HC Deb 03 July 1940 vol 362 cc855-61

3.43 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)

I beg to move, That for the remainder of the present Session the following provisions shall have effect as respects the sittings of the House, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of the House—

  1. (a) if, by reason of an air-raid warning being given while the House is sitting, the sitting is suspended, it shall be resumed as soon as may be after the raiders passed signal is given;
  2. (b) if at the time appointed for the meeting of the House on any day an air-raid warning has been given and the raiders passed signal has not been given, the meeting of the House shall be postponed until as soon as may be after the raiders passed signal is given;
    • Provided that, where the sitting of the House on any day is suspended by virtue of the foregoing paragraph till after the time appointed for the meeting of the House on the following day, this paragraph shall not apply with respect to that following day and the ordinary practice of the House with respect to overlapping sittings shall apply;
  3. (c) where any sitting of the House is suspended or postponed as aforesaid—
    1. (i)the time at which any business, the consideration of which has not begun, is required by any Standing Order, order or resolution of the House to be taken; and
    2. (ii)the time at which any such business, or any business the consideration of which has begun but has not been completed, is required as aforesaid to be concluded or interrupted;
    • shall be postponed by the length of the period for which the sitting has been suspended or postponed:
    • Provided that where at any such sitting private business, or any Motion for Adjournment under Standing Order No. 8 would, but for this paragraph, have been required to be considered at 7.30 p.m., and the remainder of the business of the House has been disposed of before the time substituted by this paragraph for 7.30 p.m., that private business or Motion shall be considered immediately after the conclusion of the remainder of the business;
  4. (d) at any sitting of the House which has been suspended or postponed as aforesaid, any Motion or other business which, but for this paragraph, could not have been made or taken without notice, or would have been required to be made or taken at a particular time or at a particular stage of the proceedings, may be made by, or taken at the instance of, a Minister of the Crown without notice and at any other time or other stage of the proceedings."
The Motion which I now move has been drawn up after consultation with the authorities of the House and is designed to regulate the sittings of the House in the event of interruptions being caused by air-raid warnings. In brief, the effect of the Motion is to discount any period during which a sitting is suspended or postponed on account of an air-raid warning. The rights of Members with regard to Questions and Debate are fully safeguarded, as hon. Members will see by the following instance: If an air-raid warning is given at 3.30 p.m. before Questions end and the raiders passed signal is given at 5.30 p.m., the House when it resumes will continue Questions until 5.45 p.m. (instead of 3.45 p.m.); we should then proceed to the consideration of Government Business; any Private Business set down for consideration by the Chairman of Ways and Means would be taken at 9.30 p.m. instead of 7.30 p.m. and the 11 o'clock rule would operate at 1 o'clock instead of 11 o'clock.

I may say that power is taken in the event of Government Business finishing before 9.30 p.m. for Private Business or a Motion on a matter of urgent public importance, to be taken at the conclusion of Government Business in order to avoid the House waiting until 9.30 p.m. In effect the House proceeds with its Business where it left off and under the example which I have given everything is postponed by two hours, being the length of the air-raid warning.

I should say a word about paragraph (d) which gives power to deal with any eventuality. It might become essential, as a result of an air raid, to take Business which is not on the Order Paper or which cannot be taken for lack of time. This is perhaps more likely to happen when one day's sitting has run over into the next day's sitting as a result of an air-raid warning lasting for a long time. It might be essential to pass important Business, and the House will have power to consider any such Business at the instance of the Government. I commend the proposal to the House and hope that hon. Members will agree that it is a wise step to take to ensure the functioning of the House in spite of interruptions which may arise at this present time.

3.47 p.m.

Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)

I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about this Motion. It is not quite clear, if an air raid takes place, whether the House is to be suspended automatically. Is there any discretion in the matter? I understand that the present practice with regard to industrial establishments carrying on work of national importance is that they shall not cease from work until guns are heard or, at any rate, until there is some definite action taking place. Is it the intention that in every case the House of Commons shall stop work the moment an air-raid warning sounds? I would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether that is so or not? This Motion apparently lays it down quite definitely that the House cannot resume until after the raiders passed signal is given. What is to happen, supposing an air-raid warning is given and the House suspends its sitting, if nothing happens? Is every Member to go down to the air-raid shelters and sit there the full time until the raiders passed signal is given?

Mr. Thorne (Plaistow)

He can go home if he likes.

Sir H. O'Neill

Is there any power to resume sittings of the House in certain cases before the raiders passed signal is given? Might it not be a good plan to give you, Mr. Speaker, power to use your discretion—I assume you have power already to use your discretion about suspending sittings—to resume sittings in certain circumstances where it might be desirable to resume even though the raiders passed signal is not given?

