Question again proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Procedure in the Public Business of this House and to report what alterations, if any, are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such business.
§ 12.25 pm.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
The development of legislation by Statutory Rules and Orders really makes it necessary that this Select Committee should be appointed and this inquiry held. The position with regard to Statutory Orders has become such that it is impossible under modern legislation for the ordinary civilian to know what his duties are, or even what degree of penalties he may be subject to. Sir William Graham Harrison, giving evidence before, an earlier Select Committee, said he knew of two cases—one, where a Statutory Order consisted of nothing more than an interchange of Interdepartmental letters. How the citizen is to know what those letters contain, and what are the duties imposed upon him, I do not know. For Parliament to allow that state of affairs in legislation to obtain is to abrogate its duty to the country. Another instance was given in which the appropriate official in a Department made a Statutory Order, placed it in a pigeon-hole, and forgot all about it for two years. Although the Order was technically and legally in force, not even the author of the Order itself remembered it. [Laughter.] That appears to be regarded as a laughing matter, but the legal position is that a citizen is liable for prosecution under this Order, although the author of it did not remember it, and no one else in the country, other than the author, knew of its existence. It is sometimes argued that in the case of matters of detail, it is best to leave these matters to the Department, and to embody these details in Statutory Rules and Orders. If the wealth of experience in a Department was greater than the knowledge and experience of Members, that argument might hold good; but let us examine one Order as a specimen, passed as recently as 1943, to show how expert are these Orders, and how these matters of detail are dealt with by Statutory Rules. This Order—No. 1216 of 1943—deals with the control of tins and cans.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
If hon. Members know it I am not going to weary the House by reading it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] It is a specimen of legislation as it is now carried out and it is a reason why a Select Committee should inquire into this method of legislation. It reads: 1003The Control of Tins, Cans, Kegs, Drums and Packaging Pails No. 5 Order 1942 (a) as varied by the Control of Tins, Cans, Kegs, Drums and Packaging Pails No. 6 Order 1942(b) the Control of Tins, Cans, Kegs, Drums and Packaging Pails No. 7 Order 1942(c) the Control of Tins, Cans, Kegs, Drums and Packaging Pails No. 8 Order 1942 (d) and the Control of Tins, Cans, Kegs, Drums and Packaging Pails No. 9 Order 1942 (e) is hereby further varied in the Third Schedule thereto by substituting for the reference 2.A therein the reference 2 A (1) and by deleting there from the reference 2B….I shall not weary the House by reading the Order any further. All it means to say is that tins can now be used for tobacco boxes and snuff boxes. When legislation gets into that state, it surely is a reason why a Select Committee should be appointed and devise some other means of making the legislation of this House intelligible not only to Members but to citizens generally. It is not so easily dealt with by regarding one set of facts as details and another set as principles. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that this House should be a great forum of Debate. That is its first function. It is not a right which the Private Member, or any other Member of this House, should hand over to the Executive or anyone else.
Bagehot said, among many of his true observations, that good talk was better than bad talk, but that bad talk was better than no talk at all. That may be a plea of justification for many of us, but bad talk is better than no talk at all. It is sometimes said as a reproach to this House that it does nothing but talk, but a House that talks, is a free House in a free country. It is the one mark of a free country. The complaint that people are no longer interested in the prestige of the House was made by the right hon. Gentleman before the Select Committee. The complaint was made by the late Lord Lloyd-George, before the Committee, that the House had lost its prestige in this century. It has lost its prestige as the power of the Executive has grown. But if Members of this House are free to express their free opinion, free judgment, upon these great issues that concern the welfare of the country and the welfare of the electorate, the prestige of the House will soon be regained, as will the authority of the House with regard to matters of detail. I agree that there is nothing sacrosanct about procedure, about how to deal 1004 with a Parliamentary Act, but there is something sacrosanct about the House having authority, a free assembly in a free world.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
May I first apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for having had to go out in the middle of his speech? I received a summons which had to be obeyed. I am not surprised to hear that in my absence he indicated that he was not wholly in favour of my Amendment, which proposes to add:and thereafter do make suggestions for the provision and conduct of Private Members' time.I am well accustomed to putting down reasonable, helpful and warm-hearted Amendments only to be spurned by ungrateful Ministers. I believe that in not many words I may make the right hon. Gentleman change his mind because this Amendment will be helpful to him and to the Select Committee. If he and the House will look at the instruction at the end of this Motion they will see that the Committee are to be instructed to report as soon as possible on any scheme for the acceleration of business on Public Bills. May I emphasise that Public Bills include Private Members' Bills? That means to say that this instruction is that the Committee shall as soon as possible consider the acceleration of proceedings on Private Members' Bills. The new lightning legislation scheme, whatever it is, is to apply to Private Members' Bills as well as to Government Bills, and I was delighted to read it. Instead of lumbering along like doodle-bugs, attacked from every quarter, they will whiz through like a rocket as the Government Bills are to do. Nothing could be more satisfactory.
It is perfectly true that there are a great many cumbersome and antiquated obstacles in the path of Private Members' Bills—I am not thinking of the right hon. Gentleman. Take the case of a Private Member introducing a Bill to bring about one of the numerous law reforms which have been so long delayed—I am delighted to see two Law Officers present—or brings in a Bill to abolish the decree nisi or, a very good example, to promote Sunday theatres, a subject which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman and his Government will tackle again. The Private Member to his astonishment and indignation will find 1005 that other hon. Members have an old-fashioned but deep-seated conviction that they have the right to talk about his proposals, to oppose them, argue about them, and what is even more exasperating, make long-winded speeches in their favour: to talk them out, and if the view is that of the majority, throw them out, or if they are a minority, to attempt to improve on our glorious ideas. The whole thing is very tiresome indeed. The great law-giver, Moses, had no such trouble. He announced the law; there were smoke and thunder, and the people went away. That is what in my heart of hearts I believe the right hon. Gentleman wants—and so do I. It would be a very great improvement indeed if all that happened was that we should come to that Table, and announce in general terms what we want to do, and the Members should say, "Jolly good show," and that we should all go home. But our cumbrous ancient procedure will not allow that.
There is such a thing as the ballot. I have been a Member of this House for 10 years and have taken part in the ballot on every occasion, but I have never drawn a horse. Perhaps the Select Committee could do something about that. Perhaps they will suggest some other simple device: it might be that University Members' Bills should be taken first—or, more seriously, that you, Mr. Speaker, should select the most important. There are other cumbrous and antiquated things. New Members and the many new Members on the Committee will find that there are such things as a Second Reading, the Committee stage, the Report stage and Third Reading, all with their different rules and regulations, very tiresome indeed to my right hon. Friend and me when we come forward with our excellent ideas. I am delighted that Private Members' Bills are to be, included in the subjects for urgent consideration by the Select Committee. But it is a little dangerous. Consider the example of the Private Member who might wish to introduce a Bill for prohibition. This is an example I always give when I lecture to the sailors about Parliament. They always ask a question about the "cumbrous old procedure." I say, "All very well, but supposing someone, say your old friend Nancy Astor, introduced a Bill for prohibition? You would be very glad that there were a few hurdles and opportunities for delay, 1006 and opportunities for preventing or holding back the passing of the Bill." There is a great deal to be said for these arrangements.
The practical point of my Amendment—this is where I begin to help the right hon. Gentleman—is that his instruction says that the Committee are to report "as soon as possible" on the proceedings of public Bills including, as I say, Private Members' Bills. My Amendment says, in slightly different words, "and thereafter discuss Private Members' time." "Thereafter" is the important word. This is a really serious practical point. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will sec what I mean. There are a great many complicated things which will arise if the Committee are to discuss "as soon as possible" the proceedings on Private Members' Bills. I for one should be quite prepared to consider reform of Private Members' time—I am not unreasonable—I should never think of asking for the whole lot at this time. It may well be that two days out of five at such a time is too much. It may be that there should be fewer Fridays or Wednesdays. There are things like the abuse of the Rules in Private Members' time, which I admit has happened. There has been a wasted day, not because Members were not eager but were perhaps too eager. Take the "counting-out" Rule. Hon. Members will remember that sometimes there were three Bills on the Paper every Friday. Someone who probably did not like Bill No. 2 or Bill No. 3 would count out Bill No.1. It is quite legitimate in a way: if a Bill does not command the attention of the House it is quite right that we should get rid of it in some way, but that action kills Bills Nos. 2 and 3 and the whole business of the day.
I hope the Select Committee will consider the whole question of the count and whether the quorum is not too small. We have more Members now. There are many occasions when it is quite justifiable for there to be less than 40 Members in the House. There is no duty upon us to listen to boring speeches on unimportant subjects. But when a count is demanded and some clever young man counts 30, and we see in the papers the headline "Only 30 Members present", it looks bad for this place. I suggest that especially on Fridays the quorum ought to go up to 65, 100, or something like that. 1007 To go back to the point, if the Committee are to discuss "as soon as possible" all Public Bills there will be much delay in getting on with what the right hon. Gentleman wants, the acceleration of Government Bills. I give him that. If he does not like my kind assistance, I can only say I am sorry.
But that is not the only reason I have put this Amendment down. I want to ask a question on which if I do not get some satisfaction I shall ask such friends as I have to vote in favour of it. I want to get a frank answer to the question: "What is the future of Private Members' time in this Parliament?"—not in this Session but in this Parliament. I ask the right hon. Gentleman straightly now: Does he hope, does he intend that there shall be Private Members' time ever again in this Parliament? He has only to nod his head and my speech will come to an abrupt conclusion. There is no nod. So now we know. Now, as the excited orator said, "The gloves are off and the cloven hoof is exposed." Now it is quite clear—I have suspected it in my heart of hearts for a long time—the totalitarian bug has got him and he means to be the Moses of this Parliament.
I do not want to make too heavy weather of it, but it is a saddening thing; and I think it will be a matter of some concern to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who have given a very generous and charitable welcome to the Motion, because if I cannot get that nod and those are the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman concerning Private Members' time, how much can we rely on any of the fine professions about democratic rights in other matters? I still recommend this Amendment on the practical ground that it will help the right hon. Gentleman, and if he accepts it on that ground he may get out of a hole. But I shall divide for my Amendment on the ground that it is evidently the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to take our time for the whole of this Parliament. Though it may be justifiable in this Session or the next I cannot accept that. And if that Division takes place, I am sorry indeed for the consciences of some of my hon. Friends on the other side of the House, when they go back to their homes and constituencies this week-end, and are: asked by their supporters "What 1008 was the first positive thing you did in the great Palace of Liberty?" and they have to answer, "Twice in a week I voted for the suppression of the individual and the domination of the gang."
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment in the country, if not also in this House, with regard to this Motion. I think anticipation had been raised that the Government, by means of this Motion, were really preparing the machinery for carrying through those changes for which the country has been looking. It was obvious that the Opposition were thinking that the right hon. Gentleman was now going to do some of the things that he had indicated in days gone by in the way of putting through legislation. Well, evidently we are to get only a sort of routine inquiry into the possibility of improving the procedure of the House in the conduct of public Business, with certain suggestions from the Government as to which, quite evidently, there was a certain amount of agreement on the part of Members of the Tory Party during the period of the Coalition Government. That is all we are getting. This House, besides being the forum of public debate, must be the instrument of passing legislation which is so urgently needed to improve the shocking standard of life of the people. In the times in which we live the House of Commons is perhaps more important as an instrument of legislation than as a forum of public debate. I am disappointed that the Government are not to put forward many proposals designed to give us an opportunity of passing through this House the great projects for social change which are so necessary.
