§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby (Dorset, Western)
I wish to raise the question of the responsibility of the Ministry of Food for the Overseas Food Corporation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the Minister?"] I am very sorry not to see him in his place. I understand that he is unwell. I hope that he will very soon be well again, because the matter that I am raising is a most important one to which he should direct his attention at an early moment. I am a little surprised not to see on the Government Front Bench at the moment anyone who is in any way responsible for the Ministry of 1520 Food. It is most extraordinary that no Minister should come to answer a question of this kind. We live in a time when the sphere of State activity is being very much enlarged at the expense of the taxpayers. I am glad that the Lord President of the Council has now come in, because this is a matter of importance, but I am still sorry that no representative of the Ministry of Food is present. It is strange, that, as the sphere of State activity is enlarged at the expense of the taxpayers, the public seem less and less to be allowed to know what is going on. That is very curious, in view of the fact that their money is involved.
In the case of the nationalised industries there are, it is true, consumers' councils. They may be worth very little, but at least they are something. In the case of the Overseas Food Corporation there is nothing of the kind. It is most extraordinary that the Government have had so little to say to the public about this refusal of information about public enterprises. As far as I know, there was nothing about it in "Let us Face the Future." We have heard very little about it from Ministers when introducing the Nationalisation Bills. It has only cropped up after the various Measures have become law.
We found ourselves able in 1944 to put a Question to the Ministry of Transport about children's fares, for example, on the railways. That was done on 4th December, 1944. There was a very similar Question on 14th June this year, when the Minister refused responsibility for the matter. I submit that there is no mandate for this attempt to cover up what the public corporations are doing The country should have been warned of what was in the minds of hon. Gentlemen of the party opposite who are responsible for the increase in State activity.
I wish this morning to put forward three propositions with regard to the Overseas Food Corporation. The first is that the Minister is taking too narrow a view of his responsibilities to Parliament. The second is that he is guilty of inconsistency in the questions that he answers or refuses to answer. The third is that he should be ready to answer for no less power than he exercises, in fact, over such schemes as the groundnuts scheme, and that it is intolerable and 1521 contrary to the public interest that he should exercise very much more power than he will admit in this House. Perhaps I may say a word now about the effects of the refusal of the Minister of Food to answer my two Questions the other day and the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), concerning the actual yield per acre in the groundnuts unit and the area cleared. The answers would have been a kind of progress report on the scheme to show how it was getting on. What were the grounds of the Minister's refusal. They were that the Question related to matters of detail. Let me quote what the Minister said:A particular question as to the acreage to be cleared in one particuar area is a question of very precise detail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1247–8.]It was not a Question about the acreage in any one area, but about the areas cleared in the Southern Province and the Kongwa area of Tanganyika. As far as I know—and I may be wrong —there were no substantial areas being cleared in any one of the other units such as Tabora or Northern Rhodesia. Under the Overseas Resources Development Act, the responsibilities of the Minster are laid down quite clearly in Clause 9 (1) and (4). Like the Ministers responsible for nationalised industries, he can give general directions to the Corporation and, in addition, he has power to ask for very wide information with which the Corporation has to supply him. There is no doubt that the Minister is in a position to exercise a wide influence over all matters of policy concerning the groundnuts scheme.
I will now come more specifically to the two Questions which the Minister considers matters of detail. I believe they are both very important matters which have a fundamental effect on the whole financial future, and, indeed, the whole future, of the scheme. First of all, with regard to the acreage cleared, when he was speaking to the Rotary Club at Nairobi on his last visit, the Minister of Food admitted that the present acreage cleared was of no commercial significance. If we seek further evidence about this, we can find it in Command Paper No. 7030, in paragraph 31. I should have thought it would be evident that that was the case. For example, the Kongwa target is 170,000 1522 acres, and they are 120,000 acres behind because only some 50,000 acres have been cleared. I cannot see how it can seriously be argued that this is a matter of detail and not a matter of fundamental importance affecting the whole structure of the scheme. If a farmer came to me and said that whether he farmed l0 acres of his land or 1,000 acres was a matter of detail, I should report him to, the county agricultural executive committee immediately.
I now come to the question of the actual yield of groundnuts per acre. There again the Minister is on extremely unsafe ground in refusing to admit that that is a matter of interest to the Minister or of fundamental importance to the scheme. When speaking to the Rotary Club at Nairobi, he admitted fairly clearly that he was interested in the yield and was prepared to take a hand in the questions concerning the yield per acre. He said:By jumping to conclusions before full agricultural experiments have been made, it might be possible to get increased yields…So long as I and the present chairman and board of the Overseas Food Corporation have control"—"control" was the word he used—of the scheme, none of this will be done.In one breath he is admitting that he controls the scheme and can control such important questions as yield, and in the next breath he is saying that that is merely a matter of detail.
I must refer the House to paragraph 22 (a) of Command Paper 7030, in which it is clearly laid down that the scheme is worked out on a basis of the yield per acre. The relevant words are:It was considered prudent"—by the Government—to relate the revised estimates to an average yield of 750 lbs. per acre in place of 850 lbs. per acre.What have been the facts? The facts, which the Minister refused to disclose to me in the House and which I subsequently obtained from the Corporation, are that the actual yield per acre was. 460 lbs. for Valencia, 627 lbs. for Natal Common and 543 lbs. for Spanish Bunch, none of them anywhere near the 750 lbs. set as the target for the scheme, despite the fact that this was virgin land and a great deal of fertiliser had been used upon it.
1523 A further argument about acreage is that the Minister has been inconsistent. I refer the House to a Question which I put to the Minister on 23rd June. The Minister did not decline to answer, but he gave me a reply which said that if he gave the figures, which were not yet complete, it would not be of any great importance, adding that very large numbers of different types of vine were being used. When I put a supplementary question suggesting that only three types of vine were used in the main area, he attempted to squash me by saying that a very considerable number of different types were used. I have just read the figures given by the Overseas Food Corporation itself, and the fact is that only three types were used. It is quite clear that, whatever his responsibilities were, the Minister was not very well informed at that time. It is true that two other types of groundnut are being used but one was used over an area of only 250 acres and the other was used only in the experimental plot.
