HC Deb 18 April 1935 vol 300 cc2032-50

12.34 p.m.


Now that the country has been thoroughly reassured as to the future of its water supply, I wish to detain the House for a few moments in order to raise a somewhat different matter, namely, the management of business in this House and the unsatisfactory way in which, very often important issues are presented to us for our decision. I regret the necessity for detaining the House, but I make no apology for it for if my intervention does nothing else, it will give the House the somewhat rare pleasure of hearing a speech from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Patronage Secretary. His interventions in debates are generally of the briefest and usually consist of, "I beg to move that this House do now adjourn," and we all look forward to hearing him on rather less stereotyped lines. In these days when the Parliamentary agenda is drawn up almost entirely by the Government of the day the private Member is left more than ever at the mercy of the Executive as to what he shall do and what he shall discuss. Not only the business that we are to deal with but the form in which we have to deal with it and the time when we are to deal with it are left in the sole discretion of the Government and their advisers. Except on private Members' days, which have been abolished during the present Session, and the Adjournment, which provides very limited opportunities and a still more limited audience, it is exceedingly difficult for private Members, for the rank and file of this House, to exercise any control over the time-table, over the form in which Motions are put, or over the subjects of debate.

The first question to which I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention is the form in which Financial Resolutions are sometimes presented to the House. Everybody will remember that a discussion took place and protests were made on the Money Resolution for the depressed areas a month or two ago. It will be within the recollection of the House that the Resolution was drafted in such a way that it was practically impossible for any Amendment of substance to be moved either during the Committee or the Report stage. Not only were there expressions of indignation on that occasion from all quarters of the House and from Members of all parties with regard to the form of the Resolution, but the way in which it was drafted brought a severe rebuke from yourself, Mr. Speaker. I would remind hon. Members of what you said about that particular Resolution. In answer to a question by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Albery) you said: It must be evident to all hon. Members that under the new procedure which has been adopted by this House for some years now, Members are very much restricted in their powers to move Amendments either on a Resolution itself or indeed on the Committee stage of a Bill. If I were asked for my opinion on the subject, I should say that not only has the limit been reached but that it has been rather exceeded in the amount of detail which is put in a Money Resolution. A little later, in answer to a Supplementary Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), you said: The powers given under the Rules of Procedure have really reached their limit. They affect the Government as well as private Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1934; cols. 1237–8, Vol. 295.] If I may respectfully do so, I should like to emphasise the last words in that quotation. When a Financial Resolution is drafted in this way it reduces Parliamentary discussion to a mere formality, except, of course, in Second and Third Reading debates. Hon. Members may deliver very eloquent and cogent speeches, they may have constructive contributions to make, they may have ideas to put forward, but not only are they prevented from making any substantial Amendment to the Bill in question, but the Government themselves are precluded by the terms of their own Financial Resolution from responding to any of the appeals that hon. Members may make.

