whole of the Session is a drastic encroachment on their rights. It may be argued that the rights that are now enjoyed by private Members are not the most suitable in form. There may be a case for altering them, but I hold the view that the position of a private Member in this House is a, matter of supreme importance to the country. The position which Parliament will hold in the estimation of the country depends not upon the Government so much as it does upon the status of the private Member. If you destroy that status you go a long way to destroy Parliament and Parliamentary institutions. This is the process that has been adopted in other countries which has led to the establishment of dictatorships.
Apart from one's private feelings on the matter, and I do not think that a case has been made out for the Motion at this early stage of the Session, there are other reasons why the Motion is undesirable. It seems to me that to put aside one or two days a week for private Members' business, that is an interruption of public business, has many great 121 advantages which ought to be seriously considered. In my opinion, public business is much better done when it is occasionally interrupted; it is certainly much better done than when it is constantly rushed along at full speed. There is no excuse for rushing legislation except that of a purely temporary nature in a case of emergency. During the comparatively short time that I have been in the House I have seen much legislation pass this Chamber in a faulty condition. It would have been much better if more time had been devoted to it. I do not think it is helpful to try and accelerate legislation to the extent that has been the case in recent years. Too much legislation is introduced, and then the Government find that the only way to deal with it is to destroy our Parliamentary procedure upon which the traditions of the House are based. The suggestion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman opposite seems to me to be a good one, and if the Government would adopt it some of us would be much appeased. Is it not possible for the Government to allow private Members to have Wednesdays for a time and then see how they get on with their business? If it becomes necessary to take the whole time of the House there would not in that case be so great an objection. Personally, I do not think it would be necessary, and I cannot believe that any section in the House is going to play about in an obstructive manner on a Measure so important as Indian constitutional reform.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Commander BOWER
I am one of those private Members who is in his first Parliament, who has not spoken more than half-a-dozen times and on every occasion has assiduously followed the advice given by Mr. Speaker and has not spoken for more than 10 or 12 minutes. That is more than can be said for a, great many hon. Members. Lately certain right hon. Members, who have hitherto been content to attend once a month or so and speak for over an hour, have been more frequent in their attendance; possibly they are in training for future events. That means, of course, that back bench Members are going to have even less chance than before of taking part in general Debates. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has described the Government majority as a great battering ram which 122 the Government can bring into operation by just pressing a button. That may be so, but what is going to happen when that battering ram is whittled down and the shattered remnants of a lost legion sitting opposite suddenly have an accession of strength? It seems to me that in such a case the course of legislation will be even more difficult than it is now, and that it will be even more necessary for the Government to take away private Members' time.
We who have so very few chances of speaking in this House do value these opportunities very much. In my opinion some of the most useful and constructive Debates which have taken place have been on Wednesdays on private Members' Motions and on Fridays on private Members' Bills. Some of those Motions have led already, and are still leading, to legislation. This privilege of ours should be jealously guarded. I have not been long enough in the House to know whether or not we are losing our privileges, but it appears to me that the tendency of the modern age is to restrict and whittle down the privileges of the private Member. We must prevent that going too far. I hope the Prime Minister will be able to meet our views in some respects, especially as we have given him such loyal support. I myself have always voted for the Government even when they have done foolish things, and have only voted against them, rarely, when they have done abjectly foolish things. I hope the Prime Minister will meet the wishes of those of his supporters who speak so seldom and vote so often.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I desire to support the appeal that has been made to the Government. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) referred to the newer and younger Members of the House, and it would be unfortunate if the views of the newer and younger Members of the House were those represented by the remarks of the hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray). The hon. Member used a phrase about unimportant Measures brought in by private Members. Who is to decide whether a Measure is unimportant or not? The whole crux of the issue is that the Motion leaves it entirely with the Government to decide whether a Measure can be regarded as important or otherwise. The hon. Member also referred 123 to the small Bills which have been passed on the introduction of a private Member. I have not a list with me, but I can give him one important Bill which has been passed on the introduction of a private Member; that is the Bill, it is now an Act, dealing with appeals to courts of quarter sessions from courts of summary jurisdiction. People who consider that they have been unjustly convicted by a court of summary jurisdiction can now obtain legal aid for appeal to quarter sessions. That may be considered a small matter, but, speaking from my own practical experience, it has been a great boon to may people who have been able to get a conviction quashed. But for this Act, carried through by a private Member, they would have been unjustly convicted and possibly unjustly imprisoned.
I have read the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday, and I listened with care to his statement to-day. I still think that we are entitled to further and better particulars regarding the programme of the Government. He gave us a list of Bills, but did not indicate how long they would take or whether they would be dealt with on the Floor of the House or by Committee upstairs. It is impossible for the House to decide how long the Housing Bill or the Tramp Shipping Bill is going to take. He referred to the India Bill which has not yet been drafted, and gave us to understand that it would take a great deal of Parliamentary time. We all agree, but surely the position of the Government amounts to nothing more than this, that they are very busy and, therefore, it is convenient to them to take private Members' time. There is no Session nowadays in which that statement might not be made. It could have been made with equal truth at the beginning of the last Session, in which we had to deal with the Unemployment Bill with a large number of Clauses. It may not be so important a Measure as the India Bill but it was a Measure upon which a larger number of Members were competent to speak.
The debates on the India Bill will rather take the form of a discussion between experts familiar with the Indian situation, and hon. Members who have no first hand knowledge of India will have to act rather in the capacity of a 124 jury and decide between the arguments on one side and the other. On the Unemployment Bill there was scarcely a Member who was not competent to take part in the Debate. After all, if there be more business than can be transacted in a normal Session, is it not a simple matter to prolong the Session? Even if we add to the 108 days up to the end of July the 21 days which are to be taken from private Members it would still be the third shortest Session in the last 10 years. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that we should return in September. If our business be so pressing, there is no reason why we should not go on for a week or two into August. There is at least one precedent for that. In the year 1909 the House not only sat through August and September, but until the 3rd of December without any Recess at all. If it were possible to do that on the Measures passed in 1909, it would be justifiable to do it on the India Bill and to complete the Bill without taking private Members' time.
