HC Deb 20 November 1941 vol 376 cc464-7
Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make regarding the forthcoming business of the House?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

The business for the next Sitting Days will be as follows: —

First Sitting Day.—We shall continue the general Debate on the Address, when it will be possible for hon. Members to raise any matter in which they are interested.

Second Sitting Day.—The House will consider the Amendment relating to Defence Regulation 18B.

Third Sitting Day.—The Debate on the Address will be concluded, after consideration of the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern).

I am informed that Mr. Speaker intends to select both these Amendments.

During those days we shall consider Motions to approve the Potatoes (1941 Crop) (Charges) Order and the Home-Grown Oates (Standard Prices) Order.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

The Prime Minister makes no mention of any time for discussion of the allowances to soldiers' dependants to which I referred earlier in our proceedings. May I ask him whether he will undertake to give facilities for such a discussion at an early date?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, certainly. The Debate on the Address will be finished as I have indicated, and afterwards we shall have to make a statement about man-power, a subject of great importance which affects many aspects of our problem. As soon as that is disposed of we shall have an early opportunity of discussing pay and allowances.

Mr. A. Bevan

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise what has happened to his statement that the Debate on the Address gave an opportunity for every Member to express his opinions? In point of fact, even if we have the next Sitting Day, we shall have had a much smaller opportunity for discussion than would have been offered by one ordinary day. May I respectfully submit that this is an important matter? Hon. Members have prepared speeches on the general course of the war which they will have no opportunity of delivering. I thought that the Prime Minister was anxious that we should have the opportunity of giving comfort to the Government, but owing to the arrangements made between the usual quarters in the House we have been denied that opportunity. One day is not sufficient, and will the Prime Minister not consider, therefore, the possibility of giving further additional days for a general Debate on the Address? May I say this in addition? It was the practice to have four days on the Debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech and then to call Amendments on the fifth or sixth day. On this occasion an Amendment is being called long before there has been the Debate on the Address at all.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

In view of the fact that these few days are supposed to be for general Debate when everybody should have an opportunity of speaking on the subject he desires, is it not rather unfortunate, to put it mildly, that any Member of this House who is prepared to speak on a matter which has already been chosen by the Whips, for example, agriculture, has a much better chance of getting in than someone who does not want to speak on a matter chosen by the Whips but only on a matter chosen by himself?

The Prime Minister

The Government are giving eight Sitting Days to the Debate on the Address, whereas last year only seven Sitting Days were used, and the House, through all its usual channels, makes what choice it likes in its use of that time. We have not endeavoured to put any duress or pressure upon the House. Every effort has been made to find out what it was they would like to discuss, and we have met their wishes. The first day and the second day were both days when topics were general. There has, in fact, been no Amendment moved so far except, I believe, an Amendment dealing with religious education, and therefore, very wide latitude has prevailed. Now there is to be the next Sitting Day, which is another day and which will give three Parliamentary days for general topics apart from Amendments. We may, if desired, suspend the Rule on that day, but I think that eight days, and for the House to make what arrangements it likes about them, is quite proper treatment of the Debate on the Address. Of course, it may be that what is arranged through the usual channels does not suit every Member. Some are very difficult to suit, but at any rate these principles and processes have been working for a long time, and I have every reason to believe that they do give satisfaction to the great bulk of Members.

Mr. Bevan

Surely the Prime Minister has distorted the whole situation. Last Tuesday week, for example, we concluded the Debate, at his own request, at an early hour. We had one very short day, against which we have protested from time to time, following it, and we shall have a further day on the next Sitting Day. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that the usual channels arrange these things, which means, in fact, that. the Government arrange these things. The House has not had any opportunity to express its voice on the policy of the Government except through the limited opportunities provided by the gerrymandering of Debate through the usual channels.

The Prime Minister

I think that is a very unfair suggestion. The representatives of the three parties, it is quite true, do support the Government, but those who are outside and take an independent view get their chance of expressing their views through their respective parties as to the course decided upon. I do not think that can be called gerrymandering, except by those who have a predilection for using offensive terms.

Mr. Bevan

That is a predilection in which we follow the Prime Minister. We shall have an opportunity of pointing out how offensive some of his references have been in the very recent past. It was entirely unnecessary and unprecedented to have used yesterday's Debate for the discussion of very small matters for which ample opportunity would be provided in future.