§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move,ThatThe House will remember that I informed hon. Members on Thursday of the Government's proposals in regard to time this Session for Private Members' business. I believe that the arrangement which I announced found general acceptance in the unusual circumstances of the present Session of Parliament. The motion which I now move is to give effect to the proposals (1) to stop the presentation of Private Members' Bills, and (2) to allocate five Fridays for the consideration of Private Members' Motions. As I intimated to the House earlier, we had the advantage of discussing this matter through the usual channels. I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) for accepting this arrangement. He recognised the difficulties of business this Session which, as we all know, began much later than usual. Having closely examined the programme myself I can tell him that he was not far wrong in suggesting that the difficulties are formidable.
- (1) save as provided in paragraph (2) of this Order, Government Business shall have precedence at every sitting for the remainder of this Session, and no Public Bills other than Government Bills shall be introduced;
- (2) unofficial Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government Business on Friday, 5th May, Friday, 12th May, Friday, 19th May, Friday, 16th June and Friday, 23rd June; and no Notices of Motions shall be handed in for any of these Fridays in anticipation of the ballots under paragraph (3) of this Order; and
- (3) ballots for precedence of unofficial Members' Notices of Motions shall be held after Questions on Wednesday, 19th April, Wednesday, 26th April, Wednesday, 3rd May, Wednesday, 24th May and Wednesday, 14th June."
The matter was discussed through the usual channels, when I had the pleasure of meeting the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) and others on that point. We suggest to the House—and there was general agreement as to the way in which we should proceed—that there is no case for presenting Private Members' Bills, either in the ordinary way or under the Ten Minutes Rule, at this late stage and in the circumstances of this Session. The machinery 870 for the Ballot to decide the precedence of the Motions conforms to the practice of the House, and the arrangements will be made under the direction of Mr. Speaker. The Motion which I am moving provides for Ballots to be held after Questions on certain Wednesdays. Ballots will be held, on 19th April for Motions to be debated on Friday, 5th May, on 26th April for Debates on 12th May, on 3rd May for the 19th May, on 24th May for the 16th June and on 14th June for the 23rd June.
We think that there may be time, at any rate on certain of the Fridays, to debate more than one Motion, but naturally this will depend upon the nature of the first Debate. Perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, would be good enough to arrange for three names to be drawn at each Ballot in case there should be time to take up three Motions. We have spread the dates as far as possible. The separate Ballots will go some way to ensure that the Debates chosen are fresh and topical. I hope that the House will accept this arrangement for this Session. It does not prejudice the House in any way for any other Session. This is the best we can do, and I therefore commend the proposal to the House.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
The Leader of the House was quite right in saying that there had been conversations through the usual channels upon this subject. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) on Thursday expressed the agreement of my hon. Friends with the proposal, but he stressed then, as I should like to stress now, and as the right hon. Member fairly explained in his concluding sentences, that this arrangement is agreed to by us, as I think it is put forward by the Government, because of the wholly unusual circumstances of this Session. However long any of us have been in this House we have never before known a Session which did not start till March, and I hope it will be long before we know such another. All will agree that the normal procedure of Private Members' Bills would have been largely futile and that we should have been going through on Friday proposals which could never be 871 translated into reality. In those circumstances, the device of the Motion is better than that of the Bill.
One other point is specifically raised as an Amendment by one of my hon. Friends. It is germane to the discussion and it relates to the position of the Ten Minutes Rule. We attach a great deal of importance to that procedure as part of the normal procedure for Private Members' Bills. We certainly got the impression from something which the Lord President of the Council said in our discussion last year that he regards the Ten Minutes Rule as otiose and unnecessary in the circumstances. We totally dissent from that view. We believe that in the normal circumstances of Parliament there is something to be gained, and that something in the past has been gained, from the use of that procedure. The question is whether that procedure, useful as we believe it to be in the normal Session, still retains its utility in a Session as abnormal as this one.
Frankly, in our consideration of this matter we felt that it did not, and that the Ten Minutes Rule, although it has its own particular machinery, is, and must be, if it is to be effective, part of the general proposals for the Private Members' Bill procedure. The chance of a Bill introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule ever becoming law depended largely in the past upon the other opportunities provided by the Fridays; and even more does it do so now, when the procedure normal in those times of trying to obtain a Bill if Government business ended early one night is now impossible, because immediately after the disposal of Government business we go straight on to the Motion for the Adjournment.
I, therefore, ask my hon. Friends, while fully sympathising with them in the importance of the procedure and in a determination if next Session is a normal one, to press this matter upon the Government, to consider whether it would be logical or possible while abandoning the more valuable part of the Private Members procedure to try to retain this part, which is only ancillary to it. I quite realise the importance attached to the publicity for ideas which may be given, yet I have a feeling that that 872 publicity is only granted by Parliament because it might become an integral part of our law-making. It was not given as something separate but as something which might result in the passage of a Private Members' Bill. If, in the circumstances in which we meet today, that hope has become impossible, it would to some extent vitiate the proposal.
I would therefore conclude by saying with regard to the Ten Minutes Rule, that if we do not press it this time, it is on exactly the same grounds as those on which we accept the main Motion, which is that the situation is abnormal. We do not in any way derogate from our right to raise the matter again when the next Session starts.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
I beg to move as an Amendment to the Motion, in paragraph (1) after "Government Bills," to insert:or Bills introduced under the provisions of S.O. No. 12.For the convenience of the House it might be desirable for me to read out Standing Order No. 12. It is:On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and, if given by a minister of the crown, on Mondays and Thursdays, notices of motion for leave to bring in bills, and for the nomination of select committees, may be set down for consideration at the commencement of public business. If such motions be opposed, Mr. Speaker, after permitting, if he thinks fit, a brief explanatory statement from the member who moves and from the member who opposes any such motion respectively, shall put either the question thereon, or the question, that the debate be now adjourned.The object of the Amendment is, as my right hon. Friend said, to reinstate a privilege which Private Members had in days before the war. It is not by any means a new move on our part to get these old privileges—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rights."]—I agree, former rights of Private Members reinstated. These rights were given up voluntarily during the war, and it was quite understandable that that should be so in those times, but now that the war has ended many of us on this side of the House, and I believe on the other side also, feel that we should have these rights given back to us.
