HC Deb 07 August 1947 vol 441 cc1771-84

[King's Recommendation signified.]

10.8 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I beg to move, That the following provisions shall have effect with respect to proceedings on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill: The requirements of Standing Orders Nos. 63, 64 and 68 and of the practice of the House relating to the imposition of charges upon the people and to charges upon the public revenue shall be deemed to have been complied with in respect of the provisions of the Bill or of any Amendments thereto moved by a Minister of the Crown which authorise expenditure or the imposition of any such charge. This Motion concerns procedural matters in relation to the financial Standing Orders that would ordinarily be required in connection with the passage of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill. Originally, the Motion which I am now moving was required to facilitate the- passage of the Bill through all its stages in one day, which was our intention. Without the Motion it would have been necessary, and would remain necessary, to pass a Money Resolution in connection with the Bill, and this could not have been reported on the same day without the general agreement of the House. Hon. Members will find that that is provided for in the modification of Standing Order No. 69 which was passed on 21st November, 1946. We, therefore, decided to follow the precedents which are established in connection with the cases of the Emergency Powers Act, 1939, and the Emergency Powers Act, 1940, and to move a procedural Motion dispensing with the requirements of the Standing Orders relating to the imposition of charges.

In our judgment this was justified by the urgency of the situation, the approach of the end of the Session, and the fact that the financial aspects of the Bill were really quite subsidiary to the main purpose of the Bill, the Second Reading of which is to be moved tomorrow. It is true that since that time the Government have decided, for the purposes of meeting the views of the Opposition, which were represented to us, not to take all the stages of the Bill on the same day; the Second Reading will be taken tomorrow, and the Committee and other stages on Monday. But I would point out that we have still signified—I have still signified—the King's Recommendation before moving the present Motion, and thus I have preserved the fundamental principle embodied in the Standing Orders, that in matters involving a charge, the initiative comes from the Crown. It seems to us, in these circumstances, that the sensible and convenient course would be to dispense with the need for a Money Resolution in accordance with the Government's original plan. Indeed, on practical grounds we should be in difficulties otherwise, because the Bill would have to be printed to show in italics the provisions that might involve a charge; and in fact there will be no charge under this Bill except for incidental purposes in connection with the enforcement and possible modification of existing Defence Regulations. In the circumstances I trust the House will be good enough to agree to the Motion.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

It seems to us that this is a very unusual procedure, dispensing as it does with all the controls that a Financial Resolution gives to this House. I was not certain whether the right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said that, in fact, there would be no expenditure under this Bill. The powers which the Government are seeking to take under this Bill are, presumably, very extensive; and if I read the Bill aright, it gives them powers to spend a great deal of money. It is unusual that the stages of a Financial Resolution should be entirely omitted from a Measure of this sort, and, although I appreciate the circumstances in which we find ourselves today, I think it is necessary to draw attention to the fact that this is a most exceptional procedure

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

I do not know if anybody else on the Front Bench is prepared to add a word, but there are one or two things said by the Leader of the House which leave me not quite understanding what is happening. He appealed to the precedents of the Bills in 1939 and 1940. Does he thereby mean to communicate to the House that the urgency is now the same as it was then, and that the proportionate relation of this Bill to the urgency is as great as the proportionate relation of those Bills to that urgency was? [Laughter.] I am not quite sure whether hon. Members opposite understand. If not, I must put the point more fully. The point is this. Then, the urgency was the urgency of a great European and, indeed, world war; and then, the Bill was a Bill to make possible all the things necessary for that purpose, to alter the whole of our constitutional and legislative arrangements so that they could be made to meet that emergency. Therefore, by now appealing to that precedent, if the Leader of the House is informing us that this Bill is of comparable importance now with the importance which that Bill had then—if that is what is meant—then what he is now doing is a matter of extreme importance to the House and to the whole country, and we ought to be quite sure whether that is what he meant; or, if not, how can he explain the fairness of his appeal to that precedent? I hope that now that makes it plain to some hon. Members opposite.

