HC Deb 24 September 1948 vol 456 cc1233-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Monday, 25th October."—[Mr. H Morrison.]

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House if a sore throat makes me very difficult to hear.

I believe this Motion which has just been moved by the Government to be very unwise in our present circumstances. I cannot think that either the national interest or the interests of our Parliamentary institutions—both of these are bound together—are well served if, at a time of great public anxiety, the Executive Government are freed from all control by the House of Commons. I think that hon. Members in every quarter of the House not only feel great anxiety themselves, but are aware of the anxiety, and the very proper anxiety, of their constituents. They know that on the wisdom or folly, the courage or the cowardice of the Government in the next few weeks our survival may depend. I cannot think that, in those circumstances, we are serving the national cause if the Government are freed from all control by this House.

Let me say at once that that would be my attitude if I were a supporter of the Government, and thought it an excellent Government. It is still more emphatically my attitude, taking the view that I do of their capacity as exemplified by the speeches of Ministers in this short Session. May I say, however, in case the Government will tell us what their intentions are, that I realise, of course, that it is within the Government's power to suggest to Mr. Speaker that the House should be brought together, notwithstanding that we accept this Motion which has just been moved by the right hon. Gentleman. But I should like to know a little about the circumstances which they feel would justify them in recommending to Mr. Speaker the summoning of the House. I know, of course, that if they contemplated some necessary legislation, they would have to summon the House; I know also that, if they thought it in the interest of the Government to summon the House, they would do so. But I suggest to them that they might well do so in another case also, and that is, if any important section of this House desired that the House should meet. In that event they should call the House together.

I say that with the more consistency since, on 2nd August, 1939, I made the same plea to the then Prime Minister in the event of the then Opposition, the Socialist Party, desiring the House to be brought together. I believe that, if any important section of this House, or even a section of the Government's supporters, acting in accordance with what they felt to be their duty as Members of Parliament, desired that this House should sit, that is really a ground that His Majesty's Government might well consider a proper one for asking for this House to be called together.

I do not wish to labour the matter further, but I would beg the Government to consider whether they are really serving the public interest in proposing this long Adjournment, in any event if they are not prepared to give the undertaking that, if any important section of this House desires that the House shall meet, they will advise Mr. Speaker that the occasion has arisen for summoning this House.

11.9 a.m.

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

I think that it is, at the least, inappropriate that a Motion of this sort should be moved without any explanation or assurance from the Government in view of the present circumstances. I am certain that people outside simply do not understand the proposal that the House of Commons should adjourn for four and a half weeks in the present international situation. I think that the least that we are entitled to demand from the Government is a perfectly clear statement of their intentions in connection with the recall of this House.

We are particularly entitled to make that demand, and, indeed, to insist upon it, because, through nobody's fault—certainly nobody's fault in this country—it is none the less the fact that we have not yet had the opportunity of hearing the Foreign Secretary on the Moscow conversations and the Berlin negotiations. No one, least of all me, would seek to put any blame upon His Majesty's Government for that, but it remains a fact, and it seems quite wrong that we should deny ourselves for what in the present circumstances is a very long time the opportunity to discuss this matter. It is not simply a question of being kept informed; I hope the Government will do that. It is a question not only of hearing the point of view of the Government, but of the House of Commons—all parties in the House of Commons—being given an opportunity to express their point of view to the Government as to the right steps to be taken.

I do not think in justice to the duty which each one of us owes to our constituents that we can possibly consent to be dismissed for four and a half weeks without some assurance along those lines. Certainly our constituents would not feel that we were doing our duty, nor do I feel that any of us could feel in our consciences that we were doing our duty at a time like this if we were simply to hand over to the Government for four and a half weeks untrammelled and uncriticised control of the affairs of this nation. I say that, as my hon. and learned Friend said, regardless of whether one feels confidence or lack of confidence in the Government. The ultimate responsibility rests upon Members of this House, and I cannot see how we can discharge that responsibility if we passively allow ourselves to be sent into Recess for four and a half weeks during which time many grave events may develop.

11.12 a.m.

Brigadier Medlicott (Norfolk, Eastern)

I should like to support the protest which has been made and the resquest which has been put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss). I think it is a common experience of Members at the present time that rarely can we remember such feelings of disquiet as are expressed to us on every hand as we move about among our constituents and our friends. The members of the public expect Members of this House to have rather special knowledge of what is going on, and I, in common with many colleagues, find myself at a loss to give the assurances and the kind of information to my constituents that I would like to be able to give. The public look to two sources of information in times like this. They look to the House of Commons and they look to the Press. For the next four and a half weeks the House of Commons will not be in a position to impart any guidance to the public, and the public may feel, as they are entitled to feel, that the Press, while exercising the restraint for which the British Press is well known under these conditions, is concealing something in what they believe to be the best interests of the public.

