§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I am glad the Leader of the House has found it convenient to be present and I am grateful to him, for I wish to raise a question at very short notice. I asked the Prime Minister to-day, and the Chair, what would be the limitations imposed on the Debate on the next Sitting Day arising out of the Prime Minister's statement that he proposed to treat as a Vote of Confidence the issue of equal pay for equal work in the teaching profession. The Prime Minister, I am sure unconsciously, misled the House because he gave the impression that the Debate would range over a very wide field, and particularly would take into account the fact that the Government were making it a question of confidence. I was very doubtful in my mind at the time and that is why I raise the matter, because I am certain the Prime Minister, and I am sure the House, would not want to discuss a matter of this gravity in circumstances which would curtail the discussion. I 1481 understand from inquiries I have made that, in fact, when we come to discuss the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," we shall be prevented from discussing any of the issues raised by the Prime Minister in his statement to-day. We shall in fact be confined to the actual purport of the Clause itself. There are circumstances in which the Chairman of Ways and Means can be prevailed upon, at the request of the Committee, to allow the Debate to be fairly wide, but only by way of telescoping a number of issues relevant to the Bill on the discussion "That the Clause stand part." What the Chairman of Ways and Means is prevented from doing is allowing the discussion to travel beyond the Bill itself. Indeed he is confined to the actual terms of the Clause. This is what Erskine May says on the subject:When a Clause has been amended, the question put from the Chair is 'That this Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,' and no other Amendment can be proposed to a Clause after this question has been proposed from the Chair. Debates upon this Question must be confined to the Clause as amended and must not extend to a discussion of the circumstances under which particular Amendments were made or to a review in detail of the proceedings on the Clause. It has been ruled that, when the Question, 'That this Clause stand part of the Bill' has been proposed from the Chair, it cannot be withdrawn.I do not mind what steps the Government propose to take, but I suggest that the House itself should be under no misapprehension as to what the position is. It is far better that we should make the matter clear to-day than involve ourselves in an unseemly discussion with the Chairman of Ways and Means later. I have been told that the Government were aware of the narrow limits of the discussion, in which case I am bound to say the Government are tricking the House. If the Government wish to have a discussion on a Vote of Confidence there are endless opportunities, but surely what amounts to sharp practice is to try to get the Vote of Confidence on a narrow issue on which the issues of a Vote of Confidence cannot be raised. The constitutional implications of the Prime Minister's position cannot be discussed although many of us take the view that his decision has actually killed all reconstruction legislation. Although the Government have promised a succession of Bills, it will be impossible to discuss them effectively in Committee, 1482 because every time the House tries to assert its will it will find itself in conflict with the Government as a whole and every detail of the Bill will be treated as a Vote of Censure upon the Government.
Above and beyond the narrow issue of whether we are in favour of equal pay for equal work, the decision of the Prime Minister to make this a matter of confidence raises issues of the widest possible political importance. Nevertheless, he has sought an opportunity which prevents this from being properly examined. What are the Government afraid of? The Prime Minister came down to-day in a spirit of braggadocio. He said, "I am going to take the first adverse vote for three years on a comparatively minor Amendment to a Bill, and I am going to treat it as a Vote of Confidence and the House must understand that, if it votes against the Government, the fate of the Government is involved." That is using the big stick with a vengeance. I do not mind the Government using the big stick. The trouble is that the Government have decided that this issue is to be raised in circumstances in which the Debate will be wholly stultified. There is another issue on which the House ought to be seized.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Is there not a unique situation here by virtue of the fact that there is a large element of the Labour Party making up the Government and that we are dealing with a joint Coalition Government? It is not the old situation of one party in Government and one party in Opposition.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not quarrelling with the desire of the Government to have a Vote of Confidence. That is not my issue. The Government are perfectly entitled to ask for it whenever they like. The issue here is that the Government are asking for a Vote of Confidence on a question on which the Vote of Confidence cannot be discussed. A large number of Members on all sides of the House will want to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the implications of the Government's position, but the Chair is bound to prevent them doing so. Therefore, the Debate is bound to be merely a repetition of the virtues or otherwise of equal pay for equal work for women teachers.
There is another matter which the House ought to take into account. I 1483 have held the view, and I think that it has been held by hon. Members in many parts of the House, that in these days, in view of the fact that we cannot have a General Election—or it has been decided that a General Election would be inadvisable—the Government are not able to avail themselves of the normal sanction. When the Government come into conflict with the House of Commons in normal times, they decide to appeal to the country against the House of Commons, and the electorate are called in to arbitrate between the Executive and the Commons. That sanction is withheld from us by the circumstances of the day. I have, therefore, taken the view, and it has been taken by other hon. Members, that in these circumstances, as the Government cannot appeal to the country, they should rest themselves upon the House of Commons itself, that the House becomes the electorate for the Government, and that consequently the Government should be guided by what the House thinks. The Prime Minister's decision, however, amounts to this—he not only rejects the authority of the electorate because they cannot be appealed to, but he also rejects the authority of the House of Commons. Therefore, the Government become a cabal. If we dare to vote against the Government on a comparatively unimportant matter about which we may feel very keenly, the Government say, "Oh, no. we will have none of this. You either take it or leave it." What is the effect of that? We might as well abandon all Committee stages and all Bills from now on.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Gentleman's intervention has not its usual pertinence. He is one of those irresponsible people who knows that he will never be elected to the House again and does not care what he says. What I am endeavouring to do is to see whether it is possible for the House to debate the issues which the House wishes to debate, and I am trying to put the argument which the hon. Gentleman 1484 obviously thinks to be unimportant, that after debate we shall be voting on something which we shall not be able to discuss. That is the issue I am asking the House to consider. I should have thought that with a Coalition Government of this sort, the Government would collect the voices of the House from time to time, and if they receive a defeat, if the House expresses itself contrary to the wishes of the Government, the Government should accept that as the decision of the House. Naturally, if the defeats were repeated often, then the Government would have to reconstruct themselves and frame their policies more in accordance with the wishes of the House. But no one can suggest for a moment that one defeat in three years has brought the Government to that extremity. Therefore, I say respectfully to the House that the Government have seized this opportunity to bully the House into acquiescence in whatever they decide to do. That is inconsistent with the dignity of the House of Commons and with good government.
May I say one thing further, because we cannot say this in the forthcoming Debate. None of these arguments can be used in the course of the Debate on the Vote of Confidence. The country will be puzzled. The House of Commons, after a long Debate, has reached a certain decision which the Government refuse to accept. Rightly or wrongly, the country believes that in electing 615 Members to this place it has elected the people who will decide what the laws are to be. There will be hopeless confusion, not only among the civilian population but in the Armed Forces, if the House of Commons decides a principle one day and then reverses it the next because the Government will not accept it. They will say, "Who is governing Great Britain?" This will come badly from a Prime Minister who was put there by the House of Commons and not by the country. The Prime Minister is a creature of the House of Commons. Most Prime Ministers have received mandates from the country at elections, but the present Prime Minister is one whose mandate derives exclusively from the House of Commons.
Sir Patrick Hannan (Birmingham, Moseley)
With the support of the country.
§ Mr. Bevan
Certainly, because the country supports us. I am not trying to strain a point. I am only putting the 1485 point that the electorate which chose the Prime Minister is the House of Commons. The House is the electorate for this Government. It was not a mandated Government from the country. This is, therefore, the very Government which of all Governments should be prepared to accept the verdict of the House of Commons.
§ Sir P. Hannon
The election of the Prime Minister was endorsed by the full sentiment of the whole country.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is estopped from using that argument because there has been no way of deciding what the opinion of the country is. I accept what he says, however, that the majority of the country heartily supported the Prime Minister. All I am saying is that in point of fact the electorate which appointed the Prime Minister was the House of Commons. Therefore, in these special circumstances the Prime Minister should have particular regard to the wishes of his electorate. Instead of that, he bullies them and says that if they dare to exercise their free right of deciding a matter he will say that the whole fate of the Government is involved in it. The Under-Secretary of State for Air goes round the country talking about freedom for British citizens. The only citizen in this country who is not allowed to be free is the Member of Parliament. He is the one person who is not allowed to express his opinion.