In this connection I would draw the attention of the Government and of this Committee, when they get down to business, to the proposals of one who perhaps contributed more to this subject in our time than anyone else. I refer to the proposals of the late right hon. F. W. Jowett, who was a member of the first Labour Government in this country. He brought forward proposals for improving the procedure in public Business, his objective being to introduce into this House some of the procedure which is characteristic of the municipal life of this country, on the lines of the control by committees of this House of the adminis- 1009 tration of the various Departments for which Ministers are responsible. I hope that this Committee will take into serious consideration the late Mr. Jowett's proposals. From the various maiden speeches I realise that there is in this Parliament a great wealth of new talent, and from a long experience of this House I do not want to see that talent lost, I do not want to see so many Members deprived of opportunities of using their ability to improve things, and I hope the Committee will see that fuller opportunities are provided for ordinary Members to employ their gifts in improving administration as well as in promoting legislation.
The Leader of the Opposition referred, for example, to possibilities in this direction in connection with the Army. We have Debates in Supply upon the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and other Departments, and everybody must realise that those debates have often resulted in improvements in the Services. The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition was that there should be a committee to deal with such matters, saying that while its work would not limit what is now done on ordinary Supply days it would serve to bring into relief, through preliminary discussions, various important matters in connection with particular Departments. That is in line with the general proposals, and in this connection I would draw attention to what was done during the last Parliament. The Committee on National Expenditure, with its various sub-committees, looked into the organisation of various Departments for carrying on the war and their expenditure, and every hon. Member knows that a very great deal of good was done and that a supervision was exercised over the Departments that was for the good of the country.
I would recommend to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council the possibility of such developments in regard to all the Departments. It is true, I feel, that the Minister responsible for a Department cannot become simply the chairman of a committee of this House appointed in connection with his Department, as is the case in local affairs; it would not be possible to work things in that way; but I think the object of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) would be very largely met if committees of this House were examining the work of all Depart- 1010 ments. That would produce great advantages in the conduct of the business of this country. I will conclude by saying that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be wooed away from what was in his mind with regard to carrying through great Socialistic plans by the bewitching words used by hon. Members who are sitting on my right here, and that some day soon we shall have an earnest of the great Socialistic programme which it is necessary to carry through if we are to provide houses and improve the standard of life of our people.
§ 12.54 P.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
I must confess that when I came into this Chamber this morning I was one of those, referred to by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), who believed that the words of the Motion conveyed something which I am now beginning to think it could not convey. I should like to say right away, and I know that I speak for my colleagues on this Bench, that I welcome the proposal to set up a Select Committee to look into the whole question of procedure. There is no organisation, committee or establishment whose procedure could not be improved if it were studied, and it must be certain that the procedure of this House, even though it has been evolved with such skill over so many years, can be improved by careful study. As I have said, I entered this Chamber this morning with the gravest apprehensions and I think it is worth while to explain why I felt those apprehensions. I have been a Member of this House only for about five years, and four of those years I had to spend out of the country; but I have been able to sit in this House since January of this year and to become acquainted to a certain extent with its procedure, and one thing which I have very definitely learned is that it takes more than five months to appreciate either the merits or demerits of the procedure. I make this explanation because in what I am going to say I may display an excess of ignorance of what has been the procedure in the past, but I do submit that with my five months' experience of work in the House I am at least in a better position than more than half the Members of this House who have never had any experience of it at all.
At least the procedure we have has great merits. I have seen it passing Bills 1011 which it was thought were unlikely to be passed. I have seen the procedure deliberately flouted—perhaps that is not quite the word—or put aside by common agreement in order to get Bills which for certain very good reasons were wanted before the Dissolution of Parliament. One result of that is that the Scottish Education Act is not nearly so good a Measure as if we had been able to debate it properly. A great deal could have been done to improve it, but the procedure of the House, which is apparently to come under review, was such that we could put that Bill through just when we needed it, and I do not quite understand all this fuss in regard to getting quicker action.
Let me refer again to the grave apprehensions I felt when I came in this morning. First, we welcome the appointment of this Select Committee, but when I read the last paragraph of the Motion—I must speak for myself but I think I can also speak for my colleagues—we found that the Committee was not to proceed to take evidence, to consult people, draw up a report and make recommendations which in due course would come before the House, but was to have a cut-and-dried scheme before it, a scheme from the Government. That was the whole implication, and one could not but feel that that scheme should have been put before this House in full session so that all of us could study it and hear the arguments for and against it. What will happen to this scheme now? We gather from the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) that he knows the rough outline of a plan that was discussed by Members of the Coalition Government, and that he does not consider it to be too bad—he has not fully committed himself—but a large number of us have no idea whatever of what is in that plan. We do not even know what Cabinet officers were members of the committee that prepared it, we do not know whether it represents a majority report or a minority report or whether there was any agreement on it at all. I submit that our task to-day would be much easier if we, too, had some knowledge of that scheme. Next, one obviously looks at the composition of the Committee.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-Super-Mare)
I fancy that, possibly without meaning 1012 it, my hon. Friend may have misled the House. As far as I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did not in fact imply approval of any scheme which had been drawn up during the time when he led the Administration. What he did say, I think, was that he had approved of, or given his blessing to, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that the scheme which was then to be put before the Select Committee, did not go further than the scheme which had been drawn up as a result of representations from the Coalition.
§ Mr. Maclay
I do not think that I put that construction on it. I must confess that the impression I gained from listening to the right hon. Gentleman was that, by and large, he considered, from his knowledge of it, that it was not as dangerous a thing as some of us feared it might be. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman did not commit himself. As to the composition of the Committee I find that, on a matter which affects the procedure of this whole House, and, therefore, affects every hon. Member of the House and every elector in the country, the Committee is to be composed of only 17 Members. I know that there is a great deal to be said for keeping Committees small, as they can function much better, but I should have thought that, on a matter of this importance, the Committee should be large enough to include every recognised shade of opinion in the House, and that it does not do.
Another thing which I noticed about it is that the Committee includes four new hon. Members of this House. I am not going to pass any comment on those hon. Members. I know that at least three of them have very high qualifications for any job, and they have done magnificent work in their own spheres. One has undoubtedly got some knowledge of this House, but two certainly have not. I can imagine even one hon. Member who is new to this House being an asset to the Committee, but I find it very difficult to swallow this very large number of new hon. Members on a committee on procedure. I would just say that I may have drawn some comfort from the fact that two Members of the Committee received their education at the same establishment as myself, but I began to think about it rather carefully and I suddenly realised 1013 that the President of the Board of Trade, whose views on this question of procedure as given some years ago are very pronounced——
§ Mr. Maclay
Well, I am beginning to wonder. I remember a certain individual, formerly a Member of this House, who has been rather notorious in recent years—I refer to the Leader of the Blackshirts—who regrettably was also educated at this institution, and we do know what his views are on the form of Government of this country. I could get no comfort from that, and I am advertising this because those of us who feel strongly about the rights of Private Members have every reason to be suspicious of this proposal as it is laid before us to-day.
May I refer again to the fact that more than half this House has no experience of its actual work? We have means by which this House can put through good Bills quickly, and put the brake on bad Bills. I have had a few months' experience myself of this House working with a straightforward Government, and a straightforward Opposition, a thing which no new hon. Member has seen, and something which a great many hon. Members who have been here longer than I have, have never seen. I think we ought to know more about this matter. The matter is going before the Committee and the Committee will consider it. What happens then? The Committee makes a report. Is it the intention of the Government, when the House re-assembles, to arrange that that report should be put before us at once and a vote taken on it and the whole thing, to use an American expression, "railroaded through," or are we to get a reasonable period for consideration and seeing how the House works, with time to make up our minds whether the changes suggested are really valuable to the House?
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Donner (Basingstoke)
Like my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I came here to-day with very great apprehensions in regard to this Motion. The reason why I was so concerned was not because I deny the necessity of reconsidering the procedure of this House from 1014 time to time, but because I felt that the introduction of this Motion could only be read against the background, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) referred, of speeches delivered by leading Socialists who are now leading Members of H.M. Government, some of which might be interpreted as indicating contempt for Parliament as an institution, and some of which certainly appeared to desire to by-pass Parliament itself. If, however, it is the desire of the Government merely to obtain the smooth passage of complicated legislation, then, surely, it is a little curious that the Government should not make the customary approach through the usual channels to the Opposition in order to find out whether it will be possible to facilitate the passage of this legislation? I understand that that course has not on this occasion been followed, and one might have expected the tabling of such a Motion as this only after such customary negotiations had proved fruitless and sterile.
Those of us who were hon. Members of this House from 1931 onwards will remember the long controversies on the Government of India Bill, and will recollect some useful lessons from those days. There was profound disagreement on that Bill, and an agreement to disagree, and those of us who were opposed to the Bill reached an agreement with the Government of the day that a given number of days should be allotted to the discussion on the Committee stage. So successful was the agreement that, in fact, the Committee stage of that Bill, covering more than 400 Clauses, was completed with some little time to spare. The point to which I wish to draw attention, however, is that a certain number of hours or days were allotted to a block of Clauses, and, when the time was up, if a number of important Amendments or Clauses had not been reached or discussed, wide powers of discretion were left with the Chairman to allow further hours for discussion and to enable him to call such Amendments as were really important. It seemed to me that that system worked very well indeed, and the Government of the day certainly got the legislation they desired.
I think hon. Members will agree that it would be a pity if the Select Committee recommended anything which, in effect, curtailed discussions on Committee stage. I think hon. Members will agree that few 1015 days have been wasted on the Committee stage of any major Bill during the last few years, because nothing is more valuable than the constructive criticism which is then expressed. What is the dominating fact of the situation which faces us this morning? It is that the Government wish to speed up legislation, but it seems to me that we should be careful not to curtail discussion, or limit that close analysis of legislation, which it is the business and duty of this House to undertake. I feel some concern because this new House will have to consider the report of the Select Committee—with its large Government majority. I feel concern because this is a new House, with a majority of new Members who are inexperienced in its Procedure, and who, only last week, cheerfully voted away Private Members' time without any real knowledge of the opportunities and privileges of which they stripped themselves.
The reason why I am so anxious that Debate on legislation should not be curtailed in any way is that, so far as we understand the policy of the Government, we are now going to see the maintenance and extension of a great many controls in this country. Law is a very blunt instrument, and it is very difficult so to formulate and shape it, even on the Committee stage in this House, so that injustices are not committed—injustices affecting minorities and individuals. The value of the Committee stage surely is that many hon. Members, belonging to different parties and of a very different turn of mind, concentrate their minds upon removing hardships and injustices and potential injustices, and I hope we shall never do what was proposed by the Lord President of the Council in his speech at Bradford on 5th March, 1944—to leave the details to the Executive—because it is precisely the details which affect the lives of the ordinary man and woman of the country. We all know that the Civil Service is conscientious and hard working, but it cannot get the same daily contact with the people of this country which hon. Members of this House have got, and it cannot, therefore, be aware what the people of this country will willingly accept and what they will bitterly resent.