The first attempt was made in 1944 when Sir Alan Herbert, seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, who is now the hon. Member for 873 Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), moved an Amendment to the Motion of the Lord President in an endeavour to get the privileges and rights of Private Members given back to them. Who supported the Amendment at that time? It was moved by an Independant and seconded by a Conservative. It was supported by the present Minister of Health and also by the present Minister of State for Colonial Affairs. It was also supported by nearly all the Liberals.
§ Mr. Taylor
I think by all the Liberals. We hope we shall get the same sort of support today. In 1944 the war was still on. In 1945, after peace had come, there was a new Government which resisted the demands to reinstate Private Members' time but with less reason, and in 1945 also a Select Committee consisting of Members of all parties was set up to consider the reintroduction of Private Members' time. I want to quote another Minister. In 1945 the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), now the Minister of Works, said:We who may be regarded as rebellious back-benchers should make it clear to our own Front Bench that we do not propose to tolerate a second Motion of this kind.My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) interjected, "You will." The right hon. Member for Ipswich said:My hon. Friend ought to know me better than to think that I say what I do not mean."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 146.]A similar Debate took place a year later in November, 1946, and the right hon. Member for Ipswich then said:I am agreeable to continue my tolerance for another year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1946; Vol. 430, c. 107.]In the same year the Select Committee reported, and in their recommendations they said:The great merit of Private Members' time is that it provides opportunities for raising subjects and introducing Bills for which for one reason or another neither the Government nor the Opposition is willing to find facilities out of its own share of time. Consequently, so long as Private Members' time is in abeyance, it will be impossible to raise subjects and introduce Bills which may have considerable support in the House and in the country. Your Committee recommend that facilities for Members to initiate Business should be restored as soon as possible, and that, in any case, the provisions of Standing Order No. 10"—874 that was the present Standing Order No. 12—which enables Members to bring in Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule, should be made available again.That was a definite recommendation in 1946 by a committee of all parties. Nothing happened by 1947, and when the Debate on the same subject took place in 1947 I am glad to say that the right hon. Member for Ipswich voted against his own Government, so his tolerance had reached an end.
In 1948 the Lord President of the Council rather tried to buy off the protagonists for Private Members' time. He made some concessions and said that the Government were proposing to allow Private Members' Bills on Fridays after Christmas in 1948—that is, in the session of 1949—but now in 1950 the Government tell us that we are not to have Private Members' Bills any longer but that Private Members' Motions will be allowed to take the place of Private Members' Bills on Fridays. What the Government are giving away with one hand they are taking back with the other.
I tried to find the fate of one or two Bills introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule. I found that the right hon. Memmen for West Lothian (Mr. Mathers), who was Deputy Chief Whip from 1945 to 1946, was interested in introducing Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule because he asked permission to introduce a Bill to amend the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act, 1921. I believe that in those days, Mr. Speaker, when you were a Private Member, that Bill had your support and that you were one of its backers. The Bill received its first Reading without a Division. In the same year the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) asked permission to introduce a Bill to abolish the power of courts of summary jurisdiction to order a child to be whipped, but that Bill did not receive a First Reading and was turned down by this House. In 1937 the late Mr. Macquisten asked leave to introduce a Bill to prohibit the use of dyes and colouring matter in the preparation of herring, haddock and other sea fish. I am glad to say that this Bill received a First Reading, and I for one wish that it were on the Statute Book today.
§ Mr. Taylor
Maybe, but at any rate the herrings would be properly cured and eatable unlike the dyed kippers of today. I think I have shown that this privilege, which was a highly valued one in the days before the war, was a valuable one at the same time. It takes up very little time after Questions. The hon. Member introducing the Bill speaks, and so does another Member if he wishes to speak in opposition to it, and there may then be a Division. Including the time for a Division, the Business will take half an hour at the most and probably not more than 20 to 25 minutes, and that would only take place on two days in the week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is there anything in the Standing Order to limit the number of Bills which may be moved under this Rule on any one day?
§ Mr. Taylor
I am sure that Mr. Speaker would be able to answer that question better than I. but as far as I know, Standing Order No. 12 does not limit the number of Bills which can be introduced on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
§ Mr. Taylor
I believe that on one occasion before the war Mr. Speaker was asked this Question when an hon. Member put down three Bills for presentation, and the hon. Member in that case merely introduced the Bills formally and they went through "on the nod." This proposal of mine is just one small concession which might be given to us to reestablish and restore the rights which we had in previous times.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do not think that the usual channels, as they are usually called, are the right people to settle this issue, because very few of those therein concerned have had any personal experience of introducing Private Members' Bills. I think that the Lord President of the Council once introduced a Bill, which I believe I 876 opposed, but I do not think that any of the others ever conducted a Private Member's Bill through the House and therefore, perhaps, they are not as familiar with these things as some of us are.
On Thursday last when I raised the rather wider question than that contained in the Amendment—the right to introduce a Bill under what is popularly known as the Ten Minutes Rule—I had in mind the much more important right of Members to present a Bill. I think I pointed out to the Lord President that some Bills had in the past gone through without any Debate at all. Then the right hon. Gentleman indulged in a bit of "smart Aleck" stuff—
§ Sir H. Williams
That is what it sounded like—about the question of this place being a sausage machine. Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to look things up, he will find that many Bills in respect of which there was no controversy have become law without Debate in this House. There is no reason why they should not do so.
I should like to remind the Lord President of the Bill in which I and the present Home Secretary, whose name appeared on the Bill, were concerned. Owing to the bad arithmetic of a Socialist municipality in 1935, a gentleman was very annoyed because he was being charged 10 times as much as usual for his electricity. As he would not pay, the East Ham Corporation cut off his supply. A legal gentleman who was instructed on his behalf went to the High Court to secure an injunction against the corporation. It was then found that all their meters were illegal, and the aggrieved gentleman won. The case produced the interesting situation that no electricity company or municipal authority, outside the Courts of London, was legally in a position to demand payment for the electricity which they had supplied to their consumers. At that time I was mixed up with electricity supply, as was the Home Secretary.
All this happened during the election of 1935, but I did not know about it until after the election. I at once suggested to the Electricity Commission that I should deal with the problem by a Private Member's Bill This rather shocked the Commission. However, I got my way, 877 the Bill was introduced and I negotiated support from all the political parties. I presented the Bill and got the Second Reading on the nod at 11 o'Clock on 25th February, 1936, no words being spoken. I got the Committee Stage and Third Reading on the nod on 12th March, 1936. It was discovered that a few drafting Amendments were necessary and we negotiated that they should be dealt with in another place. Those four Amendments came back to us and were taken in two minutes at 11 o'clock on the night of 27th May. The Royal Assent was given on 29th May, 1936. I mention that Bill because I happen to have been concerned in it.
