§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move,That on and after 3oth April, the Order (Sittings of the House) of 15th August, shall cease to have effect, and during the remainder of the present Session, until this House otherwise orders—(1) Standing Orders Nos. 1, 6, 7, 8 and 14 shall have effect as if, for any reference to a time mentioned in the first column of the following table there were substituted a reference to the time respectively mentioned in the second column of that Table:
|Time mentioned up Standing Orders||Time to be substituted|
|2.45 p.m||2.30 p.m.|
|3.00 p.m||2.45 p.m.|
|3.45 p.m||3.30 p.m|
|7.30 p.m.||7.00 p.m|
|9.30 p.m.||9.00 p.m|
|10.00 p.m.||9.30 p.m|
|11.00 p.m.||10.00 p.m.|
|11.30 p.m.||10.30 p.m.|
(2) The following Order shall be substituted for Standing Order No. 2—
2. The House shall meet on Fridays at 11 a.m. for private business, petitions.
orders of the day and notices of motions. Standing Order No. 1 (as amended by this or any other Order) shall apply to the sittings on Fridays with the omission of paragraph (I) thereof and with the substitution of references to 4 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. for references to 10 p.m. and 10.30 p.m.'
(3) Standing Order No. 25 shall apply—
(4) In the paragraph substituted for paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 7 by the order of this House (Business of the House (Questions to Members)) of 22nd March, 1946, for the reference to 2.15 p.m., there shall be substituted a reference to 2.30 p.m.
§ It will be recalled that the time of the sitting of the House before the war for many years was 2.45 p.m. to 11 p.m., and, indeed, those times are set out in the ordinary Standing Order. During the war, however, it was obvious that there would have to be changes, and the House then tended to meet at II in the morning and to go on until some time in the afternoon related to the hours of darkness, and somewhat related to the activities of the enemy. But Parliament kept going and of that we are all very proud. It then became necessary, when that situation terminated, for the House to reconsider the matter and changes were made. For some time it has been the practice of the House to meet at 2.15 p.m. and for the ordinary termination of the sitting to be at 9.15 p.m., with an additional half hour for the Adjournment. That practice has obtained to this day. Nevertheless, it has been necessary on fairly frequent occasions—necessary in the sense that it met the general wish of the House—to suspend the Rule for one hour, making the time 10.15 p.m. There have been other suspensions of a more drastic order, complete suspensions which sometimes have led us to late sittings, but in other cases have turned out not to be necessary. Representations were received, and the Government had to consider, as was their right, their own convenience with regard to the hours of sitting, and the result is the Motion which I have moved.
§ It proposes that the House should meet at 2.3o p.m., which is 15 minutes later than at present, and that it should go on 2219 until 10 p.m. We consulted various parties in the House, but there was an error in regard to the consultation with the Government's own party, for which the Chief Whip and I are sorry. They were not consulted by the time when I first made an announcement to the House owing to some mistake in internal party administration.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, and the Chief Whip and I have expressed to our friends in their own gathering, and again here and now, our regret that that should have happened. It is understood that the official Opposition are favourable to the change. I gather that the Liberals favour it also, and I have now adequately and properly consulted my hon. Friends on this side of the House. By a majority they also are in favour of the change that is the decision of the Labour Party. But I ought, in fairness, to say that there is a minority in the Labour Party that does not favour the change. It is only fair that that should be said, because in any future discussions that must be taken into account. They think it is better that the hour of meeting should continue to be 2.15 p.m., which would give enough time for lunch, and that they consider that 9.15 p.m. is late enough for the rising of the House. They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but the view of the Labour Party, as expressed by their own decision, is that this change should be supported. I thought it fair and right, however, to say that there is a substantial minority opinion which takes another view.
The case for the change can, I think, fairly be stated in this way. 2.15 p.m. is in the experience of many Members a rather early hour at which to have to get here. That is the case with a considerable number of back bench Members; it is also the case with Ministers, whose convenience, I am sure, the House would wish not to ignore. We have many Cabinet and Cabinet Committee meetings. They take time, and they ought to take reasonable time, because business should be carried out carefully and adequately. There are times when we have to continue until fairly late, which means that luncheon is a rather rushed affair. I do not think it is good for Cabinets or 2220 Cabinet Committees to feel that they are being unduly rushed, or for the luncheon period of Ministers to be unduly shortened. Moreover, there are occasions when Ministers must discharge official duties at that time, and this point has to be taken into account. I do not, as I say, believe it is good that Ministers—for whom life is rather hard—should be unduly rushed.
With regard to back benchers, then interests vary. Some devote their whole time to Parliament, and it is a very good thing that there should be a proportion of Members of the House who do so, especially in view of the considerable number of Standing Committees now operating. On the other hand, there are Members who have other things to do, business to attend to, professional duties to perform. On both sides of the House there are men of business, and there are some who are farmers. How they fit in their farm work I do not know, but no doubt they do some business from London. Then there are lawyers. The convenience of the lawyers varies a good deal. Some, no doubt, have diminished their practices, some may have given them up, and it is a moot point whether that is a good thing or not. Nevertheless, there is a considerable number of lawyers, both members of the Bar and members of the Law Society, who have their business to do; there are also technical people, journalists and so on. It is possible to take two views about this. It is possible to argue that we should all be full-time Members of Parliament, and do nothing else, so that we could then work office hours if there were no Standing Committees upstairs. But we could not do so under the present Standing Committee system. I think it is desirable that a proportion of Members should have nothing else to do, but it is a dangerous principle to apply all round. We do not want the House to become isolated from the day to day life of the nation, and to tend to become a monastic institution. Therefore there is a substantial number of Members of the House for whom the hour of 2.15 a.m. is rather early, and for whom another quarter of an hour would be of great convenience.
The other change proposed is in the time of the termination of the House's sittings. For many years we went on until 11 p.m., and those of us who were 2221 in the Government and in the Opposition in those days, stood up to it quite well. But it is thought that in modern conditions it is desirable to avoid getting back to the 11 o'clock rising if it is at all possible, and we are not proposing to go back to 11 o'clock. On the other hand, from the point of view of the general convenience of the running of the House, and the arrangement of Debates, 9.15 p.m. is on the early side, for the following reasons. If we can get rather more time into the sitting, it will give a little more time for back benchers; one or two additional back benchers will be able to speak in the Debate, and that seems to me to be all to the good. If, in the winding up of Debates, one right hon. Gentleman from the Front Opposition Bench and one from the Government Front Bench speaks, and if they are to take the average time that they take at present, it means that the start of the winding up of a Debate has to be unduly early if the sitting is to finish at 9.15 p.m. It is not good for the vigour and health of the Debates that this should be so. Therefore, from that point of view, this alteration will be a convenience. I think it will improve the general Debates of the House at that time. Further, on important occasions when we know that there are many hon. Members who wish to speak, the Chief Whip and I have not been unwilling to have a suspension of the Rule until 10.15 p.m. That has often been done to meet the general wish of the House, and we were very happy to make the arrangement. On the other hand, if we can sit until ten o'clock, it is reasonable to hope that suspension for an hour to 10.15 p.m. could now be avoided except in the most unusual circumstances, and this would be a gain to hon. Members. They would finish a quarter of an hour earlier and we would be saved the suspension. It is proposed that Fridays should remain as they are, or at any rate substantially as they are.
I hope I have commended the Motion to the House in a reasonable and friendly spirit. We have taken the most exhaustive steps to consult everybody in all parts of the House, and in the circumstances I hope that the House will be good enough to agree to the Motion.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
As one of a considerable minority, I rise to oppose the Motion on the grounds that it is neither 2222 desirable nor necessary. As my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council pointed out, there are two categories of persons in the House, those who have business outside the House, and those who give the whole of their time to the work of the House. I think it is desirable that it should be so, and I do not complain about that. It is a very good thing that we are not all wrapped up within the precincts of Westminster, and that there are people who have experience outside the House, in the business world, the trade union world, the factory world and on farms, although I cannot believe that the farmers come up from their farms to Westminster every day and go back every night. That seems very unlikely. On the other hand, it would be impossible to carry on the work of the House if there was not a large number of people who are prepared to give the whole of their time to the business of the House, and I think the convenience of those people ought to be studied as much as the convenience of the people who find it unduly early to meet here at 2.15 p.m.
