HC Deb 30 July 1942 vol 382 cc695-702
Mr. Arthur Greenwood

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the Business for the next Sitting Days?

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps)

The Business for the next series of Sitting Days will be as follows:

First Sitting Day—We shall ask the House to pass the United States of America (Visiting Forces) Bill [Lords] through all its stages on grounds of urgency. Afterwards a Debate on Colonial Affairs will take place on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Second Sitting Day—Motion to fix the date of resumption after the Summer Recess. Committee and remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. A Debate will take place on the Eleventh Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure on the Royal Ordnance Factories.

Third Sitting Day—The House will adjourn for the Recess.

During these Sittings, if there is time, we hope to make progress with the Courts (Emergency Powers) Amendment Bill [Lords].

Mr. Greenwood

Will the Leader of the House say whether it is the intention of the Government before the House rises to make a statement on the war situation?

Sir S. Cripps

It is not the present intention of the Government to make any further statement. What may develop during the course of next week it is impossible to say.

Mr. Greenwood

May I put this further point? When the House rises for the Recess it will rise for some quite considerable time. It is some weeks now since we had a statement on the war situation, and in view of the general gravity of the situation will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that there are large numbers of Members in all parties in this House who, while not perhaps wishing for an organised Debate, would like to hear a statement from the Government as to the war situation now?

Sir S. Cripps

I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and his view is that he could not make any useful statement at the present time.

Mr. Greenwood

May I then put the question to my right hon. and learned Friend again on the next Sitting Day?

Sir S. Cripps


Sir John Wardlaw-Milne

Arising out of the statement which the Leader of the House has just made, I would ask the Government, and indeed I would ask the House, if there is no statement upon the war particularly, and indeed in any case, whether it is desirable that the House should adjourn for more than a month at a vital time like this? I ask whether the Government will not, whether the House will not, decide that it is right and wise that the House should return, for at least a day, a fortnight after we adjourn so that there can be some consideration of the war situation?

Mr. Gallacher

On a point of Order. I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is possible for the House to use any procedure to reject this report, in view of the fact that we are getting no statement on the war and in view of the fact that there should be no Recess at this time. [HON. MEMBERS: "What report?"] The report of the programme of Business.

Mr. Speaker

The Leader of the House was giving the agenda of Business for the next series of Sittings.

Sir S. Cripps

In reply to the Question by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), he will be aware that there is already a provision by which the House can be recalled if there is any necessity for that step, and he can rest assured that if it is considered necessary to do so either to make a statement to the House, or for any other reason, the House will be recalled, but as at present advised the Government do not propose to make any statement before the Adjournment.

Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne

Of course, we all know the procedure to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers, and I have no doubt that if the situation were sufficiently serious, the Government would act under it, but I would suggest that it is not right for the House itself to decide to depart and not to meet for more than a month at a critical stage of the war. I think it is for the House itself and not for the Government to decide whether it is right that it should meet.

Mr. Horabin

I wish to raise the question of a war Debate from a rather different angle. I wish to ask the Leader of the House whether the Government are prepared to grant us a Secret Session before we do adjourn, in view of the gravity of the situation. Some of us have urgent matters to bring before the House which cannot be discussed in public in the interests of the country; and, further than that, we should like to have a view of what the Government's military intentions are before we adjourn.

Sir S. Cripps

I explained to the House last week, I think in answer to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), that one thing is quite certain, and that is that whatever the military intentions of the Government may be, the Government would be unable to state those intentions even in Secret Session.

Mr. Gallacher

Will they be able to say that they have any intentions?

Sir S. Cripps

I can tell the hon. Member now that we have intentions.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a request has been made officially by the Leader of the Labour party to the Prime Minister, that the Prime Minister should make a statement on the war situation—not necessarily a statement leading to a Debate—and can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why a request of that kind, made in the normal way, through the usual channels, is ignored by the Government?

Sir S. Cripps

It has not been ignored by the Government. As I told the House, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has considered the question very carefully, and he has come to the conclusion that, at the present time, he could not make a statement which would be of any value to the House and he does not think that it would be wise to make a statement.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson

The Leader of the House has informed us that the Government are prepared to recall the House in case of grave national emergency. I wish, and I think other hon. Members also wish, to have some sort of information on what, in the opinion of the Government, constitutes a grave national emergency, because the opinion of the Government might, in certain circumstances, be diametrically opposed to the opinion of the vast majority in the House and the country outside. If I may give an example—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]

Mr. Speaker

The Leader of the House has told hon. Members that there is to be a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment. We cannot now enter on a discussion, which would only be in anticipation of the Debate on that Motion.

Mr. A. Bevan

I wish to put a question arising out of the answer just given to the hon. Member for Northern Cornwall (Mr. Horabin). I understand that the Government cannot make known their military intentions for reasons which are obvious to everybody, but some of us have certain things to say to the House and to the Government which cannot be said in public without advantage to the enemy. Should it not be possible for the Government to co-operate with us to provide for a Secret Session, so that the Government might hear what some Members of the House have to say to them on the war situation? If not, does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that this is a matter which lies within the province of the House and that we may, ourselves, take steps to ask the House to assist us to have a Secret Session?

Sir S. Cripps

In this matter I am only anxious, naturally, to serve the wishes of the House, but those wishes are not always the same in all quarters of the House. There are, as the hon. Member knows, many Members of the House who object to Secret Sessions, and there has been a certain amount of criticism of the Government for having Secret Sessions.