The Prime Minister used to-day a most dangerous argument, one which I am afraid will have a lot of consequences for us and for him. He said that he desired this Vote of Confidence because, as we are on the eve of great military operations, it is necessary that the Government should have an authority which is unquestioned. As we are going into the difficult and fateful operations, the inference is that anybody who votes against tthe Government will be jeopardising those operations. What does that mean? Does it mean that we must give 100 per cent. support to the Government on every proposition they bring before the House lest it be said that we are stabbing the Army in the back? Is that the assumption? In other words, must the ordinary processes of Parliament be arrested as a pre-requisite for effective military operations? That is the inference behind the Prime Minister's statement. It is true that we can criticise the Govern- 1486 ment, but if we carry a majority in the Division Lobby against the Government the Prime Minister treats that, not merely as an attack on the Government, but as an unpatriotic attack upon the whole war effort of the country. That, surely, is an argument which we cannot possibly support for a moment. It is surely an argument that the Prime Minister cannot sustain, and I challenge him to sustain it. He will not do so in the forthcoming Debate because he will not speak in it. The reason why he will not speak is that he does not know anything about the issues before the House, and he cannot talk about anything outside those issues. In those circumstances, the House is being put in an entirely false position.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The hon. Gentleman does not know the Prime Minister is not going to speak.
§ Mr. Bevan
It has never stopped the noble Lady. I hope that the Prime Minister will speak, because I am sure that if he does he will so enlarge the Debate that the Chairman will find it difficult to confine it. I say that in these circumstances the House of Commons is being manoeuvred into a false position from which it ought to extricate itself to-day and not leave the whole matter until the Debate itself when it will be confined within the narrow terms of the Standing Orders
Many hon. Members in all parts of the House are very distressed about this situation. I am not distressed. I will be quite frank. I have no confidence in the Government's conduct of the war and have long lost confidence in the Prime Minister. So I am not distressed by the situation, and I shall not find myself embarrassed by voting against the Government.
§ Mr. Bevan
I have seen the hon. Member embarrassed on more than one occasion, and deservedly so. I shall not find any difficulty about voting against the Government, but there are hon. Members in all parts of the House who will find themselves in an absurd situation, because the issue before the House will not be a Vote of Confidence in the Government but whether they are still in favour of equal pay for men and women teachers. That will be the issue. Having expressed themselves yesterday, they will feel inclined to express themselves in the Debate. I am certain that if the Prime Minister had put a Motion on the Order Paper expressing confidence in the Government, the overwhelmingly majority of the House would have supported him. I am certain of that. If the Government desire to reinforce their authority this is the step they should take. By making a Vote of Confidence and the principle of equal pay for men and women teachers one and the same thing, they produce a false position for Members. They know that in order to vote in favour of a Vote of Confidence in the Government hon. Members have to vote against the principle of equal pay for women.
§ Mr. Bevan
I say that there is no need for the Government to put the House of Commons in this false position, when there- are so many means available to them of reinforcing their authority. I want to represent in the strongest possible terms that the handling of this matter by the Government has not reflected credit upon the Government, or, indeed, sustained the authority of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I want to put in a repetition of what I said by way of interjec- 1488 tion. If the House of Commons were designed at this moment according to its own pattern, of a powerful party in the State controlling the Executive and the less powerful party in opposition, if the Prime Minister of the day in those circumstances should speak as the Prime Minister spoke to-day, on the face of it it would look as if the Prime Minister was adopting a very imperious attitude and one which would be the very negation of the spirit of the House of Commons.
Let us be reasonable here and look at the facts. I am in favour of equal pay, and voted for it yesterday, but I did feel that it was most unfortunate that an Amendment of that kind should have come in as a side issue on a Bill. Here was a major problem being attached to a Bill on education. I think it was most unfortunate, but there it was. I will not debate that aspect of it any further, but I want to deal with the situation which we are discussing now. I say that if the Prime Minister represented one particular party holding a majority in the country, and was speaking in the name of the Executive, and had spoken as he did today, it would have seemed a somewhat imperious attitude, one dead against the whole spirit of the House of Commons. I can afford, being a little removed, on this side of the Gangway, to take a mare abstracted view of the situation, a rather latitudinarian attitude.
What are the facts, as I see them? The Prime Minister does not represent a majority party when he sits there as Prime Minister. He represents a collection, a coalition of all parties dominant in the House of Commons. Let me say in passing that I have lived in the shadow of this building since 1911. I am a bit old here, I have seen the rise and fall of many Parliamentarians here, and I would like to say this about the present Prime Minister: Whatever faults he has, I have always to admit that he is a House of Commons man. I have always recognised that. He has vacillated among the parties politically, and I regret that. Being a House of Commons man, as I know he is, he would, I take it, have consulted the Coalition Government before he made that statement. I cannot believe that he came here and made the statement without collecting the wills and the intentions of his colleagues in the Government. The Labour Party sits in that Government. 1489 We had better be careful here. Did the Labour Party assent to the proposed course on the Education Bill?
§ Mr. Bevan
The logic of my hon. Friend's speech appears to be that as there are Liberals, Tories and Socialists in the Government who agree upon this Bill, therefore it is incumbent upon every Liberal, Tory and Socialist to dot the i's and cross the t's of all the Measures of the Government that come before the House.
§ Mr. MacLaren
As I say, I am batting on a rather sticky wicket, but I am going to try my arm. I am only saying that the Prime Minister is in a peculiar position. He is the Prime Minister of a Coalition Government and therefore he must have collected the wills of his colleagues. If I were in his position, or if my hon. Friend were in a similar position, he would consult all who were represented in his Executive and he would assume, would he not, that when he was consulting with those representatives of various political parties he was getting the official opinion of the parties represented in the Executive? I am not putting forward an apologia for the Prime Minister, but I am trying to put the position as I see it, knowing him, and knowing what happened to-day. I want my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), for whom I have the greatest regard as a Parliamentarian and a live Parliamentarian, to have regard to these facts. His own representatives are sitting there, and may have assented to the—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sure they did. The Prime Minister must have had the collective voice of his Executive before he made his statement. If there is to be an extended discussion along these lines, the logical sequence is that the Labour Party will have to recall from the Government their own representatives. I am putting this forward very seriously. I have as much reverence and regard for the House of Commons as any other Member of it.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Whatever may be the opinions of those who used to be in the Government and cannot get back into it now, I am not going to enter into that aspect. I do not want anything to be 1490 done that looks rash. I am only arguing and submitting a case, and I say that the logical sequence is that if the Labour Party take up this attitude they must recall from the Executive—
§ Mr. Silverman
If I am following the hon. Member's argument, not merely would it be necessary for the Labour Party, or those of us who agree with this point of view, to recall our respresentatives from the Government, but for the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) and the two hon. Gentlemen whom I see on the third bench behind the Government, who share the view that we are now expressing and who voted with us yesterday, to recall the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Much as I appreciate the impetuosity of youth which is attempting to bring new blood into the Conservative Party, it is a fact that that young party have a representative in the Executive of the day.
§ Mr. Silverman
Exactly. They are representatives of the Conservative Party, and it is the leader of the Conservative Party who is Prime Minister.
§ Mr. MacLaren
My hon. Friend knows exactly what I mean. I am quite sure that he will agree with me that the hon. Gentlemen to whom he referred do not carry such weight and power within their own party as he does, and as the Labour Party do within the Cabinet. I cannot resist putting forward the argument for the position as I see it. It seems to be clear that if the Prime Minister had spoken on behalf of a party holding a majority in this House, it would have been strictly unconstitutional for him to say what he said to-day, but he does not speak as a member of one party or as representing one party. He spoke, I take it, as a representative of the collective will of a combined Executive of this House. Again I come back to what my hon. Friend said. It is true that the Prime Minister is a creature of this House. He was created by the House of Commons. True, he had the country behind 1491 him, but to that extent again he is a creature of the House more than ever in the present situation. He can only voice the will of the House of Commons as he knows it in close proximity to him in his Executive. Therefore, I merely present a logical analysis of the situation which now faces us.
The argument so far sustained, with the ability and the brilliance we always associate with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, is one that could carry weight if there were no Coalition, when it would be invincible. There would be no reply to it. If the Prime Minister had been speaking to-day with no Coalition—I do not think he would have done it, knowing him—the argument and the criticism now advanced would have invincible force behind them. If this Debate is to continue along these lines I do hope that those who carry it on will bear in mind the points I have tried to make. If I am wrong, it will not he the first time.