It is a serious thing with a scheme of this importance when the Minister takes refuge behind these arguments on questions of detail. There is a great deal of public interest in the scheme. Already £12 million have been spent on it, and many millions more will be spent. The figure of £12 million is very large when we compare it with the total Budget of Tanganyika Territory, which is only £5 million a year. These questions therefore assume very much wider significance than might at first be imagined.
One can imagine other matters which might have an important bearing on the future of the scheme. There have been one or two reports in the newspapers in the last few days about very drastic reorganisation of the scheme. Presumably the final decision must rest with the Minister, but no word has come from him. There seems very little likelihood of an early Parliamentary Debate on the question, and it is most unsatisfactory if the Minister will not even answer Parliamentary Questions, especially if it is going to be the case that sunflowers are to be used to a very great extent to replace groundnuts in a way which was recommended by many people when the scheme was begun, and then turned down by the Minister.
1524 I feel that, in this particular case, the refusal of the Minister of Food was quite unjustified. There was no justification for taking refuge behind this argument that it was only a question of detail. Two matters were raised, both of which are of fundamental importance, and might endanger the whole future of the scheme. The Minister of Food has not scrupled to make announcements about this scheme in the most grandiose way, so as to get the maximum amount of publicity for himself, and the only approach to consistency which I can detect from his answers to Parliamentary Questions is that the Minister himself announces the successes and it is left to the Overseas Food Corporation to announce the failures. That is not good enough. Some very good work is being done by the officials of the Food Corporation on the spot, by men like General Harrison, and, if the Minister is to have all the glory, he should be obliged to answer for the difficulties as well.
I feel that the Government have a very serious case to answer on this point of the Minister's refusal to let the public know when things are not going quite right. It is public money that is being spent, and they have no right whatever to quibble and hide behind technical difficulties and what they call questions of detail, but which are fundamental questions affecting the whole future of this very important scheme.
§ 11.22 a.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
We are indeed grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for finding time on this Adjournment Debate for a discussion of this subject. We realise that the purpose of the Debate is to ask for your consideration of the degree of responsibility which the Minister of Food should accept for giving information at Question time about the operations of the Overseas Food Corporation. I think we have to recognise, whether it is right or wrong, that Ministers do disclaim responsibility for the day-to-day actions, or inaction, of the boards of the nationalised industries.
I wish to submit to you that the Overseas Food Corporation and the Colonial Development Corporation are in a different class. By the Act under which these two Corporations were set up, Parliament took care, under Sections 7 and 1525 8, to insist that the Overseas Food Corporation should have special regard for the interests of local inhabitants and the effect of the Corporations' activities on the circumstances and requirements of the inhabitants. The Corporation is also charged especially with the "safety, health and welfare of persons in their employment." By Section 9 of the Act, the Minister has powers to give the Corporation directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance of their functions in matters that concern the public interest. It is indeed on the Minister that Parliament is relying to see that these provisions are carried out properly. We cannot question the Corporation, but the Minister of Food has declined to answer Questions, not only concerning the day-to-day operations, but also concerning the welfare of the people employed by the Corporations, despite this very special charge placed by the Act on the Overseas Food Corporation.
I would remind you, Sir, that on 1st December the senior Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley) asked the Minister a Question about the wages paid to African workers employed on the groundnuts scheme. The Minister gave no answer, but passed the Question to the Overseas Food Corporation, so that, even if the Corporation have written to the hon. Member for Southampton, nobody but he knows what the answer is. Yet, judging by the rapid turnover of native labour at Kongwa, which is 160 per cent. in six months, there is need for the most searching questioning about the conditions of employment there. Clearly, the Minister of Food was denying the right of Parliament to be assured about the welfare of the men employed by the Overseas Food Corporation.
There is no consistency in the practice, of Ministers, because, on 15th December, I asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies about the terms of service under which Africans are working on the new railway and port in Tanganyika projected for the groundnuts scheme. He gave me an answer, whereas the Minister of Food on an earlier occasion had refused an answer. Indeed, on the Committee stage of the Overseas Resources (Development) Bill, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies gave a most specific assurance that his Department would answer questions about the welfare of the natives. whether employed by the Corporation or 1526 by anyone else. I think we must all realise that this divergence of practice between Ministers must be embarrassing to you, Mr. Speaker, in deciding which Questions Ministers will answer and which they will turn down. I submit that, in any matter affecting the safety, health and welfare of persons employed by the Corporation, the Minister should answer Questions publicly and openly in this House.
We have gone into Africa for our own purposes, in an attempt to grow oil crops on a large scale for our consumption here. Obviously, this enterprise must interfere with the lives and interests of the local people, and Parliament must require the fullest information. Parliament is in the position of being a trustee for the peoples of the Colonial Empire, and also the Mandated Territories which we adminster. If we are to exercise this trusteeship, we must have free access to reliable information about what is happening. If, when information on this point is sought, the Question is referred to the Corporation, and individual Members of Parliament instead of Parliament as a whole receive the information, we regard that position as being far from adequate.
I submit that the Minister should be required to answer questions in Parliament on the policy that is being pursued by the Overseas Food Corporation. We have lately seen in the newspapers statements about the cropping programme which show that in the coming season preference is to be given to sunflowers rather than groundnuts. I put a Question to the Minister of Food about this, and he referred me to the Overseas Food Corporation, who now inform me, but not the House of Commons, that it is their intention to grow 45 per cent. of groundnuts and 55 per cent, of sunflowers, and that the total acreage to be cropped at Kongwa will be just under 50,000 acres. This marks a big change from the development programme which the Minister of Food commended to this House. I have refreshed my memory on this point, and, in that plan, the acreage of groundnuts in 1949 was to be 1,230,000. Now, it is to be 24,000. That is surely something much more substantial than day-to-day administration? It is a fundamental change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Western Dorset (Mr. Digby), on the same day, was refused information by the 1527 Minister about the crop yields obtained in the last harvest. Now the Corporation have informed him by letter, as he informed the House, what those crop yields were and it seems that, instead of an average yield of 750 lbs. of decorticated groundnuts to the acre, we should be prudent if we reckoned average yields of 500 lbs. per acre. A reduction of one-third in the yield must alter the whole financial assessment of the scheme, and Parliament is entitled to know from the Minister what will be the additional financial commitment due to unforeseen delays in reaching any substantial output and the altered aspect of the balance sheet since the Minister presented the prospectus to Parliament. All we know is that the Minister has called for a report from the Overseas Food Corporation which he expects to receive in the middle of January. Will he be more forthcoming then? Not if we are to judge by his recent performance at Question Time.