I could mention others which I conducted through this House which were also slightly amended in the House of Lords. All this indicates that it is not necessary to take a lot of time over a Bill. Why should hon. Members not be permitted to present a Bill and to name the date for its Second Reading, which would be an atuhority for it to be printed? When it is printed the public are given the opportunity of understanding and appreciating the proposal contained in the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley), was in error because, as I have indicated, it has frequently happened that Bills have gone through every stage in this House without a word being spoken upon them; and sometimes they have been Bills of the highest importance. I could mention the Bills of Exchange (Amendment) Act, 1932, which was of enormous convenience to all people engaged or connected with transfers of property. Prior to that Act when property was purchased, payment had to be in cash in exchange for documents, for a banker's draft could not be accepted because it was not a protected instrument and was not, in fact, a cheque. I got all that altered. The Bill was conducted through all its phases in this House and drafting Amendments were dealt with in the House of Lords.
These Bills which I have mentioned are only two from my own experience. Had I the time to study HANSARD and extract a list of Bills which have been passed, I have not the slightest doubt from my own recollection that I should find plenty of other useful Bills which have become law. At the moment, however, the usual 878 channels are completely blocked at both ends and, if I may say so, I want to take out the plug.
I see no reason why Private Members should not retain the right which they have always had of presenting proposals to Parliament. It is no good to divide on the Amendment, as both Front Benches would be against us. I realise it is usually useful to have these Debates on Motions, as sometimes they become the basis of very important legislation.
I do not know why hon. Members should be debarred from the right of presenting a Bill and having it printed automatically by the procedure of going to the Public Bill Office, and supplying the text, so that in due course it is circulated, and so great public advantage arises. But this is now being denied to us. I think that that is absolutely wrong and I second the Motion of my hon. Friend as a protest against what is being done today.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I hope that the House will not think it necessary to discuss this matter at length in view of the other Business that is to come. I have listened with great care to the arguments which have been advanced by the hon. Members for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). My own personal view on the merits of the case is that it is not strong. I remember—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
May I interrupt? It is a perfectly friendly interruption. In view of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, what is the position of those who wish to support the Motion? As a matter of fact, I am going to support the Government, and I hope that those who wish to speak on the main question will not be precluded from doing so. We are concerned at the moment only with the Amendment. I am sure that the Lord President will, if necessary—I know how courteous he is—reply to the points we may make concerning the main question, which, I think, is far more important, if I may say so with all due deference, than the point which has been put by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). I want to make it quite clear that some of us are anxious to speak on the main Question, and I hope that we shall have an answer from the Government.
§ Mr. Morrison
If I or another of my right hon. Friends is in order, and points of substance emerge—
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry, but this is a question which affects the interests of the House. I asked courteously whether we may have a reply to our points on the main Question, which is more important, I think, than the Amendment and I think we are entitled to ask that in the most courteous way. If I have done anything wrong in asking the Government, I apologise.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
On a point of Order. Is it not true that the issue raised by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) is a very limited issue? It is simply a question of whether the Ten Minutes Rule shall be restored or not. There are far more issues involved in the Motion than that very narrow issue, and with them we propose, with your permission Mr. Speaker, to deal.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not know what all the excitement is about. The noble Lord was perfectly courteous in his original intervention and I was proceeding to be perfectly courteous myself, whereupon I seem to have said something wrong. If I did, I am sorry. I had no intention to do so, but I still do not know what the semi-indignation is about.
I would only make the point that there is this difference between now and prewar days. It is the case that the House used to have the time of the Adjournment at 11 o'clock. It is also true that the House met at 2.45 instead of at 2.30, but there was a net longer working day normally of three-quarters of an hour, which makes a difference. The other difference is that we have, I thought, in deference to the general wish of the House, so to speak guaranteed and underwritten the half-hour Adjournment discussion at the end of our Debates at the end of the day. Therefore, the old practice, whereby Private Members' Bills could come on and take their chance of getting through unopposed after a few interchanges of a polite character usually 880 took place, sometimes encroached upon the Adjournment half hour, which we have now guaranteed.
§ Mr. Morrison
Excuse me, they did encroach on the half hour because then the half hour was not guaranteed. When 11.30 was the Rule, the House stood adjourned automatically. We have now guaranteed that half hour, so that if the half hour did not begin until 11.15, it would have gone on in those circumstances until 11.45.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
But the Bills at 11 o'clock were only read out. They were unopposed at that stage. They did not take more than a minute.
§ Mr. Stanley
Is it not a fact that under the new procedure the Bills cannot even be put forward to be objected to? We have to go straight from Government business to the Adjournment, and therefore the kind of opportunity about which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) was talking has now ceased to exist.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is so, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I used to be here in those days and I agree that it did not take a terribly long time, but the pleadings of hon. Members to let their Bills survive, together with objections, and so on, took some little time from the House. It must be faced that there was 10 minutes for the mover, 10 minutes for the opposer—it is within the discretion of Mr. Speaker, but that is the normal allowance—and approximately 10 minutes for a Division. That is half an hour gone out of the Debate for the day. If my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is right, I gather that under the Standing Order that is all that can be given. How Mr. Speaker will rule is another matter but normally there was not more than one Bill.
It is perfectly true that Bills varied in their fortunes. I should think that most of them made no progress whatever. There was a lot of printing done, a lot of work done, but quite a number of them were slaughtered on the spot. I brought in an excellent Bill for the rating of land values in the County of London to assist the ratepayers. What happened? 881 The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) made one of his typical and characteristic speeches—
§ Mr. Morrison
I did not think it was. The Conservative majority of the House at that time promptly voted my Bill down, and all my labours went for nothing except—I admit this—that I had used the authorities of the House and the Consolidated Fund to achieve a purely propagandist purpose on behalf of the London County Council which could have afforded to pay for it itself. That is the only advantage I had. It is no good telling me that the advantages and prospects of getting Bills through under that procedure are great, because I do not think they are.