If the Government are confident of their own handling of the present situation, they have failed to convey that confidence to the public, and it is for that reason that I join with my colleagues in urging that the Government should give some further explanation why they feel that at this time it is possible to adjourn for such a long period. In addition we would like some assurance that we shall be called together at the shortest notice if the need should arise.

11.14 a.m.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I only wish to add a few words in support of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss). The speech of the Foreign Secretary alone surely indicated not merely that he was able to tell us very little when he spoke to us the other day, but also that he expected in a few days to be in a position to say more. In addition, the speech of the Secretary of State for War last night surely indicated that he did not feel there was sufficient time to answer all the points raised in the Debate.

I should have thought that in view of the very grave disquiet—I put it no less than that—which exists in the country at the present time, the Government would only be acting in accordance with what they said in the Debate on the Parliament Bill if they were to give hon. Members an opportunity, either from the Opposition Benches or from the Government Benches, to ask the Government to arrange for our recall before four and a half weeks are up. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, said that the House of Commons is the only voice of the people. I am not altogether in agreement with that view, but, nevertheless, if he uses that argument, surely he should be the first to admit that the people who are disturbed as to our situation would like us, if only to earn our pay, to be in a position whereby we could call upon the Government to bring us back before four and a half weeks are up.

11.16 a.m.

Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)

I wish to say that there are many thousands of people in Scotland who feel just as strongly on this question as my hon. Friends who have spoken. There is very strong feeling in Scotland at this time. Many people have written to me and many have spoken to me personally, and I know that that experience has been shared by my colleagues. I think it is a terrible thing that this House should have been called together for the purpose for which it was summoned and should not be called together to discuss infinitely more serious and dangerous matters.

11.17 a.m.

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

I make no complaint whatever that hon. Members should have initiated this short discussion. There is anxiety about a number of things, and it is a fair point to raise. I hope hon. Members opposite will forgive me if I do not go into the party points which incidentally came into the argument, but I agree it is reasonable that they should raise the point that the Government should exercise the power to make a request to you, Mr. Speaker, to call the House, with a sense of responsibility, which of course we will exercise, and with a sense of taking into account the views which other people outside our own ranks may hold. I can only say that, as hon. Members know, it is by Standing Order provided that the Government can make representations to Mr. Speaker with a view to the House being recalled, and we will watch the situation. If in our judgment it should so requite, we shall not hesitate to make representations to you Mr. Speaker.

There is only one other point. It has been urged that if the Opposition re- quested the Government to recall Parliament we should so act. I cannot go as far as that. I do not recall that that was ever conceded. It must be a matter for the judgment of the Government of the day to make representations, but this I will say, that if the Opposition should feel that the House should be recalled, although I cannot promise to act on their opinion, certainly we shall take into every consideration representations which the Opposition or others may make. I think that is all I can say.

We are, of course, adjourning for a month. We have had this break into the long Summer Recess and we all, including the Government, have co-operated in discussing matters of urgent public importance. It has been a useful short Session, I think. Therefore, I can only say that we shall certainly take every consideration into account, and, having considered the matter ourselves and taken into account any representations that others may make, we shall come to a conclusion whether the House should be recalled or not.

We shall have to see how things go, but that must not be taken as a commitment. The conclusion must be one for the Government in the first place, and for Mr. Speaker in the second. I would only say that I make no complaint about the point being raised. It is a fair point in the circumstances in which we are adjourning, and in that spirit we ask the House to pass the Motion.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)

I should like to thank the Leader of the House for the spirit in which he has met the very reasonable and proper requests made by my hon. Friends. These matters about which we all feel such concern are matters of national importance, and we know that the Government would call the House together in circumstances which we hope will not occur but which if they did occur would make it essential that the House should meet. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) indicated that yesterday in connection.vith Business, and the Leader of the House in effect accepted that position. He has now restated it in a more precise form, and I hope the House will feel that hey should accept his leadership in this matter.

There is one further point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington raised yesterday. If there should be a situation which does not require the meeting of the House but does require that Members should be precisely informed about long and complicated negotiations, I hope that the Lord President will remember what was said yesterday about the possible publication of documents for study during the period. Beyond that, having put forward once more our view—and in doing so my hon. Friends have done good service—we must and do rest content with the pledge of the Lord President, which we must accept and do accept in the spirit in which he has made it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Monday, 25th October. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Whiteley.)

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