HC Deb 11 March 1948 vol 448 cc1439-41

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this day, notwithstanding anything in Standing Order No. 14, Business other than the Business of Supply may be taken before Ten o'clock and that if the first five Votes proposed shall have been agreed to by the Committee of Supply before half-past Nine o'clock, the Chairman shall proceed to put forthwith the Questions which he is directed Ito put at half-past Nine o'clock by paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 14."—[Mr. H. Morrison.]

Captain Crookshank

This is, of course, the first time that a Motion of this character has appeared at this time of year. From the look of it, I think that the Leader of the House has put down the Motion that he would have put down had we been at the end of Supply. It is practically identical with what has previously been put down. I quite recognise that we must take the Motion today, that it is too late to alter it. The point I wish to put to the Lord President is this: Will he please consider this not to be a precedent for the future, and if there is a Motion, as I think there will have to be, for the Report stage on Monday next, will he reconsider this particular form of Motion between now and then?.

As I read it, it raises the point in my mind about the position that would arise if, by any chance, the Debate on the Supplementary Estimates which have been specifically put down were to collapse for any reason. If anyone who looks surprised at that suggestion will think back, they will remember that Supplementary Estimates are, in Debate, quite unaccountable. So often something is ruled out of Order, and a Debate which is expected to last for a certain length of time does not do so; that is quite frequently the case. For example, supposing that the Debate today on the first five Votes came to an end at about 8 o'clock, it would mean that under this Motion the Guillotine would fall at 8 o'clock, in spite of the fact that all the other Votes were discussable. That cannot be right in the case of Supplementary Estimates.

When the Guillotine was on after 19 or 20 days of Supply, as it used to be, one was debating the main Estimates, and there was no likelihood of the Debate collapsing through being out of Order or going wide or anything of that kind. It is a problem which could not have arisen, but it is a problem which may quite well arise in the case of Supplementary Estimates. Therefore, while I daresay it is too late to amend this Motion now to safeguard-the position which I have in mind—and if it is too late we do not want to obstruct the business now—I ask that the point should be looked at before a similar Motion is put down on Monday, so that if there was any risk of debate collapsing, we could go on to other Votes.

I ask the Leader of the House to be quite sure that at this time next year, if he still has anything to do with public affairs—that is not necessarily likely; he may be in another place by then—he and those who are permanently considering these matters on behalf of the Government, whatever Government it may be, should look to see whether this is not the wrong form of Motion. I quite see how it has crept in. They have taken the precedent which is followed after 19 days of Supply. I do not think it is a good precedent, and I see the risk it involves if Debate should collapse.

Mr. H. Morrison

I will convey the observations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the powers of permanence and try to see that there is a suitable clear-up on Monday if that is necessary. The purpose of the Motion, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself apprehends, is the same as that of the customary Motion at the end of consideration of the Main Estimates in July. Clearly, the Debate on the five outstanding Votes might finish earlier than 9.3o p.m., and the Chair would be in difficulty in putting the Question unless empowered to do so. That is the purpose of the Motion. I will look into the point which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised, and also into any others he might like to raise with me privately, so that we may be ready to deal with the matter on a future occasion. If the Motion should require to be in a different form, or if procedure should be different, we shall be happy to consider that.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not for the convenience of the House that the Guillotine should fall at a fixed hour, instead of at an hour which no one can foresee?

Mr. Morrison

I quite agree, and that would have been particularly true in olden days when it was regularly the case that there were about 20 Divisions, and hon. Members whose Division average was low had a great opportunity to improve it. We have less of that now. But I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is desirable for discussion to end at 9.3o p.m., so that hon. Members know that they have a reasonable certainty of participating in any Division there may be if they are there at that hour. This Motion is only down in the very unlikely event of that not happening.

Question put, and agreed to.

Proceedings of the Committee of Ways and Means exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. H. Morrison.]