§ Sir H. Williams
If the right hon. Gentleman had been sufficiently bright to present his Bill, he could have had it printed, but because he wanted to advertise himself, he did not get it printed. That is where he was slow.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, I think it was at the expense of the House. We will look up the records, but that is my clear recollection. Honestly, I think there is an element of over-estimation about the advantages of this procedure. As the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) has indicated, whether I am right or whether the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Croydon, East are right, we have to face the special circumstances on this Session, and we are not really dealing with circumstances beyond that.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, Northfield)
That is the one argument which appears to me to be utterly invalid. Obviously, if a Bill is a good one and is given publicity, it may well be taken up by the Labour Government when it is returned after the next General Election 882 or, alternatively, by a Conservative Government. Surely it can make little difference which Government is in power?
§ Mr. Morrison
I was not thinking about that, and if my hon. Friend has any bright ideas for legislation, he knows that the Labour Government are always short of legislation.
§ Mr. Morrison
If the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) will transmit his propositions to the appropriate Minister, he can be sure that we shall take them into account. In the circumstances of the present Session it is perfectly clear that Ten Minutes Rule Bills could not make progress. There is no prospect of getting them through, and in those circumstances, I hope either that the hon. Members will be good enough to withdraw the Amendment, or that the House will think it wise to negative the proposal.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Major Milner)
An Amendment has been moved and, when that has been disposed of, the House will return to the main Question.
Yes, and attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a second Amendment which will be called.
§ Sir T. Moore
May I be quite clear on this point? I had hoped, like my noble Friend, to speak on the main Question. As we are still on the Amendment until it has been disposed of or withdrawn, I would like to reserve my right to speak later.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
I shall address my remarks to the Amendment and support all that has been said by my two hon. Friends below the Gangway. I believe in the Ten Minutes Rule. I believe that it is a useful and practical way of getting through this House legislation to which the Government cannot give time and attention. As I have some practical experience of it, it may be worth while if I tell the 883 House of my own experience. In 1936 I sponsored and got through the House an Act called the Health Resorts and Watering Places Act. My Bill was quite different from that of the Lord President of the Council. He used the opportunity for controversial purposes; I chose the more constructive way of trying to get through an agreed Bill.
The circumstances of it were as follows. Some time in June, 1936—the time factor is of importantce—as a representative of a health resort I went to the Ministry of Health with a deputation from the Association of Health and Pleasure Resorts asking that the Ministry should introduce in the House a Bill to give certain advertising powers to the health resorts. We were told by the officials at the Ministry that they had great sympathy with this, but unfortunately their hands were so full and the Government were so busy with their own legislative programme that nothing could be done.
We went away rather disappointed, but I talked the matter over with my friends and went back to the Ministry. I asked them, "Were you telling the truth when you said to that deputation that the only reason for your not introducing the Bill was that the hands of the Ministry were already too full?" They said "Yes, that is so." I said, "I am proposing to help you out of your difficulties by introducing a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule. Here is a copy of the Bill I wish to introduce." Of course, the Ministry of Health were at once interested, and before I knew where we were they asked me to let their Parliamentary draftsmen have a look at the Bill. It came back with certain amendments and a note saying that the Ministry of Health quite approved of what I was doing and it would have their blessing.
Thereupon, I had the problem of getting it through the House of Commons. I knew it would have to go through as an unopposed Bill. I was careful in choosing my sponsors. I asked a number of hon. Members on my side of the House, including the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), and then I had to bring in the other great parties. I went to the Liberal Party and at that time the spokesman who commanded their attention, although perhaps he does not do so now, was the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), and he 884 backed my Bill. I felt I had to have the agreement of the Labour Party and I asked the present Home Secretary, who gladly lent his name and backed the Bill. I had a few words with the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Member, and felt that I had the goodwill of the House.
As late as 30th June of that year, I asked leave to introduce the Bill. I rose at 3.50 and made my speech and it was unanimously agreed that I had leave to introduce it. So little time was taken by my efforts that at 3.56 the Chancellor of the Exchequer was rising to move the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. There was no waste of Parliamentary time there. I had to follow the procedure outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), and I got it through "on the nod." At first, there were a number of objections, but I saw all the objectors and explained the Bill to them and explained to the various party Whips. On 6th July I had it through on the nod, and on 9th July all the remaining stages of the Bill were completed, and it went from this House as an unopposed Bill. It went to another place—
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member but he is rather getting away from the subject matter before us.
§ Mr. Robinson
I do not propose to detain the House very long, but the Lord President of the Council said that it would take too much Parliamentary time to do these things. Surely it is our right to reply and to say that, from the facts of the past, we who have handled this procedure know that it does not take too much time. I do not propose to detain the House with the procedure in another place. There were discussions and Amendments, and the Lords Amendments came back to this House and I was able to get the Bill through again "on the nod "on 28th July. I had the privilege of going over to the other place on 31st July to hear the Royal Assent given.
That Bill was initiated in this House on 30th June and received the Royal Assent on 31st July. I think that is of interest because the same could be done still in this Parliament. Whatever the Lord President of the Council says, it is 885 not too late and we have a chance, if only he will allow us, to introduce and get through very useful reforms by way of non-controversial legislation. For that reason, I support my hon. Friends who have moved this Amendment. Other hon. Members could do in this Session what has been done in the past.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I agree with the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) that this is essentially a question for back benchers, and I do not think back benchers on either side of the House need be particularly concerned by what has been said from the Front Benches on either side. Whenever we have had a Debate in this House on the question of Private Members' time, the views of back benchers have been expressed and listened to, and in time they have made themselves felt in subsequent recommendations of the Government.
I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure which met in the last Parliament. A great deal of evidence was tendered to that Committee about the experience of hon. Members in earlier Parliaments and the considerable benefits of this procedure of allowing hon. Members to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule. That procedure was suspended during the last Parliament, and I think that was regarded as valid on both sides of the House; but the view was expressed that this Ten Minutes Rule procedure was a very desirable part of the normal procedure of the House. I think we should regard it as one of the permanent Rules of the House.
The only question which arises today is whether, in the special circumstances of this Session, it would be desirable for Private Members to insist on this traditional right of the House, or not. I am not convinced by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), or the hon. Member for Croydon, East, that it is really necessary for the protection of the rights of back benchers that the particular privilege of introducing Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule is necessary or desirable in this Session. The whole timetable of this Session is wholly unusual and wholly anomalous. Therefore, I do not think that the House, by agreeing to the Government Motion, would be denying 886 back benchers one of the rights which I, like hon. Members opposite, regard as an essential part of our normal Parliamentary procedure.