I know that this is rather an old grievance. It is not a grievance that is peculiar to this Parliament, or to the régime of this Government. Even before the war there were protests occasionally against the form in which Money Resolutions were drawn. On the 6th July, 1911, when the National Health Insurance Bill was under discussion and the Financial Resolution with regard to that Bill came before the House, a very strong protest was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir Austen Chamberlain), who said: Neither can I, nor will I, vote for a Resolution deliberately framed in order to withdraw from the consideration of the House a great number of questions which the House ought to have an opportunity of considering."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1911; col. 1449, Vol. 27.] That was said in 1911, and the words might have applied with equal force to the Money Resolution that was brought forward on the Depressed Areas Bill. What was objectionable in 1911 is equally so, and I think is even more objectionable, in 1935. In that same debate on the Financial Resolution of the National Health Insurance Bill protest was made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Prime Minister. I should like briefly to tell the House what he had to say. He said: The Government ought not to tie our hands and apply the Closure in an indirect way, as the hon. Gentleman opposite very truly said, as it is doing, by the form of this Financial Resolution. At a later stage in his speech he said: Anybody who knows the Rules of the House knows that the private Member cannot bring in a Finance Resolution. That is a matter for the Government. Unfortunately, I am not the Government, but if my hon. Friends around me were sitting on the Front Bench it would not be a difficult matter to arrange. We could substitute some satisfactory Resolution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1911; cols. 1441–2–8, Vol. 27.] My right hon. Friend has sat on the Front Bench on three occasions. It is true that it has not always been with the same set of Members that he has sat, but on each occasion he has been at their head and responsible for the trend of Government policy and for the management of the business of the House. Is it too much to ask that after all these opportunities, some effort should be made to prevent Money Resolutions in the future from being drafted in such a way as to preclude hon. Members from moving, or the Government from accepting, any substantial Amendment on the Committee stage? If it can be done by an Amendment of the Standing Order, will the Government consider drafting such an Amendment? I am rather doubtful whether it can be done by amendment of the Standing Orders. If it cannot be done in that way, will the Government give an undertaking that they will endeavour to avoid bringing forward Resolutions drafted in that way? I would suggest that before a Financial Resolution of an important character is put on the Order Paper in future it should be submitted to you, Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman or Deputy-Chairman of Committees, and that if you or whoever saw the Resolution had any objections to it as being too tightly drawn, it should be sent back to the draftsman to see whether he could not devise some more satisfactory form. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to say on behalf of the Government whether they will seriously consider that suggestion.

I have already pointed out that this Government is not the only offender in this respect. I do not think there has ever been a time when questions of this nature were of greater importance than they are to-day, because we are constantly being told from all sorts of directions that nowadays Parliamentary government is on its trial. Parliamentary government is not on its trial, but Parliamentary government stands already condemned if debate in this House is to be effectively gagged and if we are expected to be here simply to register the decrees of an omnipotent Executive in the exact form that they are presented to us.

I want very briefly to turn to another aspect of this question, and that is the growing habit, which we have seen on many occasions in the lifetime of this Parliament, of presenting important Measures to this House such a short time before they are due to be debated, that it is impossible for hon. Members to acquaint themselves with all the issues involved. I might give one or two examples. Take the Incitement to Disaffection Bill. When the Government brought in that Bill they may not have thought that it was a very important Measure, but by the time it reached its Third Reading they were left in no doubt as to the light in which it was regarded by a great many people in this House and the country. That Bill received its First Reading and was ordered to be printed on the 10th April, 1934, a Tuesday. The text was issued and the Bill was made available to hon. Members on the Wednesday. The Second Reading was taken on the following Monday. Why the hurry? After all, its best friends—if it had any—would not have claimed that this was really a measure of urgency. Is there any reason why, in the case of a Bill like that, longer notice should not be given? I do not say that it was a very complicated Measure, but it was one which as it was originally drafted and presented to this House introduced certain rather strange innovations into our criminal law. Surely, Members might have been given a little more time before being asked to give a decision on the Second Reading.

Take another example. The English milk marketing scheme was ordered to be printed on 20th July, 1933, which was a Thursday. It was actually printed on the Friday, and I think I am right in saying that it was not circulated and that probably most Members did not see it or have a chance of considering it until the following Monday or Tuesday. Although that was an excessively complicated Measure, containing a large number of Clauses, many of them very intricate Clauses, and although it was a Measure which needed a good deal of study to understand fully, we were expected to give it Parliamentary sanction on the following Thursday evening, when it had only been printed for six days and available to hon. Members probably for two or three days. It was with reference to that scheme that the Minister of Agriculture made a remark which I have quoted before in this House, when he said: My scheme to revolutionise the milk industry had 90 Clauses; and although Parliament knew nothing about it on Thursday morning, by night it had, become law. I have always regarded that remark as being the high-water mark up to now of Ministerial despotism in this country. What an anomaly it is that under what is still supposed to be a representative and democratic Constitution Parliament should constantly pass things which it has had no opportunity of considering properly. In reference to that milk scheme there had been months of inquiry. There had been a Milk Reorganisation Commission under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), which sat a considerable time. Then there was a statutory committee of inquiry to hear the objections of various interested parties. There had been prolonged examination, I think from the beginning of the year, but the necessity for speed only arises apparently when it is required to obtain Parliamentary sanction. A scheme which had to be considered by all these eminent bodies for weeks and months on end was placed before Parliament only a day or two before Parliament was required to pass it. When Parliament is required to give its approval to Measures which it has had no time properly to scrutinise or consider, then one is reminded of Carlyle's famous phrase: Government by blind man's buff. I will take one more example, which I think will be fresh in the recollection of hon. Members, and that is the example of the Unemployment Act regulations. Those regulations were drafted and made available to Members just six days before the beginning of the Debate upon them. I think they were made available on 11th December, and the Debate had to begin on 17th December. I think everyone will recall the remarkable difference between the Debate which took place on these regulations in December, when they were given Parliamentary approval, and the Debates that took place at the end of January and the beginning of February of this year, when hon. Members' constituents had had a few days' experience of the working of these regulations. There was a most remarkable. contrast between the comparative complacency with which these regulations were regarded by many hon. Members before they were passed and the remarks, very often of the same hon. Members, after they had seen how the regulations were working in their own constituencies.