I repeat that I cannot believe the Prime Minister—knowing him as I have for all these years—was so far remiss in his appreciation of the position in the House of Commons that he came and made that statement on his own responsibility. I believe that he came here after having collected the unanimous will and the mind of his Executive. That, to him, means the entire political set-up of the House of Commons as a whole. Therefore, if we are to attack on any other ground, I would rather hear the argument first. The arguments so far sustained are not advanced with a full realisation of the circumstances in which this event is taking place.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I do not want to enter into a wide discussion of the general views involved, for reasons which were frankly stated to-day by those who took part in the discussion at that time, but I think that, at any rate in the earlier part, the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) did raise a point of substance as to the extremely narrow nature of the discussion which will be allowed in the coining Debate, if the course proposed by the Government is to be adopted. The hon. Gentleman read out a passage from Erskine May which I had myself brought into the House of Commons. I shall not read it again, but it does seem to me that 1492 if the Debate is to be confined to the Clause as amended and must not extend to a discussion of the circumstances under which particular Amendments were made, or to a review in detail of the proceedings of the Clause, that discussion will undoubtedly be too narrow to afford any means of discussion at all. I frankly exclude from any consideration at all in any part of my argument the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that the Government deliberately tried to trick the House of Commons into a narrow discussion of this kind. I do not think that that is the case at all. On the contrary, I understood my right hon. Friend frankly to say that he hoped that the Debate would be somewhat wide in character, and I believe that he intended to give a Debate of that kind.
§ Mr. Hogg
I accept what the hon. Member has said. I believe that the exact terms of the Rules of Order could not have been before my right hon. Friend when he made that promise, because, as I see it, some of the supporters of the Government will be put in a seriously embarrassing position, which they do not deserve to be put into, if this course is adopted. I do not for a moment believe if was the original intention of the Government to put them in such a position. As I see it, the situation is this: Some of us have asserted throughout these proceedings our belief in two propositions. We believe, first, that there should be equal pay for men and women teachers in the same job.
§ Mr. Hogg
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was saying that that is one proposition in which we believe. The second proposition in which we believe is that in the present stage of the war, it would be a disaster if the Government should fall, and we should be prepared on any Motion of Confidence in the 1493 Government, to support the Government with a view to preventing that disaster, which must override anything, however important, which is part of an Education Bill. That being so, I, personally, deplore that the Government did not put down a Motion of Confidence on the Paper so that we could vote straight "Aye" or "No" whether we had confidence in the Government. They have not, in fact, chosen to do so. They have chosen to put us in the position either to reject the one proposition or the other. I very much deplore that they should have done so. But when we are put in this additional embarrassment, that not only have we to choose between two propositions in both of which we believe, but we are not to be allowed to say why we are doing it, then I do think we are being put in a wholly false position. I do not for a moment suggest that it has been done deliberately. What I suggest to the House is this: In the first place we are entitled at some time to a Ruling on what will be, and will not be, in Order on the next Sitting Day. In the second place, if as I apprehend from the passage in Erskine May to which reference has been made, that is perfectly plain, I do ask the Government out of the goodness of their heart to treat their supporters—
§ Viscountess Astor
I think this is so very important that we should have the attention of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I can say, as one who travelled from Scotland during the night and unfortunately was not in the Division Lobby, that if I had been here, I would have added one more to the majority that appeared in the Division list. It appears to me that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has made out a splendid case for some more definite Motion being placed on the Order Paper, or some better opportunity given than is to be afforded on the next Sitting Day to discuss the Clause for the benefit of those who desire to support the Government and at the same time are 1494 in favour of equal pay for equal work in connection with the Education Bill. In passing may I say I believe that a tremendous amount of the trouble that has been developing in this House has been due from the outset to the fact that the Prime Minister, when the Labour Party decided to join the Government, refused to accept as the Opposition in this House, no matter how small or how ridiculous, the two or three Members in this House who were anti-war.
Since that time, when the Government decided to set up a sort of "stooge" Opposition in this House, and a Party which had people in the Government and people out of the Government, they have themselves contributed in a large measure to the ensuing difficulties. Let me say further, in connection with the decision made yesterday, that it is very far-reaching. We are told that the Prime Minister is a very good House of Commons man. I, for one, refuse to accept that. I will accept the definition in this way, that the Prime Minister is a masterly House of Commons man when he is using the House of Commons to his own advantage. But when other people have a mind, and express that mind and that will, then he becomes riot the tolerant, broad-minded House of Commons man but the intolerant individual who desires to see his own will sustained in the Lobbies of this House, and refuses to accept any opposition in the House. Further, he did not come here to-day as a House of Commons man who might have been moulded. He is not what he described Mr. Ramsay Macdonald as being, "this boneless wonder." He came down to this House with a determination to wield the big stick against the Members of this House.
Let me say two things to him. He thinks, as a large number of Members in power politics think, that the biggest weapon they have is to say, "We will go to the country. There will be a General Election"—a threat to take away the bread and butter of Members, or compel them to face the wrath of their constituents in a General Election. He cannot have a General Election at this moment no matter how desirable it might be. He cannot risk a General Election just at the time when he is embarking on one of his greatest military adventures. Secondly, is he so sure that the country would back 1495 him in an issue of this kind? Is he aware that the idea of every elector who votes for a Member of Parliament is that he or she is sending a Member of Parliament to express the general will on the Floor of the House, and to sustain it in the Lobbies of the House by their votes, to record that vote whether it is for or against a Government, and that the Government are compelled to accept that decision, if they are democratically-minded? A large number of people have been led to believe that there is going to be some great new order after this war. They see that every time any Member goes in the Lobby in favour of old age pensions, or equal pay, a dictatorial authority is used to the full to prevent the popular will from being expressed. What will be the wrath of millions of women in this country, who saw in that decision yesterday a desired change in the outlook of the dominant male Governments of the past on the question of equal pay for equal work, when no sooner is it recorded in a Vote in the House of Commons than the Prime Minister comes down and threatens to turn the House of Commons out? I do not think that would be accepted as a very desirable thing in this country. Let me say further that when the people of this country, no matter what—
§ Viscountess Astor
Regarding what the hon. Member said about a million women I agree that they all want this, but I do not agree that a million women in the country at this moment would want us to vote against the Government and put the Prime Minister out.
§ Mr. McGovern
The issues are, to the country, very definite. I have said, time and again, although it is against my own point of view, that the overwhelming majority of the people of this country desired the Prime Minister. They backed the Government and the war. I said that and I say it still, though it is unfortunate from my point of view. But they differentiate between a war and a programme of social reform. They say, "Give us evidence now that you intend to have a brave new world. We will judge you on your actions now," and to claim that all these things must be postponed until after the war, is like trying to delude the mass of the population of this country, who have been so often deluded by previous Governments of various complexions, 1496 into an acceptance of war, only to find when the war is finished that the brave new world will go the way of the homes for heroes, of the 1918 period. They want to see the evidence. On this issue I am convinced, from a realistic point of view, that the Government are in a bad way, and they are doing a disservice to the cause which they are continually expounding, the cause of democracy. I do not accept it that the Prime Minister believes that the House of Commons is the master and he is the servant. He says, "I am only the servant of the House. You are the masters of the situation." But no sooner do they decide to assert their own mind on any issue, than the big stick is brought out and the threat is held out in real Schickelgruber fashion. I object to this.
I say further that the Government today are in revolt against the House of Commons. That is the issue. The House of Commons have been invited to make a decision. They say, "We believe in equal pay." Immediately, it is said, "The Clause goes out of the Bill and we demand a Vote of Confidence." It is the old trick. I ask the Prime Minister in particular, if that stick is used, what is the use of the House of Commons? What is the use of the House of Commons representing the claims of the people in their area for houses, old age pensions, equal pay and service allowances, if a threat is used every time they manifest their desires in this House? In this period of Coalition Government unfortunately, as I said—and people who are sitting here have encouraged it—there has been recognised a "stooge" Opposition. If the thing you have created becomes too powerful for you, then you are the people responsible. It is not only the Labour Party who are concerned. We have the young Conservative element who take the Prime Minister at his word and believe he means to have a brave new world. They are desirous of "cashing in," in the country, on the feeling growing up, even among Tories, that some changes should take place. They join hands with the Labour Party, and the diehards of all parties resent that intrusion into the field of social reform.