We had an example of that in the last Parliament over the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill. It was plain that that Bill as drafted contained many things 1016 abhorrent to large numbers of people. Representations were made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Amendments were moved on the Floor of the House, and, on the whole, many satisfactory compromises were reached. I hope, therefore, that this House will never deprive itself of the opportunity of adequate discussion of legislation on the Committee stage of any Bill or leave our people at the mercy of the machinations of anonymous permanent officials, who, though they do their very best to frame and administer the law, must nevertheless abide by the regulations and rules which are laid down and cannot make allowances for those individual cases of hardship with which we are all so familiar. That is why apparent discourtesy and lack of consideration are an inherent part of any system of bureaucratic control, and that is why to-day I am asking that the legislation of this Government shall be fully debated on the Floor of this House. If it were otherwise, the hardship and injustices may prove to be innumerable, and those injustices will bring bitterness and discontent.
The first paragraph of the Motion which we are now discussing says:That a Select Committee be appointed…to report what alterations, if any, are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such business.The word "efficient" seems to me to require some elucidation. Some people think that "efficient" means producing the maximum production of something. We should do more harm than good if we were to approach procedural reform with any kind of assumption, conscious or unconscious, that whatever tends towards greater efficiency in that sense is a constitutional improvement. On the contrary, I believe that the quicker the passage of a Bill through this House the worse is its quality. The danger of doing more harm than good is emphasised in the final paragraph of the Motion which reads:They"—that is the Select Committee—do report as soon as possible upon any scheme for the acceleration of proceedings on Public Bills which may be submitted to them on behalf of His Majesty's Government.That sentence does seem to make the assumption that the acceleration of legislative output is not only a good thing in itself, but is the good thing to which other considerations may well be 1017 subordinated. I submit this fact, which it may well be in the interest of His Majesty's Government to consider, that innumerable authorities on statecraft and political philosophers of many nationalities have long reached the conclusion that the fewer laws a Government passes the better is that Government. That view was shared by Plato and by many eminent humanists such as Saint Thomas More, one of the greatest of Englishmen, Erasmus, Vives, that great Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon, that great Dutch thinker Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, Winstanley, James Harrington, and that American idealist, Bellamy, and many more. Now we are assured by the Lord President of the Council in his speech this morning that so great is the bulk of Government Business that we must speed up the passage of legislation in this House. Therefore, we can only conclude that this is a very bad Government indeed.
What is the main consideration before us? Surely it is this question: What authorises a Government to insist upon an unusual degree of control of the time of this House and unusual or new and innovatory procedure? Surely the answer is that if a Government is faced by a cataclysm of nature, or the threat of war, or the danger of invasion as in 1940, that Government, faced by the necessity of getting its legislation through fast, is entitled to ask the House to pass almost anything which may be useful, and the House is practically bound to pass everything that the Government asks. But there is a different set of considerations when the need for speed of output is a need created by the Government itself, and that is the situation which we face to-day. The legislative programme of His Majesty's Government is not designed to meet the immediate needs of our people. That was made clear over and over again during the Debate on the Address when we were told, for example, that the nationalisation of the coalmines would not improve or increase the output of coal this winter.
If the legislative programme of His Majesty's Government were designed to deal with the immediate needs of the people, if the proposals would result in more food in the larders of our housewives next spring as compared with last spring, if the proposals meant more clothes for 1018 the people next spring than last spring and if they meant establishing new industries this autumn and modernising old industries, then, at the cost of some bad legislation, it would be worth the price because of the immediate good which we would obtain. Then efficiency of despatch and acceleration of proceedings might properly be the governing considerations. But to-day, when the object of His Majesty's Government is not to meet the immediate needs of our people but when it is concerned with the long-term reconstruction of society, it seems to me incontestible that what is wanted is not so much speed, as a prudent weighing of alternatives.
This raises a question which is important. Is the social and economic revolution upon which we are about to embark reversible or not? If it is irrevocable then, first, there is perhaps no very great urgency about it. Secondly, if it is irrevocable, surely that should be made plain. If it is intended that we should continue with Parliamentary government as we have known it in the past, and if His Majesty's Opposition are to have the chance of elaborating policies in opposition to His Majesty's Government and in the end to replace His Majesty's Government with the object of carrying out those policies which they enunciated while in opposition, surely it is of the utmost importance, when great legislative programmes are on hand which not: only deal with the immediate needs of the people, but, as to-day, are designed to alter the whole make-up of our daily lives and livelihood, that we should be given an assurance that we shall have the most complete opportunities for debate and thoroughness of debate, and time, above all time, for the Opposition to get its objections to the legislation proposed by His Majesty's Government into the public consciousness. Only two days ago the Prime Minister, speaking on the United Nations Charter, said a very significant thing in this connection. Speaking about the functions of the General Assembly and the suggestion of the small Powers that too much stress has been laid on the Security Council and not enough on the Assembly, the Prime Minister said:It is very easy to under-estimate the value of public opinion and of open discussion which lead public opinion. No Member of the House of Commons should make that mistake 1019 …I am certain that the discussions in the Assembly…can be of immense value in focussing public opinion on the great issues that arise between nations."—[Official Report. 22nd August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 664.]That is what the Prime Minister said two days ago. I suggest we follow his advice.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I think the Government may consider themselves extraordinarily fortunate in that the Opposition have been so very kind and considerate to them to-day—much too kind and considerate in my judgment. I, like the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Maclay), came here with considerable apprehension with regard to the motives behind the Government in this comparatively outwardly harmless proposition. None of us would suggest that a Committee should not be set up. We are all agreed that where it is possible to improve anything it is as well to have a means of considering it, but in my judgment we have been much too readily disarmed on this side of the House by the fact that my right hon. Friend has said that these proposals which the Committee is instructed to consider are the identical proposals which have already been considered by a sub-committee or a committee of a previous Government.
Those proposals have been seen by Members on this side of the House who were part of that Government, and one gathers are not of an alarming character, but the point which has been worrying me all along is whether this Committee is to consider only those proposals. They may consider all other ideas as well. They may have ideas of their own, or ideas may be put into their heads, by individual members of the Government. What guarantee have we that much influence will not be brought to bear from their friends behind the scenes? I am not one of those who believe that an Ethiopian can change his skin, or a leopard his spots, and I am not able to forget as readily as some, the amazing views which have been expressed by certain influential Members on the other side of the House. Are we to assume that those powerful Members have completely changed their views, that they have been converted to orthodoxy and commonsense, or, on the other hand, should we not more readily believe, unless we are too gullible, that that influence is still there, 1020 that those views are still held and that Members on this side of the House are being lulled into an unsuspicious mood with regard to the motives and objectives of the Government? It is upon that theme that I would ask the House to listen to me.
It is not the carefully worded Resolution so much as what this Committee will do when it starts to function and the kind of conclusions to which it may come that we naturally and inevitably have to turn our minds, and about which I am deeply concerned. What is the motive and the underlying objective? The word "efficient" is used. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron Leader Donner) referred to it. What is efficiency? Is it industrial efficiency or mass production? Is Parliament to be a sort of mass producer of legislation, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, like turning out sausages? If that is the motive—and one fears it may be—what is the excuse in the minds of the Government? We know from the Gracious Speech that a mass of legislation is intended. An enormous number of promises were made by the Party opposite in the General Election, and therefore an attempt must be made to implement them. Therefore, mass production of legislation may well be one of the underlying motives of the Government in setting up this Committee—to make the road easy for mass production of legislation, to churn out ill-digested legislation contrary to the traditions of this House, with evil effects of a lamentable character upon our laws and the respect of the people of this country for this House of Commons.
There is another word used later on. The object is stated to be to accelerate proceedings. Why should proceedings be accelerated unnecessarily? Our Parliamentary traditions have safeguarded our legislation. If I could believe that the motives behind the setting up of this Committee were really as harmless as we have been led to believe, I would not have reason to speak at all, but I remain sceptical. I will not be lulled from my apprehension. I have a feeling that in the setting up of this Committee there are other motives besides those about which we have been told, and, with respect to the individuals concerned, I am not impressed with some of the names of those 1021 who represent the Government point of view. I fear that when they get down to business and begin to air not only their own views on the many subjects which they will have to discuss, but also the views which other people may put into their minds, the result may be thoroughly unsatisfactory to this side of the House.
This much I will say, that at least we shall be able to watch the proceedings of this Committee in a manner which I did not expect when I came here this morning, and to that extent there is some satisfaction. After all, the Government can exercise their will, with their enormous majority. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House said that he was not going to give instructions—if I remember aright—to drive the Committee. Maybe not, but the Government majority will drive its way along. The sledge hammer of the Government majority will carry its will. This Committee is intended to be a mere ways and means of carrying out the will of the majority. In due course, the minority opinion will be overridden. I feel that the remarks which have been made so far may have lulled the suspicions of many Members of this House and on this side of the House, but they have not lulled mine. I hope, indeed I hope, that this Committee will not do as I fear it will, introduce far-reaching amendments in our old traditional Parliamentary procedure which will then legislate half-baked laws and be detrimental to the ultimate interests of this country.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
The other evening, I made an intervention in the Debate and I was called to Order. I was very properly called to Order. I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that, with your indulgence, those remarks will not count as a maiden speech.
I think it proper that a new Member should speak on this subject. No new Member has spoken on it yet, and it surprises me that Members returned to this House should be so diffident about such an important matter. I have come as a new Member and what has struck me here has been the enormous time given to the discussion of a scientific invention, and the comparatively little time which is being devoted to this most important matter.
1022 The significant experience I have had in this House is confined to the decision to take away Members' rights. The first Debate that I heard was concerned with the removal of what I feel it is my duty to undertake, the representation of my constituents. That was removed in the very early stages of the House when Private Members' time was confiscated in its entirety by His Majesty's Government. I did not warn them of the consequences of that. They will not find much difficulty on this side because of our numbers. They will find more difficulty in restraining those legions opposite, whose verbosity and eloquence deluged the platforms of the Labour Party and who will not be so easily swamped by the device of abolishing Private Members' time, and by the proposal which is now before us.
I speak now because I feel that if I do not speak now, I shall be for ever silent. The prospects of speaking in the future will be few and far between, especially for hon. Members on the other side. I do not understand how an ancient body of this description can have this passion for change. We have hardly arrived here, some of us have not yet found our seats, before proposals are submitted to us to alter machinery that is quite capable of carrying out the business of this House. At this time, this Chamber, by the public acclaim of the world, stands as the most desirable, useful and worth while institution of its kind in human knowledge and human interest, but the first Parliament to meet after it has reached that stage, decides—to do what? Change the machinery by which it has stood the test of time and the test of a great war. Is that a wise, proper and desirable proposal? This machinery which is supposed to be deserving of close examination and criticism was the machinery which carried this country through a great conflict of a unique character, and carried it through, let us remember, to victory. Are we to assume that that machinery which was so successful in time of war is inadequate for the comparatively, relatively, trivial proposals of His Majesty's Government? Are we to suppose that machinery which was capable of launching armies, navies and air forces to victory, is incapable of carrying through these proposals for the nationalisation of the means and instruments of production and exchange?