Those regulations also were a rather intricate matter. The only way to appreciate what their effect was going to be was to compare the scales which were already in operation under public assistance committees with the scales proposed in the regulations. It was a matter of somewhat intricate mathematical calculation. A few of us were in the fortunate position that we had already arranged to visit our constituencies in the intervening week-end, and we were able to make these particular calculations and to appreciate, at any rate to some extent, exactly what their effect was going to be arid how large the reductions in benefit were likely to be. But many hon. Members were not able to do that, through no fault of their own, and they, in consequence, were left entirely in the dark; and as we know they were completely misled as to what the effect of these regulations would be. It was not their fault but the fault of the Government for giving them such a short time to consider the matter.

I would ask the House, looking at the history of these regulations, to consider the contrast. The Unemployment Assistance Board took four months to draw up and consider these unemployment regulations. Then they were handed on in draft to the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Labour then took another six weeks. Between them the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Ministry of Labour had the regulations for five-and-a-half months, with all the resources at their disposal— with their officers and offices in every part of the country. Yet some 600 private Members of this House were expected to scrutinise these regulations and appreciate exactly what their effect would be within a space of six days. One could understand this somewhat cavalier treatment of the House of Commons if the Government had any difficulty in getting its verdicts through this House. But everybody knows that that is not the case. During the whole lifetime of this Parliament they have had no difficulty at all, and it is well known that the Government have behind them the most docile and subservient House of Commons which has existed in this country since the reign of Henry VIII.

When Members of the Conservative party make speeches in their con- stituencies the principal item nowadays is generally an attack upon the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I am not criticising them for that, for I generally agree with the substance of those attacks. But the principal criticism which is directed against the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol is this, that when he has a Parliamentary majority behind him and when he has passed his enabling Act, he then proposes to govern by means of Ministerial decrees, without the necessity of formal Parliamentary sanction. But what real difference is there between naked decrees that simply issue from Whitehall and decrees that are certain to receive a blind, formal, automatic Parliamentary sanction? In substance there is no difference at all, and Parliamentary approval is only of value and should only be required when it is possible for Parliament to have time to scrutinise the Measures involved and to arrive at a considered judgment. So I do Ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot give us a second assurance— that is, whether he cannot assure the House that in future, when it is not a matter of urgency, but when the House is to be asked to consider matters of considerable complexity affecting a, large number of people, a reasonable interval will be allowed between the time when these documents are available for Members to examine them and the time when we are required to pass them in this House. I am not asking for this assurance from the right hon. Gentleman simply for the convenience of myself or of a handful of Members in any part of the House. I think it is a much more important matter than this. I ask for this assurance for the sake of the credit, reputation and efficiency of Parliamentary government in this country.

12.54 p.m.