It seems to me that this Motion raises issues much more serious to Members of this House than simply whether 21 days should or should not be given to private Members' Bills and Motions. For many years, I suppose, one of the principal features of our political history has been the decline of the private Member, and it is rather significant to notice the diminution in the proportion of private Members' Bills to Government Bills that have ultimately received the Royal Assent. Yesterday I looked at the figures, for the years 1895 to 1900, of Government Bills and private Members' Bills passed by this House. Striking an average over the whole of those six years, I find that on an average there were 45 Government Bills, that is public Bills, passed each Session, and 15 private Members' Bills. If you take the figures for the Session just completed you find that there were 59 Bills in all which received the Royal Assent, of which 51 were Government Bills and only eight were private Members' Bills. The eight is rather a higher number that we generally achieve nowadays in a Parliamentary Session. So only at the beginning of this century the proportion of private Members' Bills that passed was one in four, and now it is rather less than one in seven. When you take into account the enormously greater powers that can be 125 exercised by Ministers without coming to Parliament at all, it is obvious by how much the margin of action of the Government through legislation and other means can exceed any action promoted by private Members.
I suggest in all seriousness that this progressive eclipse of the private Member is not only an inconvenient thing for us and our constituents, but is a very dangerous thing for the future of Parliamentary Government in this country. There are two reasons for that. First of all there are, of course, various reasons why Parliamentary government has survived in this country better or in a more unchanged form than in almost any country; but one of the principal reasons is to be found in the activities of private Members in this House. I suppose that almost all Members of the House under modern conditions pay frequent visits to their constituencies. They hear the grievances of their constituents, very often the individual grievances, and they are able to come up and place those grievances either before the Ministers in their Departments, or possibly, if they think fit, to raise them in the House of Commons. So we have got this position which has developed in recent years, especially as a result of all the social legislation we have had, that the private Member in fact acts as a sort of liaison officer between the electorate and the Governmental machine. It is a feature which has not grown up in any other Parliamentary country. I believe it has been a contributory factor to the stability of Parliamentary institutions in these Islands.
Secondly, I suppose all of us endeavour to explain to our constituents from time to time what is happening at Westminster, and when we get the chance we also endeavour to explain at Westminster what is happening in our constituencies. The second function of the private Member nowadays is to act as an interpreter between the governors and the governed. Those are two functions which the Member of Parliament performs in this country and which, I think, are not performed to anything like the same extent in any other country. If the Government are going to pass proposals of this kind, not to deal with an immediate situation but to cover the whole of a Parliamentary Session, it inevitably follows that the Government are going to diminish the 126 opportunities, the authority and the usefulness of the private Member.
I am not one of those who take the view that there has been a very substantial decline in the prestige of Parliament. I believe that the authority of Parliament, and the regard in which it is held by the majority of electors, is very much greater still than many people imagine. But we ought not to blind ourselves to the fact that there are certain criticisms which are advanced, and legitimately advanced, of the working of Parliament at the present time. The most frequent criticism, which is heard not only at public meetings but from the man in the street, is that Members of this House are far too much under the control of the party Whips. The old gibe with which we are all familiar, which is referred to in the sentry's song in "Iolanthe," no doubt expressed some part of public opinion at that time. It certainly expresses what a great many people are thinking now. There are very many people who have come to visualise this House as a place where Members are driven into the Lobby like flocks of sheep, the Patronage Secretary acting as sheep-dog in chief. That is one of the most dangerous criticisms advanced against Parliamentary institutions to-day.
If we pass this Motion and if we destroy for a whole Session the opportunity of the private Member to raise subjects in which he and his constituents are interested, then inevitably we increase that feeling and add strength to that particular criticism. The main reason why Members from all political parties oppose this Motion is that, after all, it marks a further stage in the progressive subjugation of the Legislature to the Executive. Hon. Members opposite who follow the lead of the right hon. Member for Epping—I do not see many of them in their places—have coined a phrase "Yes Men." I think it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) who christened this Parliament a "rubber stamp Parliament." That particular tendency, though it may be unusually marked in this Parliament, is not confined to this Parliament alone. I think it has appeared in almost all the Parliaments that have sat here since the War.
The modern idea appears to be that the House of Commons is here merely to 127 register the decrees of the omnipotent Cabinet of the day. I submit that the duties of Parliament are not confined merely to pronouncing verdicts upon the legislation proposed by the Government that happens to be in power. There are two other functions which are quite as important. The first is that the House of Commons is a place where grievances can be raised and redress demanded, whether they be individual or collective grievances. Secondly, it is a place which is a national forum, where the various opinions held in the country can be expressed and ventilated. It will be a bad day for this House if ever the people of this country come to feel that many of the subjects in which they are most deeply interested are never discussed in this House. It does not in the least matter if we are described as a talking shop, as long as we talk about those things in which the people outside are interested. When we leave the business of the Session to be decided by the Government, when it is for the Government alone to decide what Measures or questions shall be debated, then we automatically assume that they know better than we do what interests the public. I believe that any assumption of that kind would be a mistake.
Let me give two examples of private Members' Motions that were discussed last Session. There was a Motion brought forward by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) on the subject of the widespread poverty. I believe that the speeches made on that Motion by Members in all quarters of the House aroused a great deal more interest in the country than the vast majority of Government Bills that were discussed last Session. An hon. Member on the Labour benches brought forward a Motion on the question of a retiring age in industry, And on that Motion we were able to discuss one of the vital questions of the future, the distribution of work and leisure. Most of us who represent industrial constituencies know that that question is one of the questions that profoundly interest the industrial electors. The only opportunity we had of discussing it was on Resolution brought forward by a private Member. In addition to that there are large numbers of vital questions which for one reason or another will never be brought forward by the Government of the day, 128 whatever party that Government happens to represent.
One of the hon. Members of the Labour party referred to the publication a few years ago of the Lord Chief Justice's book, "The New Despotism." One of the gravest features at the present time—I have the assent to this statement of many Members in all parts of the House—is the enormous increase in bureaucratic powers. It is nearly seven years since the Lord Chief Justice issued his warning as to the dangers of the new despotism. Two years ago we had the report of a Committee on Ministers' Powers. That committee included Members of all parties. It was a very strong committee, and it made very definite recommendations as to what should be done to check the advance of bureaucratic powers in this country. Although two years have elapsed this House has not once had an opportunity of debating that report, and it never will have an opportunity if the initiative is to be left to the Government of the day. In these days all Governments are far too much in the hands of their permanent officials to allow the discussion in this House of recommendations of that kind. The only opportunity we are ever likely to get of debating those highly important recommendations is if the matter is brought forward on a Resolution moved by a private Member.