Even if we assume that the independence of the Overseas Food Corporation from Ministerial control and responsibility is to be as great as that of the boards under the nationalised industries, I submit that proper information should be given by Ministers about any departure from settled policy—not matters of day-to-day administration, but settled policy. For instance, if the Central Electricity Board, worried about the lack of generating plant, decided they must go into the business of providing carbide lamps for householders, we in Parliament should rightly expect to hear about that from the Minister of Fuel and Power and not have to wait for someone to detect the smell.
It is true that Ministers, such as the Minister of Civil Aviation, who are responsible for corporations which are getting badly into debt, give more full information. We know, in fact, that the Overseas Food Corporation have power to borrow up to £50 million from the Ministry of Food, and can make further borrowings with the consent of the Treasury. But, are we to wait for the Overseas Food Corporation to get as badly "into the red" as the Airways Corporation, before the Minister is prepared to share his knowledge with Parliament? Ultimately, of course, we shall have an annual report of the Overseas 1528 Food Corporation showing how they have exercised their functions in the past year and the Minister is required to lay a copy of this report before Parliament; but is the Minister to wait until then to give us an account of their activities?
This annual report is to be made as soon as possible after the end of each financial year. Assuming that means March, knowing the time it takes to present reports to this House, it may possibly be next October, or November, before that report is presented. If the position calls for a Debate on a Supply Day, we may be told that it is too late to complain or to criticise any change in policy 12 months after the event and that it is no use making any alternative suggestions.
I put this point to the Lord President of the Council. It is in the interests of the success of this scheme in Tanganyika, and of the new pig-raising scheme in Queensland, which the Overseas Food Corporation are now undertaking, that the Minister of Food should keep the House fully informed on substantial points of policy, and should do that at Question Time. Opportunities for Debate are necessarily limited, but that is no good reason for drawing a veil of official secrecy over these schemes, which are being conducted many thousands of miles away from Westminster and away from the public eye, but at the public expense.
We all want the schemes to be a success and, if we are fully informed, we may be able to help the Minister and the Corporation to overcome the difficulties which are already apparent. These difficulties, exaggerated by gossip to the point where the spirit of the men on the spot is seriously affected, might cause them to lose heart, which may wreck the best of schemes, and we do not want that to happen. I urge that it is in the public interest that the Minister of Food should undertake the responsibility, at Question Time, of keeping the House fully informed of all points which affect the welfare of those employed by the Overseas Food Corporation and also on all major points affecting the policy which is being adopted to carry out the intentions of Parliament.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)
After listening to two hon. Members opposite dealing with the details of Questions they have put to Ministers in 1529 connection with the Colonial Development Corporation and the Overseas Food Corporation, and after considering the matter apart from those details, we are faced with the problem of the responsibility of the Ministers concerned to Parliament and the right of Members of Parliament to obtain such information as is possible in connection with things done in their name and by their authority. It is with some diffidence that I speak of what I regard as the principle underlying this Debate, it is such a controversial matter and one on which there is so much divergence of opinion, not only in this House and in the trade union movement, but in the minds of public bodies. It is a subject which, I understand, Mr. Speaker, you have been forced to consider, and upon which you will be giving a Ruling in due course. While you are preparing a Ruling, I wish humbly to submit a few words on the subject.
I am hesitant, not so much because I have not my own views on the subject—for I have quite a number of ideas of my own—but because I find great difficulty in reconciling requirements of opposites. On the other hand, I believe firmly that it is the essence of democratic government that the authority of Parliament should be supreme and unchallenged and that no body, whether a public corporation or any other body, should be allowed in any form to usurp that supreme authority of this House and of Parliament. I am also satisfied that it is the right and responsibility of Members of Parliament to exercise the greatest possible degree of vigilance to ensure that that authority is maintained, and that hon. Members are given as much information as is possible.
That is one view. Some people claim that sometimes extreme vigilance or, as they put it, extreme intolerance on the part of Parliament and of hon. Members can be pushed to a point where it becomes a serious handicap to progress and development. I have been connected with the Post Office for many years. On one or two occasions I have found that Questions put in this House have been an embarrassment at a time when we could well do without any embarrassment from the point of view of the development and welfare of a Government Department.
The more I study this problem—and I have tried to study it against the 1530 background of negotiation work which I have done in the past—the more I am inclined to the point of view so often expressed by the Lord President of the Council, that there is no easy solution to this problem and that there is no ready made formula which we can apply to all public bodies, irrespective of their purpose, and irrespective of the conditions under which they are called upon to function. I am afraid that I have come to the conclusion that solutions can only emerge from practice and from working experience of these various schemes, and will only be found along the tortuous road of trial and error.
Having said that on the broad principle, I should like to say a word or two on the relationship between Parliament and these two Corporations to which references have already been made in considering that relationship, there are three very important factors which I have to keep in mind. The first is the magnitude of the task which Parliament has imposed upon these two Corporations. This is the first large-scale effort made by any Government in this country to develop our large and varied Colonial territories, not only in the interest of the inhabitants of those large territories but also in the interest of the world and Commonwealth trade.
It seems to me, therefore, that in the way in which we in this House conduct the business of these Corporations we cannot entirely disregard the magnitude of their task and what is expected of them. Secondly, I think it is true to say that this House has impressed upon both these Corporations the need for a measure or speed and enterprise—and I use that much maligned word "enterprise" in its proper sense—having regard to the serious position of the inhabitants of these scattered territories and the seriousness of the requirements of the world and the Commonwealth.
The third point to which we must pay some regard is this: not only have these Corporations to carry out their tasks with speed and urgency, but they have to carry them out in circumstances and conditions of unusual difficulty. There are transport and communication difficulties. They have to deal with the primitive conditions of men and women, and have to try to work out something with very 1531 raw, unskilled and untrained materials. When we consider our relationship with these Corporations, those factors have to be kept in mind, and the point that emerges in my mind immediately is that these Corporations deserve, in the first place, considerable good will and sympathy from Parliament and Members of this House.