I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity of addressing a few words to the House. It is true, as he said, that my nightly speeches are somewhat restricted, and this afternoon, on the day of the Adjournment, I shall have the opportunity of making some longer observations to this House. Nor do I complain that there are so few to hear me to-day. I realise that Members have to go to the constituencies and on holidays, and one wants to take advantage of the opportunity for getting there before the crowds get busy to-morrow. The hon. Gentleman has raised two points—first of all, the form in which Financial Resolutions are presented to this House, and, secondly, the interval that is offered to hon. Members before votes take place on Motions and Orders, and indeed on the Second Readings of Bills.

Let me deal with his first point first. He read out certain remarks which you, Mr. Speaker, addressed to this House on the subject in December last year. I do not think that I can give a better reply to the hon. Gentleman than to quote to him the reply which the Prime Minister gave in answer to a question put on this very subject by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones). The Prime Minister said: I am not aware that it is the practice to insert in Money Resolutions any provisions which do not affect the provision of finance. There is certainly no such deliberate practice though I recognise that legitimate differences of opinion may occasionally arise on borderline cases. The House is well aware of the constitutional principle that money is only voted by the House upon the recommendation of the Crown, and the Government cannot divest themselves of the responsibility for determining, with what degree of particularity the purposes and conditions for and under which money is asked for should be set out in the Motion to which the King's Recommendation is to be signified. The practice of the present Government in this matter has not differed from that of their predecessors but I will carefully bear in mind the observations which you, Sir, expressed on Monday last."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1934; columns 1820–1. Vol. 295.] I do not think that the House will expect me to go further than that to-day. The observations which Mr. Speaker addressed to the House on that occasion are being borne in mind by the Government. The hon. Gentleman has asked me if I can give an assurance that Standing Orders will be altered in order to make the change which he has suggested. I fear that I cannot give him any such assurance. The position is being very carefully watched, and the remarks which were made by Mr. Speaker are being borne in mind.


Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Govern- ment would consider the suggestion that before Financial Resolutions are placed on the Paper they should be submitted either to Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees?


It is a point that can be considered, but obviously today, when it has just been put to me, I cannot go further than to say that the matter will receive consideration. As regards the second point raised by the hon. Gentleman, the papers relating to Orders or Regulations are made available to Members as soon possible in order to allow time for reasonable consideration of the details before the necessary Motion for approval is submitted. It must be clear to hon. Members that some of these Orders do not raise great issues of principle, whereas other Orders do raise big issues. If debate be necessary, the particular business has to be fitted by the Government into the Parliamentary time-table. During this session on two occasions a number of Import Orders occupied only half an hour. That was on 14th December and 15th February. On the other hand, the Iron and Steel Order, which was debated last Friday and was of considerable importance and interest to this House, occupied practically the whole of the Sitting.

Therefore, it is clear that all these Orders must be judged on their merits, and the time allotted by the Government will be such as they deem to be necessary when consideration has been given to the importance or otherwise of these Orders. As regards the Unemployment Regulations, three days were given for debate. There was no attempt to shirk debate on the part of the Government. I remember that when the Government gave three days to this discussion I, being the fountain head of the "usual channels," was told that I had given too long a time, and that two days would have been all that was required. In fact, I remember that on the second night of the three days the House before 11 o'clock on account of a typing error which had crept into the regulations. This was made a reason for curtailing the Debate.


I did not make any point of this kind. I made no complaint of the amount of time allowed to debate these regulations or any other subject. My complaint was that inadequate time was allowed between the day when the regulations were printed and made available to hon. Members of this House and the day when the Debate began, and that whereas the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board took 5½ months to consider these regulations, hon. Members were expected to become fully seized in a period of six days.


I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's point, but I was pointing out that when it came to debating these regulations the House did not find it easy to keep the Debate going full steam ahead. At the time when the regulations were made available I received no protest that we were taking them too quickly after their presentation into the House.