We all realise the very heavy programme to be got through this Session, as in other Sessions, but I agree with some of my hon. Friends in the Conservative party in asking: Need all the time be taken? Is it not possible to wait until the India Bill has been drafted and put into our hands, and for the Government then to come, and, if necessary, to ask for some part of private Members' time to be given up? If we have to sacrifice either Fridays or Wednesdays I agree with other speakers that I would rather sacrifice the Fridays. I think it was Lord Balfour who said that he never admired private Members' legislation. But subjects of great interest to the public outside, subjects which would never be raised by the Government of the day are brought forward on Wednesday on private Members' Motions. I think we shall diminish the interest that the people outside take in the proceedings of this 129 House, and that we shall be gradually whittling away the prestige and authority of this House, if we permit this Motion to be passed to-day.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
This has been a remarkable Debate. It has been well-developed from all sides of the House, but with the exception of the speech of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), there has not been a speech—since that of the right hon. Gentleman the Mover—in favour of the Motion. Appeals have been made from all quarters to the Prime Minister and the Government for what must appear to be very reasonable and small concessions, but with what response? Just as we were told recently when we asked for concessions in connection with a Bill creating greater facilities for gambling, "The Government have decided," so it appears again to-day "that the Government have decided." That was the phrase with which we were met again and again during recent discussions by the Home Secretary. The Government have decided and whatever private Members in all parts of the House may think, the jackboot of an enormous majority is to be placed on the necks of the Parliamentary representatives of the people.
When the Prime Minister began his speech to-day there can scarcely have been an eye in the House which was not suffused with tears. The right hon. Gentleman said that a most unpleasant task had been imposed upon him and that only a sense of sheer necessity made him move such a Motion. Then he went on to ask, in excuse, could the Government postpone either the India Bill or necessary social legislation. The Prime Minister has probably studied logic more recently than I have. Years ago when I studied logic a premise of that kind was known as a suggestio falsi. Those are not the alternatives before the House. It is quite absurd to say that either the India Bill or necessary social legislation must he postponed if the Government do not get this Motion. There is time available for both. As has been said, it is undesirable that, day after day, we should be engaged in pushing forward a complicated Measure of constitutional reform, such as we are told the India Bill will be. It is far better to have an interval here and there during which we can turn to 130 matters in which the great bulk of the people are more interested, and about which they understand more than they do about Indian Constitutional Reform. Such intervals provide a valuable safety valve. Tempers which may have become frayed or intellects which may have been jaded will then have opportunities of refreshing themselves, while we deal with such little measures of social legislation as may have been overlooked by this great Government of all the talents.
There is, however, a much more serious grievance on the part of private Members in relation to this Motion. During my 16 years' experience of the House I have never known a Prime Minister to demand private Members' time for the discussion of a Bill which had not been introduced. What right has the Prime Minister to say that a Bill is to be introduced, that it will probably contain 300 Clauses, and that he must take private Members' time to deal with it? We do not know what is in the Bill yet. Unless Members of Parliament are to be mere ciphers, unless we are merely to register every whim and caprice of the Government of the day, we are entitled to see the Bill before agreeing to such a Motion. How otherwise can we make up our minds that the Bill is so complicated that private Members' time will be necessary for dealing with it? I say that it is prostituting the independence of private Members to say that before they have even seen the Bill they are to give up their privileges in this way.
Suppose that the Bill has 300 Clauses, a great many Clauses in a Bill of this kind will probably require no discussion at all. There will be many Clauses dealing with constitutional matters which will be non-contentious. In connection with a new constitution, certain provisions will have to be made which will not be of a controversial nature and it is idle to suggest that there will be acute controversy on all the 300 Clauses of the Bill. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that there have been far more controversial Measures in the past. There were such Measures as the Home Rule Bill and the Government of Ireland Bill, introduced at a time when there was talk of revolution at home unless they were passed. Also at that time there was a keen Opposition criticising every movement of the Government of the day. 131 To-day we have heard that the Socialist and Liberal Oppositions are, generally speaking, well-disposed towards the India Bill and that they will give facilities for its passage although they do not agree with all its proposals so far as they know what those proposals are to be. The Government are not in the same difficulty as previous Governments were in with regard to such Measures as the Home Rule Bill and the Government of Ireland Bill. Yet they propose to take private Members' time even before the Bill has been introduced or printed.
I hope that the House will resist the present Motion. I hope that hon. Members will not only make speeches upon it as has been done to-day from every part of the House, but that they will go into the Lobby against this encroachment on private Members' privileges. This is more important than a mere question of a number of days being required. Parliament is one of the most precious institutions of the country, and if the prestige of Parliament is undermined we shall be on the high road to a dictatorship. Indeed it would appear that we are on the high road to dictatorship. I was amazed at the Prime Minister taking credit recently for the fact that this country had not fallen into the dictatorial habits adopted by other nations. What has happened is the last few weeks in this House? In the period between our re-assembly on 30th October and 16th November, I think I am right in saying that the Eleven o'clock Rule was suspended on every possible occasion, with perhaps one exception, in order to force unpopular legislation through the House in the early hours of the morning and without proper discussion. I and some of my hon. Friends were interested in the particular Measure affected, and Amendments which we were told were merely drafting Amendments turned out to be so important that the Government had to take them back for further consideration. Had those Amendments not been considered, even in the late hours to which we were forced to sit, there would have been grave flaws in that Measure.