Mr. Bevan

You always have them when you want them.

Sir S. Cripps

We have them when we think the House would wish to have them. We have quite recently had a Secret Session in which hon. Members were in a position to put forward, in secret, any views they wished, and the Government do not think that at the moment it would be in accordance with the general wishes of the House, or would be useful, to have a further Secret Session.

Sir W. Davison

Does not all this show how desirable it is that the House should meet again in a fortnight's time, when, possibly, the position may have altered?

Dr. Haden Guest

May I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of his own statement made on 20th May—now over two months ago—that the Government were making a carefully-planned attack on the Continent of Europe, it is not treating the House with a certain degree of contempt at this crisis of our history, that no statement is to be made to us on the war situation before we adjourn for the period proposed?

Sir S. Cripps

I should have thought that that was a very good reason for not making a statement—

Dr. Guest

In secret?

Sir S. Cripps

Yes, in secret. I explained to the House before, and I should like to reiterate the statement, if the hon. Member was not here on the previous occasion, that on a matter of such gravity and such risk to so many people it is impossible to commit it even to 615 separate people. The risk is too great in certain matters.

Colonel Arthur Evans

May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a matter of procedure? Would you be good enough to inform the House whether there is any method under the Rules and Procedure of the House, whereby a substantial number of Members of the House, irrespective of the Executive of the day, can represent to you, Sir, that, in their view, it is in the national interest that the House should be summoned?

Mr. Speaker

I can only say that hon. Members should take steps through the ordinary channels.

Mr. Shinwell

But the ordinary channels have been ignored.

Mr. Stokes

May I put this point to the Leader of the House with regard to the question of a Secret Session? Does he recollect that on 15th May last year, the Prime Minister said it was not for the Government to say whether Secret Sessions should take place or not, but for this House to decide, and that ever since then we have had a series of Secret Sessions organised by the Government at which we have been, told nothing that could not have been stated in public? We are now in a position in which certain hon. Members desire to say something to the Government which cannot be said in public, and is it not right, in that case, that the Government should reconsider their present decision?

Sir S. Cripps

In this matter the Government attempt to arrange things in accordance with the general view of the House, and I assure the hon. Member that his views are not always shared by everybody else in the House.

Mr. Bellenger

May I put this point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman? We have only recently had a Secret Session, and, of course, if the circumstances did not warrant, and if the House was not shortly going into Recess, perhaps it would have been unnecessary at this stage to ask for a further Secret Session. But, in the present circumstances, in view of the gravity of the situation and the fact that certain hon. Members desire to put certain matters before the Government—not necessarily in the nature of a second front Debate—will the right hon. and learned Gentleman pay attention to the wishes of the House? He is probably aware that it is within the province of any hon. Member to spy Strangers, though we would rather not do that on our own initiative if the Government will accede to our request.

Sir S. Cripps

The hon. Member, like every other hon. Member, can, of course, spy Strangers, but it might not be very useful to do so if the Debate were not on a subject-matter which would cover the points it was desired to raise.

Sir A. Knox

Is it not possible for hon. Members who have advice to give to the Government on the conduct of the war, to put that advice into letters and send them to the Government?

Sir Reginald Clarry

Do we understand that the House will have an opportunity of deciding what is to be the period of the Recess? There is a large body of opinion which considers that the period proposed is too long.

Mr. Speaker

There will be a Motion on the subject before the House at a subsequent Sitting.

Mr. W. Brown

I desire to raise a lesser but still substantial point in connection with the order of Business, though if the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes at this moment to deal with the wider issues involved, I am prepared to give way. My point arises out of a reply given by the Leader of the House yesterday to a question by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), which, I understand, was asked without notice having been given to another hon. Member who is concerned. The question was whether we were likely to have a Debate on the Report of the Public Accounts Committee on a case which affects the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall). The Leader of the House replied that, at the moment, the minutes of evidence were not available, and it was understood of course that, in those circumstances, we could not have such a Debate. I wish to ask whether the evidence is likely to be available before the House rises, and, if so, could we have a Debate on this matter before the House rises, or, alternatively, if the evidence is not likely to be available until after the resumption, could we have a Debate as soon as it is available?

Sir S. Cripps

I am afraid I could not answer the second question now, but I am informed that the evidence will not be available before the Adjournment.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask whether the Government have reconsidered their decision not to have a Debate before the Recess on the subject of the proposed increases in soldiers' pay and allowances to dependants; and if they cannot afford facilities for such a Debate before the Recess, could they give a firm assurance to the House that on our reassembly and after the Government's consideration of any proposals which they get from the Service Departments, they will have a Debate immediately?

Sir S. Cripps

Opportunities for debating this matter will be given, as I have already said, soon after we resume. I cannot say "immediately," but it will be very soon after the resumption.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I go back to the main question and make an appeal to the Leader of the House? The House is now about to adjourn—or the Government suggest that it should adjourn—for some weeks. Events are moving terribly quickly. Definite pledges seem to have been given by the Prime Minister and by the President of America. These matters are being discussed up and down the country, and there is tremendous public interest. Meetings are being held. Is it not possible for this House to exercise its position as the voice of democracy and to discuss these matters, or must we adjourn and await events?

Sir S. Cripps

I have already answered several times the hon. and learned Member's question, in the course of the answers I have given.

Mr. Thorne

Meet five days a week, as we did before the war, if you want to get through the Business.