1023 Mr. Gladstone has been quoted. There have been other Prime Ministers whose sayings and achievements linger in the memories of some of us. One of the great Prime Ministers of this country was Lord Melbourne. He was Queen Victoria's Prime Minister and he was a successful Prime Minister. There was a great deal of peace and happiness, pleasure and human enjoyment in the days of Queen Victoria—[An Hon. Member: "And starvation wages."] I look back with a certain nostalgia to the days of the starvation wages, compared with the proposals of the present Minister of Food. Lord Melbourne was a practical politician. It is reported that he met his Cabinet four times a year. On one occasion he met them at a quarter to twelve o'clock and said that he was to have a glass of sherry at twelve and consequently would not retain them very long with the agenda. He said on another occasion: "Must we really do anything?" While I do not agree with such an extreme policy of inaction I shall not be surprised if we are converted to a policy of inaction before this Parliament comes to an end. Why this passion to do things? [An Hon. Member: "We are sent here to do things."] The great world moves on irrespective of the gyrations and eloquence of people in this House.
This machine has worked very well, but if there is an inadequate opportunity for us to discuss public affairs, I fail to understand the Resolution which we passed yesterday. On previous occasions, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House have protested against the Summer Adjournment and the Summer Recess. Before entering this House, I followed the Debates in this Chamber, and I think I am right in saying that the present Minister of Health and the present Minister of Fuel and Power—who, as a fellow Scotsman, I would like to congratulate, as I see him in his place—one year ago protested to His Majesty's Government about the Adjournment for the Summer Recess, and moved a Motion that it be limited to three weeks, and not six weeks as proposed. I hoped yesterday to hear some protest from this House on this taking first of all of Private Members' time, and then continuing what had been protested against in the previous Parliament, a too long Recess. But none was raised. Hon. Members opposite, having, 1024 with some surprise, been returned to this House, apparently are now anxious to enjoy, not the responsibilities to which they were called, but a somewhat prolonged holiday.
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for an hon. Member to make those references on the Motion which is now before the House?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member is making what is regarded as his maiden speech, and in that case he is entitled to the courtesy, which is usual on such occasions, of not being interrupted.
§ Sir W. Darling
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for that indulgence and I apologise to my hon. Friend if I have said something to which he could rightly take exception, but I am entitled to recall what was said by the right hon. Gentleman, who is now Minister of Health, and the right hon. Gentleman, now Minister of Fuel and Power. I recommend hon. Members to read those two moving speeches which were then directed to the attention of the House, because of the following reasons. Mark that these reasons have not changed. I think I am right in saying that it was the Minister of Fuel and Power who on that occasion said—and I am not quoting the exact words but the substance of them—"We are going to adjourn the House for a holiday. Are there no important questions which this House should consider? I will tell you two matters"—he said to the Prime Minister of the day—"which this House must discuss urgently and immediately and which the world and the country wait to hear discussed. One of those is housing"—said the right hon. Gentleman, speaking not then from the Treasury Bench and not then with his expectations and ambitions realised as they are to-day, but as a private and somewhat rebellious Member—"and we should not adjourn, because it calls for the urgent and immediate attention of His Majesty's Government." That is what he said a year ago and I think he was right in saying that the problem was urgent. It is urgent still.
What is the reply of His Majesty's Government to that? The arguments so convincing of those two right hon. Gentlemen a year ago, are dismissed as unimportant now and they have a mute, but I hope not inglorious, majority behind 1025 them. They can say to hon. Gentlemen who support them: "What was cogent, relevant and immediate last year is unimportant now." Housing is no longer important, if we are to believe the decision of His Majesty's Government, and monetary policy is no longer important. The other important matters of a year ago are no longer important. If Private Members' time is to be taken away, should it be taken away without a number of protests? It is my good fortune to make a protest to-day. It was the good fortune of the right hon. Gentleman who is on the Treasury Bench to make a protest last year in this House. I hope that Private Members will protest against this type of machinery, the deliberate object of which is to suppress the free expression of public opinion. If we are not sent here for the free expression of public opinion, we are of no use whatever.
I will conclude that if this Committee has as its object—as doubtless it will have its instructions—the curtailment of the rights of Members of this House, the consequence will be plain. A year or so from now these benches will be empty. The public will cease to have an interest in this Chamber and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will have served their purpose because a stage will have been achieved—not a stage created and designed as the creature of the imagination of reactionary Tories—but of the totalitarian State, to which Socialism as well as National Socialism has inevitably moved.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
Anyone who heard the vigorous and eloquent speech of the hon. Member, whom I congratulate on his maiden speech, will realise that we certainly have in this House obtained a recruit who will maintain the reputation of Parliament for vigour and controversy in Debate. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of this House, those upon whose side he fights, and those against whom he directs his darts, will look forward to the next and subsequent occasions when he addresses the House. I rather anticipate that on future occasions, when he is not making a maiden speech, his remarks will be subjected to a greater degree of interruption than he has met on this occasion from hon. Members opposite, 1026 who showed a most admirable restraint and patience.
I do not find myself wholly in agreement with all the arguments which were put forward by my hon. Friend. He spoke with admiration of the early nineteenth century. I happen to have in my hand a quotation from the eighteenth century, which perhaps expresses felicitously the opinion that he holds of the House of Commons and its procedure. Blackstone said:Of our constitution, so wisely contrived, so strongly raised and so highly finished, it is hard to speak with that praise which is justly and severely its due. The thorough and attentive contemplation of it will furnish its best panegyric.Indeed, a Conservatism which is not even prepared to agree to a Select Committee to consider our procedure now, is rather more in line with the Conservatism of the eighteenth century, than that with which I and some of my hon. Friends here are associated. It was not the view of the Leader of the Opposition. It could not have been so, for 14 years ago he gave evidence before a Select Committee upon the procedure of this House and he did then make just those vigorous and original proposals for reforming the procedure at that time, which one would always expect from his fertile and imaginative mind.
As there has been no comprehensive reform of the procedure of this House since it was undertaken by Mr. Balfour in 1902, it would be remarkable if it were not in need of modernisation and adjustment. Since that time, the State has greatly increased the scope of its activities. That is proved by the large number of new Government Departments. In 1902, there were no old age pensions, no National Health Insurance, no insurance against unemployment, no Ministry of Town and Country Planning and no agricultural marketing. The State did not concern itself in the social and economic matters that touch so many aspects of our daily life. Because of that the amount of work that this House and individual Members have to do has been immensely increased. It is no wish of mine that the power of the Executive should be greatly increased at the expense of the House; on the contrary. I am sure that Parliament will not effectively maintain its control of the Executive if it has not the machinery which enables it to scrutinise and study what 1027 the Executive is doing. It is not the best way of getting a mill to do a great deal of work to charge it with twice as much grist as it was designed to grind.
During these years, Members of all parties have on many occasions expressed the view that it was necessary and desirable that our Parliamentary procedure should be revised. My Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) raised this matter in the last Parliament, and already Members were considering that reforms of various kinds would be needed. I hope the Select Committee will receive a large amount of evidence and suggestions from Members of all parties. At one time, I viewed the Lord President of the Council with something of the same suspicion that was expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major G. Lloyd). I was in some degree mollified last year when I moved a Resolution asking for the setting up of a Select Committee to scrutinise all delegated legislation, and for the rest of that Parliament there was such a Select Committee up stairs on which several hon. Gentlemen who are now in the Government served. I think there was general agreement that the House of Commons was in that way able to exercise general supervision and scrutiny over delegated legislation, which was far more effective than when 615 Members were supposed to be responsible for scrutinising every Statutory Rule and Order laid on the Table. What is every man's business is no man's business, and I suggest that the Select Committee would be wise in trying to give hon. Members on the back Benches a certain degree of specialisation in this matter.
One of the reasons why Ministers are so often able to get away with it is that they themselves concentrate entirely upon their own Departments and the subjects with which they are concerned. In addition, they are helped and advised by civil servants who are experts. They are, therefore, at an immense advantage in facing criticism from back Benchers who are expected to devote their attention to all the different Departments of State and criticise and scrutinise the work of all the Ministers. I hope, therefore, that the general view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition will be accepted, namely, that to a great extent the House will concern itself with mere 1028 matters of policy and that the carrying out of the detailed examination of the proposals for delegated legislation will be entrusted to committees of the House who will scrutinise it upstairs. I noted that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. H. Morris) took the view that almost every matter of importance should be dealt with by the House itself. I suggest that, provided the House in the first place lays down the general principles and then appoints some of its own Members to scrutinise the carrying out of the policy, that is by far the best way of obtaining the results that we desire. That is an effective way of maintaining the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive and over legislation.
I was associated with the hon. Burgess the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) in asking that the Select Committee should consider the question of Private Members' Bills. I shall not be able to divide with him if he decides to divide the House, because I am satisfied that it is already within the competence of the Select Committee to deal with that matter. I trust that they will. I am glad to see that the Leader of the House is once more in his place, because I would like to repeat what I said about Private Members' time earlier this week. He will remember that during the war there were many occasions when back benchers on both sides desired to raise certain matters which were of general interest in the country. Through the appropriate channels on a large number of occasions, the Government provided opportunity for these matters to be raised which would ordinarily not have come up in the course of Government business. The right hon. Gentleman has warned us that the Government will be keeping us very busy with legislation. Therefore, the position will be very different from the war years, when all the time of the House was taken by the Government and when there were a large number of occasions when the Government, as a matter of concession and courtesy, allowed Private Members to raise certain issues. I hope we may have some assurance that the Government will, as far as possible, try to maintain the system which worked well during the war in order that matters of that kind may be raised.
I then said, and I repeat, that I do not want to see a return to the pre-war system under which Wednesdays and Fridays 1029 were allotted to Private Members' Motions and Bills, which all turned on the chance of the Ballot. Those were days when a large number of Members made a point of not attending the House. They were days when the most curious Bills used to be introduced as the result of the chance of the Ballot. Everybody put their names down and some drew lucky numbers out of a bag. A large proportion of those who drew lucky numbers did not know what to do with them, and they went to the Whips' Office and: asked for Bills to introduce. Other hon. Members knew only too well; they were anxious to prohibit vaccination or vivisection, or to discourage drink, or to encourage betting. The Bills introduced were usually the work of the cranks. Others proposed radical changes in the established law of the land, a great many dealing with workmen's compensation and so on. There was an attempt on one occasion to nationalise the Bank of England. Even when the Government were in sympathy with the objects of a Bill, the Government spokesman on almost every occasion said that he could not advise the House to pass the Bill. When the Government advises the House not to pass a Bill, that is a courteous euphemism for saying that the Bill will have its throat cut. The methods used were always effective, but they did nothing to raise the credit or prestige of the House of Commons.
I have heard a great deal of criticism in the country about the amount of obstruction that is supposed to go on in the House. In the 14 years, off and on, that I have been in the House, I have not seen any great amount of obstruction of Government Business. I have seen a tremendous amount of obstruction of Private Members' Bills, and that is what did a great deal to lower the general esteem in which the House of Commons was held. There was usually a scanty House, consisting of a few people who were interested, possibly cranks, and the Government Whips and other people frequently used to arrange for the House to be counted out. I desire to see the return of opportunities for Private Members to raise matters, and it is important that something on these lines should be done, but I hope and trust that there will be no return to the unsatisfactory pre-war system. I hope that the Select Committee will find time to give attention to this matter.