Then, on the last day before Prorogation we had an alteration of the Standing Orders meant to give the Government of the day more power. The Chairmen of Standing Committees are now to have the power of selecting Amendments pre- 132 sumably so as to force through Government Measures and further stifle discussion by private Members. The late Mr. T. P. O'Connor who was Father of the House, declared that legislation was not the prime function of the House: that it was also the grand inquest of the nation and the place where grievances could be stated. If we accept the idea that when the Government of the day decide to go forward with certain reforms as they call them, those Measures are to be pushed through regardless of private Members' rights, then it will mean the end of Parliamentary Government. Some man or some body of men will get up one day and declare, "We are not going to stand this. Parliament is no longer a place of debate and a place for the free expression of the people's will. It has simply become a method of authorising the decrees of dictators while preserving the semblance of Parliamentary form." When an issue of that kind is raised it will be the end of Parliament, and if the British Parliament is discredited, then Parliamentary Government throughout the world will be discredited. Finally, as the first business of this new Session, the Prime Minister, before any Bills have been introduced, announces that the Government have decided that all private Members' time must be taken. The point is a simple one. Far more important that any question of the number of days, is the question of the rights of private Members and the prestige of Parliament. It is the duty of every Member of Parliament to be jealous not only of his own reputation but of the reputation of Parliament as a whole and of the constituency he has the honour to represent.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
The Prime Minister represents an industrial constituency in which, as in nearly every other industrial constituency, conditions at present are not too good. He knows that Members of the Labour party, whether they have been in Opposition or on the Government side of the House, have always used the private Members time available to them for the purpose of calling attention to certain outstanding grievances affecting large sections of the population. If this Motion is carried it means that there will be no opportunities of doing so during 133 the coming Session. On Supply Days we cannot discuss anything which involves new legislation and we have always looked to the Debates on Wednesdays and Fridays for opportunities of expressing our views on certain matters. An hon. Member behind me said that very few important Bills had been passed as a result of the initiative of private Members. During the last Session, however, there was one Bill which was very important, although not very big, dealing with workmen's compensation, and we had expected that in the coming Session there would be an opportunity of introducing a further Bill dealing with workmen's compensation in order to call attention to what is taking place in the country. The Prime Minister knows that there are tens of thousands of people today who are totally incapacitated and yet are receiving as low as 21s. a week compensation. Many of them are compelled to go to the Poor Law authorities to get the means to live. The right hon. Gentleman ought to know that there is a great volume of opinion in the country in favour of new legislation on workmen's compensations.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to be in a position to tell his constituents, when he is asked when the Government are going to deal with this matter, that as head of the Government he has deprived us of the opportunity even of discussing the matter in the House of Commons. I pay this tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, that he has always taken a keen interest in the Miners Minimum Wage Act. In 1912 I happened to be at the Miners Conference when the right hon. Gentleman came over to the Westminster Palace Hotel from this House and gave us his views on the Minimum Wage Bill then before the House. Whether he knows it or not, that Act has been a most important piece of legislation to the coalfields. Indeed I regard it as one of the most important things done for the miner for a, number of years. But experience has shown that it is in need of revision and I want the Prime Minister also to be in a position to state to a mining audience at Seaham that, even though they are suffering from low wages, even though the Minimum Wage Act, needs revision, he has deprived us of the opportunity of discussing those grievances in the House. That is the truth and I 134 challenge the right hon. Gentleman with regard to it. I was impressed with his interest in this matter in 1912. I would go further and say that if the right hon. Gentleman consulted his real opinion, he would say himself that the Act needs to be amended. There has just been an arbitrators award in South Wales which will not give 8d. a day advance in some cases, and in some cases would mean 7s. or 8s. for seven and a-half hours underground.
Have we who have been sent here from mining localities to be refused permission to discuss these matters here? The right hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of himself in certain respects. There is another aspect that I want him to remember. Time after time, on Wednesday evenings in particular, mining Members have put down Motions dealing with accidents in mines, and surely the right hon. Gentleman will regard that subject as of importance and will agree with me when I say that the accident rate is far too high in the mines of this country. When the statistics are out at the end of this year, we shall find that there have been at least 1,000 fatal accidents in the mines this year. The Secretary for Mines, only a few days before the Gresford disaster, wrote an article in which he said, "Thank heaven, the day of big explosions is over." A few days later we had Gresford, with its 264 fatalities. There is an inquiry taking place into that disaster, and therefore I cannot comment upon it, except to say that as a result of that inquiry, we on these benches may want an opportunity to show that new legislation is needed to deal with underground conditions. I think the inquiry, when finished, will show that after the experience of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, from 1911 to 1934, there is room for new legislation dealing with certain aspects of the matter, but we shall be debarred from discussing it in this House because the Government are taking all the private Members' time.
§ Mr. SMITH
The Prime Minister is a most curious individual. He shakes his head at almost everything, and says "No, no, no," but I challenge him to show this House where, if we want to discuss any matter involving new legislation, we can do so if this Motion is carried. He knows that on Supply days we cannot discuss 135 matters involving new legislation, and he also knows that the Estimates for the Mines Department are brought in usually at about a quarter past eight in the evening and that there is not more than two hours' discussion on them. I, therefore, submit that we on these benches cannot allow this Motion to go through without protest. As the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) said, Parliament ought to be made the place for ventilating grievances, and even if you do not get them remedied, you at least partially satisfy the people outside who have the grievances, in so far as you are able to give them a ventilation of their point of view. I appeal to the Prime Minister to reconsider this Motion. There has scarcely been a speech in this House today from his own side in favour of it, and if the right hon. Gentleman cannot agree to restore the Fridays, let him at least allow Wednesday evenings to continue to be utilised for the discussion of matters of importance raised by private Members.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
Everyone who heard the extraordinarily able speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) must realise that this process of gradually whittling away the powers of private Members is a thing which the House of Commons has to face. It is a matter of supreme importance that Members of this House should be able to maintain direct contact between their constituents and the Executive of the day. The old idea that Parliament was mainly for the purpose of criticising the Executive has gone, but there was a great deal in that idea, and I would appeal to the Government to look at this question not merely from the point of view of the Government and the Opposition. When you have a particularly weak Opposition—weak, that is, in numbers—it is still more important that the ordinary private Members' rights should be preserved in every way, but I hope that the proposition of the Leader of the Opposition, that the Government should agree not to do anything in this matter for, say, a month, will not be accepted, because it is essential that the Government should make up their minds and act. Surely, however, the Government might give a certain number of evenings or Fridays, distributed over a 136 wide period, not just for a month or two—say, every other Wednesday evening—when we could ballot for Motions bringing forward matters of real importance. Instead of a ballot, I would rather have a Motion with the names of 50 Members behind it, and give each Member one vote in the Session to do that, and that only. I believe that by that method you might get a series of Debates of immense value.
I realise the difficulty of the time-table, and I think the Prime Minister is extraordinarily optimistic if he thinks he will get the India Bill through, as well as the other Measures that he mentioned, in 43 days. It is essential that the Indian Measure in particular should be given the widest possible discussion in this House, and it would be a very bad thing, here, in the country, and overseas, if that Measure were in any way obstructed or closured or if the Debate upon it were curtailed. If there were any idea of doing that, I would rather sacrifice all private Members' time than have that happen. The Prime Minister said that this Motion was not the fault of the Government. At any rate, it is not the fault of the private Members, but it is the private Members who are to be punished. Supposing the Cabinet in their wisdom had said that, instead of rising somewhere towards the end of July, we should sit and take these important Measures, as we did the other day, and put them on the Statute Book, and should then come back in the middle of October, or whatever date they might choose, they would have had a considerable amount of opinion behind them. Although I am not an expert, I know that there is a widespread feeling in this House that the Government are making a great tactical blunder in not proceeding on those lines.
