HC Deb 13 March 1947 vol 434 cc1500-6
Mr. Ellis Smith

With due respect to you, Mr. Speaker, I wish to ask you a question on a matter which concerns the proceedings of the House, and for which you are responsible. We have had a three-days' Debate on the economic situation of our country. Many hon. Members, representing large industrial areas, were prevented from taking part in it. Can you consider the results, Mr. Speaker, or can you recommend to the House any method which would enable more hon. Members to make a contribution in future Debates?

Mr. Scollan

I desire to raise the same question, Mr. Speaker, but in an entirely different fashion. Last night, the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and I interviewed you on this question. I am not raising the question of your right, Mr. Speaker, to select whomsoever you wish, but I am very definitely raising the question of the duty of a Member of Parliament to be present when the Government are presenting their case, and the duty of the Government to be present when hon. Members on the back benches are criticising them. I also want to find out, Mr. Speaker, if you could guide the House in devising some method whereby hon. Members would not become victims of their own planning, by collecting and collating information, with which to take part in a Debate, and then sitting for three days on these benches waiting to be called. After going to Mr. Speaker and asking him, or Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to take down their names, they wait and wait to be called. Quite frankly, a number of hon. Members have spoken to me about the nervous strain imposed by such waiting. [Laughter.] Evidently hon. Members opposite do not feel much sympathy for them, but there is the sensitive type to consider. Therefore, I suggest that some method might be considered whereby a Member of this House would know whether or not he would have a chance to take part in the Debate, so that he would not be kept in suspense all the time.

Mr. Williamson

In supporting the submissions of my hon. Friends, might I add that there is some feeling among back benchers on this side of the House at the sequence of the Members who were successful in catching your eye and the eye of Mr. Deputy-Speaker in yesterday's Debate? Out of 12 back benchers there were four from the Conservative Party, two from the Liberal Party, one I.L.P., one Communist and four from these back benches who constitute a substantial part of the House. They feel that while it may be by accident that hon. Members catch your eye in a Debate, there was a considerable number of Members on these benches who sat throughout the three days' Debate, and I would like to know, if there is no possibility of a large number of Members who wish to speak being able to catch your eye, whether they might be informed so that they could discharge their other Parliamentary duties in this House.

Mrs. Braddock

Might I be permitted to ask for some further assistance from you, Mr. Speaker? If in the course of doing so I call a spade a spade, instead of wrapping it up in Parliamentary language, perhaps you will permit me to put my case just in the way I want to. I would like to know whether there is some way by which it is possible for an hon. Member on either side of the House to catch your eye. Perhaps I might put the position in this way. Very often a looker-on sees most of the game, and during the last three days' Debate I sat in one place in this House for the whole of the Debate, with the exception of just under three hours. I stood up every time. I watched people who were not in the House at all arrive in their places about five or six minutes before they were called upon either by yourself or by Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If there is some arrangement whereby Members can decide whether they are to be included in the Debate, it would be just as well to know who they are so that those Members who are not likely to take part in the Debate may do other work if they desire to do so.

I am not making this complaint or comment merely because I was not called, although I do feel that in an area which has a big unemployment problem there should be an opportunity for an entirely different viewpoint to be put to the Government Front Bench. If there is not already a method by which speakers can be chosen by ballot, or some other way, I would like to know whether, in big Debates where it is necessary to limit the number of Members taking part—I am not referring to the Front Bench because they have to make their own arrangements; I am referring to the back benchers in all parts of the House—you will take into consideration the fact that it is very disconcerting for Members who desire to take part in a Debate to observe arguments going on at the back of your Chair the whole of the time during the Debate. It makes those Members feel that if one can argue long enough by your Chair and if one attends often enough, there is some possibility of being called upon to speak. But it seems from observation—and I am making a perfectly honest and straightforward statement—that if a Member feels that that is not fair and he does not desire to submit arguments as to why he should be allowed to speak, there is no possibility of his being called in the Debate.

Mr. Jack Jones

I rise not to question your right, Sir, or the right of your Deputy to select who shall speak in this House, but to ask you if you can give an indication of the possibility of yesterday's proceedings being continued at some early date in the future. Yesterday I wished to raise a question of vital importance to this country's economic recovery. I happen to be one of the very few representatives in this House of the steel industry, and last week we signed a national agreement to work a continuous working week. I do not wish to make any speech but to seek your advice, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

May I submit this point for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, that Members on back benches particularly should impose upon themselves a self-denying ordinance whereby, generally speaking, they do not take longer than 15 minutes to make a speech? I submit that if a Member has anything worth saying, it can be put over in this House in 15 minutes.