1030 I welcome the appointment of the Committee, for Members in all parts of the House have frequently pointed out the necessity of the House keeping its procedure in line with modern developments, but we stand to lose nothing by having a Select Committee and an inquiry into our procedure. On the contrary, I think it will do a great deal to raise the prestige of the House in the country. I associate myself with what has been said by hon. Members on these Benches that the Select Committee will not produce, I hope, proposals such as those that have been produced in the past in books by right hon. Gentlemen who are now Members of the Government, who, when they were writing those books, had not positions of such responsibility.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I think that, in general, it is undesirable when the question of the appointment of a Select Committee is under discussion, for the suggested Members of the Committee to take part in the Debate. I cannot, however, refrain from rising in order to express to the Home Secretary the intense gratitude and gratification which I feel at the tribute which he paid to my speech and for the manner in which, apparently, the Government's policy in this respect is founded upon a speech which I made. I was not always successful in the old Parliament in making the then Government, under the Leadership of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, listen to the views I put forward. It is, therefore, with pleasure that I realise that the Government have accepted the suggestions I made in that speech. I am not by nature a modest man, and I may, therefore, say that the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to the eloquence of my speech was very well founded. I am really most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am bound to confess that when I first saw the Motion on the Paper, I did not recognise the little darling which was supposed to be my baby in the clothes in which it was dressed up. It seemed to me to be of a slightly red hue. Perhaps I was rather colour blind, and in fact for a moment I wondered whether it had been artificially inseminated, and was not really my baby at all, but after hearing the right hon. Gentleman's speech I think I can say that it is sufficiently blue, and 1031 I am reassured that my powers of political procreation remain unimpaired.
I only wish to say two other and more serious things in connection with this matter, and they are these. In the first place, I would say, on behalf of all my potential colleagues on the Committee, that we have listened with the greatest respect, as was our duty, to all the suggestions that have been put forward. I am sure that all Members of the House will agree that a Select Committee must have complete freedom to consider all the proposals that have been made, and the mere fact that a Member in Debate has put forward certain views is not, in itself a reason for a Select Committee to accept them. It is necessary to say that in advance because, otherwise, some hon. Member may ask why the Committee did not accept the suggestion made by the hon. Member for A or the hon. Member for B. A Select Committee must be, and, indeed, always is, a wholly impartial body, so far as a group of persons with strong political views can be impartial. They consider each proposal upon its merits and will include, of course, the one put forward by my hon. Friend the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert).
My other point is this. I entirely assent to what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said about the Committee's terms of reference. I do not wish to stress the point, but so far as I know, it is rather unusual for the words "as soon as possible" to appear in the conditions laid down for a Select Committee. I am sure the Lord President would be the first to admit that that is only an indication of the wishes and intentions of the House. In fact, there is no way of making a Select Committee report more quickly than it desires, for the simple reason that there is no closure on its debates. There is no means by which its debates can be curtailed and members of a Select Committee, being after all human beings, will be more likely to report as soon as it is possible for them to do so if they are not told too clearly that it is their duty to report at the earliest possible moment. Nobody can possibly decide what constitutes the earliest possible moment.
So far as I can see, there is practically no limit to the terms of reference of this 1032 Committee. We can take everything into consideration; there is not a single rule of procedure going back 100 years that we cannot consider. So, we must have time to produce our final report, if it is to be the great work of reformation of the procedure of this House it is in tended to be. Therefore, I give this warning in advance, speaking only for myself since I am not entitled to speal for any of my colleagues; I do not in the least care what Members outside say, whether they are Tories or Socialists; I do not care for what the Press may say, nor for the bunkum we often get as a substitute for argument; I do not care what statements are made that there is a burning public desire for our report because we have a wonderful new world which the Socialist Party has a share in. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, and it corresponded with the arrival of the atomic bomb—all that sort of thing will not influence me as a member of the Committee in the slightest degree.
I conceive it to be the duty of those entrusted with the most important task of considering the procedure of this House, to give all due time and attention to the matter. It is not a matter that can be hurried; above all, it is not a matter that can be hurried in the interests of any one party, not even of His Majesty's Government. What matters is the interest of the House as a whole and, what is even more important, of the public outside. All the Members of the Committee must be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) who made a most notable speech in the course of this Debate. I for one can promise him that we shall take full account of the very important points he put forward.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Jones (Bolton)
I crave the indulgence of this House as a new Member. I had not intended to speak in this Debate at all, but I happened to come in here just after lunch, and I found that I myself, along with many other new Members, was being accused, in a very provocative speech, of being lacking in courage and of seeking an opportunity to enjoy a holiday by coming here to Parliament. I would like to refer the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) to the last speaker, the right hon. 1033 Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), under whom I had the privilege of serving for 4½ years during the last war. I will stand by his declaration as to whether I, one of the new Members, am lacking in courage.
I stand here as a new Member to defend the rights of Private Members. Private Members have their rights, and we of the Labour Party have striven, since our birth, to defend the rights of the individual in all things. But our policy is, "First things first," and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has led us new Members into thinking rightly about the situation. With the time we have at our disposal, the matters we have to consider are so momentous and urgent that they do not give us the right as individual Members to waste time on private, petty individual matters. First things first, we say; the times are momentous, there is much to be done, and there is little time to lose. I feel that it is not worthy of an hon. Member to state that we are lacking in courage and are not ready to tackle this question of procedure.
The reason why we new Members have been silent is that we do not presume to know the procedure of this House. We have not been here before. But we shall quickly learn, and having learnt, we shall not presume to waste the time of the House in getting down to the work, so much of which has been left undone by those who are now sitting opposite. We new Members may be inexperienced—we admit we are—so far as the procedure of this House is concerned, but many of us have had long experience with local government, where we have seen sabotage because of old-fashioned ritual, and where we have seen things held up. I want to assure hon. Members that we are not here to throw a spanner into the machine. I am as much concerned about the heritage of this country as any man in it, and I am as much concerned about getting this nation back to where it should be—not where it used to be—as anyone else. The time has gone when we can be accused of lacking courage. Many hon. Members on this side of the House have displayed courage of a high order, many like myself have families of five or six children, who are showing and have shown courage of a very high order in the war. We will not stand for these accusations whether they come from new or old Members.
1034 We follow here a democratic leadership. We are advised by the Leader of the House that it is in the best interests of the nation that Private Members' time shall be used, at least for the time being, to get first things done first. We abide by that decision. May I humbly claim to say that the leadership displayed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of this House is second to none in the world so far as constitutional procedure is concerned? I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), for whom I have quite a lot of sympathy, talking this morning about a sausage machine. It is not the amount of sausage that the machine turns out that matters, but how much of that sausage can be eaten by the public. We have had a lot of sausage turned out by the machine that used to operate in this House, which was very unpalatable. We are concerned that Private Members' time should be used for the benefit of our country and not abused.
I would refer some of the hon. Members opposite to the statements that have been made that we are no concerned with the prestige of our nation. Last year I had the great privilege of visiting America with a few British workmen, and we had the opportunity of discussing with the then President of the United States and his good wife, and with many other leaders, the question of prestige. I hope and trust that no Member of this House will accuse those of us who come from the ordinary day schools and who have had no diplomatic training whatever of having lowered the prestige of this country when we went to America. As a matter of fact I am led to believe from what has been said in the Press—not the "Daily Herald"—that we helped to place the prestige of Britain on a rather higher plane than some of our diplomatically trained people. I want to assure this House that we here stand for the heritage and rights of this great nation. But we do not stand for a waste of time. We want to get on with the job; God knows it is a grievous job, which requires the co-operation of the best brains of all parties and all peoples. It requires courage and demands from each one the best that is within him.
I did not like the reference to a waste of time. I come from an industry that is never mentioned on the Floor of this House—the great iron and steel industry. I left my employment a fortnight ago in 1035 a works where not one day has been wasted, and not one member of my union has been taken to task for absenteeism since the general strike of 1926. We here do not want holidays; we are prepared to put in all our time, every hour of the day if need be, to bring about the great social reforms so long overdue. I hope we shall not be accused of not being concerned with the honour, prestige and glory of this great nation. Those of us who have fought and bled for it, and whose children have done the same, claim the same privileges and rights as those who stand by and criticise, and say that we are unworthy of the positions we now hold. The voice of the people has spoken in no uncertain terms, and they demand from us, particularly from us new Members, that the old order shall be removed as quickly as possible. That will only be done by the fullest possible use of every available moment of time. There is no time to waste. The time has passed when two or three months could be wasted in Recesses. A bad example was set by the last Government and its predecessors in regard to the length of Recesses. We, on this side of the House, are willing to give the best that is within us to get for the people of this country the things they have sent us here to demand and obtain. In so doing we believe we shall keep the proud and honoured name of Britain at the highest possible point.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Captain Crowder (Finchley)
It falls to me to congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. John Jones) on the most vigorous speech he has just made. I am sure we shall look forward to hearing him again in the near future and to hearing him make concrete suggestions for the rather ambitious programme which he has outlined when the Bills are eventually brought before the House.
I want to say a few words concerning the publication of the minutes of the evidence which is to be given before the Select Committee. It seems to me it is very important that Members should be able to read the minutes of the evidence before the report is discussed on the Floor of the House. I appreciate, of course, that the Government are most anxious to have the report ready by October and do not wish to agree to any suggestions which might in any way delay the publication 1036 of the report; but it is suggested in the Amendment on the Paper in my name that the minutes shall be printed from day to day, and if this were agreed to by the House there would be no congestion at the printers, and no unnecessary delay. To enable hon. Members to discuss in due course any recommendations which the Committee may put forward, it seems to me to be of vital importance that they should have the minutes before them. I feel sure the Government would not expect Members to accept any recommendations which may be laid before the House unless they knew what was the evidence that had led the Committee to come to its conclusions, and I hope the Government will agree to put as much information as possible in the hands of Members during the Recess. I think hon. Members will be anxious to know what is going on in the Committee and will look forward to reading reports of the evidence as and when they are circulated. The effect of the Amendment, if passed, would be that both the minutes of evidence and the report would be in the hands of Members before the Debate takes place. It seems to me to be a fair and equitable request to make to the Government, and I would like to thank the Leader of the House for his remarks regarding the Amendment and express the hope that the House will accept it.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
I would like to ask two questions to clear up in my own mind what the idea of the Government is. First, will the report of the Ministers in the last Parliament be published before the Committee sits on the instructions given by the House? I feel that if we are to follow intelligently the proceedings of the Committee, we should be entitled to receive the information which the Committee is to have in its possession. The second point I want to make is that when there is a Committee of 17 Members dealing with such important subjects, it is unfortunate that the quorum should be fixed at the low figure of five Members. When matters of such great importance to the House are to be discussed and recommendations made, it seems to me that the quorum should not be as low as five.
My hon. Friend the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) and 1037 his hon. Friends have now decided not to divide the House on their Amendment, but I feel that out of justice to the Junior Burgess and those who have supported his Amendment, I being one of them, it should be made clear that, although we are not dividing the House on this occasion, we shall at later dates have opportunities to try to influence the House to decide about the question of Private Members' time. I regret that when the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council was: asked to indicate whether he intended that the Government should take Private Members' time for the whole of this Session of Parliament and for the whole of the life of this Parliament, he gave neither assent nor dissent. I feel we should make this protest and say that we intend to fight for the rights of Private Members on the occasion of every new Session of the House. We shall try, as we have done in the past, to preserve the liberties of Private Members and to see that Private Members' time is restored.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
Before I turn to the subject of the Motion, I feel it would be only courteous to add my congratulations to those of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finchley (Captain Crowder) on the passionately sincere and eloquent maiden speech of the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. John Jones). It is, of course, the case that no one would suggest of any other hon. Member, whatever his party affiliations might be, either that he was lacking in courage or that he did not sincerely desire the honour and prestige of this country to be fully maintained. It would be a disastrous thing if there were any hon. Members who held views of that kind, although all of us must from time to time submit to the criticism that the particular policies we support are lacking in political courage and may not in fact conduce as much to the honour and dignity of the country as we ourselves suppose.