My hon. Friends and I, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said, would naturally vote against the Government. We are opposed to the Govern- 1497 ment; we are opposed to the war; but the question of social reform for the masses is dominant. On this issue, we find one more evidence of the Prime Minister's desire to get his will. He is going to narrow the discussion. He will say all he wants to say in every discussion in this House by making statements. He will give his prejudiced views; he will express his intolerant mind. Other Members are to be shackled, and prevented from saying the things that they ought to be allowed to say if the House of Commons is to operate in a proper manner. There ought to be some better opportunity of discussing this issue than on the narrow question of the Education Bill. Members should not be compelled to do violence to their consciences by supporting the Government 'and turning down proposals in which they believe. Therefore, I hope the Government will think twice, and three times, about it, and give the House of Commons a proper opportunity of airing its views, voicing its grievances, and showing where it really stands on policies of social reform.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I would like to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) that I have not the slightest desire for office. He can rest his mind on that point.
§ Mr. Boothby
I tried very hard to follow the point that my hon. Friend was trying to make, and I found it very difficult to do so; or, if I did succeed in following him, I am sure that he did not succeed in making his point. I cannot see why any Government should have a greater right to impose its will on the Legislature merely by reason of the fact that it is a coalition. A coalition Government no more represents the views, collective or individual, of the Members of the House of Commons on a particular issue of this kind than a party Government, commanding a majority in this House, does. On the contrary, I think there are occasions when a party Government might well have the right to drive an issue through as a matter of confidence against a well-organised Opposition; and that a coalition Government has more, rather than less, reason to be very gentle —I will not say deferential—in its treat- 1498 ment of the Legislature. I do not agree that a party Government can do things which a coalition Government cannot.
I did not vote on this issue, because, I am thankful to say, this Bill does not apply to Scotland; but I think that the issue between the Government and this House has not been clearly defined. It was not defined yesterday; I venture to say respectfully that it was not defined earlier to-day; and it has not been defined now. It might have been argued yesterday that this was a matter of principle, that it raised an issue extending far beyond the confines of the Education Bill. It might have been argued that this raised the whole question of equal pay for men and women, not only as regards teachers but in the Civil Service, and, indeed, in industry. The Government might have said that they could not take a decision of that importance on the Education Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "They did so."] No, I read the Debate very carefully, and it was not so said by the Leader of the House. If he had said, "We will consider the whole issue, and take a decision later on, but we cannot allow such a decision to be made on this Bill, and therefore this vote is a matter of confidence," I believe that there would not have been a division. But nothing of this was made plain to the Committee. I was not present, but I read HANSARD very carefully.
§ Captain Prescott (Darwen)
I was present, and I listened with very great care to what the Minister said; and I read the OFFICIAL REPORT carefully to-day. My impression is that the Minister said that this was not a matter which could be confined to teachers alone, and that it had to be considered in its broad aspects, as relating to civil servants and others.
§ Mr. Boothby
I will not continue on that line. I will only say that I think that the statement of the Prime Minister this morning might well lead the public, who only just skim these things, to think that quite a number of Members who voted yesterday in favour of equal pay for men and women were not quite so keen on bringing the war to a victorious conclusion as were other Members; that, 1499 somehow, they were against the Government, and against the vigorous prosecution of the war. The ordinary member of the public, reading the newspapers, might get that impression; and I think that is an impression which ought to be corrected. I am sure that the Prime Minister did not mean to give that impression, and that it is not, in fact, correct.
There is a further rather serious issue, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). How far does this decision go; how far is it going to apply in future? Are all Amendments, or a wide number of Amendments, or how many Amendments to future Bills, going to be made questions of confidence? This is a matter about which the House of Commons has every right to be perturbed. If the Government are to come down to the House and say, "You can argue about this Amendment as much as you like, you can amuse yourselves as much as you like by talking, but if you vote for it we are not going to accept your decision," a serious situation will arise. Reconstruction would then come to an end for the time being, and it would be a complete waste of time for Members to come to committees of this House at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burslem said that it made all the difference that the Labour Party were in the Government, and that the Labour Party had acquiesced in this decision of the Government and in the statement of the Prime Minister. I dare say that that is true; but may I put in a word for the Tory Party? There are quite a number of Conservative Members of this House who are very keen on social reform. I am not a violent party man myself; but some of them are. I cannot exclude the possibility that Labour Members may one day say, "All right, we have had a good time in the Government, but now we are going to leave. We might have done a great deal more had it not been for the Tories, who held up things all the time. Now, if you will only give us the chance, we will show you what social reform can be."
§ Mr. Boothby
We shall no doubt be very sad. We are all in this business; and if the argument of the hon. Member for Burslem is true, and the Government as a whole accept responsibility, hon. Members on that side must accept responsibility along with us for what may be done. If the Government were to come down to this House and say that they could not conduct the critical operations now impending without suspending the ordinary activities of the House on reconstruction, and were to ask us to give them the necessary authority, I should vote for the Government, as an emergency measure, on that issue; but I think it would be a dangerous course to adopt. I ask now what I asked at the beginning of my speech. I say that we ought to know what is the real issue between the Government and the Legislature. It ought to be clearly defined, and we ought to know precisely where the Government stands.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
What does the hon. Member mean by "between the Government and the Legislature"?
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South West)
Yesterday I had no idea that a big storm was going to blow up. As a result, I was not in my accustomed place. To-day I had no idea that this Debate was going to take place on the Adjournment. I understood that the matter was to be discussed on a Motion which was to be moved by the Prime Minister. There are two things that I am clear about. One is that I want to support the Prime Minister in the prosecution of the war, and to do nothing to hinder or handicap him in that great purpose. The other thing is that I want the Education Bill to become an Act of Parliament in its present form. Therefore, I am restrained from moving Amendments and from making many speeches. I believe that that is the feeling of the majority of this House.
I do not want Members to be under any misunderstanding; I have voted twice against the Government in Committee on the Education Bill. I took the line that, the Bill being in Committee, we, as Mem- 1501 bers, have a right to do our part in improving the Bill and licking it into shape. I took part in the Debates on the Education Bill of 1936, when the Bill went upstairs. I do not think it was possible to send the present Education Bill upstairs to a Standing Committee; but, if such a thing had been done, an Amendment of this kind might have been carried against the Government, and it would have passed as a comparatively small, unimportant matter. I have seen such decisions reconsidered on the Report stage, when the Bill came back to the House; and if the Government decided to make it a main issue we were then able to alter the decision that we had reached in Committee. I want to be quite fair to the Minister; I have found him a most conciliatory Minister.
§ Sir P. Harris
I was not present, and I did not hear the tone and the temper of the Debate, which is, of course, a vital matter; but I have read the Debate, and I got the impression that the Minister considered, in the light of his knowledge of the working of the Burnham Scale, that if that Clause had been so amended he could not operate the Bill, and that therefore he could not be responsible. He chose, as a Minister, to make the vote one of confidence. That has raised the issue. I am sorry that he has taken the attitude which he has taken. I think that that could have been avoided if the question of equal pay for equal work had been separated from this Bill, because it is a large principle. As I understand, the Leader of the House was not unwilling to do that, to give an opportunity to discuss the matter.
§ The Prime Minister
The procedure of the House of Commons enables all these broad matters to be put to the test on numerous opportunities throughout the Session, even without asking for a special day, but the demand for a special day, made by sufficient backing, is one that every Government must consider. I must be understood to be making no promise of any kind at a time when we consider our actions are in dispute.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
On a point of Order. Is it not perfectly correct that the President of the Board of Education stated that he had approached the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this question?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not a point of Order. I think I must remind the House that we should keep to the point.