What is the position of hon. Members like myself, and many other hon. Members on this side of the House? We are people who have no other source of income and we have to be here very soon after 9 a.m., because we cannot afford to have secretaries to do our correspondence. At 10.30 a.m. we go into Standing Committee, and the Members of Standing Committees go to Committee after Committee, working from 10.30 a.m. until one o'clock, sometimes two, and very often three, mornings a week. The Standing Committee over, we go down to lunch. I find that an. hour and a quarter is plenty of time for my lunch. I could not go on eating all that time however much there was in the dining room. I find time to take a walk on the Terrace or in the park, and be in the House to Prayers nearly every day of the week. I should find another quarter of an hour a considerable waste of time in the middle of the day, and I should resent that loss of time very much indeed. I should not know what to do with a quarter of an hour. My day is scheduled out very completely at the present time. I do not want to go up to the little attic at the top of the House, which I share with other Lady Members, to sign letters or to start on correspondence for that quarter of an hour. I think it is quite undesirable and unnecessary that we 2223 should have to hang about for another quarter of an hour because Cabinet Ministers cannot get here until 2.30 p.m.
The Lord President of the Council made an excellent case for back benchers who want to speak in Debates. I could suggest a much better way than he has suggested. It is that Front Bench Members, instead of reading long, boring essays to the House, should cut down their remarks considerably. That would meet the convenience of the back benchers, it would get a great deal more vigour into the Debates, there would be much more cut and thrust, and it would prevent a great deal of boredom in the House. The life of a Member of Parliament who gives all his or her time to the House is truly a monastic life. Here soon after 9 a.m. and home sometimes at 11 p.m. or midnight, or one, two or three o'clock the next morning—what time do we get for reading? It is all giving out; there is no time to take anything in. The only thing I read is HANSARD. I take it to bed with me every night, a somewhat austere companion. It is the only thing I have time to read. I hope that there will be a very strong expression of the opinion of those hon. Members who give the whole of their time to the business of the House, and who do not feel that 2.15 p.m. is unduly early to meet, when they are here soon after 9 o'clock every morning. I hope they will express their opinion against the Motion.
§ 11.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I express my condolences with the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) on the fact that she does not know what to do with a spare quarter of an hour? I fully endorse everything that was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council. For many reasons, I think this Motion is a reasonable and a sensible one. I am afraid of the time when, possibly, this House will be composed merely of professional politicians. That will be a bad time not only for the House, but for the whole country. The strength of the House lies in the fact that it draws its experience from all kinds of people, engaged in varying occupations from one end of the country to the other. The most effective speeches in the House are those of the men who know their subject and can tell the House their experience. Some time 2224 must be given to that kind of person to earn his living, and he should not have to devote the whole of his time to the House. This House is being overworked. It is being overworked not only with business on the Floor of the House, but more Committees have been set up during this Parliament, and that means that hon. Members have to be here somewhere between 10 o'clock and half-past 10, and are in full occupation from something like 10 o'clock in the morning until about 11 o'clock at night.
§ Mr. Davies
The reason for extending the hours is to allow more free discussion in the House. I would much prefer to shorten the hours in the Standing Committees and to allow much more time in the House. Another reason I support this Motion is that there should be more time for Ministers to devote to their offices and to their consultations. I am quite sure that there are occasions when they have to cut short many of the things they desire to discuss in order to be back in this House in time. I think the main basis should be the need for wider scope in these matters in the House and the need for Ministers to have more time for consideration of their affairs.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I have listened very attentively to the speech of the Leader of the House, but I think that he has made out a very weak case. First, he makes the plea that the Cabinet have not sufficient time to do their business; they have to hurry away from Cabinet meetings. I agree that that is a very undesirable thing, but is it not possible for the Cabinet to meet a quarter of an hour earlier? They are asking the House to do so. A special Committee of this House is charged with the duty of devising ways and means whereby the Business of the House should be done more expeditiously. In considering these proposals they had to take into consideration the fact that the available manpower of this House is restricted because a considerable number of the Members have other business and occupations. Because of that, quite a small proportion of the Members of this House are called upon to serve on the six Standing Committees that have been set up. They are expected to be here at 10.30 in the morning. If they 2225 are to attend to their correspondence they have to be here round about 9 o'clock Under the ordinary Rule governing the sittings of the House, the business concludes at 9.15 and the Adjournment goes on for another half hour. If they remain to the end of the Adjournment Debate it is a quarter to 10 before they can leave this building. Many of them have journeys of an hour, to an hour and a half, to get here in the morning and to get away at night. It may be very convenient for those who have had the fortune to obtain accommodation in close proximity to this building. However, quite a large number of the new Members have to go to the suburbs for accommodation. I have been in this House since 1923. I have always lived in my constituency. I have had the unfortunate experience four nights out of five of arriving home at 1 o'clock or 20 minutes past 1 in the morning owing to the extended hours of this House. Any hour beyond a quarter to 10 from my point of view is a retrograde step.
My experience in this House has taught me that there is very little useful business done after 9 to 9.3o at night because there is a considerable repetition of speeches. There is very little force or debate brought to bear after that time, because all that it is possible to say has been said, and in nine out of ten cases the Minister charged with the responsibility of winding up the Debate has to repeat material which has been given earlier in the same Debate. It may be inconvenient for those who have business to attend to to get here at 2.15 and if they have Questions on the Order Paper they have to make a special effort to be here. However, I find that quite a large number of those who are engaged in business seldom have Questions on the Order Paper, but if they should happen to have a Question down they make a special effort to be present. I do appeal to them to consider the position of those who have long journeys to make, and who have to get home at 11.30 at night or midnight and have to be here on Committee business in the morning. Because of them it is unfair to extend the hours beyond the present hours.
§ 11.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
I am very glad that an agreement has been confirmed between the Government and the Opposition parties on this matter. The 2226 discussions which take place through the usual channels are of very great importance to the smooth working of the House, and it would be a great pity if such discussions took place arid afterwards the conclusions reached had to be thrown over. That would vitiate and obstruct to a certain extent that admirable method of working, which has done so much to keep the course of public business smooth and, in a way, to promote the corporate sense here. I am glad that the Government have discussed the matter very fully with their supporters, and have adhered to the view which they expressed last week through the Leader of the House. Of course, this is a matter in which everybody has striven to aim at the greatest good of the greatest number, and to fit in as far as possible all the different obligations which we have to discharge. I certainly agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party that it would be a disaster if we became whole-time professional politicians in this House. We are very experienced politicians but we are not professional politicians, in the sense in which that phrase is used in some other countries. We are representative British worthies, chosen by universal suffrage, and long may it be so that the House is a good representation of the wishes, the feelings, the character, and the diversity of the nation at large.
The business of the House of Commons and the business of the executive Government are matters of the utmost consequence. As tar as the executive Government are concerned, the hon. Member who spoke last has long experience of this House and his opinion is mature and wide in these matters, but it is a long time since he was a Minister and things have got much more severe since then. I am quite sure that the burden of pressure on Ministers is all that they can possibly carry. It was so in the days of the Coalition Government during the war, and I have not the slightest doubt that now, with this immense pressure of legislation, from which Ministers do not seem anxious to relieve themselves in any way—though we would be pleased to enter into some discussions on that through the usual channels—the work must be enormous. Ministers have to deal with Questions and often the Questions go back to Departments for further information so that answers can be given.
2227 I understand that, except in cases of emergency, the Cabinet meetings are now held in the morning. The Government work through committees whose meetings are not chronicled, but without which it would be impossible to carry on the infinitely complex work of the modern State. I do not think that the mere urging of Ministers to get up earlier in the morning, to have their Cabinets a quarter of an hour earlier or anything like that, would be useful at the present time, because I am sure that they are busy from the time they wake until the time they go to sleep—and that sometimes used to be very late in time of war. I think that the process of the executive Government must be carefully secured, but how about the House of Commons? We have an immense mass of legislation which can only be dealt with by the fullest use of the Standing or Grand Committees upstairs, and I am anxious that the Standing Committees should have their full chance, should be fully interwoven with the life of the House, so that the House can judge after a little more experience, in another year, what changes, if any, are required in its procedure.
