§ The Prime Minister
I beg to move:That during the present Session—
- (1) Government business shall have precedence at every sitting;
- (2) The following provisions shall have effect as respects public Bills: —
- (a) no Bills other, than Government Bills shall be introduced;
- (b) whenever the House is adjourned for more than one day, notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules (whether they are to be moved in Committee or on Report) received by the Clerks at the Table at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on the last day of adjournment may be accepted by them as if the House was sitting;
- (c) notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before a Bill has been read a second time;
- (d) a new clause may be moved on report without notice, notwithstanding anything in Standing Order No. 37.
- (3) A Motion by a Minister of the Crown under paragraph (8) of Standing Order No. 1 may be made without notice, and may be made at any time after the commencement of public business as well as at the commencement of public business;
- (4) Whenever the House is adjourned for more than one day, notices of questions received by the Clerks at the Table at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on the last day of adjournment may be accepted—
- (a) if received before 4.30 p.m. on the penultimate day of adjournment, as if they had been given on that day at a time when the House was sitting, and
- ( b) if received thereafter, as if they had been given on the last day of adjournment at a time when the House was sitting.For the purposes of this Order the expression 'day of adjournment' means a day on which the House is not sitting, not being a Saturday or Sunday.".I indicated to the House yesterday that the Government intended to take the whole time of the House for Government Business and to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only during the 68 present Session. The Motion on the Paper carries out these proposals. In taking this course the Government are following the precedents of the last two Sessions, and of the last war. The House is asked to agree to the proposals for the same reasons which were advanced on the previous occasions, namely, that our deliberations must be concentrated upon those matters or measures which are vitally connected with the effective prosecution of the war and that the times are inappropriate to bring forward controversial legislation or matters of academic interest. This was the justification made by Mr. Asquith on 3rd February, 1915, in moving a similar motion. He added:… so long as this Order is in force they (the Government) will introduce no legislation of a party or a contentious character, and that they will, indeed, confine, as we propose to confine, their legislative proposals, unless in some exceptional case in regard to which there is general agreement, to such measures as may be found necessary to facilitate, financially or otherwise, the successful prosecution of the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1915; cols. 46–47, Vol. 69.]I repeated that assurance last year, and I take occasion to repeat it this year. The House will, I am sure, admit that there have been a great many opportunities for raising matters of general interest. We have had a very large number of Debates on almost all the important aspects of our life in present conditions. There is no reason why such facilities should not be provided in the coming Session. It is the desire of the Government that they should be continued—at any rate until we get to some point in the Session where, in order to wind up our affairs, Government Business must monopolise the whole time. I have made it clear that the rights of Members to criticise the action of the Government will remain unimpaired by the Motion. I am sorry that Private Members have not the facilities of bringing forward their legislative proposals, but the present time is not appropriate for the consideration of such Measures, and if any suggestions are made to Ministers, they will receive careful consideration. If Members feel that something needs to be done, they should have recourse to the Ministers upon the subject, and then the Government could, of course, initiate legislation.
The remaining provisions in the Motion I am moving continue the arrangements that were in operation last Session in regard to the sending in of Amendments to 69 Bills and notices of Questions on days when the House is not sitting, the handing in of Amendments to Bills before the Second Reading and the dispensing with the usual notice for new Clauses to be moved on the Report stage. We took those steps under the conditions of war, and I think they were found generally convenient, and the House would like to have the same flexibility in the present Session. We also ask the House to continue the power by which the suspension of the Rule may be moved without notice. This power was used only on a few occasions last Session, and we feel that it should not become a practice to move such a Motion without due notice. We cannot foresee with accuracy in these times of trial the course of events, but we feel that the Government should have this power which might occasionally be required to meet the general convenience of the House and to obtain essential Government Business.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
As one who has promoted a number of private Bills and opposed a number, I think that the Prime Minister is right in the course he is asking the House to take. I really got up to draw attention to something which may interest hon. Members and to say how much better the House of Commons is doing its job in this war than in the last war. The House was in Session when the last war started, on 4th August, 1914. Parliament was prorogued on 18th September and did not meet again until 10th November, so that for a period of some seven weeks we were in a state of Prorogation with no power to bring us together under, I think, three weeks' notice. That was an unfortunate precedent, and I congratulate the Government on not following it. The House sat from 10th to 27th November and then adjourned until 2nd February. It is extraordinary that that was tolerated, but it was tolerated, and I congratulate the Government upon showing a much better example this time than was the case in the last war.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I do not think that this Motion should be allowed to pass without, at any rate, my registering a formal protest. There is no doubt that we are going to grant, and the House will readily grant, this Motion, but I think Members would like to preserve their right, so that when 70 happier times come there will be no possibility of the Executive taking advantage of the concessions which Private Members have given to it during the stress of war. There is one point I would like to make. It is not so much a question of giving the Government Private Members' time but the use that the Government make of the time that has been granted. We all think that better use should be made of that time. You, Sir, have suggested on many occasions that shorter speeches could be made, thereby saving time. But in spite of your many appeals the only Members of this House who have responded so far are the Scots. May I make the suggestion, which has been made on one or two occasions before, that we should break the tradition which has grown up in this House—the tradition under which ex-Ministers and Privy Councillors have a sort of right and precedence over Private Members? It is not a good tradition, Mr. Speaker, because it leads to dreariness in Debate, repetitive Debate, boring Debate and finally a sense of frustration to those who have not been fortunate enough to catch your eye. There is another point which arises on this. During the last few months the so-called front Opposition Bench has become rather overflowing with self-appointed leaders, so that the situation has become even more difficult. I would like an answer from you if possible, Mr. Speaker; to the question why ex-Ministers who have perhaps not been a conspicuous success while they were Ministers, should have precedence over back benchers who have never had an opportunity of proving whether they have been good or bad.