I must confess I have envied those who have so well addressed the House in maiden speeches during the past few days. For a relatively young Member who is not a maiden speaker to be suddenly catapulted from the maelstrom of an election, from which he has escaped rather like Noah, almost the only one of his kind, into a totally new Parliament, with a different political complexion, is some- 1038 thing of an ordeal in itself, and it is not rendered less frightening by the fact that he is neither entitled to ask for nor likely to receive the indulgence which is accorded to the inexperienced. The most I cam hope for is a kind of toleration accorded as an uncovenanted benefit.
I think the Government have no cause whatever to complain of the reception which their Motion has received. In the main it has been received, if not with acclamation in all quarters, at any rate with generosity and in some respects even with cordiality. Indeed, in some ways I could not help wondering whether, if they had known it was going to be so enthusiastically received, they would have ever put it forward, because after all, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) observed, the best way of saving time in this House and the very best way of expediting business is on the whole not to ride roughshod over the opinions and feelings of your opponents, however much you may disagree with them, and even though you are proposing Measures which you know will be controversial. I cannot help thinking that in some respects this Motion and the particular terms in which it is couched were devised in the fear, which I have seen written on many faces opposite, that there was a deep-laid plot on the part of the defeated Tory Opposition to hold up the magnificent sledgehammer of democracy which the hon. Member for Bolton referred to in such eloquent terms. Of course, that is not the case. On the contrary, the decision of the clectorarte, however little we may agree with it, must be accepted. It is a clear decision. That is what we live in a democracy for. Parties are defeated, they return to power, they are defeated again, and they return to power again. The essence of democracy is that on each separate occasion both sides should accept the result.
§ Mr. Hogg
The Liberal Party and other opponents of the Conservative Party have gone down, but for 400 or 500 years at any rate the Conservative Party has come back into power, and I confidently look forward to the day when I shall attend not only the funeral of the Liberal Party but of certain other parties which have enjoyed great influence in 1039 the State. At any rate it must be clear to hon. Members on all sides that there has been no desire on the part of any section to obstruct Government Business. On the contrary, if we might sometimes have little misgivings as to the competence of some of His Majesty's present advisers, if we are a little sceptical as to the resounding success of the Measures which they propose, or of some of them, well, we do not want it to be said at any time that there is any excuse for any failure which may take place. On the contrary, I think my hon. Friends will agree with me that the policy is to give them yards and yards of rope and let them do just what they intend to do with it.
But I cannot think that the House will complain that we have been spending a long time discussing a Motion relating to procedure. The procedure of a deliberative assembly is its very life-blood and existence. If I were to make a prophecy it would be this; if, which God forbid, there ever should be a revolution in this country, either from the Right or from the Left, a revolution comparable to those which have shaken other countries, it would come not by way of banging drams and marching battalions in the streets, but by way of a Minister of the Right or the Left coming to the House, with crocodile tears in his eyes, with loud praise of the institution he was about to despatch, and with some apparently trifling procedural change which he would proceed to put forward as a matter of little moment. Therefore, we do well in the House of Commons, in this land where revolutions have always taken place through changes in procedure, to examine changes of procedure with, if not a jaundiced eye, at any rate a highly critical eye.
There is one argument which was rather implied, I thought, in the statement of the Lord President of the Council which I could not wholly accept. It is true that all we are doing this afternoon is to set up a Select Committee, and the Committee no doubt will issue its report, and then we shall know what we shall be: asked to do. There was a strong suggestion from the Front Bench opposite that it was really almost quite improper to try to anticipate the arguments of the Committee in any way or to say what we would like or not like to be done. I do 1040 not accept that, because if ever a revolution of the kind which I have suggested should take place, this is exactly the way in which it would happen. We would be: asked to set up a Select Committee. We would be told in advance, "You may not know what it is that the Government propose to put before the Committee; let us wait and see what the Committee says." Then, when the report came from the Committee in due course—which I understand is not to be too long—we should be told when we raised an objection to its findings, "Ah, but that was all threshed out thoroughly upstairs," and the moment would be gone at which any effective opposition could be raised.
This is the moment for the Government to take heed, if they will do so, of any feelings we may have in the matter. This is a Select Committee and like all other Select Committees, it therefore will correspond in composition mathematically to the Party strength in this House. That is as it should be, but it is an instruction to this Select Committee that a certain priority should be given to certain proposals of the Government, the exact nature of which we are not allowed to know. The moment that those proposals are made known to the Committee and filter through, in the way that things have, to Members of this House, all the questions of party prestige and face-saving will be aroused and it will then perhaps be too late for a minority opinion to have its effect upon the Government mind. It may be too late for such an opinion, and instead we shall be steamrollered out about a matter which might very well be the subject of compromise before those feelings were made known. It is for that reason that I share the astonishment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) that there was no healthy growl from Government benches as well as from these benches, on this occasion, a factor to which I feel I ought to refer a little more fully later.
I propose in the few minutes which I propose to take to say something about what I think would not do if it were contained in the Government proposals, which I have not been allowed to see and to which I am in no way committed. I think we should all agree that the real division between assemblies which are 1041 free and assemblies which are not free really resides simply in this. An assembly which is free is an assembly which meets together in order to modify legislation, as an assembly of representatives to affect the course of history by what it says and the way it votes. But an assembly which is not free is a convention of delegates meeting not to decide what is ultimately to be done but to register, with or without cries of protest and defiance, the decisions that somebody else has arrived at somewhere else. That is the difference between an assembly which is free and an assembly which is not free. The difference may be a narrow one and I hope to show to the House that it is a narrow one.
As hat, been indicated by the Lord President of the Council, the present procedure of the House of Commons, although in many ways it has an appearance of extreme antiquity, is not by any means as old as it seems. The present balance of power between Private Members and the Administration or between the Opposition and the Government dates from certainly no further back than the days of Mr. Gladstone, from whom the Lord President of the Council quoted. It is, in fact, the result of the impact of what was called, rightly or wrongly, the Irish obstruction upon the strong authoritarian mind of Mr. Gladstone and his Liberal colleagues. It is from that fount that we draw all the main limitations upon the rights of Private Members, the limitation on the right to move the Adjournment, the Guillotine, the Kangaroo, the Closure, and all the other instruments of torture which are invented for the affliction of those who displease the Government by taking up too much time. But although these reforms date from Mr. Gladstone and were precipitated by the Irish trouble, they also precipitated and accelerated certain general tendencies which have been going on for the last 150 years. The first of these tendencies is the gradual control by the Administration of the Business of this House.
In the palmy days of the Eighteenth Century every Member was as good as any other Member. That degree of equality is no longer permitted. Only in the moving and seconding, of the Address we find the Government adopting the ancient procedure of getting some Private Members of the House to put forward Government Business. Since those days the second 1042 of the great developments has been the formulation and the crystallisation of party government inside the House, and subsequently in the country, more or less on two-party lines. The effect of this upon our procedure and liberties has been an important one. In the first place, the right to vote as we please and in the second place the right to speak as we please, have become less important as safeguards of liberty than they ought to be. In another place it is open to a Noble Lord to enter a protest on the Journals of the House. That is not a very important liberty because it makes not the slightest difference to what is done. In this House we are entitled to divide against the Government and those who belong to a minority party—and which of us has not at some time or other?—know that however much we divide against the Government, we shall be steam-rollered out by the Government majority and that our votes will have no more effect than the action of the Noble Lord who enters a protest in the Journals of the House.
If I were: asked which I would rather lose, the right to vote or the right to criticise in public, I would abandon the right to vote first. But those developments have reduced the value of the right to speak in public too. Let me explain why. The Government are not quite the cooing doves as they appear even to their own supporters. I say that to hon. Members opposite because it is not so long ago since I too was elected as a Member of an enormous majority, pledged to loyalty to a Government which I supported. I say this in complete frankness—that the thing which ultimately compels the Government to give effect to minority opinions whether from this side of the House or that, is not the boldness with which people speak but the fact that the Government know very well that, if they do not make some modification, they will find it more difficult to get their business through. That is the plain fact. I am not talking about obstruction, which is a very different story and on which I agree with my hon. Friend for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) that there is really remarkably little in this House. If you want to have any effect whatever on the ultimate decision you have to take up some of the Government's time in order to get it. However ably you speak, if it does not take up some of the time, they will congratulate you very nicely after- 1043 wards and say, "I did not agree with you but I very much enjoyed your speech."
Here is the ultimate difference which is going to alter the character of this House of Commons from a free deliberative assembly to one which is fundamentally not free at all. If ever the Government get to know that whatever was said on either side of the House, however ably it was said, the Government were going to get through their business 100per cent. according to the time-table they themselves had arranged or which had been arranged by virtue of a prefabricated majority, then this House of Commons would cease to be a deliberative assembly even if the Government had no recourse to the Gestapo or political police which they so much resent being reminded are part of the armoury of Socialism in certain countries of the world. It is against that background that I view these proposals. It is not only the general remarks which have been made from time to time by Members of the Front Bench opposite. It would be perhaps unkind to remind the House that the Prime Minister, in writing of the problems of a Socialist Government, not very much more than 10 years ago, problems with which he is, I suppose, very much more intimately concerned to-day, should have said thatthe important thing is not to do things with the most scrupulous regard to the theories of democracy or exact constitutional propriety but to get on with the job.I accept what the Lord President says to-day as overruling any statement in a book which might have been written some time ago. I hope also it over-rides a certain part of his speech at Bradford in March, 1944, when he said that:We shall have to try to conceive our legislative measures on lines of broad principle and finance so that Parliament could express its will on fundamentals. This should shorten and simplify Committee discussion.First of all, what are fundamentals, and secondly, who is going to decide what are fundamentals and what are not? It the right hon. Gentleman means that the House of Commons ought to devote its attention, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested this morning, to matters of principle, and ought on the whole to give details a miss, I am in wholehearted accord. But if it means that the Government, with a machine-made majority upstairs, are 1044 going to decide first, what are matters of principle and what are fundamentals, and then tell the House to comply, then it is more than the thin end of the wedge. It is the thick end of the wedge. If there is one vital factor in the freedom of the House of Commons, it is the undoubted right to get down to the minutest detail, to put in a word or alter a comma, or call down the Minister to explain his conduct in reference to Mrs. Smith, who lives at 78A in some little flat. These are details which if they were lost we should find we had lost fundamentals as well. It is not for the Government or even a machine-made majority to decide, or a prefabricated majority, if hon. Members prefer that expression. It is not for them to decide what hon. Members in the discharge of their duties are to consider as details and what they are to consider as fundamentals.
§ Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)
Would the hon. Member kindly explain what he means by a machine-made majority?
§ Sub-Lieutenant Austin (Stretford)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that an election is the machinery of public expression?
§ Mr. Speaker
I deprecate further interruption. They only appear to encourage the hon. Member's exuberance.
