HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc983-6
Mr. Dugdale

I beg to move, in line 9, after "bounty," to insert: to authorise the payment into the Exchequer of certain unclaimed sums in prize courts. This is consequential on the last Clause which I introduced, and which has just been added to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

8.57 p.m.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas

I do not propose to cover again the ground we went over during the Second Reading of this Bill. I would remind the House that while we gave our support to the Bill on Second Reading, we made it clear that our support might not be maintained if the Bill left the House with the glaring anomalies and injustices which it then contained. We have had a tough fight during the Committee stage, and although many of these anomalies and injustices still remain, we have had some concessions made. We have had one definitely made, and we hope that another may be made in another place. We have always tried on this side of the House to exclude any party bias from the discussion of naval affairs, and we deeply resent the way in which our efforts to make more equitable the scale of distribution have been misrepresented on Second Reading by those who sit behind the Government Front Bench, and today I regret to say by those on the Government Front Bench itself.

The Parliamentary Secretary has refused to reconsider the scale of shares. The Government have advanced no argument to justify the abolition of the Royal Prerogative. I shall not go over that ground again. I shall merely repeat what I said to the Committee this afternoon that we consider this to be one of the most serious features of the Bill. The Government have refused to leave the decision as to prize money or prize bounty until the circumstances arise under which they might become payable in the unfortunate event of another war.

I repeat what I said on Second Reading. This is still the worst Prize Bill which has ever been brought before this House. The Government have allowed one definite crumb of comfort to fall—the provision for dependants of men killed before they had completed the qualifying period of six months at sea. I hope that another crumb of comfort may come from another place before the Bill becomes an Act, although I maintain that the alteration should have been made in the House of Commons.

For these reasons we shall not oppose the Third Reading tonight. We have made strenuous efforts to improve the Bill; we have tried to make the distribution more equitable and to include many deserving categories and with the latter we have had some success. We also realise that without a Bill, no prize money can be distributed at all and that is another reason why we shall not go into the Lobby against the Government tonight. We shall hope, however, that in another place, wiser councils may prevail, and that a better Bill may emerge in the course of time.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Dugdale

I am glad to hear that the Opposition do not intend to go into the Division Lobby. As the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) has said, if they did, and if they were successful, it might endanger the giving of prize money altogether. I am glad also that the hon. Member for Hereford appreciates, although he called them "crumbs," the concessions that have been made. I hope as a result of this Debate he feels that this Prize Bill is not quite such a terrible Bill as he originally painted it in his opening remarks.

9.1 p.m.

Captain Marsden

I wish to support the Third Reading of the Bill for the simple reason that if I oppose anything, I hope to be on the winning side in whatever I am voting for, although it may be a forlorn hope. I also support it because otherwise, were we successful in the Division Lobbies, it would delay the paying out of money to men who have earned it and who, to a certain extent, need it. It is however, not so much the fact that they need it, as the knowledge that this is something which they should be granted, something which they have been led to expect, and it would be a bad thing if the gift to them was delayed.

This Debate has been satisfactory and at the same time disappointing. It has been satisfactory inasmuch as both sides of the House have had a free Debate and frequently found themselves agreed on certain matters. That is all to the good. In my view that is how Parliament should work, and sometimes does work. What is most unsatisfactory is that when we get something upon which all quarters of the House are agreed, without a dissentient voice, there is no Minister on the Government Front Bench who can give an opinion. We are driven to the conclusion that the Parliamentary Secretary is sent here merely to say "No" to everything. It is no use debating and making serious propositions, propounding arguments, producing evidence and getting support when the Minister can only say "No." That seems to me to reduce the function of this House to a deplorably low level.

Today the Parliamentary Secretary is representing the Admiralty and making suggestions, which I should have thought he might have given definite decisions. That places us in a dilemma. Suppose his noble Friend does not accede to the demand, not only from this side of the House but from the opposite side? He has left us in a difficult position indeed and that is one of the weak spots in this Debate. We have been hurried through this matter which is I suppose of small account to the Chief Whip and those who organised it, although it is of serious account to the people affected by the Bill. But they say, "Shove it through, put it into the machine, turn the handle, get rid of the Opposition, say 'No,' put the Whips on, tell us which Lobby to go through—the great thing is to get it through and get it over with." I am not interested in that aspect at all.

Like many other hon. Members I wish we had had a serious and sensible Debate which would have some effect on the Bill. But nine-tenths of this Debate has had no effect and no result whatsoever. No answer has come to questions put forward and when direct documentary evidence is produced, the answer is "No. Let us have a Division and go into the 'Aye' Lobby or the 'No' Lobby as the case may be." What sort of legislation is that? Although there have been some satisfactory moments, it is most unfortunate that things have been rushed through in this way.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.