Mr. Henry Strauss

Mr. Speaker, before the Debate started, for the great convenience of the House you pointed out the inevitable disappointment there was bound to be with the Debate limited to three days. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said the same thing before the Debate started. As one who was unsuccessful in caching your eye, I would like to say that Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy-Speaker did their utmost to arrange the Debate as well as it could possibly be arranged if we were only to have three days. But I support the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones), and express the hope that a subject of such importance will again be raised. I would also remind you, Mr. Speaker, that when there was a possibility of extending the time by not closing down at II o'clock on one day, it was hon. Members opposite who, with certain honourable exceptions voted for the Closure.

Mr. Bowles

Before the Debate started on Monday, Mr. Speaker, you announced that you had received about 120 letters from Members. I asked you then if you would indicate that the people who wrote to you would have no preference at all, and you said that was the case. May I ask you now to go a bit further and say that anybody who writes to you disqualifies himself, although he can try to catch your eye? May I add this remark, which I hope will not be taken as offensive by you or by anybody else, that during the three days' Debate I saw one right hon. and one hon. Member called while they were still sitting down. In other words, they had not caught your eye at all. I would respectfully ask you to think this over because I am certain there is a great deal of discontent among many hon. Members.

Mr. Speaker

I remember the incident of the right hon. Gentleman. He was the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) who was due to finish at 10.15, and if I had called anybody before him, he would have had no time to make his speech. As it was, he went on until 10.20. I have forgotten the other incident. I tell the House quite frankly that I had the names of 120 people or more who wanted to talk, and I tried each morning to make a careful selection. I do not think my Deputies had much choice at all because, frankly, I chose everyone before in the morning, and there was no favour given one side or the other. My duties are merely to see, as far as I can, that every expression of opinion has a fair chance. Therefore, I was careful to call Members representing the Liberal group, the National Liberal group, the and the Communists, and in a Debate of that sort they were all entitled, because they represented a small minority, to have their voices heard.

If I am to be more strict still and tell Members that I am not going to call them right at the start, I will be more firm than Members may like, and sometimes they do not like it. Naturally, during a Debate one does not quite know which Members are going to remain in their places and who are not. On at least two occasions, I was going to call a Member and he suddenly got up and went to tea or dinner or something of that sort, so I called somebody else at the last minute. One generally keeps in one's hand a reserve of four or five who have a chance of being called if the unexpected happens. When the matter was raised the other night, the Patronage Secretary said that he would consider the question of time, but in future I will certainly see if I can inform Members earlier when it is going to be impossible to call them. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) who represents a steel constituency, I thought it was announced that that was a subject for next Wednesday or Thursday, when there will be an opportunity to raise the question of manpower in the steel industry.

Mr. Bowles

May I just say this, Sir? Surely, you have just confirmed the suspicion I had? You said that you had thought over in the morning the Members whom you would select from all parts of the House, therefore, I submit, respectfully, having had regard to the names of the people who had written in to you. I, therefore, ask you to consider my other request that people who write in shall get no kind of preference.

Mr. Speaker

If I merely have names submitted to me they go into the wastepaper basket, but if somebody writes, a letter and states his particular point it can be a help. Actually, each day I was writing down on paper the names of people who were getting up, and it was from those names, just as much as from any others who had written to me, that I chose the speakers.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

May I say, Mr. Speaker, that I am sure the vast majority of Members in this House not only have the greatest respect for you but the greatest confidence in your judgment and the greatest sympathy for you in a very difficult task?

Mr. Scollan

In that connection may I say that of all those who were disappointed, Mr. Speaker, not one at any time expressed other than approval and respect for your attitude in the Chair?

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the very important matter of the limitation of time, not for the Front Benchers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—but for back benchers—though to include Front Benchers as well would be a very good thing. What would be the proper machinery to tackle this matter? I introduced the subject some time ago in my own party and got a good deal of support, but of course it was squashed by the Front Bench. I understood at the time that there was a good deal of support from the other side for a mutual arrangement. What would be the machinery?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that the limitation of speeches is a matter outside my province, though I must confess I am in favour of short speeches.