If I may say so with respect, Mr. Speaker, I think they are also entitled to a measure of restraint and tolerance in the running-in period—that is, in the first two or three years of the scheme. It will be a big blunder on the part of this House if by the action and speeches of hon. Members in Debates we unfortunately convey the impression to the people in charge of the work of the Corporations that out of sheer impatience and sometimes from unhealthy curiosity, every step which they are taking is suspect in the minds of Members of Parliament and that every single incident is magnified out of all proportion to its importance or to its place in the general scheme of things. If they get that impression, it will lead to the officials of the Corporations proceeding clumsily with tantalising caution—caution which I have noticed many times, which often seriously delays progress and cramps initiative and drive in many big schemes.
I have no doubt that these Corporations, like many—in fact, like most—major concerns, will make mistakes from time to time. I have no doubt whatever that there will be some miscalculations similar to those which have been referred to already by hon. Members opposite. I do not doubt for a moment that there may be errors of judgment on the part of officials from time to time. I hope, however, that they will be few and far between, and that they will not be too serious in their consequences. It would be unwise, unreasonable and unfair for us to concentrate on those mistakes without having an opportunity of seeing the development as a whole and examining the broad canvas of progress. Those errors therefore, should not be taken in isolation, but should be related faithfully and reasonably to the picture as a whole.
In particular, we in this House should be guarded in our criticism and craving 1532 for more information, particularly in connection with the commercial operations of these Corporations. If they are to have a fair chance to carry out their commercial operations they are entitled to the same measure of privacy and secrecy which is usually enjoyed by private concerns. Often enough hon. Members opposite who are closely connected with industrial concerns in a private way ask that the Corporations overseas should disclose information in a way which is not generally done in industry generally.
I remember when I was in the Post Office many years ago as a secretary of the staff side, I used to complain very bitterly that the head postmaster did not tell us beforehand where the sites of certain post offices were going to be or what buildings they were going to procure. We were only informed after the thing had become an accomplished fact, and I used to complain very bitterly until one day a colleague of mine, who was serving on local government, opened my eyes to one or two very important factors. One was how easy it was for prices to be inflated and for conditions of sale to be hardened when it became known that a Government department was interested in any particular property or premises.
I know that these Corporations will have to buy a lot of land and produce certain commodities, some in large quantities and some in small. They will have to construct engineering works and so on, and develop transport systems. They will have to enter into the field of international finances and they will have to sublet a part of their work to private contractors. It seems to me, therefore, that it would be suicidal for this House to demand in those cases that the intentions and the purposes of the Corporations should be prematurely disclosed to rivals and competitors not only in those countries themselves but in other countries, before the Corporations are in a position to clinch a deal.
I am afraid I have no time to deal with other aspects, because I understand that there is a time limit in this Debate. In conclusion, therefore, I want to say that it is not unreasonable that points of administrative detail should be left with the Corporations. They will be responsible to the Minister for their actions, and these matters can be the subject of discussion and debate when 1533 the annual report of the Corporations comes before this House. I feel that all matters of major policy and matters of vital interest to the communities overseas and to this and other nations in the Commonwealth are well safeguarded by the provisions of the Act of 1948. We should, therefore, leave all details of day-to-day administration in the very capable hands of the Corporations now responsible for the work.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
As the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. W. R. Williams) said in the course of his remarks, you were good enough to intimate, Sir, a week or two ago, that it might be helpful if we had a short Debate on this subject, and this is the opportunity given to us on the Christmas Recess. I think it is important that we should have contributions to the Debate from all sides of the House, if possible, because, as many hon. Members have said, on the larger aspect of this question, we are in the stage of trial and error.
I believe the Lord President of the Council has an open mind on the progress of these various schemes as they affect the House of Commons and Parliamentary control. On 24th November the Minister of Food referred a Question on acreage, asked by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), to the Corporation. I thought that was very nearly a Question on policy and I could not see the difference between it and asking the Government to make a statement on the progress of the scheme. I felt some surprise that we were to receive our interim communiques on the scheme which has been called "Operation Groundnuts" from the Corporation and not from the right hon. Gentleman himself. I felt some surprise, because when the Minister of Food introduced this Measure last year he spoke for an hour to whet the appetites of hon. Members about the great schemes which would emanate from this operation and he specially appealed for national unity, for unity from all sides of the House and for continuous, constructive criticism of the schemes flowing from the Act.
Where, as in this case, £50 million of the taxpayers' money might be involved, where the welfare of large overseas territories in which hon. Members are rightly interested are affected, where we have a 1534 great scheme which will very seriously and considerably influence the future bulk food supplies for this country, and above all where we have this vital problem in nationalised industries of which authority is to determine the safeguarding of the public interest; where there are considerations of this sort affecting a State initiated and subsidised monopoly scheme, I believe we shall find in the end that the Lord President will come to the view, as will Parliament, after this period of trial and error, that it is absolutely essential, if we are to retain political and industrial democracy as against the tendency towards the type of Fascist industrial corporations or the newer conception of the totalitarian closed shop, that the national interest can only be secured by effective Parliamentary control.
I believe that the Lord President holds very much the same opinion as that which the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth expressed in his speech, and the hon. Member speaks with considerable experience. He feels that it would be difficult to find suitable directors, or whatever they may be termed, to undertake the responsibility of developing these large Corporations if there is to be too close a control and too much questioning from the Floor of the House of Commons in the early stages of the scheme. As I say, we are in a period of trial and error with these Corporations, but I feel the Lord President may be giving too much importance to the aspect I have just described. I believe the chairman of this Corporation, and for that matter the chairman of any of these public corporations, are not just ordinary directors, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth drew that comparison in his speech. They are not just ordinary directors in a private enterprise concern. They are the chairmen and directors of public corporations in what has become a hybrid economy in this country, and that is an entirely different conception.