You have some independence in this House, and if you happen on these occasions to say what you think on behalf of the private Members, it is no good saying it unless you say exactly what is in your mind. The Government are gradually whittling away the private Members' time and powers. Further, every time they suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule, they take away from the private Member, between 11 and 11.30, a very valuable occasion on which to debate grievances, and if the Government will make no other concession and 137 give no other assurance, I would like them to say that they will do everything in their power at least to see that they do not suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule more than is absolutely necessary. I would like them to agree to restrict the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule so that private Members would have at least two days a week preserved to them. Also, if the Government possibly could, I wish they would meet the House on this occasion not necessarily by giving time for private Members' Bills, but at any rate by giving some days between now and July for the discussion of matters which a considerable block of Members might think of importance.
I would emphasise one further point. The country realises how ill-balanced this House of Commons is. It is very bad to take away the rights of one section of the House, namely, the Opposition, but with the lack of balance that you have to-day in the House, if you take away from 400 or 500 Members the power which they have enjoyed for many generations—misused sometimes, but used well at others—and do that right at the beginning of the Session, you are doing something which will definitely weaken Parliament in the eyes of the country, because you are saying that we have not the capacity to come here and put our points clearly to the Government. When you have a Parliament which is so unbalanced and one-sided as this Parliament is, you should do everything in your power to encourage the initiative of the private Member, so that that initiative may in due course have its effect upon the Government of the day.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I am in substantial agreement with almost everything that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has said. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said he did not think the Prime Minister had made out his case for refusing private Members any day for ballots and Motions, but I think the right hon. Gentleman did make out his case for his 108 days. I agree that those 108 days will be very fully occupied, but at the same time I do not think it is wise to ask private Members of this House to forgo all their rights in this connection. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) indicated that he was very dis- 138 appointed with the private Members of this House, and particularly, I understood, with Members of the Conservative party who are supporting the Government. He indicated that we go through the Lobbies like a lot of sheep and do not listen very much to the Debates. I should, however, like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, if we are sheep, we have the privilege, unusual perhaps among sheep, of choosing our own shepherd; and I believe that, it is possible for private Members to bring effective criticism to bear upon the Government. The hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) made a very interesting speech, and I am sure the Government will be particularly pleased with his assurance to them of a rapid passage for the Government of India Bill.
I think it is unwise to ask us to-day to forgo all our rights with regard to Bills and Motions. Various hon. Members have pointed out that very valuable and interesting subjects are often discussed on Wednesdays, and that frequently valuable Measures for the reform of existing legislation are passed through as the result of Bills introduced on Fridays. There is a large number of what I may call crank Bills, or at least very controversial Bills, which are talked out and which do in effect waste time, but some very useful private Members' Bills have been passed, and I was myself instrumental in passing one reform of an existing anomaly. I believe that the Government have latterly been asking a little too much of their supporters. During the passage of the Betting and Lotteries Act we were asked to support all the various Government Amendments and the Bill itself. I have talked to dozens of my friends in the House of Commons and I have found only two who were in agreement with the Bill as a whole and thought it ought to have been introduced. The Government asked our support of this Measure and by doing so created considerable discontent among their own supporters.
Latterly there has been growing up what I think is a rather unfortunate tendency on the part of the Government, namely, a tendency to look upon the House of Commons as consisting of the Government and the Opposition, whereas it consists of the Government and its supporters, and the Opposition. I have often noticed during the short time that I have 139 been in the House that some of the best criticisms of Governmental action, frequently leading to change in the project of the Government, have been levelled, not by the official Opposition or the Liberal Opposition, but by Conservative back bench Members. It is imprudent to ignore the private Member and to give the impression to the country that the Government are able to carry any Measure they like to force through the House, and that the only criticism that will in fact be listened to will be that which comes from the Opposition benches.
I ask the Prime Minister whether he can possibly consider a suggestion I wish to make. He admitted that the 108 days will be fully taken up. Would it not be possible to allot a few days to private Members and to carry on the Session, if necessary, a little longer into August, or to give a certain amount of time in October or in September when we come back from the Summer Recess? That would give the impression to the country that the Government do not wish to dragoon the House of Commons, that they have sympathy with the rights of private Members, and that they believe that the rights of private Members should be upheld. Such a concession would, I feel, go far to allay the alarm and the discontent, not only in the country, but among the Government supporters in the House.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I am sorry to have to detain the House for a few minutes, but I happen to be particularly interested in the matter which is before us, because I have been concerned in the last five years with a number of private Bills, some of which have been passed into law. My pleasant proximity to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) must not imply concurrence in his views. I am bound to say that, on a review of the business which the Government are proposing to deal with during the coming Session, I think that some such Motion as this is necessary, for the business will require a great deal of time. The main subject of the Government, the India Bill, is of special constitutional importance. Those of us whose recollections can go back far enough will remember that the first ministerial act of my right hon. Friend 140 the Member for Epping was to introduce the Government of Transvaal Bill in 1906, and that took some time. The last Government of India Act took a good deal of time, and it is therefore right for the Government to anticipate that they will require a very considerable time during the coming Session for the new India Bill.
Allowing that the Government really want a great deal of time, however, this proposal will cut away the whole of the opportunities of private Members during the coming Session. I suggest to the Prime Minister that there is an area of legislation which waits and waits because no Government can take it up. It may be of a highly controversial nature, but it is none the less required. No Government can take it up and it is unreasonable to expect them to initiate that sort of legislation unless the volume of public opinion is so insistent that they are compelled to do so. There is not a Member of the House who has not received numerous communications about the Bill to which I would like to refer in passing as illustrating the submission I am making. There have been 20 years' delay in giving effect to the recommendations of a Royal Commission in regard to matrimonial matters, and it has resulted in an accumulation of private grievances of an amazing character. I am not using the language of exaggeration when I say that the knowledge that the House is to be deprived of legislative opportunities for dealing with these matters for nearly another year will strike terror and anger in hundreds of households. From that point of view I ask to be excused for the strong feeling which I show. I am sorry to see the hilarity on the face of the Dominions Secretary, for this is a very serious matter.
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I was not smiling at the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The right hon. Gentleman is always smiling at something or other, and I was afraid he was smiling at me. Last year a similar Motion was made by the Lord Privy Seal, and it was pointed out to him that it would be fair to give the Government the time they desired if the Government would allow urgent private legislation to be con- 141 sidered if time remained on the conclusion of Government business. The right hon. Gentleman, in his genial way, said, "Most certainly, if there be time after our requirements are satisfied, it will be reasonable for the House to proceed, if it desires, to private business."