I have always believed that the work of the Standing Committees would greatly accelerate the business of the House, but we must give the Committees a chance. If they sit all the morning and disperse at 1 o'clock, there ought to be some interval before hon. Members are expected to be back in their places to take part in what is, after all, the most lively part of the Parliamentary day and one most characteristic of the House of Commons, namely, Question time. An hour and a quarter is not very long in which to get lunch, and surely hon. Members ought to have a little rest before immediately addressing themselves to new tasks. You cannot get good, patient consideration of grave public matters by men who are hustled and rushed round on a closely cut schedule from one point to another in the course of the day. Tempers are apt to get frayed, digestions may well be affected, and the course of public business is neither satisfactory nor agreeable.
Therefore, I think that, although this is a very small change, it is a very helpful change. We gain half an hour a day of Parliamentary time; we get a quarter of 2228 an hour more interlude in the middle of the day. There are many countries where the middle of the day is a time of repose, and it may well be that the human race would consult its health and advantage if it lived more in the natural manner, breaking the day by short intervals for repose, reflection and refreshment, instead of working from morning to night. I think it is not really very much to ask that a Member of Parliament, who has important questions to ask and business to carry on in the afternoon, and who has sat till one o'clock on a Committee upstairs, following it with great attention, should now have an hour and a half in which to prepare himself, before he is again called upon to discharge his important tasks.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said that he never knew of any good business being done after 9.30, and that was his experience in the House. I certainly remember that the great Debates of former days took place between 10 and 12 at night. On those occasions the Leader of the Opposition spoke for an hour and the Leader of the Government wound up, in speeches every word of which was studied with the greatest attention by the very keen political classes who followed their affairs. In those days politics largely took the place of football. Public men had their attendant troops of fans and backers who knew their form to a turn. Consequently these Debates created great interest and were a fine exposition of what had occurred sometimes in a two days' or three days' Debate. This again led to crowded Houses, a great deal of excitement and, as I have several times pointed out, this House of Commons lived upon its vivid moments and often even upon its scenes. So we should never get too mealy mouthed or frightened about little tiffs that occur in the course of our affairs.
I saw very good work done then in educating the country and in forming opinion in the House. When the Budget Debate was wound up last night by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) in a most witty speech, and when it was replied to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech of his usual lucidity and rather less than his usual party asperity, and both speeches were most informing and instructive and formed a very vivid close to the Debate, where were 2229 the Members? The House was nearly empty, or at least much less full than it is now for long periods in the day.
§ Mr. Churchill
I do not think that is so at all, and I am sure that the choosing of the time for winding up speeches between 7.30 and 9.15 does not give a chance for the case to be stated on both sides as it ought to be stated at the end of a long Debate. I believe this extra half hour, which is fully justified by the improvements of communication which have already occurred, and which will increasingly come back to us, will be very beneficial in that way. I am glad the Government have been able to take this course. I think there is a great deal of advantage in trying to work in the House as a whole. I know quite naturally there will be differences of opinion on these matters of personal habit and convenience but, broadly speaking, I am sure the course that is proposed by the Leader of the House is one that will commend itself to the great majority of the House on both sides, and that it is one which will conduce to the continued efficiency and swift progress of our vast affairs at home and abroad.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not mean in the last part of his speech to convey the impression that public interest in the affairs of this House today is less than it was in the years to which he referred, when the hours were vastly different from the hours that operate now.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken, if he will allow me to say so with great respect. He ought to go outside this Chamber now and look at the long lines of the public waiting for vacant seats in the gallery. That has been the case ever since this Parliament assembled. The accommodation in this House is inadequate for members of the public who are following our affairs with great interest, but the demand for such accommodation as there is, even in the very great days to which he referred, was nothing like so keen as it has been since the commencement of this Parliament.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
The hon. Member is much too young to know. There was a much bigger crowd in those days.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am not as young as I would like to be, but I admit that my experience is only 10 or 11 years in the House. However, I feel sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that he is thinking of the great occasions of the past, of the great Debates, of the great historic moments. I am not talking about the great Debates and the great historic moments; I am talking about the sustained day to day interest in our day to day affairs; and I say that there never was a Parliament which was followed so carefully and so keenly and with such interest as the work of this Parliament has been followed since last July. Therefore I think I am entitled to say that any argument in favour of the change directed to the necessity for increasing the interest of the public in the proceedings of the House fails for there is no lack of fuel for any conflict of interests.
If you look at it from the other point of view, not of the point of view of the interest of the public outside, but of the progress of our own business inside the House, is any case made out for a change? Surely the answer is, No. I do not know what the latest figures are, but the ones I have are about so days or a fortnight old. There were in the course of this Session put upon the Statute Book, with the Royal Assent, 43 Acts of Parliament. Fifty-eight had then been 'presented, and 43 had received the Royal Assent. I think that the figures are now much higher. I would like to ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they think that the process of legislation has not been fast enough in this House. I thought that their complaint was the exact opposite. I thought that their view was that we were passing legislation too fast, so there cannot be any complaint about that. The latest estimate is that by July we shall have added to the Statute Book, in one Session, no fewer than 100 Acts of Parliament. It cannot be said that our work has been skimped or scamped, or that we need an extra half hour a day in order to do more business. Indeed, that claim has not been made.
§ Mr. Churchill
The claim is made, not in order to do more business, but to give business more prolonged attention.
§ Mr. Silverman
I was coming to that point. I see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me as far as I have gone, that it is not contended that we have not done enough business.
I now come to the other point of whether it would enable us to give more attention to the business before us, to examine it with greater care, to give it more prolonged attention, to make sure that it gets the full examination it needs. Is it really suggested that that will be achieved in the half hour at the end of the day that is to be added under this change in the Standing Orders? Is that when legislation is examined? Nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman was right when he said that what was needed was better and more prolonged examination of Bills in the Standing Committees. A reasonably large part of his speech was devoted to praise of the work of the Standing Committees and to insistence on the necessity of them. My right hon. and learned Friend who sits with me on the Select Committee on Procedure, signed with me the first provisional interim Report we made. What was its principal recommendation but to increase the number of Standing Committees sitting in the morning, and to increase the length of time for which they sat? How can that be improved by adding three quarters of an hour to the end of the Parliamentary day? That does not improve the Standing Committees.
§ Mr. Churchill
There are two aspects to this proposal. I understand that one is to give an extra quarter of an hour between the rising of these Standing Committees and the opening of Question time in the House. The other a little consequential upon that. A quarter of an hour has to be paid back. The proposal also gives an extra half hour for Debates. Those are the two objects in view.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sure it is my fault, but the right hon. Gentleman is not addressing himself to the point I made. I say there is nothing in this proposal which can assist the Standing Committees to do their work better. That has not been claimed, and the right hon. Gentleman, in the intervention he has just made, did not make it. It is not pretended that a quarter of an hour is to be added to the hours of sitting in Standing Committees. On the contrary, it is intended 2232 as an addition to the break between them and the sitting of the House. I quite see the force of the argument for what it is worth. The three quarters of an hour at the other end of the day also has no bearing on the Standing Committees, except that it makes it more difficult for Members to attend them next morning, and in the proper spirit they should bring to bear upon their proceedings.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about the necessity of the House honouring agreements reached through the usual channels. I do not know. I should have thought that this was not a party point at all but a purely Parliamentary point. If ever there was a point in which Members of Parliament ought to exercise their own private discretion—
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I thought when I made my original statement that I was under great pressure from this side of the House to do the very thing which my hon. Friend is deprecating, namely, to consult the party. I did so. The party had a right to be consulted, and it expressed a point of view.
§ Mr. Silverman
What happened was that my right hon. Friend announced in this House that the change had been decided upon after consulting everyone interested. When it was pointed out that no one on this side of the House had been consulted at all, my right hon. Friend said that steps would be taken to consult them. It is perfectly true that a motion was made at a party meeting. My right hon. Friend has referred to it and I do not know how far I am entitled to go. He referred to the fact that there was a majority. He knows I am not worried about any dangers he may have in mind, but I am entitled to say that it was a very small meeting of the party, and that this proposal was carried by a very small majority. I still say, as I was saying when my right hon. Friend intervened, that if ever there was a point on which Private Members, back benchers, ought to exercise their own native discretion and their own individual judgment, it is precisely a point of this kind. No question of party policy or principle of politics is involved. It is a question of how we will better do our work, whether under the old system or under the new.