Of course the right hon. Gentleman may have to find entirely different types of directors to carry out these important public duties. But I think he may be placing too much emphasis on the difficulties of finding these men as against the necessity for Parliamentary control and detailed criticism by question and answer in this House. It was very carefully stated that 1535 it was the Corporation which was to give the answer to these questions and not the chairman. I cannot see how Parliament can get the proper information and control by dealing with officials of a Corporation. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has pointed out the interest of hon. Members in the development of overseas territories and their interest in the production of food, and I cannot see why our proper information on these questions should come from anyone except the Minister concerned.
I think it is a platitude to say that during the first five years in the development of these Corporations there will be times when it will be extremely difficult to differentiate between what is administration and what is principle. For instance, the scheme may suddenly be completely jeopardised from a cause which was not anticipated when the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill. I think it is too long for us to wait for an annual report. In a period of experiment, I believe it is essential that Members of Parliament should have a very close continuous interest in the scheme and should not have to wait until the annual report, which, in any case, might provide only a limited Debate in which it might be difficult for hon. Members to speak and to make their points on questions of policy. There will be a great deal of confusion, for instance, if we can put Questions to Ministers on aviation but not to the Minister of Food on bulldozers.
I think the Government will have a great deal of trouble if they attempt to draw a definite line and to tell the Minister he has the right to determine this question and to say, "My Ministry can answer this question," but that another Question has to be ruled out on instructions at the Table. If we are to feel our way, I submit that the determining factor must be where the taxpayer and the Treasury have responsibilities. Where the taxpayers' interests are concerned, then I think in the early years of all these nationalised schemes it is better for the Minister to err on the side of devoting too much of his time, even if it is only in the way of written answers, to Questions of administration which may not be Questions on policy.
1536 It may be that the Parliamentary machine is not fitted to accept its full democratic responsibilities in our hybrid economy on the nationalised concerns. It may even be that after the period of experiment we shall find we are not able to give effective Parliamentary control ministerially or in criticisms of these nationalised industries. It may be that the Public Accounts Committee or some other similar committee will have to undertake wider responsibilities and will have to be given opportunities for examining closely the progress, the administration, the finance and the accounts of these industries. That is all in the future, however, and we have to proceed by stages. You are to give your Ruling upon this at a later stage, Mr. Speaker, but I hope the Lord President will not try to draw too firm a line on this and that certainly, in a scheme of this sort where the taxpayer and the Treasury are concerned, he will make arrangements that the Ministers are to give hon. Members the fullest information possible, both on administration and on policy
§ 12 noon.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
This has been a useful and a good-tempered discussion which, I think, will be of value to you, Mr. Speaker, in considering the complex matters of Order which arise for your consideration in connection with the new public Corporations. I hope that the contribution that I am to make will also be of assistance to you, Sir, in that regard. I ought to say straight away that the Minister of Food wished me to express his regrets to the House that he was not able to be here this morning. He has a slight indisposition, which has confined him to his bed. Otherwise he would certainly have been in attendance at the House.
§ Mr. Morrison
She is engaged in a Cabinet Committee. In any case, I was about to say that I do not propose to go into the more extended references to matters of national policy in the operations of these Corporations. Obviously, that is not my particular business. I understood that this morning we were to discuss the eligibility of Parliamentary Questions and the procedural matters 1537 connected therewith. Therefore, any questions about the actual operations of these Corporations can no doubt be covered on some other occasion. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Digby), who opened the Debate, said that Ministers should answer for no less power than they exercise. I do not think there is much difference between us on that point. I have always held that Ministers must be answerable for what they do, and for what they have power by law to do, even if they do not do it; and I think that over these two points the House is within its rights in claiming Parliamentary accountability for such matters.
On the acreage point which the hon. Gentleman raised, I think that the issue is that the hon. Gentleman is anxious that there shall be the possibility of fairly frequently repeated Questions on, so to speak, the state of the poll at a given moment; whereas the Minister of Food took the view that, whilst he was prepared to report a comprehensive review to Parliament, he ought not to be questioned about these matters on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, the Minister's view is shown by the answer he gave, on 24th November, to a Question by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), to which reference has been made. The hon. Gentleman asked the Minister of Food:When he intends to publish a further report on the East African Groundnut Scheme; and what acreages of groundnuts and other crops the Overseas Food Corporation expect to grow in Tanganyika for the 1949 harvest.The Minister replied:I intend to make a report on the scheme as soon as convenient after the Overseas Food Corporation have completed the review on which they are at present engaged. As to the second half of the Question, I have passed the hon. Member's inquiry to the Corporation, with whom the responsibility for providing such information rests, and they will, I understand, communicate with him direct."—[OFFICIAL REPORT: 24th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1246.]I think that that is legitimate. It makes the distinction between a Ministerial statement on a comprehensive review—which the Minister will do, as I understand, soon after we return—and a specific, ad hoc Question of a current character, which he feels should be dealt with by the corporation itself. That has some bearing on the point made by the 1538 hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) about the relationship between Members of Parliament and the Corporations. It could be the rule, of course, that all inquiries from Members of Parliament, whether by Question or by letter, should be sent to the Minister and to the Minister only. But I think that would be inconvenient, and from the Parliamentary point of view bad. When it comes to broad issues of principle and policy, it may well be that the Minister can deal with such correspondence—that is to say, with such questions as come within the sphere of his Ministerial responsibility. I shall return to this point later in the course of my observations.
On the other hand, I think it would be a pity if Members of Parliament were cut off from all communication with these Corporations. I think hon. Members would feel they were not being treated courteously, if the Corporations said they would not answer hon. Members' letters and that they must be sent through the Minister. I would refer, for example, to the experience that we have had and that I also have had as a Private Member with the London Passenger Transport Board—now the London Transport Executive—a body with the establishment of which I personally had something to do, though it was finished by another Government. I think that hon. Members will agree that they get good attention and considerable courtesy from London Transport in matters of this sort, and I think that it is good that that should be so.
§ Mr. Granville
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I should like to refer again to the Question asked by the hon. Member for Newbury on 24th November. The second half of the Question was about acreages of groundnuts and other crops that the Corporation expected to grow. As I see it, that was a Question asking for a progress report on crops. Who is to determine which is policy and which is administration in a question of that kind?
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot be sure, but I should have thought that a progress report would be made on the publication of the review. That seems to me to be the proper way to make it and the right thing to do.