There is another point which I wish to ask him. He spoke of the principle involved being safeguarded by his indication of the Crown's consent. But is that the only principle involved in the suspension of these three Standing Orders? I have not studied them carefully, but I think we ought to have an assurance from the Treasury Bench that that is the only principle involved. Thirdly, is it not the fact—I do not assert this, and I ask it not by way of argument but in search of information—that without this suspension this Bill would necessarily take three days? I am not arguing whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing. But if so, it should be, in candour, made plain to us. If so, the argument for its taking only two days is very much weakened now. As long as the argument was, "This is a matter of such urgency that it must be taken all in one day," that was one thing. But when it becomes of not such urgency as all that, when it is allowed to take the whole of this week and to slop over into next week, then the argument of the intolerable inconvenience of requiring part of Tuesday as well as the whole of Monday of next week is very much less strong. I think all those points were involved in the right hon. Gentleman's statement.

There is a fourth point. The right hon. Gentleman said that the financial implications were not very great because it would merely be a matter of ancillary payments involved in the enforcement of existing regulations. I think I am repeating him fairly; and if not, no doubt he will correct me. Was that true? I do not mean "Was it meant to be true?" but is it exact? Does it not also concern the enforcement of orders under regulations?—and those not all of them necessarily orders already in existence. I am not quite sure about that, but I am quite sure that the speech of the Leader of the House ought not to be acquiesced in quietly without the House being given an answer to that fourth question also.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I should be grateful if the Lord President would explain one point. He said that in any event the King's Recommendation would be signified by him on the presentation of the Bill. Now, as I understand it—no doubt there is an explanation——

Mr. H. Morrison

Perhaps I might correct the hon. Member. I signified the King's Recommendation prior to moving the Motion, which is, I think, the proper procedure.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am much obliged. If the Lord President will look at the Standing Orders which he is seeking to suspend, the first of the three, No. 63, is the one which deals with the King's Recommendation. If the normal procedure of recommendation is to be followed, I am afraid I do not quite follow why it is necessary to suspend the order which provides it. Secondly, I did not understand the Lord President to make it at all clear why the normal procedure of a Money Resolution could not be followed. This Bill, to which it relates, is marked as being presented the day before yesterday. Surely, in those circumstances, it would have been possible to have followed the normal procedure of a Money Resolution in connection with Bills of this sort?

I do think the Lord President brushed aside a trifle lightly the normal procedure of this House in this matter. Nobody wants to obstruct the passing of necessary legislation if there is good reason, but equally, when the Government see fit to seek to suspend the Standing Orders of this House, we are entitled to have good reason, and so far there seems to be no good reason why during this week the ordinary procedure could not have been followed. After all, as I understand it, the object of the Rules of Procedure of this House is to ensure that the House has adequate opportunity to do its duty in discussing legislation. If there has been one Bill in this Session on which it is surely the duty of hon. Members to see that full opportunities for discussion are preserved, it should surely be a Bill which seeks to take from the control of Parliament and hand over to the Executive powers of delegated legislation. I think that we are entitled to say that in following this procedure in this Bill of all Bills the Government have shown a disregard of the normal Rules of Procedure of this House which may well be symptomatic of the mentality behind the Bill.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Churchill (Woodford)

This seems to be a somewhat complicated and obscure matter. I gather that the Government had in mind that they would accelerate our departure for the country by this more compendious procedure, and that they thought that the Measure which they are introducing was one which would be passed without any discussion or after very brief discussion at the tail-end of this part of the Session. For that reason they are quite ready to take very exceptional steps—for instance, to sweep away all the ideas of financial precautions and control by the House of Commons which are the foundation of our existence as a legislative body. The Money Resolution would be left out, and it does seem rather serious to sweep away these long-established customs to which we all owe our rights to be here and which are the milestones of democracy in its path to power as against the security of a despotic Crown in the old days. All that is to be swept away, and we are told by the right hon. Gentleman, as far as I understand it—which seems to be very odd—that the fact that a Minister signified that he had the Royal Assent to sweeping away these financial precautions was sufficient to settle the matter once and for all. The whole of these financial arrangements emerged from quarrels between Parliament and the Crown, and why we should now be told that we are safeguarded because a Minister says that he has the Royal Assent to dispense with these provisions invented for our protection puzzles me exceedingly. I should be delighted to hear any further discussion.

Mr. H. Morrison

I only want to say that in his last observations the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely and completely wrong.