I wish to address myself to some of the arguments that have been adduced. It is suggested, first, that it is a good thing that 2233 some Members of Parliament should have non-Parliamentary interests, and should be encouraged to pursue them. I do not dissent from that point of view. It would be a great pity if all Members of the House of Commons did work in the House of Commons and no other work, and had no other contacts anywhere. How are we assisting them by giving them an extra quarter of an hour in the morning? Will an extra 15 minutes in his office assist the business or professional man very much? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition suggests that he ought not to spend it in the office in any event; he ought to spend it resting. So that provision has nothing to do with the practice of a profession or the conduct of a business or looking after affairs in an office. It does not help in that respect, and it has nothing to do with that.
§ Mr. Silverman
I have not always seen eye to eye with the right hon. Gentleman, but in the 10 years I have been in this House, only very rarely have I seen him lose his poise. I do not think that a quarter of an hour added to his lunch time will have anything to do with that. If reports are true, the right hon. Gentleman himself called more Cabinet meetings at 2 o'clock in the morning than ever he called at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
§ Mr. Silverman
But what is the effect on Members who devote their whole working time to the service of the House? It is granted that there must always be a considerable number of people who do so devote their whole working day. I would deprecate and resent calling them professional politicians. I do not think they would be professional politicians. Everybody concedes that in the way we now conduct our business—and we can see no immediate prospect of changing it; I would not desire to change it—our work could not be done unless a considerable portion of the Members of this House gave their full time to its service and had no outside professional interests. Otherwise, our work would not be done at all. What is the effect of prolonging these hours in this way? It is just as necessary, indeed it becomes all the more necessary, if hon. Members have no outside interests that they should not be confined within these walls for the whole of their 2234 waking life. Then indeed we would get a monastic institution, a rarified atmosphere, a House of Commons less and less in touch with public opinion and with the atmosphere and weight of opinion outside.
At the moment, a man who devotes his full time to the service of this House, Is has been said, must come down here at nine or 9.30 in the morning and, under these proposals, in the great majority of cases he will never be home before midnight. I ask my right hon. Friend what trade union Members of this House ought to join. If he is not so experienced in that matter, perhaps he will consult his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—
§ Mr. Silverman
I think the conditions and hours of work of Members of Parliament ought to be protected just as much as any one else's.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman ought not to talk like that. I understand that he made that point elsewhere. I thought it was a very unfair point to make. I hope he will not repeat it today. I do not think he can complain of the work done by Members of Parliament.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
May I ask whether we back benchers will be allowed to join this discussion?
§ Mr. Silverman
Personally, Mr. Speaker, it would delight me immensely to hear some back bencher support these proposals. So far, they have been supported only by leaders of parties and by front benchers on one side or the other. Not a single back bencher has so far said a word in favour of them. I do not think my right hon. Friend can complain of the way Members work. When it is necessary to sit late, we all sit late. When it is necessary to sit all night, we all sit all night. I think the attendance in this House on the all night sitting recently was probably higher than that of any other all night sitting within my experience—
§ Mr. Silverman
It is within my ten or 15 years' experience, all the same. I do not think my right hon. Friend can complain. There is no advantage whatever to be gained except to enable the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to go to the theatre or attend a dinner party—[Interruption.] Certainly, that is the case, and they can still come back in time to cast their votes in a Division after a Debate which they have not heard. I agree that is very awkward at 9.15; it will be less awkward at 10.15. I can see no other purpose to be served, no other advantage to be gained, and I do not believe that hon. Members are justified in supporting this change.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
it seems to me the House is in danger of getting the worst of both worlds. I can see very strong arguments for the hours of sitting which were in force before the war. These arguments are very strong indeed. I can also see strong arguments in favour of extra hard work in the Committee system, and an earlier hour of rising in the evening. Is it not possible, however, that we are, as I say, getting the worst of both of those systems now? The House is being worked to death in the mornings. It is now proposed that a small slice should be nibbled off our hours of repose at night. I believe sleep is necessary for the human race. Members of Parliament are seldom so harmlessly or so profitably employed as when they are asleep. The plea for extending the hours has been made on two grounds, first, that it will enable more necessary work to be done, and secondly, that it will allow more back benchers to make speeches. With regard to the first point, surely the system we work under now is very flexible compared with that of a few years ago. When there is more work to be done the Government, by agreement with the Opposition Front Bench, can extend the hours of sitting by one hour or more. I believe it is a mistake to make these gradual encroachments on Members' rest, and to make them a general rule. I should have thought the Rules of Order were flexible enough to meet the case when necessary.
As for the other plea that more time will be allowed for back benchers' speeches, when the Lord President said that, I thought I had never seen such an 2236 example of crocodile tears in my life. If Front Benchers want back benchers to make more speeches, the remedy is entirely in their own hands. Let us go the whole hog one way or the other. If all important Bills are to be taken in Committee in the mornings—
§ Mr. Nicholson
But it is sometimes a good dialectical point. If all important Bills are to be taken in Committee for 2½ hours on three or four mornings a week, then let us have a reasonably early hour of rising. If, on the other hand, it is concluded—I myself think this would be the wiser course—if it is concluded to go the whole hog and return to the position as it was before the war, I, for one, will welcome it. But this niggling way of getting the worst of both worlds seems to me profoundly unsatisfactory. I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). One thing I am certain of is that this is purely a House of Commons matter, and not a question of party loyalties. I hope hon. Members will vote according to what they judge right, remembering the only possible criterion, which is the efficiency of the House.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) expressed the view that if we went back to the old hours that would be an improvement. It seems to me that there is some necessity for changing traditions. I am a new Member of this House with very little experience. I must say I am shocked to find what is expected of a Member of Parliament under the conditions in which we have to work. For 25 years I have been accustomed to business in an office, working for an employer. I had to be at my task at 8.30 in the morning and I always had time during the day to read the papers and to become accustomed to what was really happening in the country. I find the position is very different when one becomes a Member of Parliament. The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) suggested she had to take HANSARD to bed with her. She is very fortunate. I heard some Members of the House say during the last few days that they have neither time to attend the Debates in the House in a manner 2237 which they consider adequate, nor time to read HANSARD. Therefore, if they wish to know what is really happening in the House of Commons they usually look at "The Times." It appears to be rather a reflection upon Members of this House if we feel that conditions are such that we cannot devote the time that is necessary to do our work properly.
The Lord President of the Council on a number of occasions—and it has been reiterated in this House—has suggested that it would not be desirable for Members of Parliament, as a general rule, to devote their time wholly to this House. I cannot accept the view that because a Member of the House takes another major position for which he is paid, as a barrister or in any other capacity, he has a better contact with the country than a Member of Parliament who devotes his whole time to the job. Some of us have felt it necessary to devote even more of our time to the job, that, in fact, we cannot do the job adequately within the hours that are prescribed. Those of us who take this job seriously, feel that we ought to consult our constituents frequently. We have advice bureaux, we have to keep in contact with them and, therefore, it is wrong to suggest that we are not doing our job as we ought, unless we take on some other paid job. I say to the Lord President of the Council that, although it is very useful to have other contacts, it is wrong to give an impression to the country that to be a good Member of Parliament, one must take another major paid post. If the conditions and salaries of Members of Parliament are to be reviewed, the public will be entitled to expect some value for the extra money involved.
§ Mr. Yates>
I sympathise with Members of the Government. I realise the amount of work they have to do. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) wants us to go back to the past and to the days when political interest was not so great.