§ Mr. Morrison
It will be either with the annual report or incidental to it. This review is, I understand, to be forthcoming about the middle of January, as the hon. Gentleman said. That will be made in order that the Minister can make the statement. I am referring to the answer the Minister has already given to the hon. Member for Newbury. That seems to me to be the right way to do it, and not by ad hoc Questions every other week, especially at this developing stage. It must be remembered that we are still in an early stage in this matter. The Minister, at any rate has to look after himself, because what he says in the House today may well be flung back at him in three months—perfectly legitimately: I am not complaining about it at all. But if Ministers are a little careful in answering Questions I do not think complaint ought to he made. That is a different matter.
§ Mr. Granville
In June of last year I asked the Minister of Food for a progress report and my question was replied to by the Parliamentary Secretary, who gave me, so to speak, a short resumé of progress long before the annual report was received.
§ Mr. Morrison
This statement on the review will be distinct from the annual report, and I do not know how far it will be up to date.
§ Mr. Morrison
As to the review, possibly it cannot be entirely up to date, but more up to date than the annual report would be at the time of its publication. The annual report can only be published as soon as may be. The House did, in fact, stipulate, when the Act was passed, that the report should be published as soon as may be. I do not see what can be done about that. That must be so. The corporations get it out as soon as they can. In any case, it is quite a new thing in these great industrial enterprises. It is a great advantage that these 1540 comprehensive and fairly detailed reports are made annually on these great enterprises—reports which formerly were not made at all. Formerly, there was a statement by the chairman of an undertaking and the balance sheet.
Both Parliament and the country are to know much more about these great undertakings. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are financed out of public money."] The hon. Member is not necessarily right in saying they are financed out of public funds. They are supposed to pay their way over a period, and we hope they will. It is right, of course, that they should make comprehensive reports, but do not let the House under-estimate the great change. If we take, for example, some of the private monopolies which existed, the public has been told little about them. In the annual speech, the chairman told them very little. They are now going to know an awful lot and get comprehensive Debates in Parliament about them—
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury) rose—
§ Mr. Morrison
—I do not think that we had better proceed by way of examination and cross-examination, beause I have to get on.
The hon. Member for Newbury said that the Minister should answer for changes in settled policy. I will not answer that straight off, because I shall be making a considered statement later on. It is easier to put it in the way in which the hon. Member puts it, than to give a specific answer as to whether that can be complied with or not, because "changes of settled policy" is a phrase which is not easy to interpret in practice. The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. W. R. Williams) made a useful contribution to the discussion. He said, quite frankly, and it was also almost said by the hon. Member for Eye, that there is a conflict here between the understandable desire of the House to have the fullest information when it wants it day by day, and, on the other hand, the need to restrain itself in taking a course which might well upset the efficiency and business enterprise of these great undertakings. That is a dilemma in which all of us are involved, both Government and private Members, and we can only solve it as we go along.
1541 I will say some words on the general issue at the end of my other observations. I do not dissent from my hon. Friend's view that there has to be a period of trial and error in these matters. I cordially agree with him that we particularly need tolerance, especially during this period of running-in, and I should like to utter a word of sympathy with the business men who are running these undertakings. Most of them are unaccustomed to political life and have been accustomed to running private undertakings, where they were sheltered from the blast of Parliamentary statements and the sometimes rather severe and disputable comments hon. Members make across the Floor of the House about each other and about Ministers.
It would be a pity if these gentlemen were to be unnerved.—[Laughter.]—That is perfectly true. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, after all, know these business men as well as we do, and many of them are their political friends. They are not used to that sort of thing, and if we suddenly plunge them into the middle of the Floor of the House and knock them about, we may well retard their business efficiency. It is one of the marvels that civil servants have survived the steady blasts from some Parliamentarians and some ex-Ministers, who have done very well with the advice that civil servants have given them. If hon. Members opposite, who are accustomed to the psychology and characteristics of these business men, cannot understand that, I can only say that I am exceedingly sorry. Some day, of course, these Corporations will perhaps be evolving out of the active political arena.
I would remind the House that, before the war, there were three public Corporations with Conservative Governments, or something like Conservative Governments, in office—the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Central Electricity Board and the London Passenger Transport Board—if not others as well. I do not remember that all this trouble arose then and that all this sharp-shooting took place from either side of the House. There was an understanding that these bodies had a job to do and that, on the whole, it was desirable that they should not be subject to meticulous political interference or sharp-shooting. That was, 1542 indeed, accepted by both sides of the House and loudly asserted by hon. Members on the other side of the House.
We have given very careful consideration to the position of the Overseas Food Corporation and the Colonial Development Corporation which were set up under the Act of 1948. The House will forgive me if, from now on, I keep closely to my notes, because this is a considered statement which, I hope, will be of assistance to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, and which, no doubt, will be referred to on future occasions. If the House will be good enough to let me get through this without interruption, it will he helpful, because we shall then have it on the record.
The provisions of the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948, which bear upon the relationship between the Ministers and the Overseas Food Corporation and the Colonial Development Corporation, are modelled upon those in the other socialisation statutes, and it was contemplated that, like their domestic counterparts, the Corporations should be left free in matters of day-to-day administration. In general, therefore, the same principles apply to Questions about the Corporations as in the case of the other socialised industries. They are not, however, entirely on all fours, because they are operating not in this country but in Colonial territories. This introduces a new element into the situation, if only because there will be matters relevant to the Corporations, for which the Government of the territory will have responsibilities and for which the Colonial Secretary may be answerable to Parliament on the same footing as for other acts of Colonial Governments.
Attention should also be drawn to the provisions of Sections 7 and 8 of the Act. Section 7 requires that, in determining their policy as to the activities to be carried on by them in any territory and the manner in which they are to be carried on, and as to assisting and participating in the carrying on by others of activities in any territory, the Corporations shall have particular regard to the interests of the inhabitants of the territory. They must not establish a new undertaking, until such measures for consultation with the Government of the 1543 territory as appear to the responsible Minister to be practicable have been taken. Section 8 provides that the Corporation shall take all practicable steps to secure the safety, health and welfare of persons in their employment, or in the employment of others, in activities carried on with the assistance of the Corporation or in association with them. That places the primary responsibility on the Corporation, but Subsection (2) provides for consultation with the Colonial Government concerned in the performance of this duty and in dealing with matters affecting terms or conditions of employment.