§ Sir T. Moore
If I may say so, it follows on a point I made when I rose, which is that we do not want in any way to take up the time of the Government, but those of us who are sometimes not fortunate enough to catch your eye want to make sure that when the Government get this time, they will make better use of it. We all know that new Members come to this House with useful, ingenious and beneficial ideas. They have the misfortune not to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and finally only expound their ideas in the cloakroom and smokeroom. So they have a sense of frustration which leads finally to a lack of interest in the 71 proceedings of this House. If at any time there is so much interest in the Debate that Members who have not been able to speak—and who think they have useful suggestions to make—express a wish that the Debate shall be continued another day, I hope the Government will be good enough to give the necessary time. That is the only way, I think, in which this sense of frustration can be met.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I would like to say that on the question of time I would be very happy to give lots of time to many Members of the present Government, with hard labour attached. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will not introduce anything of a party or controversial character, but I do not know of anything that will be introduced that will not be controversial in one direction or another. If Private Members' time is to be taken away, are we to be given an opportunity of discussing in its various phases the operation of the means test? Some time ago the Prime Minister said that the obnoxious character of the means test would be abolished so far as old age pensioners are concerned, but some of us are not satisfied that this has been carried out. Not only this, but the means test has been applied in a wider and more total character to the whole question of dependants' allowances. It is clear that Members of this House, not only on this side but on the other side, want to discuss dependants' allowances and the character and administration of the means test. They want to discuss it still further in relation of old people and wherever it may be operated.
Again, there is the question of Scotland, which we want to discuss during this Session. Some of us feel that big advances should be made in Scottish affairs and the development of a measure of self-government. It is very much of an anomaly that we should be so concerned at discussing self-government for other people while not being allowed to discuss self-government for Scotland. What is the sense of having any discussions at all if we are not to discuss matters of a controversial character? If you get on to controversial matters, you will find them taking on a party character, because the gang on the other side is against progress every time, whereas the people on this 72 side, with all their faults and great weaknesses, are in general for progress and the measures that will make for progress. I would like to know whether it would be possible to have a discussion on the means test as it applies to old age pensioners and dependants. Members are getting letters from mothers of men who are serving in the Forces which show that shameful ill-treatment is being imposed on dependants of men in the Army. These things must be discussed, and I ask the Prime Minister whether he will give an opportunity during this Session for a full-dress Debate on the question of the means test as it applies to old age pensioners and dependants of men serving in the Forces.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I do not want to cross swords with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore), but most of us agree with the Motion. May I say, quite frankly, that nobody who has seen the Government Chief Whip at work during the last 12 months fails to realise that he has attempted to be very accommodating to Members of the House of Commons, especially to my colleagues from Scotland, but occasionally Debates have become more important from the Private Member's point of view after they have started. I have in mind the recent Debate dealing with war pensions, which became extremely important after the Minister had spoken. I make no criticism of long speeches, providing they are good, but I criticise both short and long speeches if they are bad.
The point is that the Minister spoke twice and the Parliamentary Secretary spoke once, and there was practically no time life for back-benchers, with a few exceptions. On that occasion the issue really developed after the Debate had opened, and the question I want to ask is whether some method cannot be found so that, after a Debate has opened and it is found that it is an important matter for back-benchers, representations can be made to the authorities to have the suspension of the normal sitting time moved, and so facilitate the continuation of the Debate and allow adequate time for the discussion of important matters. In some cases another time could be found for such a discussion perhaps, but in the Debate to which I refer the circumstances did not permit this; it was almost at the end of a Session, the Business had to be got 73 through, and that was the only practicable date for the Debate. Consequently, I ask the Government to consider whether, in circumstances such as I have mentioned, some method cannot be found for representations to be made with a view to the suspension of the normal sitting time in order to allow the Debate to continue longer.
§ Mr. Thorne (Plaistow)
I do not think anyone can charge me with making long or frequent speeches. I very seldom speak in the House, although in days gone by I did so as frequently perhaps as any hon. Member on these Benches. I want to object to one thing that was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). He said that members of the Labour party on the Front Opposition Bench are self-appointed. I want to remind the hon. and gallant Member that there is no member of our party who is self-appointed; all of them are duly elected in a very democratic way, perhaps in the most democratic way that any member of any party can be elected. I want also to object to a statement that was made by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). In speaking on the question of time, he said that he would give a very large number of Members of the Government a good deal of time and hard labour. I do not know what he meant by that, because it would be a very bad job for this country if the mouth of the Prime Minister were closed and he was sent away and was not able to defend the interests of this country. I say quite frankly that in my opinion there is not another man in this country who could do the work which the Prime Minister is doing at the present time.
§ Mr. Thorne
Moreover, this is not a one-man Government. There are other Members of the Government, as well as the Prime Minister, doing very important work, and I want to offer my congratulations to all members of the Government, because I do not know from where we could get a set of men in whom there was more confidence at the present time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.74
That during the present Session—
For the purposes of this Order the expression "day of adjournment" means a day on which the House is not sitting, not being a Saturday or Sunday.