I made a protest myself.


l did not hear it. I think that my point is a good one, that when the regulations were taken with the three days allowed hon. Gentlemen did not find that they were cramped for time in discussing these very important regulations. It is true that they were made available to hon. Members on Tuesday, 11th December, circulated on Wednesday, and debated the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Hon. Members, therefore, had Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in which to discuss these regulations, and they had as well the week-end in their constituencies when they could consult their constituents. Let me point out also that the House had recently, before the regulations were presented, devoted a great deal of time to the consideration of the matter while the Unemployment Bill was passing through the House— not the regulations themselves, but the principles of the Bill. The Bill then having been passed, there was, I think, a very general desire that it should be brought into operation as soon as possible. The Government had already fixed 7th January, 1935, as the first appointed day for the operation of the scheme, and it was necessary to get approval of the regulations before Christmas, so that the Unemployment Assistance Board could carry through their arrangements to bring the scheme into operation. I think that it must be clear to the House that if the appointed day had already been fixed—and there was a great demand in the House for fixing the appointed day—then these regulations had to be got before the Christmas Recess was reached.

Similarly with marketing schemes. Once they are prepared and presented to Parliament, a strong case can be made out for their early approval so that the particular industry concerned can get the benefit as soon as possible. We are to have such a case very shortly under the Herring Industry Bill, which by general assent was passed as quickly as possible. It went upstairs to a Standing Committee and was passed there with rapidity, because we were all told how urgently the Bill was needed in order that the herring industry might receive the benefit. As a result of that Bill, there is going to be a scheme for the industry. I have not the slightest doubt that directly that scheme becomes available, having passed through all the machinery of discussion and so forth, there will be a demand, and quite rightly, from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney (Sir R. Hamilton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood), both of whom take a keen interest in the herring industry, that the Government shall as quickly as possible pass that scheme into law. I make no complaint of that at all. I merely say that when schemes come forward and members have had a chance of examining them there is a demand to pass them quickly so that industry can benefit.

The details of Schemes, Regulations or Orders are made available as soon as they are ready, and time is alloted to debate them, having in mind the date on which approval is required and also the exigencies of the Parliamentary programme. Generally speaking, I do not think that the hon. Member who raised this question has any very great cause for complaint, but I will tell him that the Government are grateful to him for having raised this point. The subject matter which he has laid before the House will, I can assure him, receive very careful consideration, and representations made to me on future occasions through the usual channels, which on the whole have not flowed too badly during this Parliament, will be considered, and we shall do our best to meet the wishes, not of one particular section of the House only, but of all Members of the House.

1.9 p.m.


I apologise to the House for not having been able to be present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot). I did not think that the subject would be reached so quickly. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury has dealt with the issue with his customary courtesy and adequacy, but I am afraid that this is a subject which exceeds even his powers to give it proper consideration. I understand that the two points under consideration are, first, that Money Resolutions of Bills are drawn too generously—


Too closely.


It all depends on the angle from which they are viewed. They are drawn so as to include the whole of a Bill, and the consequence is that when we come to discuss the details of the Bill we find ourselves prevented from doing so in the way we wish because of the language used in the Money Resolution. On a number of very important occasions, particularly in connection with the Unemployment Bill last year, we found ourselves gravely limited in our discussions. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury was wrong when he said that we had many opportunities of discussing the subject-matter of the unemployment regulations when the Unemployment Bill was before the House.


I did not mean that even if I said it. Obviously, the regulations could not be discussed during the progress of the Bill, because they had not then been drafted.


I refer to the subject-matter of the regulations. I understood that that was the point that the Parliamentary Secretary made, and that it was not necessary to have so much time to consider the regulations, because the House was fully seized of the subject. As a matter of history, that is not correct. When the Unemployment Bill was before the House we were specifically prevented from discussing what became the subject-matter of the regulations owing to the Money Resolution and the timetable. On three separate occasions we were unable to discuss the means test. We were prevented from moving Amendments on the household means test because of the time-table and the Money Resolution. I do not want to quote my own speeches, but I remember that I reminded the House at the time that the failure of the Government to give proper time and opportunity for discussing the means test was going to result in the gravest possible errors afterwards, as actually occurred.