Hon. Members


Mr. Churchill

It is very easy for the right hon. Gentleman to rise from his place and say that his opponent is absolutely and utterly wrong. As one most anxious to sit at his feet in the matter, might I ask him whether he would vouchsafe any reason for this sweeping contradiction? Why is it utterly and totally wrong? What is the point of bringing the King's Recommendation into this matter when it clearly is a House of Commons insistence upon the financial provisions being observed? Of course, the King's Assent has been required and is invariably required to the proposing of a money charge, but that was simply to prevent everybody getting up in all parts of the House and bidding for popularity by proposing to give away large sums from the Exchequer to their constituents or other people in whom they had an interest. There is no relation at all.

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has made out any case for this procedure except that it would have accelerated our proceedings if the Bill had been non-controversial, and would have enabled us to depart from these scenes a day earlier. But, unhappily, we shall have to face the fact that this Bill involves very considerable discussion, and I do not see why we should be stripped of the Money Resolution, deemed essential by our ancestors to protect the rights of this House in matters of finance. What is the argument that there is not much expense to this Bill? I have never heard such a suggestion. Here is a Bill which, so far as I can make out, invests the Government with totalitarian powers. There is nothing they cannot do under the Bill. They can spend all the money they can ever filch from the pockets of hard-working people of this country. Then we are told that it has no financial implication. Surely, that is a matter which should be examined in due course, and at the proper time. I do not feel that I have listened to any argument tonight which would justify me in agreeing, without protest, to the elimination of one of the most historic, traditional, and essential safeguards of the power of Parliament over the expenditure of public money.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

The Lord President of the Council in introducing this Motion informed us that finance was subsidiary to the main purposes of the Bill. We are not allowed to discuss those main purposes tonight, but I should like to suggest that the main purpose is the freedom of our people. We are now being asked to do something which could have been asked for during the last three weeks, without any hindrance to the country. We are being asked to do this at the end of the Session, to throw over safeguards of the people at the behest of the right hon. Gentleman, who likes to closure our Debates and all that kind of thing. This could have been done last Saturday, if only the Government had been awake to the emergency a day or two before. Our Money Resolutions have been built up over many years for the careful protection of the rights of Parliament and of a free people. No Minister, or Government, has any right to come to this House and ask us to abandon those safeguards, unless we are given stronger reasons than we have been given so far. I know that that sort of argument does not appeal to the Socialist Party, and I hope that on such an occasion as this the Liberal and Conservative Parties, and the parties with constitutional principles, will vote against the Government, who are endeavouring to take away the freedom and rights of Parliament, and to fetter us, as they are doing more and more every day, with extreme forms of Socialistic principles.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I have no wish to prolong the discussion by a repetition of any point which has been made, but simply to elucidate one fact in order to give some meaning to the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has moved. The right hon. Gentleman started off by signifying the Royal Recommendation and he then goes on to move, that the requirements of Standing Orders Nos. 63, 64 and 68, shall be deemed to be complied with. But the point is that, if he has signified the King's Recommendation, the requirement of Standing Order No. 63 has in fact been complied with. I really hope that somebody on the Front Bench will explain the point about Standing Order No. 63. Standing Order No. 63 is quite brief and I will, if I may, read it to the House in order that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may try to take an intelligent interest in the proceedings. It runs as follows: This House will receive no petition for any sum relating to public service or proceed upon any motion for a grant or charge upon the public revenue, whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of money to be provided by Parliament, unless recommended from the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman starts the whole of his speech by saying that he has the King's Recommendation. What is the point of putting Standing Order No. 63 in this Resolution at all? It seems to me that with the skilled assistance in the box, with such an expert on the Constitution as the Home Secretary, with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury present on the Bench, with probably a Law Officer within reach some sort of reply should be available from the Front Bench. I see a Member for one of the Birmingham constituencies and congratulate him on his appearance on the Treasury Bench. He is no doubt filled with precedents. I could not be more sorry that I have frightened the hon. Member off the Bench. I think I have given the right hon. Gentleman time to obtain the answer to the very simple point I have made and perhaps he or one of his colleagues will now deal with it.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I hope that by leave of the House the Minister may speak again, and if the right hon. Gentleman desires to reply now, I will give way. If not, I add my appeal to that of my hon. Friend that the Government will reconsider this Motion. The whole country is gravely enough concerned with the financial and economic crisis, without being given, additionally, the idea that this Government are trying to stifle discussion and allowing Parliament to go home without any discussion on a very important Bill. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this matter. I have listened with some care to the argument the Minister used in introducing this Motion, and really, when he had finished his speech he had not put forward one argument to support dispensing with the procedure which had been laid down for the protection of the subject against the Crown. This is a very dangerous precedent. It is a Bill to affect the lives of every man and woman in the country. Yet it is going to be introduced in an abnormal manner without the proper Resolution that has been designed by Parliament. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, as a great Parliamentarian, would have been the last person to ask the House to dispense with this Financial Resolution. Surely, it is not now too late? We could have the Financial Resolution in the proper stages and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen could go home on Wednesday next having done their work.