Under Section 7 the Minister of Food has the responsibility of deciding whether there is proper consultation between the Overseas Food Corporation and the Colonial Government in the interests of the inhabitants, before a new undertaking is established. Apart altogether from the precise terms of the Act, however, the Colonial Secretary made it clear, when the Bill was before Parliament, that the Government intended to take a positive interest in this matter. Thus, on the Third Reading on 20th January, 1948, in col. 134 of HANSARD, he said that, so far as Colonial territories were concerned, it would be the duty and responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to see that, whether it was the Colonial Development Corporation or the Overseas Food Corporation which was functioning in these territories, reasonable and proper standards were maintained, and that their activities fitted in with the general economic plan of development of the territory concerned. It will be his special responsibility to see that reasonable standards are maintained, and, also, that the Corporation functions in consultation with the local government and the people involved.
Now it will be primarily the duty of the Colonial Governments to ensure that the Corporations are providing adequate standards of social welfare, wages and conditions of labour. The Corporation will, of course, be subject to all the normal legislation of the Colony on these matters, as are other economic undertakings in private enterprise. Beyond that, as a public organisation, it will be expected to be a model employer in these respects.
1544 Both the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Food are in close contact with the respective Corporations on these as well as on other matters. Apart from day to day contacts, there are regular meetings between the Departments and the Corporations, at which the Government's point of view can be explained. In fact, however, both the Corporations are fully alive to their responsibilities to their employees and to Colonial peoples. There is every reason, therefore, for thinking that the Corporations will carry out their obligations to their employees and to the inhabitants of the territories in which they are operating. But should the responsible Minister be satisfied that either was not doing so, the matter is one on which he would be prepared to exercise his power of issuing a direction under Section 9 (1) of the Act.
Having stated the general principles as we can see them, I now come more closely to the matter of Parliamentary Questions relating to these two Corporations. As we see the situation, it is that, broadly speaking—subject to the Ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, will give in due course—the Questions in connection with these Corporations which the Ministers concerned would feel it right to answer fall into the following categories—and the House will see that these categories are pretty considerable and pretty wide.
First, Questions relating to the discharge of their specific statutory obligations under the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948. Examples are: the powers relating to the appointment, tenure and vacation of office of members of the Corporations; advances to and borrowings by the Corporations; and provisions as regards the accounts and audit.
Secondly, Questions arising from the provisions of Sections 7 and 8 relating to consultation with Colonial Governments and the consultation of local interests on the safety, health and welfare of employees, and from the general responsibility which the Government assume for seeing that the interests of employees in Colonial territories are safeguarded by the maintenance of reasonable standards. This does not, of course, mean that the Government contemplate interference in the detailed administration of these matters, and that they would, for 1545 example, regard it as the responsibility of Ministers to answer Questions about individual complaints, or the detailed arrangements of a particular project. The circumstances will vary so much that no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Ministers and Members alike will have to be guided by experience, until a body of practice has emerged for the guidance of both.
Thirdly, Questions to the Colonial Secretary relating to the discharge by Colonial Governments of their general responsibilities which may bear upon the activities of the Corporations.
Fourthly, subject to the discretion of Ministers to decline to reply, Questions asking for statements on matters of "public importance" allowed by Mr. Speaker under his Ruling.
Now, as with the socialised industries, the Corporations will also be accountable to Parliament and the public through their responsibility to their Minister, and through him to Parliament; and by virtue of the statutory obligation to publish annual accounts and an annual report which must be laid before Parliament, and which will no doubt from time to time be the subject of debates. It is also the view of the Ministers, which is shared by the Corporations, that proper publicity should be given to their work. While the Corporations cannot be expected, as business undertakings, to publish all their commercial negotiations, or to provide information which would lead to speculation on the Stock Exchange and the commodity and other markets, they fully accept the desirability of keeping the Press and the public informed about the broader aspects of their work.
These arrangements should, in our opinion, ensure that Parliament and the public are properly informed about the activities of the two Corporations. Indeed, so far as information, pure and simple, is concerned, they will be supplied with a great deal more information than could possibly be made public through the medium of Parliamentary Questions of an unrestricted character. The Government attach importance to the principle, which the House has endorsed, of leaving the public Corporations free in matters of day to day administration. But they have always taken the view that undue rigidity was to be avoided, especially in 1546 a novel area of public administration like this.
In general, the Government are sure that, as regards answers to Parliamentary Questions, the only sensible working rule is that Ministers should answer where they assume responsibility, and not, save in the exceptional circumstances contemplated by Mr. Speaker's Ruling, on matters of "public importance," where the responsibility has been left to the Corporation. If the House thinks that Ministers should assume wider responsibilities, it has other methods of bringing this home to them.
That is the general view of His Majesty's Government on this matter, at any rate at the present time. It may be that, as time goes on, modifications, one way or the other, may be made in all our minds. But I do wish to put this in conclusion to the House on the general issue involved, both of the overseas Corporations and of the great Corporations at home. Hon. Members took it a little humorously, but I want to repeat the point that we had to decide, and Parliament had to decide—as to whether these great undertakings should be run on Civil Service lines, on State Department lines, or not.
Now this temperamental point is a real one. If the people responsible, not only at the top, but also at the lower levels of the boards, get into the frame of mind where they feel that on every action they take—day by day as well as on great issues of policy—they are liable to be shot at by Parliamentary Questions and severely criticised—and, as we all know, we can all make caustic observations in this House from time to time—I beg of the House to consider what the psychological effect on these people will be. I beg of the House to consider what the psychological effect on any private undertaking would be if they were subject to detailed Parliamentary Questions here, and could be subjected to the acidities of Parliamentary Debate, and, if I may say so, from time to time, sheer misrepresentation. I am not making a party point on that, because I dare say all of us are guilty of that from time to time, at any rate at one another's expense—and sometimes at the expense of outside people.