§ Sir P. Harris
All I am pleading for is that it would be a tragedy at this stage of the war if we were, on an issue that is not vital to the Education Bill, on the one hand, to lose this great Education Bill, and the Minister with it, and, on the other, to embarrass the Government and weaken their authority, not only in this country but in the world. For that reason, I think we must make it clear that this issue, coming up suddenly, took part of the House by surprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not prepared to risk losing the Education Bill and embarrassing the Government on an issue which may very well be discussed apart from this Bill.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I have never heard a speech quite like that to which we have just listened. I have before me here the list of those whose votes were used against the Government in other Divisions in which the right hon. Baronet took part, and in which I took part for the Government. Where do we draw the line? I rise to put a very simple question, and we are very glad to have the courtesy of the Prime Minister's presence in the House at this time. We have now had five Divisions on the Education Bill. There has been cross-voting, sometimes one side and sometimes the other, and on one occasion I was reviled by my hon. Friends on these benches.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Are we, then, to be asked on the next Sitting Day to reverse a decision which was not taken lightly? Most of us had complete knowledge that a Division was pending. Some of my hon. Friends warned the President, and they have made. a life study of this question. Are we at the next Sitting to vote against a deliberate decision on a view which some of us have held for over 20 years? We want to go on and get the Bill. Is it 1503 not possible now, at this stage, for my right hon. Friend to put down a separate Vote of Confidence in the Government? I should wholeheartedly vote for the Government and we should all know where we were. We have come to a stage in the Bill at which, in the next three or four days, it is possible that other decisions by voting may have to be taken. Are those Members who may, according to their consciences, vote for or against the Catholic Clause to have a free vote or on the financial issue as between Whitehall and the local authorities? It is conceivable that there may he three fairly narrow votes on big issues on which the President of the Board has tried for many years to get outside agreement. Are we to have a repetition of this procedure? It would be absurd, and would reduce Committee stages to a farce. We want to see this Bill through, and we want to make it a great Bill, and the only way we can do that is by constructive criticism as we go through the Measure. I plead with my right hon. Friend—because there is a great volume of opinion outside which wants to see this Bill on the Statute Book—and ask him not to treat, as matters of "confidence," primary and in many cases secondary principles on this Bill, because I believe that the overwhelming majority of us here believe that these issues have nothing to do with the conduct of military operations outside. We believe in the Government as a whole and in the Prime Minister. If we can have that issue redefined for us to-day, many hon. Members will feel that they can come to an honest decision on the next Sitting Day. I beg the Prime Minister to reconsider the statement he made earlier to-day.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
The suggestion was made earlier that we should try to avoid a ragged Debate. In some respects we have had it. It does appear to me that we have been, in large measure, discussing a Motion of Confidence in the Government, for which this is not the appropriate occasion. I have listened to the Debate from the time the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) spoke and I have heard every speech. It appears to me that we have discussed, in large measure, a Vote of Confidence in the Government—[Interruption.] I am just as capable of understanding speeches as my hon. Friend or any other hon. Mem- 1504 ber, and I have a much longer experience than he has. Be that as it may, I say that we have, in large measure, been discussing a Vote of Confidence in the Government and that this is not the proper occasion. That is my main point. If we are, at any time, to discuss a Motion of Confidence in the Government, let it be on a proper occasion and on a Motion stated by the Government. That, surely, is the proper thing to do. Apparently, we are not to do anything of the sort. We are going to elevate a matter of, shall I say, minor importance alongside the great issues of the war, into a Motion of Confidence. That, I believe, is a mistake. May I say, in passing, that I hear behind me observations of agreement and disagreement, but what I am saying I say because I believe it, whether hon. Members agree with me or not. It is quite unnecessary for hon. Members to interject; I know what I am talking about, and I shall say what I please.
One thing I am going to say is this—and this I certainly mean. Whatever our views may be about the Prime Minister and his policy, everybody will agree that his position excites no envy in the breast of any hon. Member. How can it? We have differed from the Prime Minister, I as much as others—differed on policy, on matters of strategy, perhaps because we knew nothing about the matter; but, in the position which the right hon. Gentleman occupies, with the gigantic responsibilities that lay so heavily upon his shoulders, everybody realises that surely these are matters which the Prime Minister is constitutionally and morally entitled, if he cares to, to elevate into a Motion of Confidence. Whether it is wise to do so is another matter. I do not deny the right; what I question is its wisdom. This is as I see the matter: Yesterday a decision was taken by a vote of the House with the Whips put on. It was no free vote of the House. It was a democratic vote inhibited by the activities of the Whips, and yet, by a very narrow majority, the House decided against the Government. On the next Sitting Day we shall be asked to rescind that decision, for that is what it amounts to. Even in asking us to rescind that decision the discussion will be limited, as my right hon. Friend will agree. How much more limited will the discussion be on a question of confidence.
I can understand my right hon. Friend being very anxious at this stage to gain 1505 the full support of the House, so that he can confront not merely the people of this country but the whole world with that measure of confidence. There never was a time when it was more necessary that he should have that, with the gigantic tasks that confront us—not merely the Prime Minister, but all of us. It is not merely a matter for the Prime Minister—the question of these striking events that are impending. He bears the major responsibility, and his Government, but they affect us all and none of us can be unconcerned. I can understand the Prime Minister and the Government being anxious to enlist the confidence of the House. If that is the desire of the Prime Minister—and we appreciate it and the motives that inspire him—would it not be better to come to the House on the first Sitting Day of the next series with a Motion of Confidence on the major issue that the House is behind the Government in the prosecution of the war? That is what the Prime Minister wants. What would it matter to the world if they were made aware that the Government have gained a measure of confidence on a minor issue, of whether there should be equal pay for equal work? It will be misunderstood, if, indeed, it is understood at all, but, to gain a Vote of Confidence on the wider issue of the questions of the war will amount to something and impress the people not only of this country but of the world.
I want to suggest to the Prime Minister, with the very greatest respect and in the hope that he will introduce second thoughts into the subject, that he will consider a Motion of Confidence of the kind indicated at a very early date, and that what we ought to do on the next Sitting Day is to disregard the proceedings of yesterday. [Interruption.] Allow me, this is a very serious matter. Equally, at a very early date before we return on the Report stage to the proceedings of yesterday, we might have a general Debate on the principle of equal pay for equal work. That is the way out of the difficulty. If, on the next Sitting Day, we have a Division again, it will be misunderstood and it cannot, in the circumstances, be regarded as other than a question of confidence.
The Government may feel that they are smarting under a defeat. But it is not a major defeat. Therefore, I make three propositions to the right hon. Gentleman. 1506 One is that we do not discuss the issue on the next Sitting Day at all and that we leave it over until the Report stage of the proceedings on the Education Bill, and that, preceding that, we have a general Debate on the principle of equal pay for equal work, which will guide our conduct and our decision when we come to the question of equal pay for equal work on education. It is much better to do it when we have all the wider issues and repercussions in mind. My right hon. Friend, having now set his mind to the task on the question of confidence, should come before us very soon now—on the First Sitting Day of the next series of Sittings at the latest—and ask for a Vote of Confidence on a wide issue. That would appear to be a wide issue.
If the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to do that he leaves hon. Members in a very distressed state of mind. There is an impasse from which we cannot escape. What will be the position on the next Sitting Day? Hon. Members on this side of the House are pledged to support equal pay for equal work, and there are some hon. Members opposite equally situated. Moreover, they came to a decision yesterday and voted, and so did some hon. Members opposite. If they rescind that decision on the next Sitting Day they will rescind it not because they believe that it is right to rescind it, but because they have been asked to do so by the Prime Minister in order to provide him with a measure of confidence. I am not suggesting that the Prime Minister is dishonest in this regard, not for a moment, but it is creating a measure which is dishonest in the minds of hon. Members if they act in that fashion. How can they avoid it? What is to be the position of hon. Members on this side if it is said, "You abandoned your principles in order not to upset the Government?" The concern of the Prime Minister is for a measure of confidence from this House and he will get his measure of confidence, but let him get it on an issue that everybody understands and where there is no misunderstanding or confusion likely to arise; where there is a plain issue not to be fogged' y considerations such as have been apparent to every hon. Member in the course of these proceedings.
There has been in the course of this sketchy Debate to-day a number of criticisms of Government policy gener- 1507 ally. I subscribe to a lot of them in the domestic sphere. Few are satisfied with what has been done on reconstruction. I can place myself in the perhaps peculiar and happy position about which, apparently, some hon. Members cannot satisfy themselves, namely, that I can divide the war effort from the domestic field. If we were to be opposed to everything that the Government were doing in the domestic sphere, naturally that would concern the war effort, but I cannot see how some minor issue, like increasing the pay for the men in the Forces, allowances for dependants or equal pay for equal work, or housing, affects the war effort. Therefore, I can create the line of demarcation for myself. I am 100 per cent. with the right hon. Gentleman and the Government in prosecuting the war successfully and vigorously—they cannot prosecute it vigorously enough for me—as indeed, we all are, every one of us.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I will give the right hon. Gentleman his additional 100 per cent. if he wants it; but I should think that he prefers other and more useful weapons than percentages. I can subscribe to his prosecuting the war as vigorously and ruthlessly as he likes, but I am doubtful whether I can subscribe to more than 50 per cent. of his social and domestic policy. Therefore, why not leave some of us with that line of demarcation?