We have had in this Parliament a number of precedents in which we have rushed through legislation just before we were going home. I think the people of this country have not forgotten those precedents. For instance, there were the American Loan and Bretton Woods Agreements with which many of us disagreed; but discussion of them was cut down. Many people who voted for the Loan in 1945 would take a very different view today. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House will get up now and say that, in view of the arguments which have been put to him, he will withdraw this Motion, and proceed in a Parliamentary and constitutional manner.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I am not quite sure, Mr. Speaker, whether I ought to ask the permission of the House to speak again, but to be on the safe side I will do so. In any case, I think that, as mover of the Motion, I have the right to. speak again. I would not like to be in any doubt, however, and I am much obliged to the Leader of the Opposition for his generous appearance and generous gesture on the subject. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) raised the point of whether we were following the precedents of 1939 and 1940 because the difficulties at this time were as great as they were then. I am not quite sure how to answer that point. Judging by some of the campaign, of the Opposition newspapers recently, I am almost inclined to think that they are much worse than the difficulties of 1939 and 1940, at any rate, according to them. But in any case, we have all agreed, in the course of this two-days' Debate, that the situation is serious, and the Government take the view that they must have adequate powers. It seemed to us that the precedents of 1939 and 1940 could legitimately be quoted, though the conditions were somewhat different from those of the present emergency. The hon. Member was right when he said that without this Motion three days might have been required for the Bill instead of two. But the primary purpose is not that.

Quite frankly, when we brought in the Bill We thought that the Opposition would probably be pleased that we had done so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, we did. The Opposition had been saying that there was a terrific crisis facing the nation. We thought that they would jump at the opportunity of giving the Government special emergency powers to deal with this crisis. Therefore, we thought we had better do it quickly. But the present Government are always exceedingly reasonable in dealing with the Opposition, and with representations made by the Opposition Front Bench that they would sooner have more lime. Therefore, we said that we would certainly ask the House to sit a bit longer next week, which shows how reasonable we are in these unexpected circumstances which arise out of the wishes of the Opposition. But having assumed, in the first place, that the House would wish to pass the Bill through its first stages with reasonable rapidity, we did not have it printed in the usual form required for the financial procedure.

Now, if this Motion is rejected and we have to reprint the Bill, we shall have to start the whole process of presentation and introduction again. We shall have to start afresh—[An HON. MEMBER: "Planning!"]—Certainly; we have been planning. The planning of this Motion is part of the planning. It is hon. Gentlemen opposite who are seeking to dis-plan—if the hon. Member for Cambridge University will forgive the ungrammatical observation—with the result that we would have to begin again, and this would lead to a somewhat chaotic situation. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) raised the point as to why the King's Recommendation had been signified. We have followed the precedent of 1939 and 1940. I admit that there is a criss-cross in Standing Order 63, and it is a fair argument which the hon. Member has put up. But, in so far as expenditure might be involved under this Bill, the Government thought it right to maintain the principle of the initiative of the Crown and to see to it that the House knew that financial expenditure was involved, but we did not think it would be material. Again, we have followed the precedent of 1939, when there was a Conservative Government, and 1940, when there was a Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was the head, and of which I was proud to be a Member. The right hon. Gentleman charges the Government of today with going ahead with more speed than, in fact, we are.