If those people get in that position, then inevitably in the course of a short 1547 time they will develop a complete Civil Service mentality. I am not saying that critically of civil servants. The Minister is responsible for everything that happens in his Department; he is responsible for everything his civil servant does; and it does make a difference in the running of State Departments. They are bound to be a bit slower, and the element of red tape comes in. We wanted these Corporations to be businesslike and quick, and the element of red tape reduced to the minimum. But if day by day these gentlemen, not only at the top but in the reaches lower down, are to be looking over their shoulders and thinking, "Will Parliament make a row about this? Will there be a Parliamentary Question about this?"—if I may say so with respect, that would be the worst way in which to run the undertakings.
There is this other point which must be kept in mind. The House did take the view—and I thought the Opposition were particularly keen about it—that these great undertakings ought not to be subject to meticulous political Ministerial interference. I thought that was so. If that was not the view, then the proper course would be to make them straight Departmental administrative bodies, like the General Post Office. There are arguments for that. But if we hand these over to public Corporations on the basis that we want a good balance and a good combination between the principles of public ownership, the principle of public accountability and the principle of efficient, progressive and lively business management, then, if I may say so with respect, the House must take the consequences of that decision, which means that we have to be forbearing in expecting meticulous day to day accountability by Parliamentary Questions in the House.
I hope the House will agree that I have tried to be as forthcoming as I can about these overseas undertakings. I recognise that they are in a somewhat different category, but if the House follows the counsel and advice I have ventured to give, and if Mr. Speaker thinks it is wise, it will be found that there is a wide field over which inquiries can be made. Periodical debates will be welcome—to no one more than to my- 1548 self, the Colonial Secretary and the Minister of Food—because debates can range much wider than is possible with Parliamentary Questions. I hope the statement I have made will be of some assistance to the House.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield)
My right hon. Friend has just made a most important, interesting and valuable statement, but does he not agree that the time for this Debate has been all too short? As there are several Members who would like to make contributions on the subject, will he consider giving a further opportunity in the New Year to discuss the matter in view of the statement he has made?
§ Mr. Morrison
I always find this a very fascinating subject, although I do not know how many more speeches I can make without repeating myself. I know that there are some Members who would like to be heard upon the matter, and perhaps it will be possible, if we can arrange it with the Opposition, to have a debate, but that can be considered through the usual channels.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider having a Debate in the New Year. Owing to the short time available, I cannot possibly answer his very long and interesting statement but can only make one or two comments. We all realise that this is really only a glorified point of Order that we have been discussing for over an hour—that was how the matter first arose. This matter is all the more important as it concerns not only this Parliament. As I see it, if we are to start operations in different parts of the Empire, then the local legislatures will also be faced with a similar question, and the Parliament of Queensland and the Legislative Councils in the Colonies May all be guided by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. There is also a further complication in operating in Trustee Territories, in regard to which matters have to be submitted to the Trusteeship Council. As far as I can make out, the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations can ask any question it likes and has to be given the answer. We are really in a very awkward position.
§ Captain Crookshank
The outlook is bound to be awful while the present Government are in office, but I do not want to go into that at the moment. We have to bear in mind this aspect, and the fact that the local legislatures may be in a position to get more information than ourselves. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to end up his statement by saying that we are handing these various industries over to public bodies, and that we are handing over this and that; but in this case we are handing over nothing at all. It is a new entity, and the only thing that is being taken over is a lot of bush, and we are trying to make it grow something. Therefore, this argument about nationalisation in this country seems to have no relevance at all.
So long as this Parliament is responsible for some of the subjects which come within the purview of these new Corporations, we cannot relax our authority. We are responsible for the Colonial peoples, which is one of the prime responsibilities of the House, apart from Defence. That is recognised in the Act itself. If the Corporations impinge on the health, happiness, safety and welfare of the Colonial peoples, we cannot be forced to divest ourselves of the right to cross-examine. We are responsible in this House for great sections of the Colonial Civil Service. There may well be questions about remuneration and countless other things concerning the lower grades of the Corporations that may have their effect on the Colonial Civil Service. None of us wants to cross-examine the Corporations or the Minister about tiny topics; de minimis is the rule here as elsewhere in life. There are matters so small although they are of importance to the individual, that they cannot always have the consideration of this House.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of bodies which existed before the war, but of course the Overseas Airways Corporation functions in this country; one does not have to ask questions because one can go and see for oneself—it is possible to get information, I do not mean deliberate leakages—on the general layout, and all that goes on is well-known. But now we are dealing with affairs thousands of miles away, and in the nature of things only a few Members can go there to see for themselves. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible to be 1550 lenient in regard to the questions to be put to Ministers. If Ministers do not choose to answer them, that is another matter, but they should appear on the Order Paper.
This point of Order has arisen out of the two Questions asked on 24th November, the first as to the acreage of groundnuts in 1949, and the second in regard to the yield per acre. I should have thought that if we set out on a development scheme which involves ploughing up and eventually planting great areas, the amount of acreage in the coming year and the yield are the two great questions that really matter, because from them everything flows. The Minister said that he had passed the Question on to the Corporations and they would let the hon. Member know. They did, and the matter was referred to afterwards in the Press. But what an unsatisfactory thing it is that the one vital question that matters should be reserved to a private communication to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), and that it should be left at that.
This cannot be allowed to go on. It is not as if the information on a great issue like this were not available. If the Corporation had said they had not the vaguest idea what the acreage would be, we should have had mental reservations about them, but they knew the information very well and wrote to my hon. Friend. They might just as well have written to the Minister, and then the Minister could have put the information in an answer to an unstarred Question in HANSARD for all of us to see. I do not know whether every Member is aware of the acreage or not, although most of us should now know, because a letter was afterwards published in the Press. That is not the way to conduct our affairs. The statement we have heard may be useful for your consideration of this problem, Mr. Speaker, but I beg you to bear in mind that there is a world of difference between nationalised Corporations which function in this country and Corporations which function as far away as Australia and Africa.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
On a point of Order. May I, with great respect, ask you, Sir, whether you propose to give your Ruling on this matter as soon as the House resumes after the Recess, or would you consider deferring it until after 1551 the further Debate which the Lord President of the Council indicated might take place, in which a number of other hon. Members might wish to submit points for your consideration?
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot answer that off-hand. I should prefer, first of all, before making up my mind, to read the Debate carefully, to see what both sides have said. I shall take some little time before making up my mind.