I agree with the Lord President of the Council. The allocation of time to Private Members in the preservation of the half hour at the end of Government Business is, on the whole, the most valuable allocation of time to Private Members which can be made available. If one had to choose between the two, I think any Private Member would say that that half-hour's Adjournment, in the circumstances of this Session, is more valuable to back benchers than the right to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule. There are only three or four months available before the end of this Session, and there is no prospect of legislation introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule becoming effective before the end of the Session.
Therefore, while I do not support the Amendment, I wish to make it clear that I very much hope that in any subsequent Session—that is to say any normal Session—there will be a restoration of the right of Members to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I think it absolutely essential that Private Members should preserve the right to initiate legislation. Under the Ten Minutes Rule, unless it is abused, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—I do not think many of us would do that, and I am sure he would not—the small concession which this Amendment would give would do no harm to the Government of the day. We are going on from Parliament to Parliament regularly taking away from Private Members power to initiate legislation. I am not particularly enamoured of the form of legislation of the Ten Minutes Rule—I have seen some bad Bills go through under it, as well as some good Bills—but, if we go on through too many Parliaments taking away the rights of Private Members, sooner or later they will lose those rights entirely. That is a definite and very real danger.
Why should the concession of so small amount of time as half-an-hour be so strenuously resisted by the Government? 887 I should think that if they could find something by which they could have a Division where they need not be responsible, or have the Whips on, they would be glad to make such a concession. It would relieve them of anxiety and would enable many new Members, or comparatively new Members, to take some part in legislating. While I am not asking for the full amount of Private Members' time, I think it almost inexcusable in a matter which takes so little time, in a Parliament in which there should be obviously time for such Bills, to continue the infringement on Private Members' time. I ask the Government, in their own interests, I believe, and in the wider interests of the House, to make this small concession, even if they are not going to make a bigger one later.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, Northfield)
I hope that I shall be forgiven for speaking for a few minutes because this is a back benchers' point and I do not think that back benchers should surrender the right to consider the matter carefully and express their view. I agree on the whole with the point which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). It seems to me that the right to formulate legislation and have attention attracted to it is valuable to the Private Member. I entirely disagree with the point made in that respect by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley), because so far as I can see, it will make no difference whether we have that right this Session or next Session. In either event, if the Private Member puts down a Bill it will be considered and it might be taken up in the next Session or by the next Government or by the Government after that. In any event the right—[Interruption.]—the exact words used by the right hon. Gentleman were that it might become an integral part of subsequent legislation.
§ Mr. Stanley
I said that now that the procedure has been altered so that one cannot get a Bill "on the nod," there is little hope for a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule unless at the same time we have Private Members' days on Friday, because that is the only opportunity for those Bills to make further progress.
§ Mr. Blackburn
While the right hon. Gentleman did not use those words—they would have been correct had he used them—the whole point is surely that if a Bill is put down by a Private Member, it may become an integral part of subsequent legislation.
§ Mr. Stanley
I was not suggesting that it might afterwards be taken up by the Government; but that if there were other opportunities for Private Members' legislation there was a chance of getting through its remaining stages a Bill which had been given a Second Reading under the Ten Minutes Rule. When there are no other opportunities, there is really no possibility of legislation introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule being pushed any further.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I appreciate that, but if a Private Member has the right to present a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule he can have attention drawn to it and it may be subsequently passed.
The real point to be considered here is the re-allocation of Private Members' time, as the Private Member will lose in general Debate the amount of time taken up by Bills brought in under the Ten Minutes Rule. I wish only to ask my right hon. Friend to consider between now and next Session whether we are absolutely bound by the existing Ten Minutes Rule procedure. Might not a Member have the right to introduce a Bill by a procedure which would occupy only 10 minutes in all. It seems to me that 10 minutes will be quite enough. The other day a petition was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Peter Freeman), who in doing so said a few words. It seemed to me a pity that he had not the right to speak for another five or 10 minutes. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would not consider between now and next Session, whether any amendment of the form—
The hon. Member cannot discuss anything beyond what is contained in the Amendment. He is now asking for some extension of the Amendment. That is not in Order.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Then I merely say that I entirely agree with the course that the Government are taking, on the understanding that the matter will be reconsidered.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
Though I am far from being satisfied with the reply of the Lord President of the Council, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, on the assurance that it will be reconsidered very favourably for next Session.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I beg to move as an Amendment to the Motion, in paragraph (3), to leave out "after Questions."
It might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke at the same time on this Amendment and the next Amendment in my name—in paragraph (3), at the end, to add:under arrangements to be made by Mr. Speaker; and(4) Members successful in each ballot shall not give oral notice of the subject of their Motion but shall give written notice before the rising of the House on the Sitting day next following the day upon which the ballot has been held.When Private Members' Motions were last allowed, that is before the war, the practice, which will no doubt continue in the absence of my Amendment, was that when Mr. Speaker announced the winners of the Ballot they were required to state there and then the subjects of their Motions. That procedure involved a waste of mental effort. Three or four hundred Members had to think out in advance the subject which, if successful, they would choose for Debate, but only two or three of them ever had a chance to translate thought into action. On the other hand, if there was no thought beforehand, and the winner selected his subject on the spur of the moment, that subject might be not a very good one for Debate. It is on record that one Member who was caught unprepared got up and said, "Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that I shall draw attention to the weather, and move a Resolution."
If my Amendment is accepted there will be no need for any hon. Member to begin thinking about the matter until he has won the Ballot. He will then have until the following day to choose a subject and draft a Motion. I have discussed this matter with a number of Private Members, all of whom agree with me. One of them asked, however: "What happens if the winners of the first, second and third place, or two of them, choose the same subject?" I am 890 sure that that difficulty would be easily resolved. The winner of the first place would naturally have priority, and the winner of the second place would, before putting his Motion down, ask the winner of the first place what his subject was, and I am sure he would receive an answer. I hope that my Amendment will commend itself to the House. I believe that it would make for better Debates.
§ Captain John Crowder (Finchley)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I feel it would be better if Members had a little longer time to choose their subjects and draft the wording instead of having to read it out to the House immediately after Questions on the day of the Ballot.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I am bound to say that at first sight this Amendment somewhat attracted me because I could see the case for it as it has been put by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). It is one of those matters which can no doubt be considered from time to time, but the more I have thought about it the less convinced I have become, because the whole argument behind the initiative of Private Members is that it really shall be the individual initiative of Private Members. If there is to be this suggested pause it is perfectly true that the Private Member will have time to think about the matter; but he will have had time to think about it before dropping his name into the box, or whatever is the procedure, and indeed he should have done so.