§ Mr. Yates
At any rate, it is a step towards the traditional past for which the right hon. Gentleman has always argued. I think it is obvious that there is a greater interest today than ever before in 2238 national politics. The result, of course, has been the election of the Labour Government. I would have thought that was a sign of the awakening of political consciousness in this country. What I am disturbed about is the lack of time to devote to the necessary reading which is essential if Members are to become really good representatives of the people. I hive been informed that Members of the Cabinet have so much reading to do that usually they cannot get to bed until two or three o'clock in the morning. If that is so, I think it is a very serious matter. If we have a long legislative programme to get through, how on earth are Ministers to do justice to the job if they have to work like that? To add at the end of the day half an hour or three-quarters of an hour to the sittings of Parliament seems to me to be making the position worse. Generally speaking, I think Ministers—or some of them, at least—should want to be close to the House at the end of the sittings. If the hours are made longer we add to the difficulties of Ministers, and their period of reading in the early hours of the morning will be extended.
I view this proposal with grave misgivings. It is a matter which this House ought seriously to consider. I hope if this Motion goes through, the House will consider at some not far distant time its working and its effects. I think it will be serious for many of us who wish to devote our whole time to the job, not in a professional capacity but in a desire to render the best service we can to the people. That is why we are elected. We are being driven hard, as has been said on more than one occasion. We do not want to be dragooned. We want this new House of Commons to function in accordance with modern demands. It we want speed in legislation we must also have the proper time in which to consider all the implications of that legislation.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, and I rise only because of the challenge implicit in the words of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who suggested that there was no back bench body of opinion in favour of this Motion. I understood the hon. Member to say that all the support had come from Front Bench Members 2239 I rise merely to show that there is back bench opinion in support of the lengthening of the hours of sitting of this House. I support the Motion on a simple ground. I support it on the ground that it is in the public good that there should be an extended period for discussion. We have heard a good deal this morning about the convenience of the Executive and of Members of this House. Those may be important considerations, but they are less important than the principle that we should have the maximum possible opportunity for discussion of what affects the public interest. Members of Parliament should be the last people to set themselves up as a pampered class within the community. Nobody compels any hon. Member to seek election to this House. Here, at least, the principle of contracting in is universally applied, and if the hon. Member for Nelson and Come or any other hon. Member does not like to devote long hours to the service of the community and the House of Commons, the remedy is in his own hands.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not mean the implication which lies behind his remarks. Nobody who is against the present proposal ought to be regarded as taking that view because he does not want to give long service. For my part, I gave up my profession entirely so that I could devote myself to the service of the House. The only question is how one can do it most efficiently.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The point I was seeking to make was that inevitably discussion of the business of this House imposes long and exacting hours on the Members of the House, and that consideration ought to be in the mind of every hon. Member when he seeks an answer from his conscience as to whether or not he should put himself forward for election. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me in that statement of a general principle. In any event, the hours are likely to be long and exacting. The point that is put by the critics of this Motion is that any extension of the hours would diminish in efficiency what they would add in length of time. From that proposition I dissent. I think we should look at the hours that are available for discussion from the point of view of whether or not they afford a 2240 full opportunity for the canvassing of all points of view on any particular subject [Interruption.] I do not think it necessary to deal with that sort of interruption from my hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "What was it? "] My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) suggested that we might as well sit for 24 hours a day. It was an interruption which I did not think it necessary to deal with.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I must interrupt my hon. Friend. This is a discussion about the hours of sitting, whether they should be extended or whether they already afford ample time for what I think he called canvassing the different points of view. Pushed to its logical conclusion, such a view of our hours of sitting would mean our being in almost permanent Session. The only criterion must be the efficiency of the House. If we extend hours of labour beyond a certain time, we get a drop in efficiency. I suggest that with the heavy work we already do in the mornings, and the high pressure at which we work now, a drop in efficiency is to be expected if we extend our hours in the evening.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I have already stated that we must adopt a high standard of efficiency in these matters. I think that the House of Commons formerly sat for very long hours. It would seem to me that Members who compose the present House of Commons ought to be capable of doing good work with extended hours.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
In the days when the House sat for longer in the evening it did not have Committees sitting three days a week, nor did those Committees sit for so long.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am within the recollection of the House when I say that I think it is still regarded as exceptional for Standing Committees to sit on three mornings of the week. The normal number is still two. It is the exception for Committees to sit for three mornings in the week. I do not think the hon. Member should found an argument on that exceptional case. Anybody who has sought to take part in big Debates in this House surely realises the great difficulty there is for back bench Members to express their points of view. Anything which extends the hours therefore extends the possi- 2241 bility of contributions by back bench Members. I took the trouble recently to analyse the time left for back bench speeches in some of the major Debates. In some cases there was as little as two hours 35 minutes left for back bench Members to make their contributions. That kind of thing is happening on major topics, and on most of the major Bills.
Of course, as the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) said, perhaps we could have fewer or shorter speeches from the Front Bench, but representatives of the Government need reasonable time to state their policy, and my right hon. Friends who sit on the Front Bench on this side of the House are bound to take up a certain amount of the time of the House. That leaves you, Sir, with the problem of putting the gallon into the pint pot. It should commend itself to the House that we should try to see whether we can lengthen the hours of discussion, so as to afford a better chance to back bench Members on all sides of the House to contribute their views. It is with that idea in my mind that I support the proposal.
§ 12.20 p.m.
Mr. Driberģ (Maldon)
I find myself in the very difficult and unpopular position of being a back bencher who supports the Government on this matter, and I propose to give my reasons for doing so, although I listened with the greatest sympathy to—and was, indeed, almost persuaded by—the eloquent and forceful appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), and to the always relentless logic of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman).
Reference has been made in several speeches to the "full-time" Member of Parliament. I agree that Members of Parliament should, and must, do a full-time job now. A much larger proportion of hon. Members do so in the present House than in any previous House, and I think that Parliament is better for it. None the less, there are those who can, so to speak, work full time and a half, giving their Parliamentary job absolute priority but keeping as much in touch as they can with their outside interests; and there is something to be said for the contribution that they make. Only this week I have been having discussions with an hon. Member who is very much a full- 2242 time attender in this Chamber. He is also still an active trade union official—and his experience of trade union organisation at this moment of history has been of considerable benefit to this House in recent Debates. This hon. Member has made several speeches in the last month or two, putting the case of the workers in a particular industry. That does confirm to a great extent what my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne said, quite rightly, that no great issue of political principle is involved in this matter. There is no issue of party policy, and therefore we can all consider ourselves completely free to vote as we like about it. I speak with great diffidence and genuine respect for my hon. Friend, who is an older and more experienced Member of the Labour Party than I am, but I would put it to him that, if the Labour Government take a considered view and come to the House and say that they need this Motion for the more efficient conduct of business, that is a point which must weigh considerably with all their supporters.
Another point which has been made in many speeches and was made by another hon. Member much senior to myself, whom I respect, is that no useful business is done late in the evening. There were several interjections about the unpopularity of the night shift. It entirely depends upon the kind of work you are doing whether the late evening is good or bad for serious business. Certainly the night shift is unpopular in industry, but I suggest that for the kind of business we do in this House—Debate, discussion, argument—the evening and, indeed, the late evening, are the best time of the day. I have always found it so and I therefore differ from my hon. Friend in that respect.
I agree that the case for the extra quarter of an hour off in the middle of the day is less strong than the case for the new evening arrangement. The Lord President of the Council spoke about Ministerial convenience and about Ministers having to get here at 2.15. It is not every Minister who has to get here at the beginning of Question time every day. One Minister has to be here at 2.15, and the others can come in later during Question time. I do not think the case on that part of the Motion is so strong as on the other. On balance. I feel that the extra 2243 half hour in, the evening is good for the House and good for the individual back bench Member. I do not think that any hon. Member who has attacked the Motion has taken any notice at all of the very important point made by the Leader of the House in introducing it, the assurance—I will not call it an absolute undertaking, because it could not be that —given by the Leader of the House that the Government will have to move far less frequently the one-hour suspension. I think that is a point which should be borne in mind.
I agree with the Lord President that the extra half hour will, in many Debates, give an opportunity to two or three extra back benchers who would not otherwise be able to get in. Despite what my hon. Friends have said about the argument being exhausted, I am sure they will remember that on many occasions, in important Debates about food for Europe and many other subjects, there have been as many as a dozen or more frustrated back benchers still standing up and trying to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, when the Minister rose to wind up. That is a very common experience. Therefore, I welcome an extra half-hour for two, or possibly three, extra back bench speeches. Alternatively—and here again I part company with the hon. Lady the Member for Epping—I would suggest, with respect to our Front Bench, that the Minister winding up might occasionally rise to wind up just a little earlier, and so deprive himself of the excuse of that despairing gesture at the clock, as a technique for dodging a full reply to points made during the Debate and not giving way to interruptions On either consideration, it seems to me that the balance of the argument is in favour, of this change.