What happened? This is no laughing matter, and I venture to say that no proceedings in this House caused more derision in the country than the occurence to which I am about to refer. On certain days, when there was plenty of time to proceed with urgent private business, there were arranged "counts out"; and on one occasion on a Friday the House rose at 1.30 when the next Order on the Paper was the very Bill to which I have referred. There were then ample opportunities for proceeding with it. Thanks to a vigilant Press, that circumstance was noted, and the House did not came out of it very well. If on Fridays Government business be completed at a time at which it is possible to go on with private Members' business, may we ask the Government seriously to consider, when this system has been tried, making some sort of amendment to the present proposal? Otherwise, I am bound to say with the greatest respect that a Government which allows an accumulation of serious grievances not covered by Government legislation, a, Government which takes the whole time for practically a year and leaves these accumulated grievances untouched, is taking a responsibility which I am sorry to see the National Government assume.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I would like to support the Government on this Motion, although with very great regret. No private Member can see a proposal of so far-reaching a character as this and support it except with regret. At the same time, I think the arguments, in favour of the course which the Government have taken on the whole outweigh those against it. In the first instance, there is the matter of time. In view of the programme which the Government are putting before the House, it seems a matter of sheer physical necessity to take private Members' time if that programme is to be fulfilled. I am not going to say that in all respects the management of business by the Government has been happy. For example, we are told that a good deal of time will 142 have necessarily to be devoted to the Bill which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is bringing in on the subject of overcrowding. Overcrowding was just as bad at the time the last Rent Restrictions Act was brought in as it is to-day—no less and no greater—and had the question been comprehensively dealt with at that time there would not now be the necessity to bring in an overcrowding Bill.
Although I think it would be out of order to refer to the matter on this occasion, I would like to give my support—and I suppose support would come from all parts of the House—to the proposal which was put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) that this and all other Governments in similar circumstances should have a policy committee, or some committee which would try to co-relate the business which they bring before Parliament. The method of dealing with legislation, I consider, without making accusations against those responsible for legislation, is ragged. We have one Bill after another dealing with the same subject. No sooner is one Bill passed than a Minister comes forward and says that another Bill is necessary. That applies to other Governments as well as to this Government. In the past subjects may not have been so big as they are to-day, but I cannot help having a feeling at the back of my mind—I do not want to make an attack on my two very genial right hon. Friends who lead the House—that in the past leaders of Governments managed their business better than the present leaders.
The second reason why I am prepared to support the Government is that, frankly, I wish to support them if, as I hope will be the case, they adopt the proposals of the Committee whose report has been placed on the Table to-day. If they do adopt those proposals, no doubt the time which will be taken up by a consideration of them will certainly not be less than that mentioned by the Prime Minister—although I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has made rather a present of an argumentative point to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) by announcing the exact number of Clauses which will appear in the Bill.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I am glad to have that assurance. We may take it, then, that the Government have not finally made up their minds in regard to the form of the Bill. The third reason why I am supporting the Government is that there has been a failure by private Members to take full advantage of the time offered to them. I do not think that that failure is wholly explained away by the circumstances to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) referred. I certainly share any indignation which he may have if at any time the official Whips or anyone else attempted to obtain a "count out" of the House when business could have been brought on in which he and others were interested. I do not know whether that be so or not. In justice to the Whips it must be remembered that a count out is possible only when fewer than 40 Members are willing to come in and take part in the proceedings, and if private Members are not ready to support their colleagues who bring forward Bills, even if they are in disagreement with them, the whole of the blame cannot be placed on the Whips. The fact, and it is a notorious fact, that private Members have not on all occasions taken full advantage of the time given does not afford real ground for saying that the time given to private Members under modern conditions must always be valueless and unfructuous. I do not think that is so at all.
I very much regret that the Government and, as far as I know, the House as a whole, are not willing to accept proposals which were placed before the Procedure Committee which sat in the last Parliament by a number of those who have been Members of this House for some years—by my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), by, I think, my Noble Friend the junior Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), and certainly by myself. We suggested that there should be provided what I may call an ad hoc occasion for private Members to raise grievances, provided they were substantial and not merely personal ones, or to bring to the attention of the House and the Govern- 144 ment some subject of immediate and live interest which is agitating the public and the Press outside, but which has not been discussed in this House except at Question Time.
We were told by one or two distinguished pressmen, including at least one well-known figure in what may be called—I must not define it too closely—press circles in this House, that it would be a real aid to those newspapers which do their best in face of considerable difficulty to give fair space and fair attention to Debates in this House if the House would debate matters when they are of live and immediate interest. Those experts whom we consulted pointed out that again and again a question arose quite suddenly, as questions do in these exciting, critical times in which we live, and that unless the Opposition asked for a day for a Vote of Censure, or unless it happened that there was a Supply Day on which the matter could be raised, it might not be discussed in this House for weeks and weeks, save by question and answer.
What happens? All the critical people outside the House—and there are quite a large number of them; there is almost a conspiracy to suggest that this House is worn out and useless—take advantage of this opportunity to renew their criticism. They say, "Here is a live question which every one is talking about, and what is the House talking about? Some pettifogging matter in which no one outside feels any interest." As far as I know, every other democratic House which is at all comparable to ours has that system, which may be called the interpellation system. They certainly have it in the French Chamber, and in the American House of Representatives and in the Senate. It could be quite well arranged here without taking from the Government any undue amount of time or occupying more time than is given up now. It would be out of order to elaborate now the proposal which was put before the Procedure Committee, but we suggested that on two or three days a week, immediately after questions, there should be a Debate of not more than half-an-hour or 40 minutes when such matters as I have indicated could be discussed in a way in which they never can be discussed by question and answer. The Government themselves are beginning to realise this, because there 145 has grown up the extraordinary innovation of a Minister, at the end of questions, and by leave of the House, because there is no provision for it under the Rules, making a long statement; but when he has made his statement it is not possible for Mr. Speaker to give permission to hon. Members to discuss it, and sometimes it is not even possible for them to ask questions. What I suggest could be perfectly well done—though I think the majority would probably not agree with me in this—by taking away some of the opportunities which private Members now have to ask questions. If it would enable the Government to grant this concession I would reduce Question Time by a quarter of an hour. That proposal would have the effect of bringing to bear on the Government the weight—which they could accept or reject—of the collective view of the House.