§ Mr. Hogg
I must apologise if the manifest interest which hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking in my remarks is leading me too far astray from the path. There is another matter to which I wish to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. Some 10 years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote a book called "Practical Socialism for Britain." It is described on the cover as "Indispensable to Socialists and to their opponents," and for an inexplicable reason—I cannot explain—it is published not by Gollancz, but by Messrs. George Routledge & Sons, Limited. I suspect rather strongly that some of the ideas are passing through the Government's mind. It is for that reason only that I want to 1045 put them to the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration. He says:The Labour Party proposes that at the beginning of each session a small Committee of the House should be set up, and should continue in being throughout the session, to deal with the allocation of time on all Government Bills, and perhaps also on other items of business. This might be called the Committee on the Allocation of Parliamentary Time, or, more shortly, the Committee on Time. This Committee would be chosen in proportion to the strength of parties, and the Chief Whip would be the natural leader for the Government, though other Ministers might sometimes attend. It should be the primary duty of the Committee to make a detailed time-table for every Government Bill which had been read a first time, covering all its future stages: so long for Second Reading, so long for Committee, for Report, if any, and for Third Reading. Time could be allotted to particular stages in units less than complete Parliamentary days, e.g., in half-days, or even in hours. And special allocations could be made for the Committee stage, to clauses or groups of clauses, as it is now done in guillotine resolutions.Now the books on procedure suggest—those which are edited so well by the learned Clerks—and it is universally agreed, that the guillotine procedure is the most oppressive of all the devices by which the House has been afflicted in the past 50 years. It is a necessary weapon—do not think I am attacking it—but it has always been introduced as an exceptional measure, and it has always been passionately and sincerely opposed by whatever party happened to be in opposition at the time. The right hon. Gentleman need not charge his memory very far because he will remember the times when the Conservative Government imposed the guillotine on his own party. Any attempt to impose a universal guillotine on every Government Measure, as this suggests, would be the very thing to which I have drawn the attention of the House—it would enable the Government to say, "Whatever you do, whatever you say, we know that our business is going to carry the day." And this is not the only part of this dangerous proposal. The passage continues:Every Government Bill would be automatically referred to this Committee, whose recommendations would be reported to the House from time to time. There should be no power to debate, or to move, Amendments, to them on the Floor of the House. There should, however, be power to challenge a Division on any block of recommendation as a whole. If accepted by the House, such recommendations would go into effect, and it would be the duty of the Chair to enforce 1046 them at each subsequent stage. Timetabling on all Government Bills would thus become universal and would be done upstairs, not wasting time and exciting passion on the Floor…This is a minimum proposal, simple and obvious. But, if we went no farther, we should, I believe, work a practical revolution in parliamentary procedure."
With that last observation I respectfully agree. The abolition of discussion on matters of time, the specious excuse that you want to save time and to prevent exciting passions on the Floor of the House, all these are in the very nature of tyranny, because what excites passion on the Floor of this House is the very nerve and lifeblood of the existence of this House. What excites passion is the process of the hammer of Government coming down on the anvil of opposition and fashioning policy, and this must engender heat. The moment that you abolish the passion which that necessarily involves, you will emasculate this House until it becomes a pale and impotent ghost, unable to reflect the virile feelings and political intelligence of a great nation. It is because I see hidden in this proposal the possibility that something like that might be put into effect that I have ventured to address the House at some length on these general matters.
I conclude with two general reflections. What takes the time in this House is not the technical form under which proceedings are discussed or debated, it is not the conventions subject to which we have to speak and which we very soon learn, it is the very fact that people want to speak at length about the subjects which passionately interest them. I, too, have not very long ago been a new Member. I, too, thought some of the modes and ceremonies of this House somewhat archaic and wasteful in time, but I very soon began to realise that what took the time was, of course, never myself but one or two curious people who did not seem to agree with what I thought and would insist on addressing the House at length and get violently excited about something which could not have any importance, or at least I thought it could not. That is the very life-blood of this House, and if we were in any way to upset that, we should be destroying the very factor which has mercifully saved this country from bloodshed for 300 years, and we should be preventing ourselves having the right to des- 1047 cribe ourselves in the fullest sense as a free nation.
The hon. Member who represents Bolton spoke of the courage of Members of the Government and their supporters. I am bound to say I was a little disappointed at the absence of speech from the other side of the House to-day. We were told by the Lord Privy Seal that here is a majority which is different. He did not say, hon. Members will observe, like the Red Queen, that it was better; he only said that it was different. But at any rate he claimed that it was different. It has come to my ears that taunts were levelled in the days of Conservative majorities that they listened too easily to advice—to use the hon. Gentleman's expression—orto abide by the leadership of the Whips and the Government Front Bench. I do not notice very much difference in the new House from the old, not yet. We were told that this was a magnificent cross-section of the nation, the proudest and most independent nation of the world, as we would all agree——
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
May I suggest to the hon. Member that while we on this side of the House are very anxious inded to preserve the liberties of the individual, we nevertheless feel that the country has given a clear mandate for planning, and that that mandate must apply, in so far as it is not incompatible with the ancient liberties of the Members of this House, to the democratic planning of Parliamentary time?
§ Mr. Hogg
In some ways that is a very proper observation, but the mandate from the country does not involve a radical change in our Constitution. The mandate from the country consists in telling the Members of the Government to pass their Measures, which they have quite properly put before the electorate, through the ordinary constitutional channels. If they find that those do not work, then they must look for a new mandate to entitle them to alter the Constitution, as has been done in the past, and if they seek to go outside the documents which they put before the electorate and effect radical changes in their Constitution without consulting the electorate, they will have to face not the protests of a numerically insignificant and defeated minority, but they will have to face what is more 1048 important, the execration of a people that they have betrayed.
No, I have been disappointed in the hon. Member and his friends. What do I see from this magnificent cross-section of the people? What do I hear from them? As regards the Government, not a squeak, not a whisper of criticism, not a sigh of resignation or even a note of interrogation. No, this is not a magnificent cross-section, it is not a majority with a difference, it is Lobby-fodder, infinitely patient, all enduring, well-whipped, and very gullible Lobby-fodder, ready to march through endless males of the Division Lobbies rather than to waste a moment of time by discharging their legitimate functions as independent Members of Parliament.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
We have just listened to what may be described as the hon. Gentleman's maiden speech from the Front Opposition Bench, and I am sure that all the House will wish me to congratulate him on the very happy time he has had during that oration. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, and let me say that I have enjoyed an enormous amount of his speech myself, as we all have. Of course, in his concluding passages, he nearly got to a state of passion, which I gather he shared with the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling)—whose speech I am sorry I missed—in making a deep protest against any absence on the Ministerial side of a split in our ranks so far. Let the hon. Gentleman be patient; he never knows what luck he may have; but I really think it is a curious way of conducting life which requires that because the Members of the Labour Party refuse to split their ranks within a fortnight of the meeting of the new House therefore they have to be abused by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for South Edinburgh. They are told that they are not the slightest use as long as they support the Government, but that the primary purpose for which they came to the House of Commons was to make themselves a nuisance to the Government and to oppose it with such regularity and determination as would provide merry sport for hon. Members opposite. This kind of provocation to disorder and trouble in the Ministerial ranks will, of 1049 course, be regarded with a sense of proportion, humour and tolerance on this side, but I have never yet known an Opposition—not even our own Opposition—that did not try to provoke the Ministerial ranks into a state of indiscipline and disorder. We shall do our best to see that those ambitions are not achieved.
The hon. Gentleman also made a passionate declaration that we have no authority to turn inside out the British Constitution. We are not proposing to do anything of the kind; but let not the Conservative Party take the view that if anybody makes changes in Parliamentary procedure with a view to Parliament becoming a more expeditious and efficient servant of the nation that therefore he is upsetting the British Constitution. The British Constitution is the result of historical change, of modification. It is perfectly free to move from precedent to precedent, and just as much to move away from precedent by making changes over the years. Merely because we probably shall make some changes in Parliamentary procedure, let not the hon. Gentleman work himself up into a state and declare that the whole fundamentals of the British Constitution are about to be undermined. That is only a rather wild way of saying that he does not agree with what we are proposing to do. Moreover, I do not know which Minister he is getting at or who he implies has had something to do with Mrs. Smith at No. 78a. I can only undertake that if he will convey the information through the usual channels we will have a look at it. I am bound to say that I do not like the 78a business; it does not sound too good to me.
§ Mr. Morrison
I did, at any rate, do away with 18b. With regard to the point he has raised, and, which indeed, was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and has been mentioned elsewhere, namely, the subject of delegated legislation, it is quite true that while in the War Coalition Government I made two speeches in Bradford and Plymouth on delegated legislation. I gathered at the time from certain conversations which the then Prime Minister had with me, that those speeches did not meet with his entire approval. It was equally true that they did not meet with the approval of many hon. Members on 1050 the Conservative side of that House, but as far as I am concerned, taking those two speeches together, I adhere to them with frankness and with firmness, and, if I may say so to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris)—who is not here now, I think—I am getting rather bored by these monotonous, stereotyped speeches about delegated legislation, particularly when they come from rather backward-looking politicians. It really is nonsense. We have had delegated legislation right through this century, if not before. Every Government has engaged in it—Tory, Liberal, Labour, Coalition. The tendency is for it to increase, and it is bound to be so. What is the good of boggling at something which is bound to increase if the whole legislative process is to survive at all? It is really no good the hon. Gentleman making these somewhat stuffy speeches about this subject. The real point is not to resist delegated legislation as such. If properly handled, it is a good thing. If Parliament is to spend adequate time on the essentials of legislation and to do its best to avoid the guillotine—and I do not think that it can avoid it—it must unburden itself of a lot of detailed legislation in which no real element of principle or policy is involved. We can debate until we are blue in the face, but for this Government or any other Government delegated legislation has increased, will increase, and, in my judgment, ought to increase. Therefore, Plymouth and Bradford stand, as far as I am concerned.
As to the book written by friends of mine called "The Problems of a Socialist Government." I did not write anything in that book, and I am not going to take any responsibility in that respect. I do take responsibility for my speeches at Bradford and Plymouth, and I still say that, read together, they are right. The real aim should not be to resist the principle of delegated legislation, but rather—and this is the really important thing—as was done by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) in the last Parliament and Sir Herbert Williams, the hon. Member for South Croydon in the last Parliament, to devise a Parliamentary check whereby the Government may be prevented from running away with the show. I think the hon. Member for The High Peak and his friends will agree that when I was Home Secretary in the last Government we found many ways of im- 1051 proving the Procedure and form of the Orders, and we introduced notes explaining what they meant. Although I resisted it for about two years there was finally formed, with my agreement, the so-called Scrutiny Committee, which I believe to be a valuable instrument of the House. It is no good struggling against the principle of delegated legislation. It is inevitable. The thing is to find a proper Parliamentary check whereby the Government is not able to take liberties, at any rate without the House knowing about them.
§ Major Guy Lloyd
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the Scrutiny Committee. Do the Government propose to continue it?