There is a real anxiety on this side of the House among many hon. Members who will have difficulty in getting home at night. This does not affect me personally; at the worst, I have only 20 minutes' walk, and that does not worry me. However, although public transport has greatly improved, it is not yet back to a normal peacetime condition. There are hon. Members who live in the suburbs, and perhaps in the outer suburbs, who simply cannot get accommodation in Central London. I do feel that something more should be done for them than has 2244 yet been indicated or referred to this morning. Towards the end of the last Parliament, as I think the Leader of the House will remember, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport gave an undertaking to this House that, when we went back to the later times of sitting from the daytime, wartime hours of sitting, if he could be provided with lists of the names of hon. Members who found difficulty in getting home after late sittings, he would arrange transport for them. I would like to ask the Leader of the House, whether that arrangement still holds good, as I presume it should.
§ Mr. Speaker
If we are to have hon. Members on one side of the House throwing missiles across the Floor of the House, it may lead to all sorts of irregularities.
I was just asking the Leader of the House whether the undertaking given by the Ministry of War Transport in the later stages of the last Parliament will hold good, and whether it can now be implemented for the benefit of those hon. Members who have a genuine difficulty in getting home. I believe that if that could be done there would be considerably more disposition among some hon. Members who have spoken in opposition to this Motion to support it, as I. for one, am glad to do.
§ 12.30 p.m.
Viscount Hinchinģbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) I am one of those on these benches who support this Motion. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) had absolutely no right to single out the Standing Committee stage of Bills and say that, because no time was given by this Motion for extra consideration upstairs, that was a reason for not passing it here. We have to do with many other things besides the work that goes on in Standing Committee. It is quite true that Bills receive their 2245 detailed consideration on the Committee stage, but, after all, there are Second Readings, Report stages and Third Readings and there are the Debates on large topics for which the Government find time. We have had from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne the taunt that this Motion was deliberately framed in order that the Tory Party could go to dinner and to the theatre. Does he really suggest that the Leader of the House, supported by a large majority of the Labour Party, devised a Motion in order to enable us to go and eat sumptuously in a private house, and to attend the ballet and the cinema? Of course that is not the case. If there is justice in his claim, it applies equally to his side, perhaps more so, because it is a fact—and I instance it in support of what I am saying—that the only two right hon. Gentlemen who have appeared in this House in evening dress since the beginning of this Parliament were the Lord President himself and the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I assure the Noble Lord, I have no contempt but the greatest respect for dinners and theatres. I said that the only practical advantage I could see in this Motion was that it enabled hon. Members to do that, but I thought it was not a sufficiently compensating advantage.
I do advise hon. Members to think seriously about this. We are just about to vote ourselves an increase in salary. There has been some doubt and heart searching upon the subject. I think our constituents will expect from us a very high standard of output if, indeed, we do vote ourselves the increased salary. It seems to me that if we do not show them we are willing to spend even half an hour longer on our work, then they will conclude that those salaries have been unjustly accorded.
§ Mrs. Manning
Is the Noble Lord really suggesting that hon. Members who intend voting against this Motion should refrain from doing so because of the fear that their constituents would think they 2246 were asking for an increase in salary for half an hour's extra work? If so, that is a very poor argument, and a very wrong argument. The arguments which have been put forward from this side have come from hon. Members who are not earning another salary, and who are, indeed, on practically every day of the week working in this House for 12 and 14 hours.
All I am trying to say is that the Debate today on hours and the Debate which will take place after Easter on the increase in Members' salaries are bound to be linked together in the public mind. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I hope hon. Members will consider the unwisdom of voting against this Motion today in the light of the forthcoming Debate.
I do not differ from the Lord President in much that he said. However, there was one remark he made at the end of his speech which, I think, vitiated a good part of it. About one-third of our Debates are accompanied by the suspension of the Rule. The Lord President said that as a result of this extra three-quarters of an hour's Debate it would not be necessary to move the suspension of the Rule for one hour. I would ask him to think about that again, because if we do not pass the suspension of the Rule as we have done in the past we shall, in fact, find that at least one-third of our Debates are automatically shortened by a quarter of an hour. I hope that he will agree to move the suspension of the Rule, if not quite so frequently as in the past, at any rate fairly frequently.
There is one small point I should like to make, about the printing of HANSARD. HANSARD now goes to press at 10.15 p.m. and consequently the proceedings of the House which occur after 10.15 p.m. appear in print 36 hours later. Could the right hon. Gentleman ensure, through the proper channels, that this extra quarter of an hour's Debate is printed in the following morning's HANSARD? Having made those observations, I would say that I support the Motion.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
I agree with the view that the proposed alteration in hours would not facilitate the work of the 2247 House. Appeals have been made during the Debate on the grounds of experience. I sat in the 1929–31 Parliament, in the war Parliament, and I have sat in this one. The hours have been different in all three. In the 1929–31 Parliament we sat till 11 p.m. and, not infrequently, all night. During the war we sat until 5.30 or 6 p.m. according to the season of the year. And now we are sitting until 9.15 p.m., or, with the Adjournment Motion, until 9.45 p.m. I do not think the appeal to the past helps very much here, for the conditions of the 1929–31 Parliament, for example, cannot be compared in any way with those of the present Parliament either as regards the pace of legislation, the number of Committees at work, the size of the post bag, or the calls upon hon. Members' time. If we go back to those hours by reference to the conditions prevailing in previous Parliaments, I think we shall be making a very bad mistake indeed.
The real trouble here is not the hours of sitting at all. The real trouble is that the Government have a programme in mind. They, first of all, decide upon that programme and then fit the hours to suit the programme, instead of making the programme fit Parliamentary time. I am perfectly certain that the results are bad. They are beginning to be bad from the point of view of hon. Members, and from the point of view of Ministers. The Ministers are obviously overtired; they are sometimes so tired that judgment deserts them. We had an example of that yesterday, when the Lord President, for ten minutes or so, attempted to reduce this House to the level of the Reichstag. The real trouble is that the Government are trying to drive the machine much too hard, and, in order to permit of it being so driven, are proposing various alterations in hours. As far as I can judge, the Parliamentary tactic is to get as much of the programme on to the Statute Book as possible, while the going is good.
§ Mr. Brown
Well, that is all right if one has a poor view of the Party's prospects, if the outlook is gloomy and dark, and if the clouds are beginning to lower. If one takes that view, then there is a great case for getting the legislation on to the Statute Book as soon as 2248 possible—in the next 18 months or two years. But I doubt, after yesterday, whether the Government will last as long as that. I prophesy trouble to come, and I do riot think it can be put right by extending the hours. Personally, the change will not affect me, because I enjoy the privilege of my own transport, but I have a great feeling for hon. Members who are not in the same happy position as myself. This Parliament cannot be compared with that of 1929. Every hon. Member is on Committees, and post-bags are bigger than they used to be. Hon. Members, both men and women, are here from ten in the morning to ten at night, by which time they have done a good day's work. And one does not improve the result by driving them still harder.
I suggest to the Lord President that he should look not so much at the hours of the House, as at the programme. He can only carry through that programme if he makes a Reichstag out of this House, and one or two hon. Members do not intend that he shall do that. Some of them are on his own benches, too. Hon. Members on the Government side of the House have discovered in thecourse of time that Members of Parliament have some rights, and that Parliament has some rights vis-à-vis the Executive. I do not think that this proposal is going to improve the temper, the legislative ability or the Debates of the House, not even to the extent of having more speeches by back benchers at night. The reason why we do not hear enough from back benchers, is because the front benchers take up too much time. No front bencher thinks he has spoken at all unless he pontificates for an hour. That is the real difficulty and, what is more, they commit the unpardonable offence of reading their speeches—and dreadfully dull they are. On all these grounds, I shall vote against the Motion.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
When I saw the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) come in half way through the Debate, I had an idea that he was on mischief bent, and that he would take the opportunity of doing his best to get back at me for the little interchange we had yesterday.