There is another point which I wish to bring forward, and in doing so I need hardly say that I make no reflection on Mr. Speaker or any previous occupant of the Chair. When I first came into Parliament 30 years ago the step of moving the Adjournment on matters of definite and urgent public importance was resorted to to a far greater extent than it is to-day. When the then Leader of the House—I forget whether it was Mr. Gladstone or Sir William Harcourt—brought forward the Standing Order in question, he explained that it was intended to prevent the abuse of the Adjournment Motion to which a certain party no longer represented in the House had resorted when they were obstructing the general business of the House. But at the same time—and this is the important point—he made it clear that it was not intended to take away from the House the right of discussing urgent matters. Anyone who looks over the number of occasions on which the Adjournment has been successfully moved in the last 10 or 15 years and compares it with the first 20 years after the Rule was brought in will see that there has been a very great change indeed. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) has raised a rather delicate point. I am merely calling attention to the change. I think that something along the lines which I have suggested will have to be done if the great body of private Members are to retain both the right and 146 the obligation which they have of bringing matters of importance to the notice of the Government. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to give me a detailed answer on the point on this occasion, but I hope the Government will give sympathetic consideration to it.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I listened, as always, with great interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), for he has a longer experience of this House than most of us, and has always taken a great interest in its Procedure, especially from the point of view of the private Member. There is always a certain amount of unreality about these Debates because any of us who have either led the House or the Opposition have spoken on either side and indiscriminately; and the Leader of the Labour party who, whatever we may think about him, is an extremely honest man in this House, said last night that it was because he feels so strongly on this matter that he would vote against the Motion; but he added, what few men in his position would have said, "Though I am bound to say I am doing the opposite of what I should do if I were sitting on the opposite side of the House."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has been seen in many capacities during his life, and is sometimes a little apt to forget some of the earlier episodes in his brilliant career. I may remind him and the House that in the last 15 years the whole time of private Members has been taken on four occasions, and on three of those occasions he and I were both Members of the Government that took it—in 1921, 1922 and 1928. Four times the private Members have had their time untouched, virginal and unsullied; but in all the other seven years a certain amount of time has been taken away, sometimes more and sometimes less. All the same I can assure hon. Members that, as all of us have been private Members in our time, we do sympathise with and understand the Debates that take place on these occasions and we rejoice that they should take place, because it is only right that they should. When a Government has to take this grave step it is quite right that it should be challenged, and that its action should be justified, and that is what I hope to do.
147 There was one matter to which the Prime Minister alluded when speaking of all the business before the House to which I wish to refer, because he did not make this particular point. In the Gracious Speech it is stated that "if time permits" we are going to deal with so-and-so. There is one very important Bill which has that consideration implied and attached to it, and that is a Bill for dealing with what, I think, is a most urgent and difficult matter—the problem of ribbon development. I think it is essential that the House should get down to that question. But I just say that by the way. I would say something on another point raised, I believe, by the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight), and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith). They are naturally very apprehensive that when all the time of private Members is taken they may find themselves barred from raising questions of great interest to them and, possibly, of great interest to a much wider circle in the community. I recognise that fact, but I would point out that there are certain occasions when subjects can be raised. They can be brought up on the four Adjournments which will come before Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and the Summer. They can be raised on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and also on the Appropriation Bill.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am coming to that. That is a good point, and it is quite true. That leads to what I was going to say. With the Patronage Secretary I have been most carefully through every day to the end of July or the beginning of August to examine the business, and we have set aside a few days for such contingencies as the discussion of matters of real importance, if the Opposition or anyone will approach the Patronage Secretary on the point. We are perfectly prepared to give, I cannot say at the moment how many days—it will depend entirely on how the other business goes—but we have not shut our eyes to that point, and we realised the importance of it.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Oh, no; certainly not. That is another thing, I would like to say 148 one word about a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and the point raised by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot). The hon. Member for Dundee was pointing out—and I take it from him, because I have not looked the matter up—that 40 years ago there was more Private Bill legislation than there is to-day, and my right hon. Friend was saying that he thought the business of the House was less well managed now than it was a good many years ago. Whether that be the case or not, the House has to remember how the whole circumstances of legislation have changed. I remember very well the late Lord Balfour saying to me that the work of a Cabinet Minister was three times as great as it was when he first took office in the middle eighties. That is true, to a certain extent all round; it is certainly true of Ministers. At the time of which he was speaking it was an unusual thing to have an Autumn Session, and at an earlier period still there were no Autumn Sessions at all. The work that is thrust upon the House has increased and is increasing, for the very simple reason that the bigger the electorate gets, when the legislature is in close connection with the electorate, and the more the electorate wants done, the more the legislature are prepared to do. Therefore, the work of this House must increase. I confess I was sorry at the observation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping about the Prime Minister's absence from this House so much, He will remember the Government which he and I were in for a very short time together in 1921, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) never led this House. I believe that it will be almost an impossibility, as I have said more than once, for Prime Ministers in future to lead this House in addition to all the other work that they have to do. That, of course, is rather beside the question.
Why are we asking for this Motion? It is difficult, as I know from experience, for a private Member, or for a Member who has not had experience of office, to get it out of his head that when the Government move a Motion like this it is all very fine for them, and that they do not mind whether they move it or not; they do not bother about the private Member, and it is all the same to them whether they have it or not. That is not at all the case. 149 Any one of us who has to move this Motion dislikes it exceedingly. Let me ask hon. Members to exercise their imaginations for one moment. To Members of a Ministry, especially to those who have to attend the House a good deal, it is worth anything to get Wednesdays and Fridays. On the other days of the week it is impossible for Ministers to go out to dinner—that I never do when the House is sitting—or to take some recreation of that kind, or something more exciting than that. So, it is not for our own satisfaction that we do this; we would far rather not do it.