During the 24 hours' delay which the hon. Member desires, hon. Members might have descending on them numerous ladies and gentlemen representing good causes outside the House, various voluntary societies and also people with grievances. Would hon. Members have a happy 24 hours while all this lobbying and pressure group activity was going on in favour of the many good causes that exist in the world? I am not sure that they would not sooner be protected from it.
Surely the whole spirit and essence of this Private Members' Motions procedure is that Members of Parliament are always thinking about subjects which they would like to have debated in this House. After all, we are not exactly short of subjects, as indicated by those put to me on Thurs 891 day afternoons after the Business statement. Hon. Gentlemen who are Members of Parliament, responsible public people, are not short of subjects which they would like the House to Debate at some time. Secondly, we must assume that when the hon. Members sign the book—that is right, I think; it is a book which is signed and not the dropping of something into a slot; one tends to forget—they would have thought to themselves, "Supposing I win, I will do this." An hon. Member may perhaps have three subjects—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Should not this procedure be similar to the procedure now adopted for Adjournment Motions? Hon. Members should not put down their names at all unless they really want to occupy the time of the House with something useful, or if they have an urgent problem. It should not be like the Ballot nowadays for Motions on Supply Days where perhaps a hundred hon. Members put down their names. Surely, the whole object of this procedure is to give hon. Members the opportunity to ballot for an opportunity of saying something which they particularly think ought to be said?
§ Mr. Morrison
I quite agree that my hon. Friend has made a very good point. If hon. Members are not keen about bringing forward some problem, or if they have nothing very important to say, it would be better if they did not put down their names; because by so doing they will be entering into competition with hon. Members who have something important to bring to the notice of the House. That is one point. The other point is—
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Would my right hon. Friend deal with the second point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale)? Could not the same procedure be adopted as that which is followed in the case of the Adjournment book and the subject put down in the book? Then every Member could see it and perhaps ballot for the same subject.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am obliged, Sir. Broadly speaking, I agree with my hon. Friend. After all, the only thing an hon. Member has to do when his name is drawn is to state that he will call attention to a certain subject and move a Motion on it. He has not to state the terms of the Motion. The procedure is much the same as the Motion in relation to Mr. Speaker going out of the Chair.
Perhaps this is my personal prejudice,. but I like the drama of the Clerks at the Table, under the direction of Mr. Speaker, drawing out these numbers, and when the number is announced the hon. Member having to give notice straight away as to what he proposes to do. I like that. There is a good Parliamentary and healthy and spontaneous flavour about it; even though the hon. Member may have received a little assistance from certain quarters. But I like it, and I think it would be a pity if the names were announced, the House went away, the hon. Member gave notice and it appeared in a dull way on the Order Paper the next day.
It has been an ancient Parliamentary practice that the hon. Member should get up straight away and say that he is calling attention to so-and-so, and we have a Motion. I think it is one of the charming touches of Parliamentary procedure and I should be sorry to see it go. Therefore, although in the first place I was somewhat attracted by the proposal of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), the more I thought about it, the less keen I was about it; and I hope that in this case also he will not press the Amendment to a Division.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The dramatic sense of the Lord President seemed to like this Ballot after Questions but not to like the introduction of Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule. I hope that on reconsideration he will take the same attitude to both. This is an expensive way of taking up Parliamentary time. It will take some five or ten minutes on eight different occasions, and as the Lord President says that he has so very short a time, I hope he will reconsider his attitude.
I am impressed by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. L. Hale) about having too many people balloting, 893 and the Lord President agreed with him. If we do not want too many people balloting, and if we are to get into the same situation as that which exists in regard to the Ballot for Motions on the Adjournment, surely it is much better to have a ballot upstairs, or as Mr. Speaker lays down, rather than have it on the Floor of the House where we would have some 600 people balloting—many of whom do not wish to raise any subject at all. In view of the support which I think this Amendment will receive among hon. Members opposite I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this matter and redraft the Motion so that Mr. Speaker can lay down the method that the House will adopt for this purpose.
§ Mr. Keeling
On the understanding that the matter will be reconsidered next year as the right hon. Gentleman has stated—although I do not know whether he will be at that Box then—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
I apologise to the House for reminding them that I have been fortunate enough during my period in this House to get eight Bills through to the Statute Book. I advance that only as a justification for making any comment at all this afternoon on this Motion. I agree with what was said last week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and which has been reinforced today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley). Under the present circumstances it is not feasible to go further than the Government have undertaken to do in regard to the five days for Motions. I would not press the matter further, except that I feel there are a number of new Members in this House who do not quite understand what the various procedures envisage and lead to, and what they involve.
I am encouraged in that view by a word used last year by the Prime Minister when we were discussing this matter. He referred to the "concession" which the Government was about to give to the House. Oddly enough, that term was repeated by that old Parliamentary colleague of mine, the hon. Member for 894 Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). There is no question of a "concession" in this matter. The Executive have no rights in regard to giving or to denying Private Members' time to Private Members. Provided they have a majority behind them the Executive have power to force their way through the House of Commons. But they have no rights, and of course majorities are rather unpredictable features for the present Government. Therefore I cannot see that we can tolerate the use of this word "concession" any further in this Debate.
What have the Government asked Parliament to give them? They have asked for all Private Members' time, except for five Fridays after Easter, when Motions may be discussed. That means that instead of having all day Wednesday for Motions and all day Friday for Private Members' Bills, as limited by Standing Orders, we are to get just these five Fridays for Motions. I admit that that is a valuable and useful—not "concession"—but a valuable and useful time for Private Members; although I still think that there are advantages about Private Members' Bills which the Government themselves should be the first to acknowledge.
For one thing, quite apart from the many useful Acts of Parliament that we have on the Statute Book as the result of Private Members' Bills, they do give young and new hon. Members a sense of importance; a sense of interest and a sense of playing their part in the affairs of the House of Commons. They also give such hon. Members an interest in the day-to-day working of Parliament. They teach Private Members the very essence of Government and how to carry on with a project about which they feel deeply without being assisted by hordes of civil servants with the background of a Government Department. That is a tremendous experience and education for a back bench Member of Parliament.
Secondly, it gives to the Government of the day an opportunity of judging the calibre of young and new Members to see whether they would make useful Under-Secretaries, or even useful Ministers. As a matter of fact, there is one hon. Member sitting on the Government Front Bench who worked his way there solely by means of a Hairdressers Bill in the last Parliament. Unfortunately we are 895 denied the pleasure any more of having our hair cut by the hon. Gentleman, because he is now an attractive figure as a Whip on the Government Front Bench.