§ Mr. Morrison
I repeat that when I saw the hon. Member come in half way through the Debate I thought he was on mischief bent and that he was going to follow the spirit of la revanche for what I said yesterday and would threaten me with more to come. One tries to be ready for and equal to the hon. Member for Rugby, if that is possible. He has accused me of trying to make the House of Commons a Reichstag. Perhaps that is a rather heavy retort for my having accused him yesterday of trying to reduce the arrangement of Parliamentary business to that of the postal ballot. I do not complain, but I think most hon. Members will agree that I have treated the House and its convenience with as much respect as Leaders of the House of Commons have done in the past. The hon. Member will have his little joke, and we will treat it as such and enjoy it as best we can.
The Debate has been a good tempered one. It is perfectly true that the opinions and the convenience—the perfectly legitimate convenience—of hon. Members in various parts of the House are bound to differ. Some hon. Members have strong opinions about the matter and have expressed themselves accordingly. But, as I have said, it has been a good tempered discussion, I do not know what I can do for my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) with regard to this other quarter of an hour which is worrying her. She does not know what she is going to do with it. She will have more than a quarter of an hour for working purposes as I gather that she usually lunches at the House, and I hope she will find suitable use for it. There is a tendency, perhaps, for a number of hon. Members who usually lunch in the House to base their case upon their own experience. Of course, they can get their lunch much more expeditiously. They can come from Standing Committee—if they are on Standing Committee—go straight to the luncheon room and, with good luck and good service, get through pretty quickly. I agree that they have time on their hands. I agree also with the Leader of the Opposition, that a little quietness, meditation and repose after lunch is not a bad thing, even if it is a question of sitting down in the dining room and talking to fellow Members of the House of Commons. I am not sure 2250 that rushed lunches are good for people in responsible positions, although that may be a matter of controversy; but this remains a free country.
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Member is suffering from an inferiority complex this morning, which for him is a most unusual experience. Many Members like to go out to lunch, and it is not a bad thing to get off the job now and again and to have your lunch outside. I have had as much experience as anyone in eating on the job. With others, I did it during the war. When I was Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security I lived, slept and ate on the job as much as anyone. For a time it was quite exciting and interesting, but there came the time when I was glad to get out of the place and see the back of it. I do not think it is a matter of censure if Members of Parliament prefer to go out for lunch and have the break in continuity of attendance in the House. In their case, one and a half hours is not too much time. They have to go to the restaurant, eat their lunch and then get back again to the House.
There is one point which I forgot to make. When I gave evidence before the Select Committee on Procedure, to which the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) referred, the point was raised, that if Standing Committees are to continue in fair numbers, as they are, there would be great difficulty for those shorthand writers in tidying up their reports of Standing Committees in time to get to work in the Chamber. Hon. Members who served on that Committee will recall that that was perhaps one of the most important points of practical difficulty put to me in the course of my evidence. They also must be considered, and undoubtedly this arrangement will be a considerable advantage to their work.
There has been the tendency on the Conservative side, and it does not surprise me, which was echoed also by the Leader of the Liberal Party, and, I am sorry to say, there has been a slight tendency among some of my hon. Friends as well, to allege that Parliament is being worked unduly and excessively hard. I think that we should have a sense of balance about this. I agree that the House is working hard, and I am very 2251 grateful to hon. Members for the work they are doing. I agree that the legislative programme is a considerable one, but I do not admit that in this Session we are asking more from Parliament than is reasonable or desirable in the public interest. If we are not careful, we shall play into the hands of reaction, if we accept without comment this tendency to allege in various quarters that the House is being driven too hard, for there are many people watching this House and the Government who wish very much that we should deal with half the Bills we are introducing. We must keep a sense of balance, or else we shall be playing into the hands of certain political views, which we do not want to do.
§ Mr. Silverman
No one on this side of the House said so, but my right hon. Friend the Lord President said, "hon. Members on this side of the House."
§ Mr. Morrison
I was not referring to my hon. Friend, and I do not know why he has got up, because I was not thinking of him. I thought that there was among some of the speeches on this side an implication in that direction which might be quoted against us in the future, and I was endeavouring to make sure that this would not happen. I admit that Parliament is working hard, but if there is anything which this Parliament came to do it is to work hard and get the programme through. We are very ambitious to get it through, and we can only do it if Parliament works hard, and I hope that all hon. Members, and all of us, will work hard and as cheerfully as we can. I noted the point coming from Opposition Benches, and I thought I had better say that in case the argument was utilised against us.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke from rich and long Parliamentary experience, and he obviously has an affection and liking for winding-up speeches late at night, starting sometimes at 10 o'clock and finishing at midnight, with which view there is not so much sympathy 2252 on this side of the House. Nevertheless, do not let us under estimate the Parliamentary and public importance of the right setting and atmosphere for the winding-up of Debates. The final tussle between the spokesmen of the Opposition and the Government on important matters is a great Parliamentary occasion. By terminating the sittings of this House at 9.15, we are tending to kill these great occasions, because it is impossible for the first of the last two speakers to make the most of himself if, inevitably, there is a moderately attended House because Members have to have their dinner. Therefore, y attach importance to this winding-up, which is part of the life of the House, and is part of its pulsating, human and emotional existence.
If we reduce the winding up of Parliamentary Debates to the level of a town council, it will be a very bad thing for our Parliamentary institution. That is why some of the observations made about the front bench were, I thought, a little unkind, although we expect to be knocked about a bit. Allegations that front bench speeches are dull, dreary and too long is a matter upon which opinions may be held, but I thought it was a bit rough. If back benchers are going to have a drive against the quality of front bench speeches, the front bench might retort in kind, and we should have a bad time. But we are not going to do that, and I am not asking for trouble in that direction. On many occasions in the past back benchers have complained that front bench spokesmen have spoken too long, and observations have often been made upon their speeches, but one of the roughest things is to be accused of having used a brief when, in fact, you have not used one.
§ Mr. Morrison
I was not referring to the hon. Member. I cannot say anything without the hon. Member becoming a party leader for all sides of the House. However, I take no offence, because it takes much more than that to offend me, but I can assure hon. Members that we shall do our best to stand up to it at any time. I wish to emphasise that point, because the House is in two moods. Some think that winding-up speeches are not as good as others. The atmosphere may be wrong and hon. Members may have opinions about the speakers even, but 2253 nevertheless, when all is said and done, nobody enjoys the good winding-up of a Debate more than all the back benchers who sit around interrupting and so on. The point which is really important is that the 9.15 Rule makes it difficult to put adequate style into the winding-up, and the change to 10 o'clock will help us in this respect. I agree with the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman said, although not exactly with his clock. He was quite right to refer to the problems of Ministers and Cabinets who, I can assure the House, are driving themselves very hard, as indeed they must in this transition period. I notice his advice about hours, the midday spread and the rest when you can get it. The right hon. Gentleman has a great experience of times of Cabinet meetings and he has his own ideas about how to spend the middle part of the day. I wish we could all follow his example since sometimes there is a lot to be said for it, but, although the Cabinet now meets more in the day time than formerly was the case, it is nevertheless a real point of difficulty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) mentioned the point about the Ministry of Transport and public transport at this hour. I am told by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that they will certainly do all they can in that respect but that generally speaking, as regards underground and bus services, there is as much rolling stock in operation around 10 p.m. or 10.15 p.m. as earlier, with the additional advantage that the peak traffic of people getting away from theatres has by then worked itself off. I do not think hon. Members are so worried over the question of changing the hour to 10 o'clock or even to 10.30. The difficulty arises when the House rises later than that, and therefore we shall do what we can in that respect. I have taken note of my hon. Friend's observations but I think that there should be no complaint generally speaking on the subject of rising at 10 o'clock or 10.30.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made several points and had his views about the full-time Member of Parliament and upon a number of other matters. He pointed out that he himself had given up his practice and was devoting his time to Parliament. I should not like my hon. Friend 2254 or anybody else to misunderstand what I said; I thought I made it perfectly clear that I considered it desirable that a reasonable proportion of Members of Parliament should be devoting their whole time or substantially their whole time to Parliamentary duties, and that indeed I was very grateful because it helps us to man the Standing Committees. I accept my hon. Friend's point in that respect. I did not want to be driven by any implication to condemn the Member of Parliament who devotes his whole time to the House, but I was resisting the other argument which has been very frequently made outside—certainly against me at elections from time to time—that all Members should make Parliament a full-time job. That is the converse of the argument. I have never done it myself except as a Minister, which certainly is a full-time job. I have always had something else to do and I honestly believe it was better for me and for Parliament.