Mr. Attlee

The right hon. Gentleman will realise that it is in the power of Mr. Speaker to suspend the sitting. The whole matter is one of discretion.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I should be glad if the Lord Privy Seal could give me a little more enlightenment on paragraph (d). I am afraid I cannot understand the circumstances in which this provision would be required. It appears to mean that a Minister of the Crown could come up from the air-raid shelter and spring upon the House something which was not on the Order Paper. Having devoted the period to thinking out some quick one, he could put it over on the House. There may be some other circumstances which the Government have in mind, but I cannot see any circumstances in which some business that was not on the Order Paper in the ordinary way should suddenly be sprung upon the House because an air-raid warning had taken place. I should like to hear from the Lord Privy Seal what circumstances are contemplated in paragraph (d).

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Attlee

I do not think the hon. Member has followed the instance which I gave. It is possible that there might be an air-raid warning which would cause the business of the House to be carried over to another day, and there would then be no opportunity for taking the business of that day. The hon. Member will realise that it would be in the power of the House to accept or refuse the business. The provision is inserted merely to cover the case of a long suspension which might run from one day to the next day.

3.52 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)

I believe this is a half-baked and ill-considered proposal. Certainly, it has no reference to the possibility of a continuous succession of raids by relays of aeroplanes which might put the House out of operation for a whole clay or a whole week, and the House might then be called upon to resume its business at hours which would impose an immense inconvenience upon every Member of the House, without regard to the importance of the business or legislation which had to be passed. I want to ask the Lord Privy Seal who, precisely, has been consulted about, and what consideration has been given to, this Motion before thrusting it upon the attention of the House? I observe with some satisfaction that it is designed to apply only to the present Session, but I would appeal to the Lord Privy Seal that, before we commit ourselves to a proposition fraught with so much uncertainty, difficulty and inconvenience, it should be given a trial period of a week or a month first, and that in the meantime it should be submitted to persons who not only have knowledge of the procedure of the House, but have given some consideration to the circumstances in which air-raid warnings are given and sustained. Unless that is done, I consider that the House would be ill-advised to commit itself to this Motion.

3.54 p.m.

Mr. Attlee

The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) has given absolutely no reason for suggesting that this Motion is ill-considered. It has been considered by the authorities of the House, and various hon. Members of great experience have been consulted on it. The hon. Member has not shown in any way that it will not work. It is true that the Motion does not envisage everything that might happen. No provision is made, for instance, regarding what might happen in the matter of the Sittings of the House if a bomb fell in the centre of the House. It is a simple procedure designed to deal with something which may happen at any moment with regard to air-raid warnings. It is quite untrue to suggest that the Motion has been sprung upon the House without consideration or that it has been made by persons who do not understand the procedure of the House. The hon. Member has made no suggestion to improve the procedure about which he has complained.

Mr. Garro Jones

The Lord Privy Seal says that I have made no suggestion. I asked him whether those who have knowledge of the system under which air-raid warnings are given have been consulted. We know that at the present time air-raid warnings may take place every half-hour or hour. Have those responsible for giving the warnings been consulted in this matter?

3.56 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

I do not understand the justification for this Motion. Yesterday, the Home Secretary informed us that until anti-aircraft fire is heard workers in industry and in munitions factories should not leave their work. Today, we are asked to pass a Motion by which Members of Parliament, who are supposed to be the leaders and representatives of the country, would leave their work at once without waiting for antiaircraft fire. I think the Motion is not in keeping with the atmosphere of the House and the atmosphere in the country.

Mr. Attlee

The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) is mistaken. It is within the discretion of Mr. Speaker whether or not he suspends the Sitting.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

As I read the Motion, the position is as follows. You have complete discretion, Mr. Speaker, to suspend the Sitting if and when an air-raid warning is given, but it seems to be a contradiction that in paragraph (b) you have no discretion to summon the House until after the "all-clear" signal has been given. I beg my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal to reconsider that point, and I suggest that you, Mr. Speaker, should be given discretion to summon the House before the "all-clear" signal has been given, in the same way as you have discretion to suspend the Sitting when an air-raid warning is given.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I hope the Lord Privy Seal will consider a simple Amendment to the Motion so as to leave you, Mr. Speaker, complete authority and power to call the House together again when it has been adjourned on account of an air-raid warning. Surely, it would be only in keeping with your dignity and authority that you should have such power and that you should not be prejudiced by the wording of the Motion. I feel sure that the House wishes to entrust you with that authority.

Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)

There is a very strong feeling in the House that the House should go on sitting, when an air-raid warning has been given, as long as the circumstances permit.

Sir H. O'Neill

I am not quite clear even now about the resumption of the Sitting after it has been suspended. May I suggest to the Lord Privy Seal that it might be a good plan to make an Amendment of this nature—

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you how many speeches an hon. Member is entitled to make on the Motion?

Mr. Speaker

An hon. Member is not allowed to make more than one speech on the Motion, except by leave of the House.

Mr. Attlee

This Motion has been moved purely in the interests of the House, to meet its convenience and particularly to protect the rights of Members. The rights of Members depend to a large extent on the particular hour at which business can be taken. However, if there is criticism of the Motion and if hon. Members wish to make suggestions, I am quite willing to withdraw the Motion, to have the usual inquiries made, and to settle the matter, in consultation with the authorities of the House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.