§ Mr. Morrison
Certainly. It was done yesterday. I think it was a good institution and should go on. The proposed Committee, as far as I know, is not necessarily involved in the problem of delegated legislation. Delegated legislation must be considered in principle by the Government and the House in the framing of legislation as it comes, and in any legislation we shall introduce we reserve the right to utilise to an adequate extent the principle of delegated legislation, always provided that the essential principle of Parliamentary control over policy is maintained—and by that I do not mean merely control over broad slogans and resolutions—providing these essentials are preserved, the Government retains full right in the framing of its Bills to utilise the principle of delegated legislation in order that Parliament may be clear to do its real job, and not encumbered by a mass of detail which may be calculated to prevent it from doing its job.
§ Earl Winterton
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think this is a finicky interruption, but I think that the Government have chosen to put four new Members upon the Committee. He will, of course, make clear to the House that the only person to interpret what this Committee is concerned with is the Chairman of the Committee, and that he cannot lay down now what it is concerned with?
§ Mr. Morrison
If I may say so, I have been far more careful in not giving orders to this Committee than the Noble Lord 1052 has been in his speech this afternoon. I think that as a Member of the Committee with the longest service, which gives him a special status, quite rightly, in the Committee, he went rather a long way in telling the Committee how to do its business.
§ Earl Winterton
When an hon. Member is interrupted I think he has the right to reply. The right hon. Gentleman is doing me an injustice. I only stated the action I should take as a Member of the Committee. I did not seek to bind my colleagues.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is fine; then we are both much in the same situation. The last thing I would desire to do would be to give instructions to the Committee, but the House can give instructions to the Committee if it wants to. It is superior to any Committee. As far as we are concerned we have approached this in a broad way, and we would not wish to fetter the Committee.
§ Mr. Stephen
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) made a statement that when an hon. Member is referred to, he has the right of interrupting to reply. I would like to ask you if that is so?
§ Earl Winterton
May I say, with great respect, that by long-standing precedent in this House, it has always been accepted that, as a matter of courtesy, an hon. Member is invariably allowed to reply?
§ Mr. Stephen
On this point of Order. I think the Father of the House has misled the House. It is not the case that when there are interruptions Members of all parties have refused to give way, the only exceptions generally being the Members of my party.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member will forgive me, I must point out that the Father of the House does not lay down the Rules of Debate.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am much obliged for that authoritative Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on a subject on which I was delicately giving a hint earlier on. The hon. Mem- 1053 ber for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) raised the question of the date of publication of the Government's proposals. In the view I have indicated to the House it is not really for the Government to fix the date. Our proposals will go to the Select Committee, and that Committee will publish its minutes of evidence from day to day. I should be surprised if, in the early days of the existence of the Committee, it does not find its work on record in some public document. The House knows how scrupulous I am not to give instructions to the Committee. The hon. and gallant Member for Finchley (Captain Crowder) expressed his appreciation of our acceptance of the Amendment which he will, in due course, move. It is a sensible point, we think, and we hope it will be of service to the House in considering the matter. I would join with others in expressing to the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) my congratulations on his forthright and vigorous maiden speech and he quite rightly, I think, said to the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) that hon. Members on this side of the House were not slaves and serfs and could not be dictated to by the Government, as the Edinburgh Corporation used to be dictated to and ordered about by the Lord Provost of that City.
§ Sir W. Darling
Is it in Order, Mr. Speaker, to traduce the honour of the capital of Scotland in this fashion? I would ask for your protection.
§ Mr. Morrison
I was not trying to score points or to be funny, but I do think that the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) renders service to the House, and I think the passage I quoted admirably stated the case for what we are trying to do to-day, irrespective of what may come out of the proceedings of the Committee in due course. It is quite right that the report of the Select Committee must be impartial and that it must be the report of that Committee and of nobody else. As to what "as soon as possible" means every man has to be his own judge, but I think that the Committee, in its own interests, should not be too slow. I hope there are no sinister implications here, otherwise it might encourage the Government to appoint a Select Committee on the procedure of Select Committees. The hon. Member for The High Peak spoke ably and intelli- 1054 gently on the matter. I was very glad to know that, broadly speaking, we had his support. If I may say so, without provoking the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), it was a great pity he missed what was said about Private Members' Bills and Private Members' time. We need to have a sense of proportion about that. Good things have come out of Private Members' time and Private Members' Bills now and again; but there was an awful lot of good Parliamentary time wasted on discussions in Private Members' time.
§ Sir A. Herbert
I said that a lot of time had been wasted, and my Amendment would give an opportunity for reform. Perhaps I have anticipated the right hon. Gentleman. May I ask him a question? Does he, or does he not, intend, or hope, that there will ever be Private Members' time in this Parliament?
§ Mr. Morrison
No. I have always been most cautious in my promises even in Elections—most cautious—that is why so few things can ever be quoted against me and, therefore, I do not want to go into hopes and promises. Each Session must take care of itself, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will put the question at the beginning of the next Session to the Leader of the House, I shall, perhaps, if still Leader, be able to answer him. We must not get into the habit of worshipping Private Members' time, as such, in the form in which it was. I have some sympathy with the view that we have to find new and perhaps more beneficial ways in which Private Members of the House can express themselves. That is the real problem, and it does not necessarily follow that it can best be done by bringing into the House theoretical Motions or Bills. The real thing is to find a proper balance between the Government getting their Business through, and the Private Members expressing themselves in a way that enables them to influence Government policy and Government activities. That is the problem, and there are far more ways than one of doing it. If the Committee wishes to deal with Private Members' time, it 1055 can do so, and if it does not wish to do so, it need not. It is within the terms of reference. Therefore, for that reason I do not wish to give any indication of what the Committee should do on the point. It is a matter within the Committee's own hands, and I do not think it is appropriate that we should give them instructions on the point.
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) was rather afraid that we had fallen from grace, and were not going to be as bold in this matter as he hoped we would. However, I hope he has been cheered by the observations which I have made. Nobody knows, except a limited number of Members, what these proposals are, but they will know when the Committee gets about its labours. Despite the interesting origin of the proposals in a mixed Government, I think the hon. Member might find them a little more to the Left than he imagines. I shall be interested to see their effect on the minds of everybody, including those who took part in framing them.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen made a speech which was really rather reactionary on this question of delegated legislation. He was, I understand, elected with the united support of the Liberals, the Liberal Nationals, and the Conservatives in his division, and I have an idea that his speech will be acceptable to all of them when they read it. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), with his great experience of the Chair—and, to our embarrassment, of procedure before he was in the Chair, when Labour Governments were in office—delivered an interesting speech, in which he generally welcomed the proposal, subject to certain warnings which he uttered. I am sure that we would all wish to take into account anything he would say, in the light of his experience as Deputy-Speaker in this House in the last Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition came out, I thought, very well. He accepted the proposal of the Government and made a speech which was a very able one, and which did, as somebody said, largely reinforce the evidence which he gave before the Select Committee of 1931, presided over by Mr. Ernest Brown. I have already dealt with the point about delegated legislation. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader 1056 of the Opposition from time to time grievously misrepresents my speeches, and did so when he described this careful proposal of mine as one which meant that the House would pass a few airy resolutions and then refer them to officials in Whitehall, for them to frame and implement legislation. That does not accurately represent my ideas on the subject, even though I have stated it in language which does not rival that which we all expect and enjoy from the right hon. Gentleman. He said that the people obey because Parliament is freely elected and debates freely, and that it was not a question of carrying through the greatest number of Bills in the shortest possible time. In general, I would not dissent from the view which the right hon. Gentleman, with his great experience of Government and Parliament, expressed, and which would always entitle his views to the respectful consideration of the House. But I would remind the House that things have happened in the course of legislation, and I would like to give one example of an experience I had which, I am sure, is an experience to which we ought not to be subjected.
In 1930 I introduced the Road Traffic Bill, which was a Bill of some size, largely agreed by everybody and based, in many respects, upon a Royal Commission Report. There was no party controversy about it. It included the abolition of the speed limit, which I proposed, and which was acceptable to hon. Members opposite and their party, although not so acceptable to some of my party. The abolition of speed limits always somewhat attracts me. This Bill, which was non-controversial, went upstairs, where it was about four months in Standing Committee. The strain upon me, at any rate—I do not know about others—was terrific. I am not complaining about it, but, as I say, it was terrific. It was not because the Bill was controversial. There was no fight about it between the parties. The controversial issues were the speed limit, whether there should be tests for drivers, certain other matters, and a good deal of the principle of delegated legislation, in which I took my full share. As I say, it took about four months, and there was no doubt that much time was wasted and there was a lot of talk that ought not to have taken place. I: asked some of my Conservative friends, towards the end of it, when I was getting to break-down 1057 point, "What is all this for? Why have I to put up with this?" They replied, "We have no quarrel with your Bill, we like it and agree with it. It is not your Bill we are quarreling with at all; it is the one that is put down to come after it." This was the sad result of being a youthful and innocent Minister. I did not know that was their purpose. This monstrous misuse of Parliamentary time must not be allowed to continue——
§ Mr. Morrison
I know, and it has to be stopped being done every day by every party, whatever the party. That is a monstrous misuse of the Parliamentary institution, the service of which is urgently needed by the people of this country. That is one of the things which we do not propose shall go on, and I do not want to make any bones about it. But we must be careful that we maintain the essentials of Debate. If you remove entirely any element of risk or gamble in the mind of a Minister, as to whether he can get his Bill, it can have its dangers. It is very good that Ministers should have to exercise their brains and mental ingenuity, and that the Opposition should have the chance of exercising theirs. Their quality is important to the collective quality of Parliament, whether they remain in office or not. If they ever have the luck to come into office again, it will be important that they should be mentally refreshed and alive. In the meantime, we will do our best to see that does not happen.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made some valuable points on our financial procedure. He suggested that on some days the House might be willing to sacrifice the formal Business on Committee of Supply and substitute for it a broader Debate, as was done sometimes during the war. I would not be averse to that being done in this Parliament, as in the last. The problem is how Parliament can function best, how it can do its work most effectively though consistently maintaining the essentials of control in its own hands. Above all, the problem is how the Private Members of the House can best play such a part in our Parliamentary procedure that they feel, as I want them to feel, not that they are frustrated, but that they are playing a great, honourable and worthy part in the shaping of the policy of our Government and the destinies of our country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Procedure in the Public Business of this House and to report what alterations, if any, are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such business.
That the Committee do consist of Seventeen Members.
That Mr. W. J. Brown, Mr. Seymour Cocks, Mr. Cove, Captain Crookshank, Mr. Crossman, Mr. Clement Davies, Mr. Gaitskell, Viscount Hinchingbrooke, Mr. Messer, Mr. Pickthorn, Mr. James Reid, Mr. Sydney Silverman, Mr. Viant, Mr. Maurice Webb, Mr. Octavius Willey, Earl Winterton and Sir Robert Young be Members of the Committee.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records: to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; and to report from time to time.
That Five be the quorum.
That the Committee have power to appoint Sub-Committees for any purpose within the Order of Reference to the Committee.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do report as soon as possible upon any scheme for the acceleration of proceedings on Public Bills which may be submitted to them on behalf of His Majesty's Governnment."—[Mr. Morrison.]
§ Captain Crowder
I beg to move, in line 17, at end, add:and that during the consideration of any such scheme they do report from day to day the Minutes of Evidence taken before them and such other records relating to any such scheme as they may think fit and that if the House be not sitting, they do send such Minutes and records to the Clerk of the House, who shall thereupon give directions for the printing and circulation thereof, and shall lay the same upon the Table of the House at its next meeting.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.