HC Deb 08 July 1946 vol 425 cc137-41

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I beg to move, in page line 20, to leave out "three" and to insert "new".

There was a little misunderstanding upstairs between the Government and the Committee. The Committee altered the words of the Bill as they stood originally, and by this Amendment we seek to restore those words. We have no quarrel at all with the substance of the Amendment which was made in Committee, namely, that the minimum number of members of B.O.A.C. shall be the same as the minimum number of members of the other corporations, that is to say, that there shall be three members, in addition to the chairman and deputy-chairman. Obviously, it is not worth quarrelling about whether there ought to be a minimum of three or five members, in addition to the chairman or deputy-chairman, but the proper place for making that change is in Clause 25. I ask the House to restore the original language of the Bill, and I intend to move the necessary Amendment when we come to Clause 25.

Sir T. Moore

This is one further example of the uncertainty of the Government both as to their own intentions and their own phraseology. When we discussed the matter in Committee it was obvious that it was the wish of the Committee to have this Clause tidied up, and we, and, I think, the Parliamentary Secretary, were all of one accord that it would be better to have the word "three" than the word "new", because "three" more accurately represented the general views of the Committee and also brought the broad scheme which the Government had in view more into line as regards the three corporations. All that we on this side of the House are concerned with is to do everything we can to help the Government now that their policy has been accepted. The Government do not get much help from their own supporters; therefore, that duty obviously lies upon us.

When we discussed the matter before, it was obvious that the Government representatives, except possibly the Parliamentary Secretary, had not read the Bill very intelligently. Possibly the Parliamentary draftsmen said, "We have made the best of a bad job; you can take our word for it, and we will put you right if there is any difficulty with the Opposition." They hoped for the best, but unfortunately they did not take note of the fact that they had to deal with a very quick, agile, eager, competent, efficient and helpful Opposition. Whenever Ate saw the Government going wrong, we immediately tried to put them right. Sometimes our help was accepted in that urbane manner for which the Parliamentary Secretary is properly so popular, and sometimes it was resisted because of ignorance, or lack of appreciation of what we were endeavouring to do. In this particular case, however, we were all of one accord. It was generally accepted that the substitution of "three" for "new" was in accord with what the Committee intended. Then, suddenly, the Parliamentary. Secretary said, "Ah, there is something wrong; we should not have been too quick about that"; and he sent for the Parliamentary draftsmen. Of course, they have forgotten all about the Bill now, because they are so engaged with the next five or six Bills that have to be pushed through the printing presses, that they do not have much time to consider the phraseology of any one Government Bill. That is rather sad, because it puts an extra responsibility and burden on the House which, I think, the House has some reason to resist. We are not Parliamentary draftsmen, but certainly when we find that "three" can be changed to "new" and "new" be changed to "three," it is time we sat up and asked where the division of responsibility lies between the sponsors of a Bill and those who oppose it. The time must come when we, as an Opposition, shall sit back and say that our task is done and we can do no more.

Mr. Mikardo

I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not mind my intervening, because we became old friends after our tussles upstairs. The hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to have forgotten that this assistance given to the Government in Committee, for which he is claiming credit to the Opposition, was the result of an Amendment moved by hon. Members on this side of the House. In spite of the hon. and gallant Gentleman having been there, he appears to have been misled by a false report in the "Evening Standard."

Sir T. Moore

The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) is quite right. It was one of the few occasions on which hon. Gentlemen opposite moved an intelligent Amendment. We seized the opportunity immediately to give it all support. I return to the small but fundamental point of whether the Government may from day to day change their minds —even on small points, apart altogether from matters of principle, which of course matter little to them. We on this side of the House, as an Opposition, must take up a definite stand on this question. Are we to stand by and allow the Government to change their minds overnight without a full explanation? A full explanation has certainly not been given in this case, did the Parliamentary Secretary imagine that with his few bland and persuasive words the Opposition would sit back and say," Very good, sir As one who has watched the present Measure through its various stages from its unhappy birth to, I suppose, a prosperous death—although this depends on the amount of compensation the Minister will pay under the last Clause—I feel that we have a duty to perform. I felt that I would not have been acting in accordance with the best traditions of this House had I not made it clear to those hon. Members who were not present in the Committee that they are in a dangerous position if they give blind support to the Government without receiving a full and complete explanation as to why that support should be given.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Would it be in Order for rue to make a respectful submission to you on why the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friends and myself on Clause 2, page 2, line 11, should be called?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It would not be in Order. The Amendment has not been selected.