We thought that it was right the Government should be clothed with adequate powers in these difficult circumstances, but a difference of opinion having arisen as to the speed with which the Bill might be handled, we came to an arrangement whereby the speed could be reduced. But that does not mean that we should start all over again. I do not wish, nor do I claim, by this Motion, to upset all the fundamentals of Parliamentary control over expenditure. I most readily accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that this is involved with the beginning of Parliamentary Government against the Crown; that this goes back to the fight by Parliament for control of public expenditure. I pay the highest regard to his remarks, but this is not material expenditure and, even if it were, some special Estimates would have to come along later on. I do not think that the great principles of the control by the House are any more imperilled by this Motion than by the Emergency Powers Act of 1940. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) tries to suggest that this Bill is a great totalitarian device, and is the beginning of Hitlerism in this country, and is the end of liberty and other things of a terrible order, well, what I would say is that I admire his facility of phrase, his eloquence, and his emphasis. I always do; we know the right hon. Gentleman's command of language; but he was somewhat extravagant in his claim. This Bill does not put forward the terrible things suggested by the right hon. Gentleman as he can see.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot anticipate tomorrow's Debate by discussing the Bill now.

Mr. Morrison

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. You are absolutely right, and I was quite wrong. It only shows what a dangerous tempter the Leader of the Opposition is; it shows that he has led me right off the rails of proper Parliamentary procedure, and I quite agree that tomorrow is the day for the explanation of these things. The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss), who worked himself up into what the old ladies call "a state"—as, indeed, is his custom on these occasions—also referred to Standing Order No. 63, in which he followed the admirable example set by his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who had already raised the point, which I thought I had adequately answered.

Mr. H. Strauss

What the right hon. Gentleman said in answer to my hon. Friend was the reason why he signified the King's Recommendation. The question which I put, as did my hon. Friend, is why he mentioned Standing Order No. 63 in this Resolution at all.

Mr. Morrison

With respect, I did answer that question. I admit it is a debatable point, because of the nature of Standing Order No. 63, but I thought it was desirable to signify the King's Recommendation because it is expenditure, and certainly, to maintain the constitutional principle, that expenditure should be on the initiative of the Crown. Secondly, I did not want to put myself in the wrong on the precedent established by the Conservative Government of 1939 and by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman in 1940. I thought, if I followed those eminently respectable precedents, I could not go wrong, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should try to drag me away from following the excellent precedents of that time. We have had a short but interesting discussion which it is quite right should have taken place but, in all the circumstances, and having regard to the fact that the substance of the Bill will be discussed tomorrow and on Monday, I shall be glad if the House will be so good as to give us the Motion.

Mr. Pickthorn

I wondered if I might ask the question: Is the right hon. Gentleman's procedure necessary because it is a great, big Bill, or because it is a teeny-weeny Bill?

Mr. Morrison

The answer is that it is necessary in relation to the circumstances which I have indicated.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Churchill

I also can only speak with the indulgence of the House but I trust that the magnanimity and generosity with which we have been called upon to treat the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion will find its reciprocation. I am bound to say that I think the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, has handled the matter in a very conciliatory and painstaking manner and one must recognise the fact that it would be inconvenient for the House if the Bill had to be reprinted and certainly could not be taken tomorrow. It would be a complete derangement of our business, and, therefore, one regrets that the procedure was adopted in the first instance, but it was adopted on the false assumption that the Bill would have an uncontested passage because it was comparatively unimportant. We are confronted with the dilemma of spoiling the arrangements for Business which have been set out. We have made very effectively our protest on the broad principle of not ignoring the financial provisions which are an essential part of our procedure, and having done that, and having received from the Leader of the House what I take to be a clear assurance that this is not to be a precedent for general application to our legislation, I think we should not find it necessary to divide the House against the Motion.

Resolved: That the following provisions shall have effect with respect to proceedings on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill: The requirements of Standing Orders Nos. 63, 64 and 68 and of the practice of the House relating to the imposition of charges upon the people and to charges upon the public revenue shall be deemed to have been complied with in respect of the provisions of the Bill or of any Amendments thereto moved by a Minister of the Crown which authorise expenditure or the imposition of any such charge.