As I said a few minutes ago, I have been through every day, from to-day to the end of July, with my right hon. Friend, and I can give the House my word that every moment of that time is wanted. It is mainly wanted for a reason which has, as usual, been put in much better words than I could possibly put it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, who is an orator while I am not. I recall what he said on 16th February, 1911, when the Government took all the time of private Members up to Easter because of the Parliament Bill, which was very small—an infant in arms—compared with the India Bill. He supported the Motion on this ground:If ever there was a question on which the private Members have a right to say that they have been consulted it is upon this question of the Parliament Bill, for the sake of which this serious sacrifice is demanded of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1911; col. 1369, Vol. 21.]I say that that is true to the nth degree of the India Bill. It is quite true that it is impossible to say how long that Bill will take and how long we shall require. That is what I want to tell the House, and what I feel as one who is very largely responsible for the conduct of business in this House. The Prime Minister has just mentioned the figure of 300. That is within 100, one way or the other. It will be a very long Bill, and from its character no more important Bill will ever have been debated in this House. I am most anxious that the Second Reading, for instance, shall be such as will give ample opportunity for everyone who desires to speak on the principles of the Bill. There will be it may be a dozen or it may be a score of important questions of principle in the Bill, apart from the details, and it 150 will be my desire that all those questions shall have every liberty for discussion, that no one may feel that on these important matters discussion will be curtailed. I believe that to be of great importance. I want to see the utmost freedom of discussion on the Bill when it is produced, with the single proviso that the Bill must get through.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I would not answer that. What I am clear about is that the Bill must not be left for an indefinite period, because that would be bad both for this country and for India. Finality is required. If we are to do that, we must have every minute of the time, and that, I assure the House, will not be too much. For the last two years private Members have had their full rights without the loss of a single evening or Motion. I regret profoundly, both on general principles and for my own comfort, that this Motion has to be moved, but, believe me, if the work is to be accomplished, if we are to make good work of this India Bill, and if we are to accomplish the other Measures in the Gracious Speech, every minute of this time will be required, and not one minute less will suffice.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD GRIGG
May I ask the Lord President of the Council a question He made a very welcome statement that it might be possible to find a certain number of days for the discussion of special subjects, if the programme allowed. It is said that that would be some compensation for private Members' time being taken. May I ask whether consideration will be given, when those days are in question, to the desire of supporters of the Government to discuss their questions? They proportionately are sacrificing more than anybody else in this sacrifice of private Members' time, and I hope consideration will be given to any reasonable number of Government supporters, if they ask for a day.
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I ask whether it will be possible to carry out what my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) has asked for? If, say, 250 or 300 Members ask for a discussion, will it be possible to get round this Motion and to seek the opinion of the House in that way?
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I can only speak again with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with that of the House. As I understand the proposal of the Lord President of the Council, it is a new and novel one in the procedure of the House. It is that we shall depart from the usual method of private Members' days and so on, and adopt instead the proposal of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton).
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Not exactly, but as I understand it that in principle is the proposition of the Lord President of the Council, and I enter a very mild protest against that being settled to-day before we have had some further consultation in the ordinary way as to what is going on. My hon. Friends, of all people, do not wish to stand in the way of free discussion without any question of censure, on big and important public questions. We shall come to the consideration of those questions in as friendly a manner as anyone, but we want the matter to be considered, before it is decided in this rather haphazard manner.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I hope that hon. Members will not press me any more to-day. Communications can be made through the usual channels and we shall try to exercise our judgment, having regard to the limited time set aside, as to whether the matters are of general importance and are matters which the House as a whole would like discussed. Let us leave it like that. I believe that we can make the system work.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
As I understand from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that I am a supporter of the Government, I want in that capacity to ask the Lord President of the Council whether he has yet had time to look into the point which I raised last week, and which fits in well with the discussion which we are now having. In view of the fact that the Government are taking the whole of private Members' time, can he say whether the Government are now able to accept that recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure which would enable private Members to have a full half hour on the Adjournment at Eleven o'Clock? That is of real importance now, as that will be one of the few opportunities that we shall have of ventilating some particular grievance. I hope that if the Lord President of the Council cannot give a definite undertaking now, he will do his best to give an answer at an early moment.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am sorry, but I cannot yet make any announcement. We are in consultation on the matter, and I hope before long we may be able to make a statement.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
May I ask you, Sir, whether this Motion, if passed, will affect the Standing Order under which the Adjournment of the House can be moved?
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 224; Noes, 62.153
|Division No. 1.]||AYES.||[6.27 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Burnett, John George||Crossley, A. C.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Butler, Richard Austen||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (L'pool, W.)||Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Davies, Maj.Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Denville, Alfred|
|Assheton, Ralph||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Doran, Edward|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Carver, Major William H.||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Dunglass, Lord|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B.(Portsm'th,C.)||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Clayton, Sir Christopher||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Elliston, Captain George Sampson|
|Bernays, Robert||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A, D.||Elmley, Viscount|
|Boulton, W. W.||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Cooke, Douglas||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Cooper, A. Duff||Fleming, Edward Lascelles|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Fremantle, Sir Francis|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Fuller, Captain A. Q.|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Critchley, Brig.-General A. C.||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Crooke, J. Smedley||Gillett, Sir George Masterman|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsbiro)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Scone, Lord|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Magnay, Thomas||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Graves, Marjorie||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Grigg, Sir Edward||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Shute, Colonel J. J.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Meller, Sir Richard James||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Slater, John|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine,C.)|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Harbord, Arthur||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Soper, Richard|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Moreing, Adrian C.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Morrison, William Shephard||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Hoars, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Moss, Captain H. J.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Hopkinson, Austin||Munro, Patrick||Stewart, J. Henderson (File. E.)|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Storey, Samuel|
|Hornby, Frank||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Nunn, William||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||O'Connor, Terence James||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Thomas, Major L. R. (King's Norton)|
|Hurd, Sir Percy||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Thompson, Sir Luke|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Patrick, Colin M.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Peake, Osbert||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Ker, J. Campbell||Pearson, William G.||Train, John|
|Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Peat, Charles U.||Tree, Ronald|
|Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Kirkpatrick, William M.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n,Bilston)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Knight, Holford||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Powell, Sir Assheton||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Pybus, Sir John||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour|
|Lees-Jones, John||Ralkes, Henry V. A. M.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Liddall, Walter S.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Rathbone, Eleanor||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Llewellin, Major John J.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Herttf'd)|
|Lloyd, Geoffrey||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Loftus, Pierce C.||Rickards, George William||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Mabane, William||Runclman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingtley|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Salmon, Sir Isidore||Sir George Penny and Mr. Blindell.|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Salt, Edward W.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbrol, W.)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W.Riding)||Paling, Wilfred|
|Balley, Eric Alfred George||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Banfield, John William||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Remer, John R.|
|Buchanan, George||Harris, Sir Percy||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Hicks, Ernest George||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Holdsworth, Herbert||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)|
|Curry, A. C.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Templeton, William P.|
|Daggar, George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, David L. (Pontyprldd)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Kirkwood, David||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||West, F. R.|
|Dobble, William||Lawson, John James||White, Henry Graham|
|Edwards, Charles||Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Dr. John H. (Lianelly)|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Lunn, William||Wilmot, John|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||McKeag, William|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Mallalleu, Edward Lancelot||Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
That, during the present Session, Government Bossiness do have precedence at every Sitting.
That no Notices of Amendments on going into Committee of Supply be given until after the Adjournment of the House for Christmas."—[Captain Margesson.]