HC Deb 14 November 1939 vol 353 cc532-5
47. Mr. Mander

asked the Prime Minister when it is proposed to take the remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill?

48. Mr. Creech Jones

asked the Prime Minister whether consideration has been given by the Government to the further progress of the Criminal Justice: Bill; and whether he can make an announcement?

49. Mr. Harvey

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the time and labour which has been spent upon the Criminal Justice Bill and the great importance of the Measure, he will arrange to find time for the remaining stages before the close of the Session?

Sir J. Simon

While the Government are in full sympathy with the desire to complete the work already done on this important Measure, I regret that further consideration has confirmed the view that it is not possible to proceed with this Bill. If the Bill were to be taken through its remaining stages in this House and through all its stages in another place, the task falling on those responsible for the Bill would be by no means light. The Bill contains a number of provisions on which questions both of principle and detail would arise for discussion. The Ministers in charge of the Bill would have to devote time and attention to these questions and would have to call on the experienced officials of more than one Government Department for information and advice. The question how to reduce the necessary work to a minimum has been carefully considered, but examination of the problem shows that, whatever methods were adopted for expediting the progress of the Bill, the expenditure of a very large amount of time and labour would be unavoidable. That time and labour could only be found by diverting to this subject efforts which are required in present circumstances for a purpose which must take precedence over all other purposes.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Would it not be possible to obtain from Members in all parts of the House, and particularly from expert lawyers, assistance in drafting the necessary Amendments; and would not the Government consider whether exceptional steps should not be taken to meet an exceptional need at the present time, and to show that Parliament can pass a Measure of this kind, even during war-time; and is it not also desirable to avoid the waste which would be caused, if all the work that has been done in Committee on this Measure during the past year were to go for nothing?

Sir J. Simon

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman, in his supplementary question, has, if I may say so, faced the real difficulty. The difficulty is not one of finding people to draft clauses but lies in the fact that the big problems connected with this Bill would necessarily require the serious attention of important officials in more than one Government Department. As to the view that all the work that has been done on the Bill would be lost, I do not agree. If there is a body of opinion in favour of a Bill of this sort, doubtless the Bill could be revived later, but I am afraid that it cannot be regarded, in present circumstances, as a war Measure.

Mr. Attlee

In view of the widespread desire that the work already done on this Bill should not be lost, would the Government consider whether, if they cannot find the necessary time to deal with it in this Session, the Bill could not be revived at an early date—not leaving it till the end of the war—and the same methods as were adopted in the case of the Parliament Act taken in order that the work on the Bill should not be lost?

Sir J. Simon

The right hon. Gentleman will see that the real difficulty is still one which lies elsewhere. This question has been looked into very closely by the Home Office and by the Scottish Office, and it is plain that if this Measure is to be dealt with now, under the present critical conditions, it will involve a tremendous amount of work on the part of officials, for which provision cannot really be made at this time.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to close his mind to the possibility of reintroducing the Bill at a period earlier than the end of the war, when, it may be, the pressure will not be so great?

Sir J. Simon

I agree that circumstances may change and to some extent relieve the pressure, and if that happens it will certainly be possible to reconsider the matter.

Sir Joseph Lamb

In view of the great interest taken in this question by so many hon. Members opposite, would it not be a good thing to postpone the war while it is being dealt with?

Mr. Bevan

Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's earlier reply, is it not possible that, in a few months time, we shall find ourselves a little easier in these respect's; is it not undesirable to kill the Bill, and could it not be carried over and reintroduced, at its present stage, as has been done with other Measures in the past?

Sir J. Simon

I think that is, in substance, the question which was put before. If conditions change and make it easier for us to deal with a certain matter, then, by all means, let us keep open the question of whether it can be taken up or not, but I do not think that my right hon. Friend, as Leader of the House, would advise that we should, for the first time, carry over a public Bill to another Session.

Mr. Bevan

On a point of fact, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the past few years it has been done on several occasions in order to keep Bills alive; and would it not be possible to reintroduce this Bill at its present stage?

Mr. Mander

Would not the most effective way of keeping the Bill alive be to continue the Session for some weeks further, and not to have such an early Prorogation, and then it might be possible to deal with the Measure?

Mr. De la Bére

Why not wait and see?