How can that affect the Government? If occasionally we vote against the Government, what harm can it do so far as military strategy is concerned? It can do no harm. I put it to the Prime Minister: Get your Vote of Confidence and then allow hon. Members to have their heads occasionally, allow them to get it off their chests and go into the Division Lobby. Let them get rid of inhibitions. It is not going to be harmful to my right hon. Friend, it is going to be beneficial, and however dubious I may be about the domestic policy of my right hon. Friend and the Government—I do not want to go fully into that now—we are anxious, more anxious than we can say, to afford support to him in the coming situation which we know is full of trials and ordeals 1508 and sacrifices. Nobody can imagine that those of us who have occasionally criticised the Prime Minister and who may criticise him in future in the domestic field, and even in relation to war policy, want to put any obstacle in his way. It is fantastic. We are anxious to help the Prime Minister. Will our right hon. Friend help us? I am satisfied, although hon. Members may not agree with all that I have said, that as regards the main substance of my proposals there is general agreement in the House of Commons, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, being a good House of Commons man, will respond to the opinion of hon. Members.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
The hon. Gentleman in the early part of his observations said that this Debate had been somewhat ragged, and I am prepared to agree with him
§ Mr. Eden
I am prepared to agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite in that respect, but I would not say that of the speech which he has just delivered. I thought it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to set out at once in a very few sentences the position of the Government after that speech. I regret that we cannot accept any one of the proposals which the hon. Gentleman has just made, and I will briefly state why. Let me first reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) about the nature of the pronouncement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier to-day. The observations which he made were made as head of the Government after, of course, consultation with all his colleagues. That was the nature of the observations. Where I thought that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris)—though, of course, he was not here—went wrong in their assessment of the situation was in their repeating from time to time that the decision yesterday was on a minor matter. It was not anything of the kind. Nobody who listened to the speeches of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education could be under that illusion. I myself heard the last observations that he made—in fact, as sometimes happens on this bench, we consulted each 1509 other before he made them—and I do not think a Minister could have been fairer or franker with the Committee in putting to them the gravity of the vote which they were about to take. Therefore I say the Government cannot accept that this is a minor matter. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale used the words "minor matter" several times. Sometimes he forgets what he says.
§ Mr. Eden
I have heard the hon. Member refer to HANSARD before and I have found him wrong in HANSARD before now, and I expect I shall find it again. Assertions of that kind lead nowhere. What I say is that the hon. Gentleman, and other speakers in this Debate, have based their case on saying that the decision yesterday was on a minor matter. I say that after the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Government took exactly the opposite view and they have taken the opposite view now.
§ Mr. Eden
We were told in another speech that we ought not to speak of going to the country. But I say that no Government would be prepared to carry on under such conditions now. The hon. Gentleman said, "What is the issue?" That is a perfectly fair question. The issue is the fact that the Government have been defeated and that, until we know where we are as a result of that defeat in the House, as we shall know at the end of the forthcoming Debate, we cannot make any pronouncement about our future attitude on any subject. My right hon. Friend said very reasonably to me, "Why cannot you say that, later on, there will be a Debate on this wide issue which has been raised on one particular Bill?" No such request was made to 1510 me in the course of yesterday, but I would not for a moment, I could not for a moment, and the Government could not agree to such a suggestion at this present juncture when we have been defeated on this particular issue. To do that would be for us to try to compromise our own position, to try to get out of our own defeat by an offer of that kind. That we could not do for one single instant.
Let me sum up the position as we see it. The hon. Gentleman opposite said just now that he doubted the wisdom of the course which we are taking in putting the issue in this way. Well, of course he is absolutely entitled to that opinion. It is a matter of judgment. There is no dispute that the Government have the right. Whether they should do it in this way, or in some other way, is a matter of judgment. Well, Sir, we have considered and we have taken our decision, and we do not propose to vary that decision. As regards the scope of the discussion, that will not, of course, be for us but for the Chair. I am fully aware of the Rules of Order of Government procedure but I wish to leave just this for consideration in the mind of the House. When the hon. Gentleman says that the Government ought to try to separate defeat on some domestic affair from a big international military issue, it is not as easy as all that for the Government. Has the hon. Gentleman been listening to what the German wireless has been saying this last few hours? It is no good treating that—[Interruption]—At the present time with the operations that are impending, the duty of the Government, so we consider it, is to take the first possible opportunity to test whether they have the confidence of the House, and if they have the confidence of the House to show by what majority that confidence is held, and to do that at the first opportunity. In the forthcoming Debate we propose to do it within the scope laid down by you, Sir, from the Chair.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
Despite the remarks of my right hon. Friend I still feel, as a great number of hon. Members of this House must feel, very unhappy indeed about this issue. We have heard a great deal in this Debate about this difference between the Legislature and the Executive, but nobody, as far as I know, has talked about the effect of this dispute on public opinion 1511 outside. I cannot help thinking that as the issue is placed before the country at the present time, public opinion outside this House is almost bound to misunderstand it. Here we have a House which we are told time after time is out of date. Most of its Members were elected a long time ago, and, owing to the war, we have not had a General Election. Nevertheless, there has been a very great revolution in the ideas in the country, and these ideas have come through to us. A large number of people, owing partly to the impressive service given by women in the war, have come to the conclusion that this discrepancy between the payment of men and women is out of date. The only opportunity we have had was in the Debate on the Education Bill. Those of us who believe sincerely that we should get rid of this discrepancy voted on the Education Bill and then were told that having voted on an Amendment to the Education Bill we were endangering the whole war effort.
There is not one Member of this House who forgets the services rendered to this country by the Prime Minister, but I cannot see how those of us who sincerely wish to see the House of Commons respected are to go to our constituencies and argue that because the Government choose to make the vote on this Amendment to the Education Bill a matter of confidence we are to vote against our sincere convictions. I can understand the difficulties the Government are in and that the President of the Board of Education has felt that the whole of his Bill depends upon it. But if you are to maintain respect for this House of Commons—and nobody is more anxious than that should be so than the Prime Minister—surely we must be allowed to vote on an issue of that kind without being told that by so doing we are endangering the war effort.
§ Sir Malcolm Robertson (Mitcham)
Does not my hon. Friend, who has a great knowledge of foreign affairs, think that an adverse vote against the Government on this matter may very profoundly affect the attitude and dealings of Allied nations towards us now?
§ Mr. Bartlett
I am so bewildered to find my right hon. Friend, whose knowledge of international affairs is so great, paying a tribute to my humble knowledge of 1512 foreign affairs that I do not quite know what to reply. But I would express my regret that the Foreign Secretary referred to the German wireless. Surely there is no need to drag that in. Every time the Prime Minister has expressed the views of this country, in the biting phrases in which he can so well express them, the German wireless has had a grand time. We need not descend to that. If there were a contrary vote in the House of Commons on our next Sitting Day the German wireless and the whole world would look upon it as a serious business indeed, and it is just because we know perfectly well that there will not be a hostile vote that I speak now. A great many Members, in order not to give the world the satisfaction of thinking that this country is losing its determination to win the war, will vote for the Government or abstain from voting. It is because of that that some of us are protesting against this particular way of putting us in this difficulty. There are those who believe sincerely that this is the time to get rid of the discrepancy of unequal pay for equal work by both sexes, but, personally, I shall not vote against the Government, in order not to give satisfaction to the enemy. I do, however, protest against this procedure.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who made such an eloquent speech just now, said that we voted yesterday on the narrow issue of equal pay for equal work. May I remind the House that the issue on which we voted was a very much narrower issue? It was the issue of equal pay for women teachers, which is a very much narrower issue. With the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who said that he had no idea that this question was going to arise yesterday, the vast majority of the Members of the House knew perfectly well that the particular Clause of the Education Bill to which there was the Amendment which led to the vote, would be debated. On the Order Paper of the House of Commons, at the present time, there is a Motion on the much larger issue of equal pay for men and women in the Civil Service. This Motion is supported by some 150 Members, not mainly of the Opposition benches, who are known to be in favour of equal pay for equal work. It must, therefore, have been abundantly 1513 clear to the Government what the feeling of the Committee was on the Amendment which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mrs. Cazalet Keir) and what attitude the Committee were likely to take on that issue.
