HC Deb 15 December 1949 vol 470 cc3039-42

Lords Amendment: In page 4. line 31, at end, insert: Provided that if the Minister considers that it would be preferable to re-erect the said fountain on a site not being a site within either of the said gardens, and if the Minister has laid before each House of Parliament a paper stating his proposal and the reasons therefor, and thereafter a Resolution of each House of Parliament is passed approving the Minister's proposal, the said fountain shall be re-erected on the site so agreed.

10.18 p.m.

The Minister of Works (Mr. Key)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

I am sorry that as the result of a misunderstanding on my part the Amendment which I moved last night, in so far as it related to a negative as against an affirmative Resolution in both Houses, went contrary to an agreement which had been arrived at in another place. The Amendment which is now before the House, while retaining to the Minister the right of the initiative in this matter, rectifies the error that I then made. Because it does so, I have great pleasure in moving this Motion.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

I can hardly express my surprise at the events that have transpired. We are faced now with a Lords Amendment, which none of us has seen in print—because I understand it was passed some time this afternoon—and which we have to consider in manuscript. What appears to have happened is that at 5 p.m. on Tuesday last the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, supported by the Leader of the Government in another place, the Lord Privy Seal, accepted an Amendment that the future site of the memorial fountain should be decided by affirmative Resolution procedure. At some time before this House rose at 9.3 p.m. on the same night—that is, four hours and three minutes later—the right hon. Gentleman had tabled an Amendment to disagree with what his Parliamentary Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal had accepted in another place.

We really must have something more by way of explanation from the right hon Gentleman of how it comes about that he, as Minister, tables an Amendment in this House to disagree with what his Parliamentary Secretary has accepted in another place within two or three hours of that agreement having been reached. I think it was the late Tim Healy who said "Under-Secretaries never resign; they wait till they are fired." In this case it does not seem to be for the Parliamentary Secretary to resign. The agreement which he accepted is now being endorsed, but only after his own Minister has moved that this House disagree with it, and after his Minister has defended his position in the House of Commons and forced this House to a vote last night upon this very issue in exactly the opposite sense to that in which the Minister is now advising the House.

We really must have more explanation from the right hon. Gentleman of this disagreement between himself and his Parliamentary Secretary, and about the difference between himself and the Lord Privy Seal. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should now be accepting the Amendment moved today in another place and accepted by his own Government. After all, he disagreed with what his own Friends had accepted in the House of Lords on Tuesday, so I am completely at a loss to understand why he should now be accepting what his own Friends and assistants have advocated in the House of Lords today.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I think the explanation of the mystery that has puzzled my right hon. Friend may be that the Minister has not yet had time to draft a note of disagreement as he did at an earlier stage. What I venture to call the scandal of what has happened goes further than the Minister's disagreement with what happened on Tuesday in the Lords and the Minister's expression of such disagreement that same evening, because the point was expressly brought to his notice last night by my right hon. Friend and by me. We pointed out the express agreement reached in another place by the noble Lord who leads the Government in that House, and by the right hon. Gentleman's own Parliamentary Secretary. Nevertheless, a great deal of time was taken, a Division was forced, and the important business that was to follow was delayed. For all those things the right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to give the slightest explanation. It is really not too much to describe that as a complete scandal, and the only reason why it is accepted as completely normal by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that scandalous behaviour has become their normal conduct.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) delved into what happened on Tuesday evening. We should like, if not for enlightenment, at any rate for relaxation, to know what happened this morning. Who sent for whom at the Ministry of Works? The usual thing is that the headmaster sends for the junior master to administer a rebuke. Is that what happened this morning, or was the headmaster rebuked by the junior master?