For example, my friends of the great trade union movement have an increasing practice of debarring their officials from continuing their trade union duties when they become Members of Parliament. I know that they have practical difficulties and that in many cases this is unavoidable because of the impossibility of adjusting one job with the other in respect of hours and so on, but they have become very rigid and sweeping in this rule that once a trade union officer becomes a Member of Parliament he shall cease to be an industrial officer. I am very doubtful whether the rigidity of that rule is a good thing for Parliament or for the trade unions. I think it is good that there should be in Parliament a certain number of responsible trade union officials dealing with current industrial problems and with the difficulties of the workshops and the mines, for instance. It is a good thing that Parliament should be enriched by their knowledge and experience. [Interruption.] I am sorry I did not quite catch the point the hon. Member is trying to make.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am slow on the uptake —I might have known that the hon. 2255 Gentleman had gone back 24 hours or thereabouts. I think also that it would be a very good thing for the trade unions that spread among their responsible leaders there should be a number of Members of Parliament. The point I am making is that I do not want Parliament to become exclusively a body of full-time Members of Parliament. I believe it is a good thing that a substantial section of them should have current, continuing outside interests and experience, because the nature of Parliament is that it is a body of citizens freely elected by their fellows, who come here to represent not only political opinions but the pulsating life of the nation as it goes on day by day and week by week. If Parliament ceased to be such a body, this would not be good either for the corporate life of the House or its representative character from the point of view of the constituencies.
The Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchinģbrooke) asked me to clarify what I have said about the suspension of the Rule for an hour. It is, of course, my business to try to be the servant of the general will of the House when I know what it is.
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Gentleman is not the will of the House even with 200 proxies in his pocket. We do our best to find out what that will is, but I think
§ it is fair to my hon. Friends, particularly those who have views on the matter, that if we make this change it should be understood that it would be exceptional rather than the fairly common rule for important occasions for the Rule to be suspended. I think it reasonable to say in the circumstances that the change to 10.15 very much diminishes the need for suspending the Rule and that we should, therefore, try to avoid it. With regard to the point about HANSARD which was made by the Noble Lord, we have taken note of this matter although it is not one for the Government but for the House authorities, by whom I am sure it will be looked into.
§ As I said earlier, I am very grateful to the House for the good temper of the Debate, and particularly to my hon. Friends on this side who have strong feelings on the matter. We have tried to meet the general view of the House. We have to live together in this place and to give and take as best we can according to the general convenience. It is my belief that the Motion on the Paper represents the closest approach to the general will of the whole House that we have been able to obtain. We have been most careful to consult all elements in the House, and, there having been a welcome and free discussion on the merits of this mattes, I should be grateful if the House would be good enough to support the Government in approving this Motion.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 174; Noes, 17.2257
|Division No. 127.]||AYES.||[1.5 p.m|
|Adams, H. R. (Balham)||Bower, N.||Donovan, T.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Boyd-Carponter, J. A.||Drewe, C.|
|Adamson, Mrs. J. L.||Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Duthie, W. S.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Armagh)||Burke, W. A.||Dye, S.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Byers, Lt.-Col. F||Edwards, John (Blackburn)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Carson, E.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Challen, C.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)|
|Austin, H. L.||Chamberlain, R. A.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Champion, A. J.||Fraser, T (Hamilton)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.|
|Balfour, A.||Clitherow, Dr. R.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||Cluse, W. S.||Greenwood, A. W. J (Heywood)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Cobb, F. A.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)|
|Barton, C||Cocks, F. S.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Conant, Maj. R. J. E||Hardman, D. R.|
|Belcher, J. W.||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Haughton, S. G.|
|Bellenger, F. J||Corlett, Dr. J.||Haworth, J.|
|Benson, G.||Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.||Headlam, Lieut-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C|
|Berry, H.||Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)|
|Bing, Capt. G. H. C||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Binns, J||Davies, Haydn (SI. Pancras, S.W.)||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bossom, A. C.||Digby, Maj. S. W.||Hobson, C. R.|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Dobbie, W.||Hogg, Hon. Q.|
|Bowen, R.||Dodds, N. N||Holman, P.|
|Horabin, T. L.||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.||Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|House, G.||Moyle, A||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Hubbard, T.||Nally, W,||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Hughes, Lt. H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Hurd, A.||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Oliver, G. H.||Swingler, Capt. S.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Orbach, M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Paget, R. T.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Palmer, A. M.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighiey)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Pargiter, G. A.||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Parker, J||Tolley, L.|
|Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H||Pearson, A.||Touche, G. C.|
|Kirby, B. V.||Peart, Capt. T F||Vane, W. M. T.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Perrina, W.||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Lever, Fl. Off. N. H.||Piratin, P.||Walkden, E.|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Pitman, I J||Walker-Smith. D.|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Linstead, H. N.||Popplewell, E.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Ranger, J.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Low, Brig. A R. W||Reeves, J.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|McAdam, W.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Weitzman, D.|
|Macdonald, Capt. Sir P. (I of Wight)||Rhodes, H.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|McNeil, H.||Robens, A.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Marquand, H. A.||Scott-Elliot, W.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Marsden, Capt. A.||Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E A A||Wilmot, Rt. Hon J.|
|Marshall, D (Bodmin)||Simmons, C J.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C||Younger, Hon. K. G.|
|Moore, Lt-Col. Sir T.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Smith, Capt. C (Colchester)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencestcr)||Sparks, J A.||Mr. Joseph Henderson and|
|Aitken, Hon. Max||Griffiths, Capt. W. D. (Moss Side)||Symonds, Maj. A. L.|
|Ayles, W. H.||McGovern, J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Baird, Capt. J.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Yates, V. F|
|Bowles, F G. (Nuneaton)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||FELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Paton, J (Norwich)||Mr. Sydney Silverman and|
|Chetwynd, Capt. G. R.||Pritt, D. N||Mr. Godfrey Nicholson|
Question put, and agreed to.
That on and after 30th April, the Order (Sittings of the House) of 15th August, shall cease to have effect, and during the remainder of the present Session, until this House otherwise orders—
(1) Standing Orders Nos. 1, 6, 7, 8 and 14 shall have effect as if, for any reference to a time mentioned in the first column of the following table there were substituted a reference to the time respectively mentioned in the second column of that Table:—
|Time mentioned in Standing Orders.||Time to be substituted|
|2.45 p.m.||2.30 p.m|
|3.00 p.m.||2.45 p.m.|
|3.45 p.m.||3.30 p.m.|
|7.30 p.m.||7.00 p.m|
|9.30 p.m.||9.00 p.m|
|10.00 p.m.||9.30 p.m.|
|11.00 p.m.||10.00 p.m.|
|11.30 p.m.||10.30 p.m|
(2) The following Order shall be substituted for Standing Order No. 2—
2. The House shall meet on Fridays at 11 a.m. for private business, petitions, orders of the day and notices of motions.
Standing Order No. 1 (as amended by this or any other Order) shall apply to the sittings on Fridays with the omission of paragraph (1) thereof and with the substitution of references to 4 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. for references to 10 p.m. and 10.30 P.m.
(3) Standing Order No 25 shall apply—
(4) In the paragraph substituted far paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 7 by the order of this House (Business of the House (Questions to Members)) of 22nd March, 1946, for the reference to 2.15 p.m., there shall be substituted a reference to 2.3o p.m.
§ UNITED NATIONS [MONEY]
That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable effect to be given to certain provisions of the Charter of the United Nations it is expedient to authorise
the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in applying any measures under Article 41 or the Charter of the United Nations signed at San Francisco on the twenty-sixth day of June, nineteen hundred and forty-five.