There are two other points I wish to mention. This procedure gives the public an opportunity of getting matters which the public conceive to be of importance thrashed out in this House and in Committee. Some of these matters concern questions which many Governments are unwilling to handle. That is a most valuable right for the public to possess. Furthermore, these Private Members' Bills are a perfect godsend to those who otherwise might not be lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in ordinary Debate. One hon. and learned Member opposite had the time of his life in the last Parliament and he is, happily, still with us. No doubt when Private Members' Bills are reintroduced the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) will once again enjoy the privileges afforded to him. It would be a bad day for the back benchers who make up Parliament if they gave way to the Executive on this subject. That would lead to the very dictatorship which Parliament was set up to abolish.
For these reasons, we should not allow this Debate to pass without securing some definite promise from the Government. I admit that there are difficulties this year, but we should secure a promise that at the first convenient opportunity Parliament will have restored to it its rights, under any method—either by Motions, Private Members' Bills, the Ten Minutes Rule or other means that may arise. I hope that the Lord President of the Council, who has shown the conciliatory attitude which we have now come to expect from him, will give an undertaking of that kind.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I will be most careful after what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) to use the word "right." Having established the right of my hon. and gallant Friend and myself to have a reply, I assure the Lord President of the Council that I do not ask him to reply to the points which I shall put to him. In fact, I have almost to apologise for speaking again on this matter, because I speak on it in every Session. I 896 have had a very long personal history, even when my own party has been in power, of opposition to some of the proposals which have been made by Leaders of the House which truncated Private Members' time. I wish to repeat one or two points because they are important. They are very much on the lines of what was said so admirably by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr.
First, undoubtedly, even since the 1918 war the rights of Private Members have narrowed down from precedent to precedent. Indeed, in fairness to the Governments which have held office since that war, it should be said that the process started earlier. In Parliament after Parliament something has been taken away from what was originally the right of Private Members. It would be out of Order to go into the matter of the serious grievance we had in the early days of the last Parliament when a Government with an enormous majority were obviously going to be in power for five years. For the first three years of that Parliament that Government continued the war-time practice. We protested most strenuously, and it is only fair to say that we were supported by some hon. Gentlemen opposite. It has been pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) actually voted against the Government.
I ought to say in parenthesis that the respectful admonitions which I intend to present would be addressed by me if my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House were the Government. In fact, if, as I hope, in about a year's time I am still alive and occupying the front seat below the Gangway normally occupied by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), I shall keep a fatherly eye upon my right hon. Friends who will form the Government. If they do not act up to the spirit of what I believe to be the wishes of the House in the matter of Private Members' rights—and I emphasise the word "rights"—I shall certainly have something to say.
I agree that the proposals in this Motion can be accepted. Once again, I want to reiterate what has been said so often in these Debates from both sides of the House in a far more effective way than I can say it. It is that this is the Commons House of Parliament and the Members of this House represent the 897 common people. I do not intend any party reference when I say that a Member of Parliament who is not in office, a back bencher who has no desire to be in office, has a perfect right to a fair opportunity to put his case. One of the peculiarities which, perhaps, distinguishes this House from other legislative assemblies is that there are a lot of people who are here purely because they think it their duty. They are not, so to speak, potential knights, baronets, members of another place or of the National Boards, or Members of the Government. They have no desire to be anything like that: they are merely here as Members of Parliament, and they have a perfect right to be allowed time in which to put their views.
That is all the more necessary because Government time is much more regularised and systematised than it was when I first became a Member of this House. In those days, there was no particular choice of speakers in advance. I know that I am on delicate ground, but I think I can say that in those days the extent to which suggestions were made to the Chair that such a person should be called was not so great. What I am about to relate never did any harm to the Opposition. It happened when the Liberal Party were in Opposition in the Parliament of 1900, and when the Conservative Party were in Opposition in the 1906 Parliament, that two right hon. Gentlemen got up from this bench and directly contradicted each other. Nowadays if that happened people would say, "How terrible; there is no discipline; people are actually presenting two different points of view." The mere fact that Government is so regularised and disciplined, as indeed it must be, makes it all the more necessary to have occasions when the views of Private Members can be put forward.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The noble Lord will recall that in the last Parliament, towards the end, there was a very similar situation between the Leader of the Opposition and one of the then Members for the Scottish Universities.
§ Earl Winterton
As I said the other day, I am an old bird and it is not quite so easy as the right hon. Gentleman thinks to put salt on my tail. I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman that, as with a reference the Prime Minister made to 898 me recently, I have an aberration of memory on the matter. I do not remember anything about that. I am referring to the dim and distant past. I remember Sir Edward Clarke, a most distinguished Member of the Conservative Party but one whose views were palatable to those who were in favour of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain's policy. I remember him, soon after the start of the 1906 Parliament, making a speech in direct opposition to the Leader. The same happened to the Liberals when they were divided over the South African war.
There is no doubt about the value of Private Members' Bills. The historic examples have often been mentioned. There is the Plimsoll Line which resulted from a Private Members' Bill introduced, I think, by a man called Plimsoll. There is the more modern case of Sir Alan Herbert's legislation on divorce. There are many others.
§ Earl Winterton
Daylight saving, and many others. I conclude as I began, with the utmost cordiality and frankness and with that courtesy which always distinguishes me, by saying to both Front Benches that while we accept their agreement on this occasion that does not mean to say that we shall not raise the matter again.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I do not think that even the timely elevation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) should prevent us from adding a word from these benches. As one who was present on a large number of occasions in the past when these matters have been discussed, I think a word should be said. I do not agree with the noble Lord's recollection that the procedure applied to the reform initiated by Samuel Plimsoll. Samuel Plimsoll was helped to secure his important reform by getting into trouble with the Chair, when he was rebuked for calling upon the House to face up to what he described as the "villainous sending of men to their deaths in those old hulks."
May I also admit what a pleasure it is to see that the Liberal Party is now represented in this House on a question which concerns the liberties of the House? Earlier in the Debate, neither section of the Liberal Party was here, 899 neither that section which has promised always to vote Conservative, or the other section which tries occasionally to vote Liberal. We very much welcome the presence of both sections of the Party today. I would like to say, that, whenever I have been privileged to hear the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), I always find that I am in agreement with one sentence of his speech. I find it with the same joy as that with which I find the pork in the beans.