My hon. Friends and I, who have, consistently, for many years, worked and spoken in favour of equal pay for equal work would regard nothing as being more tragic than that that very minor issue, compared to the tremendous issues which face this country at the present time, should ever have come to be debated not only as a matter of confidence in the Government with regard to the conduct of the war but as a matter of general confidence in the Government. There is nothing we should more sincerely deplore. But I think the Government have been hardly fair with the House, in view of the support they must have known existed on this question, in not making it known yesterday that this was a major issue. I think it would have been justifiable, when the Amendment was being debated, if the Government had told—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Lady is not entitled to rehash yesterday's proceedings; it is not in Order to go into details.
§ Mrs. Tate
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I would beg hon. Members to remember that there is still a Motion on the Order Paper with regard to equal pay in the Civil Service and it will make the position of many Members really farcical if we cannot debate subjects, and vote on questions on which we are known to be pledged, without that being considered to express a lack of confidence in the Government. I am second to none in my confidence in the Prime Minister and in my wish to give him every possible support at a time when all of us must be conscious that the burden on his shoulders is almost more than can be borne. I beg that the matter of equal pay may soon be discussed by a Royal Commission, outside the House altogether, and that we may, on our next Sitting Day, be given the opportunity of a straight Vote of Confidence in the Government, with the assurance that this question should be debated and considered outside the House and not be taken as a matter of confidence in the 1514 Government, which it never was, and never will be, as the Government have made it appear.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I am glad that the Prime Minister is present, because I want him to know the feelings of the loyal Members of the House of Commons. I have stood by the Prime Minister through thick and thin because I believe he is the right man for the job. I have supported him on every occasion. Yesterday I voted for the Amendment. I thought that our job here on domestic matters, apart from the war effort, was to be allowed freely to express our feelings. I thought the two things would be separated and the Government would not be put into any difficulty at all. The Minister of Education fought very hard yesterday, but I gathered that it was a matter for the Committee to decide what they thought they ought to do. In previous discussions, if I remember rightly, he has said "I am subject to the will of the House of Commons," and I thought that was our function yesterday. If not, why should we ever go into Committee at all? I thought that we went into the Committee stage of a Bill for the purpose of freely expressing our opinions. If the Prime Minister had said, "If you carry this Measure it may be against the war effort," I would have examined it in that light. The Prime Minister has always stood as a great House of Commons man, but he takes up the attitude now that there is to be no free expression, and there is a threat of a Vote of Confidence. That will put us in an extremely difficult position.
I want the war to be won. I stand behind the Prime Minister, yet I believe that the vote that I gave yesterday was a right one. What am I to do in the forthcoming Debate? Am I to sacrifice my principles? If the vote is regarded overseas as a big adverse vote against the war effort, where are we? I appeal to him as one of his admirers, if he wants a Vote of Confidence, to have it on a greater issue than this. Do not divide the House on what I claim is not a big point in regard to the war effort. As a back bench Member who wants to back him in the war effort, I make an honest and fervent appeal to him to reconsider the position and try to find some other way out of the difficulty. I am in a very difficult position as to what I should do. I cannot pledge 1515 myself not to vote against the Prime Minister. If the question is driven to a vote I shall have to give serious consideration as to which way I shall vote.
§ Major Thorneycroft (Stafford)
It is a pleasure to follow the very moderate and persuasive speech to which we have just listened. I hope it may have carried that conviction to the Government which I feel it carried to the vast majority of Members on this side. I wish to be as moderate as the hon. Member was. This is not a moment for making debating speeches in any sense. Yesterday the Committee decided in favour of equal pay for men and women teachers. It was in no sense a party decision. It was initiated by the Tory Reform Committee, but there were other Conservatives who voted for it, and it was supported by hon. Members opposite. On the next Sitting Day I understand we are going to be asked to reverse that decision. Like the hon. Member, perhaps even more so as I seconded the Amendment, I shall be put in an embarrassing position. If I vote for the Government I may be made to look a little ridiculous. I do not think that is a very important thing at this time, and I would not let that weigh with me for an instant in such a matter as confidence in the Government. What I am concerned about is not that I may be made to look ridiculous but that the Government may make themselves look ridiculous if they carry this procedure much further. It seems to me that the difficult decision that we all have to take is not only to look after our own interests but how to save the Government themselves. They failed to obtain the presence of a large number of their supporters yesterday, and they failed to obtain a majority of those who were present, and now we have to consider what it is best to do.
There will be other Bills and there will be other Committee points, and if the Government are going to adopt the same attitude every time an Amendment is pressed they may on the first occasion, or even the second, get a Vote of Confidence, but each time they get it they will by their own action sap the confidence not only of the House of Commons but of the country. It is for these reasons that I make a most earnest appeal to my right hon. Friend to pay heed to what has been said by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and 1516 see whether there is not some way that he can find which will meet the wishes so clearly expressed from all quarters of the House and reconcile our support of the Government in their prosecution of the war and our desire to get on with social reform.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
I am very sorry that the Prime Minister should have taken this matter so much to heart that he sees fit to raise what I cannot help feeing is a grave constitutional issue. I quite agree that the Government of the day must have power to say they regard this or that matter as a Vote of Confidence and, if necessary, will dissolve Parliament and threaten a General Election. But it is impossible to say that, because this House has on this occasion voted against the Government, therefore there is no confidence in the Government. I often think that the power that Congress has in the United States can be and is abused. It is right that the Government should have more power over the Legislature here than the President has under the United States Constitution over Congress. There there is too great freedom for the legislature. Surely the Prime Minister is going to the other extreme. He is claiming for the Executive now to dissolve Parliament and go to the country—
§ The Prime Minister
I never said anything of the sort. I must make it absolutely clear that it does not rest with any Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament. The utmost he can do is to tender advice to the Crown.
§ The Prime Minister
This is one of the exceptional occasions when the Prerogative of the Crown comes into play and where in doubtful circumstances the Crown would refer to other advisers. It has been done on several occasions. I must make it absolutely clear that it does not rest with the Government of the day. It would be most improper on my part to use any language which suggested that I have the power to make such a decision.
§ Mr. Price
I accept that statement of the Prime Minister. The main point of my argument is that the Prime Minister is derogating to the Executive power over the House of Commons which, if it is car- 1517 ried on, will hamper and hamstring the future activities of this House in a way which even in war-time is very undesirable. Like other Members on both sides of the House, I say that the Prime Minister has no right to associate with the conduct of the war a domestic issue of this kind, and a post-war issue, too. I can understand, when 18 months ago a Motion was moved in the House after the disaster in Libya to the effect that the House had no confidence in the central direction of the war, that that was a Vote of No Confidence and was intended to be. That was a serious issue and the Prime Minister was right to regard it as such. He was right also to regard his own position as impossible if it had been carried or if a large vote had been given in its favour. That is one thing. The present issue is another. I presume that the Prime Minister knows, and the Government should know, that on this issue there is a large body of opinion in the country which feels that the time has come when the economic status of women should be equal to that of men. just as the last war brought about equal political rights for men and women, so it has required this war to do the same in the economic field. Even if we had some indication from the President of the Board of Education that he was sympathetic and had recognised it in his speech yesterday, and if he had given us some hope that he would deal with it in some way or that it would be dealt with on a wider scale, this position would not have arisen. Unfortunately, his speech was a stonewalling speech.
§ Mr. Price
If we had had an indication from the Government that they were prepared to deal with this matter this crisis would not have arisen. I come to the further constitutional issue, whether it is worth while the House continuing to attend the proceedings in Committee and move Amendments. If on every occasion we are to be treated in this way it would not be worth while. I beg the Prime Minister to reconsider the position and, at least on future occasions, to make it possible for this House to function on domestic issues even in war-time.
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
I happen to be a member of the Tory Re- 1518 form Committee, and I was one of those who put my name down to the Amendment which caused this trouble. I listened to the Debate yesterday. I am in favour of equal pay for men and women teachers provided they are doing the same job. The Minister made it clear that that issue was immediately linked up with equal pay for men and women in the Civil Service and that that would raise the general question of equal pay to men and women throughout industry. It was made abundantly clear, without a possible sign of any mistake, that these matters were also linked up with the wide issue of family allowances. The President warned the Committee that these matters could not and ought not to have been introduced as a side wind in an Education Bill. Although I was in favour of the Amendment, because of that and realising the greater duties which lay upon Members of Parliament, I thought with and voted for the Government.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
On a point of Order. Hon. Members from time to time have been ruled out of Order because they referred to the Debate yesterday or the votes they had given. Will your width of Ruling in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, prevail in the coming Debate? If so, there is no need to carry on this Debate at all.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am in a double position, and it is not possible for me today, in my present capacity, to indicate what my view may be on another day in another capacity.