This happened not only on the Unemployment Bill, but the form in which the regulations were brought before the House prevented the House from giving them detailed examination and from putting down Amendments of a kind which would have brought out the defects of the regulations, and would have furnished the Government and the Civil Service with the very considerable experience of hon. Members in all parts of the House. It was largely in consequence of the fact that the Civil Service succeeded in their conspiracy against the House of Commons that the country has had to pay this very heavy price in having to withdraw the regulations, and the Government have had such a deplorable loss of popularity in the country. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that the Civil Service are engaged in a conspiracy to seduce, to cajole, to sidetrack and bully the House of Commons.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member must not say that. Ministers are responsible to Parliament, and they answer for the Civil Service.


I understood that, provided I did not indict a civil servant, I was entitled to consider the Civil Service as a whole.


The whole Civil Service is represented by Ministers in this House, and it is the invariable rule that no attacks are made on civil servants as such.


It is true that this contest has always gone on, because the bureaucracy is naturally jealous and anxious to get its own way with the elected representatives of the people. I do not complain of that. It is the natural tendency of all bureaucracies. But never was there a time when the House of Commons was so weakly armed against that kind of thing; never a, time when this House was in such deplorable weakness in combating it. There are many reasons why the House should be given far more opportunity to examine proposals than is given. Owing to the change in the character of representation here, there are far more poor people in this House than there ever were before. That is a very important consideration. A Member of Parliament has many things to do. In these days when democracy is being blown upon in so many countries, people are not sufficiently appreciative of the difficulties of private Members of this House. Those difficulties are very considerable indeed. We have no secretaries upon whom we can call; we cannot have statistics and other information looked up for us. All that work we have to do ourselves. To-day an enormous range of subjects is discussed in Parliament. The subjects of Parliamentary discussion are, I think, far more diverse to-day than ever before. We deal to-day with subjects of great financial and economic intricacy such as Parliament never had to consider before. Information on all these matters has to be obtained by means of the deplorable resources which are at the disposal of private Members.

There is another consideration which has a bearing upon this matter. This work is being done in a building which ought to have been set aside long ago as a historic monument. It is not suited to business at all. It is all right for those who wish to lead a, contemplative life but it is the very last place in the world for people who want to lead an active life. The committee rooms are bad; it is badly arranged and it has one of the most deficient libraries in the world—a library which is all right for the lawyers but which for the purposes of a debating chamber is just too funny. There is no controversial literature in it, and, if any particular issue is brought up before the House, hon. Members have to search all over the place in order to get the relevant information. It is no good looking for it in the library, because it is not there.

Owing to—I will not say the personal defects of private Members, though they are many, but the handicaps under which private Members have to work and the archaic and stupid nature of the building—we are under the greatest difficulty in the discharge of our public duty. Here we have an Opposition, small in numbers facing a huge majority. The official Opposition has a great public duty to perform. Under our Constitution it is supposed to scrutinise all legislation in the interests of the community as a whole. Indeed, a Government does not look upon its own legislative proposals as microscopically as it might otherwise do, because it knows beforehand that that legislation will receive microscopic examination in the House. Here you have a Government with a vast Civil Service behind it. However incompetent a Minister may be even his incompetence is made into competence by an efficient bureaucracy. Every detail is furnished to him. A Government with all those advantages is faced by an Opposition suffering under the handicaps which I have described. In spite of all that the Government thrust a proposal upon the House and give us two or three days in which to consider it before discussing it.

That is not giving democracy a fair chance to work, and I am sure if the ordinary citizens of Great Britain understood how things are discussed in this House they would not tolerate it. They would demand that if they sent representatives to the House of Commons, proper machinery should be placed at the disposal of those representatives to enable them to discharge their task adequately. I am speaking to but a few Members, and yet this subject is so important that it deserves a full House for its consideration. I am sure all Members will be deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue which is of paramount importance, if the House is to discharge its duties efficiently. Any Government which is anxious to preserve democracy and make representative Government work properly will take it into consideration and allow it to influence their future conduct in these matters.

1.19 p.m.