He said that this proposal was not one to be worked out through the usual channels. As a humble back bencher, I do not know what these recondite affairs are. We only know "the usual channels" as a single channel that passes under the counter between the two Front Benches. It is obvious from the earlier discussion that that channel had not been extended to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and also to the hon. Member for Croydon, East, but what I would like to see when these Motions are discussed for the next Session is a channel extending across this Gangway that now separates us from those in a more distinguished position.
I want to suggest—because this is important and really quite serious—that, certainly, much of the most constructive pleasure which is given to back benchers arises from Private Members' Time. The hon. Member for East Croydon was not here in the last Parliament, and, at any rate, his speech rather shows that he has forgotten his long absence, because, even in the limited time which was then provided, more Private Members' Bills were introduced and reached the Statute Book, than in the past ten years and they did so because, in that Parliament, Private Members tried to work co-operatively from both sides of the House in the constructive measures which they put forward. There was a great deal of co-operation and understanding, and I remember that in one case a Private Member's Bill only got through just as the Door was closing against it.
I must deplore the fact that we had to take this course today, but I am sure it is right. It is nonsense in a Session which started so late as this one did to introduce time for Private Members' Bills when they will never have a chance of reaching the Statute Book. In this Session, there 900 is no time, but in the next Session there will be. The Iron and Steel Act will be brought in by Order and the time of all the administrative organs will be occupied in dealing with matters like that, so that it may very well be that a good deal more Parliamentary time will be available. Certainly, it is exceedingly important, and, from the point of view of those of us on this side of the House very beneficial that, at long last, we should have an opportunity of devoting more time to smaller social reforms, but which are, nevertheless, so very important.
I am sorry that this course has not been possible this Session for another reason. I had hoped that the Opposition, who have more right to be aggrieved about this than anybody, might have introduced some of the many matters upon which we have been looking to them for enlightenment. A large number of the proposals made at the time of the General Election were adumbrated very briefly and without any details, and I would have welcomed an opportunity on which they might have told us more about them. For instance, the proposal for a minimum wage of £6 per week only came forward after the proprietor of the "Daily Express" got back from abroad and never was really put forward in full detail. It might still be possible to secure more information about that, and I think it is important that it should be available when we take part in the discussion of a Motion like this. We might have an opportunity for them to tell us how many Tories had already adopted the proposal and how many Tory councils had already related it to their roadmen and so on.
There is one other important point. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), in the opening days of this Parliament, rather talked about the Opposition as being an homogenous party—
§ Mr. Hale
I am much obliged. It is very gratifying to know that the noble Lord, after 44 years in this House, has learnt something, even on a mere question of pronunciation.
The real trouble in the present situation is that the group which is known as the National Liberal-Conservative group has 901 had no opportunity of putting a party point of view at all. They have been swept up into the Tory Party, and, consequently, they have lost that opportunity to which we have been looking forward. Within a few days, the newspapers will be full of letters about the first cuckoo, but it would be tragic if the House were denied the privilege of hearing the authentic voice of the National Liberal-Conservative. On these Motions, they will have their opportunity, and we shall watch the development of this political split mind, a fascinating study, both for the politician and the psychiatrist.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner (Barkston Ash)
It is indicative of the way in which hon. Members regard this matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), at the commencement of his speech, should have talked about the privileges of Private Members. I want to emphasise that what we are really discussing this afternoon is an encroachment on the rights of Private Members of this House. I think the Lord President himself made an error when he said that no case could be made out in this Session for facilities for the presentation of Bills by Private Members. It is for the Lord President to make out a case for denying Private Members the opportunity of introducing Private Bills rather than making out a case for preventing their introduction.
All recent authorities and pronouncements on the development of our procedure have drawn attention to the growing power of the Executive in the House of Commons, and, while I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) that this must be regarded as an exceptional occasion, because the Session has started so late, I also believe that, on all sides of the House, we should guard against a further encroachment by the Executive on the time of Private Members. Those who negotiate through the usual channels and represent the Conservative Party take account of all considerations, but, of course, the right hon. Gentlemen who negotiate do so as Front Benchers, and are, therefore, to some extent under suspicion, because they must, and rightly, see themselves very shortly as occupying the Front Bench opposite and themselves 902 speaking from the Box from which the Lord President spoke just now.
There is only one other point that I want to make, and it is that the functions of the House of Commons have frequently been described as critical, legislative and deliberate. I do not think we are concerned with criticism this afternoon, but I am not sure that the Lord President is right if he believes that the presentation of Bills does not in itself give this House an occasion for valuable deliberation. It is not always necessary that the introduction of a Bill should finish with that Bill becoming an Act of Parliament. It is not necessary that the Bill should go through all its stages in order to ensure that some valuable contribution has been made to the deliberations carried out in this House.
While I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has denied to Private Members their right of introducing Private Bills under any form of procedure, I am glad that he has allowed a limited number of days for the introduction of Motions. In conclusion, I would say that, speaking as a back bencher, I hope no one on this side of the House or opposite will regard this as in any way a precedent, and that we are completely free to demand—if that is the right word to use—that the rights of Private Members are restored at the first opportunity.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham)
I do not know whether I have gained a wrong impression from listening to this Debate, but from the speeches which have been made, one would think that the Motion was for the abolition of Private Members' time. As I understand it, that is not the fact. I cannot conceive for one moment the possibility of the Government providing Private Members' time in this Session. It is not true that a Private Member's Bill is merely introduced, debated, and then done with. In point of fact, if a Private Member's Bill gets its Second Reading, it then goes through all the processes like any other Bill. It has to go upstairs to Committee, and it has to be given exactly the same procedure as any other Bill. Anybody can see that in the limited time available to the Government, it would be quite impossible for Private Members' Bills of that type to get through this House at all.
903 Indeed, one can obviously see that what the Government are asking for in this instance is quite reasonable, but I want to support the point of view that this must not be taken as an indication that back bench Members are prepared to surrender their rights. This ought to be regarded as a very special circumstance. I have very lively recollections of some other important Bills which were Private Members' Bills, such as the Humane Slaughter Bill, the Hire Purchase Bill, and the Divorce Law (Reform) Bill. Bills of that character were Private Members' Bills, and because of that I should not like it to be thought that though there are those of us who will support the Government in wanting to take Private Members' time in this Session, we do not believe it is the right of Private Members to have that time at their disposal in ordinary legislative periods.
§ Question put, and agreed to.