§ Mr. Hammersley
I was endeavouring to indicate that, although individuals might be in favour of equal pay for men and women teachers, they have also in these times a greater responsibility. I consider that that greater responsibility was clearly indicated and that Members cannot in these times conduct their responsibilities by keeping one eye on their women constituents. I am convinced that Members of Parliament have a greater responsibility than that, and must support the Government when they clearly lay down the issue as it was laid down yesterday. For that reason I did support and will support the Government.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
Despite the speech of the Leader of the House, I want to make a special appeal to the Prime Minister, in the spirit in which an appeal 1519 was made by the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell), to reconsider the whole question before the coming Debate. This Debate to-day has been something of a curtain raiser or a prelude to what is to be a Vote of Confidence in the coming Debate. I tried at Question time to ascertain whether we should in fact be in Order in discussing education or a Vote of Confidence in the Government. I believe that the Ruling which is likely to be given will mean that our constituents, who are already sending us telegrams, will think that the Debate will involve confidence in the general conduct of the war and in the Government, when in fact we shall be unable to discuss it. Surely between now and the time of the Debate there will be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to reconsider the whole matter in the light of to-day's Debate.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Mr. Granville
Surely there will be time for the Prime Minister to discuss this matter in the light of this Debate. We are indebted to the Prime Minister that he should, despite his tremendous responsibilities, have been able to spare the time to come to the House of Commons to-day to make this contact with ordinary back benchers, who stand up over and over again and unfortunately on many occasions fail to get called.
If the Prime Minister wants to have a Vote of Confidence which will deal with Doctor Goebbels, as was indicated by the Leader of the House, he can change the Business of the House on the next Sitting Day. If he will put a Motion of Confidence on the Paper, we can discuss it and vote upon it, and the Prime Minister knows that he will get a far greater and much more satisfactory vote that way than he will get upon the narrow issue which is going to be put to us. We are grateful to him for coming here to-day and showing that he is in every way a House of Commons man, and, as he himself says, a servant of the House. I appeal to him and his colleagues of the War Cabinet who are sitting beside him to dis- 1520 cuss the matter again in the Cabinet and to come here ready to give us an opportunitiy of voting on a straight Motion of Confidence in the Government. Alternatively, let him accept the suggestion which was made by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and deal with the particular part of the problem in relation to the Minister of Education and then with the general principle of equal pay for equal work as between the sexes as applied to other spheres, which has been referred to by so many hon. Members. If the Prime Minister wants his Vote of Confidence and will put a Motion on the Order Paper he will get a far greater majority that way than he will on the narrow issue of education. There would be fewer abstentions and it would be understood clearly by the general public and abroad, which is what the Government really desire.
§ Sir Malcolm Robertson (Mitcham)
With all deference to a great deal that has been said to-day, and with special reference to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—with a great part of whose speech I am in most cordial agreement—I venture to ask the House to remember the effect of yesterday's vote on the outside world. We are accustomed to our own democratic procedure, but other nations do not know so much about it. Our Allies, and notably the United States, have been informed that there was a vote against the Government yesterday. We know in this country what that actually meant, in point of fact, but other nations do not, and I think therefore that the Prime Minister and the Government are not only right. but have a bounden duty to reassure our Allies on this subject by taking the earliest opportunity to obtain a Vote of Confidence which the world will understand. That is the real point at issue.
It is a question, with all respect to the House, of that knowledge and understanding of the psychology of foreign peoples, which is not the same as our own. We here know, I repeat, what the procedure is in this House, and exactly what it means. Other nations do not. But the Government must take the earliest opportunity to rectify the vote of yesterday and make it quite clear to the nations of the world that we are strongly behind the Prime Minister and his Government. I 1521 hope very much that the House will realise the position.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
It is very seldom that I speak, shall I say, face to face with the Prime Minister, and I want to say that when he made his statement to-day I felt very disappointed. I, with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) have backed the right hon. Gentleman through thick and thin. We have not always had smooth sailing in Lie mining areas. I remember that when we had the last coal Debate I received a vote of condemnation from my branch, because we did not go for the Prime Minister and did not put our case. I went and met them, 2,500 of them. I put the case for the Prime Minister, and said that he had spoken very well for us, as against some of the speakers behind him. Some of our chaps hardly believed what I said. I want to say to the Prime Minister that we have stood behind him in this way, all the time. I would like to say this also. I listened very attentively on Sunday night to what the Prime Minister said about domestic politics. I hung on to every word. He mentioned the Education Bill now before the House, but I did not hear him say that if there was any Amendment carried in opposition to the Government, they would take it as a vote of no confidence in the Government. If we are to have Bills on the Floor of the House of Commons in Committee, and we can only discuss Amendments and cannot take them into the Division Lobby, I consider that the best thing is to pass the Education Bill as it is at once, and get it on the Statute Book.
§ The Prime Minister
The Government have accepted, I am told, 50 or 60 Amendments. The whole Bill is being shaped as it goes along. The reason that this difficulty arose was that something much bigger and extraneous was tacked on. That s the answer to my hon. Friend, whom I respect so much.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will leave that there. But what are we going to do with the National Health Measure when that comes forward? We shall have to have discussions on the National Health Service. I may be, shall I say dull, but if this thing goes out to the country the country will say, "It does not matter about you going to the House of Commons, because if you do not stand in with the Government, 1522 then the Prime Minister and the Government will refuse to accept your decision." I am putting it as the rank and file of the people will put it to me next Saturday night at my executive. I feel very sore about this matter. I hope that if the Committee feel that an Amendment is necessary and the Government are not prepared to accept it, the Government will still stand behind the Committee if that Amendment is carried.
Mr. Wedderburn (Renfrew, Western)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Sir M. Robertson) is a little concerned about the effects of this vote in America. I hope that the American public will, in time, learn to receive news of Government reverses here with as little dismay as we have learned to receive news of Government reverses in Congress, which have been fairly frequent in recent years. The British Government have been more fortunate than the Government of President Roosevelt, and I hope that they will continue to be so. I got up not to advert to the merits of equal pay, but to remind the House of what happened when the Government were last defeated on this same subject. At the beginning of this present Parliament the Government were defeated on this question of equal pay.
My right hon. Friend who is now Minister of Town and Country Planning was in charge for the Government, but, in spite of his eloquence, the Government were defeated. They decided that they must have a Vote of Confidence. They had a Vote of Confidence on a rather wider issue. They moved that the House should resolve itself into Committee of Supply, and it was ruled that on the Motion it would be in Order to discuss not only the question of equal pay for equal work, but the whole policy of the Government, including foreign affairs. That is what, in fact, happened. There was a mixed Debate partly on equal pay for equal work and partly on foreign affairs, in which my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister took part. He said, on the merits of equal pay for equal work:I do not think that the supporters of the principle of equal pay for equal work have any reason to be at all downhearted at what has occurred. As a matter of fact, they have done very well. They have had a marked success and I have little doubt that their essay on the next occasion will be advanced with every favourable prospect.1523 That was eight years ago. The division list at that time makes rather interesting reading. My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for India had voted against the Government; so did my hon. Friend who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, with a large number of other Parliamentary Secretaries, of whom I have now lost count. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went on to criticise Mr. Baldwin for his lack of resilience in adapting himself to this situation. He compared him with Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, whom he described as the "boneless wonder." He said:I must say that I am rather doubtful whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is quite as adept in dealing with these situations"—1524 that is, the defeat of the Government—as his predecessor in the office which he holds. A complete mastery of these acrobatic feats requires one to be broken in to them very early and to have continued practice. No one, therefore, need at all grudge the Leader of the Opposition if he sings peans of triumph and utters all the war-whoops that are appropriate to such a festive occasion."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 6th April, 1936; cols. 2478–9, Vol. 310.]My right hon. Friend devoted the rest of his speech that day not to equal pay but to foreign affairs. It was a speech in which his support of the Government was not entirely unqualified, but he did vote for them in the Division Lobby.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.