On a point of Order. I wish to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to state again the ruling which you gave some time ago with regard to discussion of the Civil Service. I suggest that it is a matter of the greatest possible importance. I understand your ruling to be that Members of the House are not allowed to discuss the powers of the Civil Service. With great respect I suggest that you might give that ruling some further consideration. I am not aware of any Order which precludes discussion on the powers of the Civil Service, and indeed it seems to me to be of first-rate importance that we should be able to discuss that subject if the necessity arises. I, myself, after a long Ministerial experience feel great gratitude to the Civil Service and no one could have much patience with people who try to put the blame for the incomepetency of a particular Minister on to his Civil Service staff. I think that, generally, is the feeling and I have always found them only too willing to support the Minister. But if, as I gather, you, Sir, have ruled that the House is not entitled to discuss the powers of the Civil Service, I would ask you respectfully to be so kind as to develop that ruling a little more fully.


There is, apparently, a misunderstanding due, possibly, to the way in which I put my Ruling. I did not wish to suggest for one moment that the House has not the right to discuss the position and the powers of the Civil Service. The rule, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is that there can be no attack on a civil servant or body of civil servants as such, because they are responsible to a Minister who is here to answer to the House. There may have been some misapprehension or misinterpretation of my use of the expression "Civil Service," and, if I spoke of attacks on the Civil Service, I did so having in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) at the time was referring to a body of civil servants personally. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman need fear that my Ruling was anything more than a recital of the rule which is well known, but I am glad that he has given me the opportunity of removing any misapprehension which may have existed.


I hope that anything which I have said and which has given rise to this short discussion, will not create the impression that I have made any attack upon the probity or efficiency of the Civil Service. I was merely discussing the relationship between the Civil Service and the Government.


The hon. Member will, of course, realise that things may be said which are objectionable as references to individuals who are civil servants otherwise than because they reflect upon the probity or efficiency of such individuals. There are other reflections which might be made improperly upon the Civil Service.

1.24 p.m.


I certainly feel grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) for raising this question, and I regret that there is not a larger House to discuss it. That is probably due to the fact that few Members realised the importance of the subject which was to be raised to-day. With reference to the last part of the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), and particularly his statement of the difficulties of private Members, I am in agreement with practically all he said. I certainly think that it is a matter which Ministers, to whatever party they may belong, ought to take into consideration in the future. I also agree with what he said about the unfortunate and regrettable conditions which exist in this House for the conduct of business. That is a big subject, and I do not propose to detain the House on it now.

The one point raised by my hon. Friend opposite on which I do want to say a few words is the question of Financial Resolutions. The Patronage Secretary, in his reply, was most conciliatory, and I am sure everybody in this House will agree that he tries to conduct business through this House to the best interests of all concerned, but I do not feel so satisfied with the reply which was made by the Prime Minister on this question. It is true that Mr. Speaker made some observations in this House, as the Patronage Secretary said, and that those observations have been paid attention to arid will doubtless continue to be paid attention to in the future, but I think I am right in saying that when Financial Resolutions were originally introduced in this House, they contained practically nothing except that part of a Bill or Motion which was printed in italics and which practically amounted to three or four lines only.

I had intended to ask Mr. Speaker, and should therefore, in his absence, like to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this question: My recollection of Mr. Speaker's observations—unfortunately, I have not got them before me at the moment—is that he not only expressed the view that the present tendency to expand a Financial Resolution had gone too far, but that he also said that the remedy was not in his hands but was in the hands of this House. That, of course, was an expression of Mr. Speaker's opinion, and it will undoubtedly have its effect on the conduct of business in this House, but I do not feel that it provides sufficiently for the future, and I should like to ask whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or Mr. Speaker himself would he prepared, in the interests of business in this House, to give us your further guidance on that matter and say whether, in your opinion, it is not desirable that this House itself should take some steps. so to amend the Standing Orders that in future the business inserted in a Financial Resolution should be kept within more proper dimensions.


I think the hon. Member will realise that that is a question which is unnecessary for me and which I think it would be improper for me to answer personally; certainly, in view of the fact that I have not had the opportunity of consulting with Mr. Speaker first.


Then may I ask you to be so kind as to draw Mr. Speaker's attention to this matter? I should like to give notice that I will put down a question on the subject.