HC Deb 01 November 1950 vol 480 cc155-63

2.44 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That, until the House shall otherwise determine, Government Business shall have precedence at every Sitting, and that no Bills other than Government Bills be introduced in anticipation of the Ballot. The House will remember that the Prime Minister, in his speech in the Debate on the Address yesterday, announced the Government's intention to afford facilities for Private Members' Bills and Motions during the present Session. The Motion I have moved is of limited duration, and it will only have effect until the Ballot for Private Members' Bills has taken place. Arrangements for that are in contemplation and are the subject of discussion through the usual channels. Members will have a full opportunity for raising any points of detail when the Motion giving effect to the Government's proposals is brought forward, which may be next week. I will inform the House about this tomorrow during the statement on business.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

I am sure that this Motion will be welcomed by all Members, and not least by my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), myself and the other Members who sat on the Select Committee on Procedure, as I understand that what is envisaged is to carry out the recommendations we made. The only point I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman about is whether he cannot be more specific as to when this is to start, because the terms of the Motion are rather unusual in that it says, "until the House shall otherwise determine." That, of course, is true of everything we pass. I gather that the restoration will take place some time during this month, but if the right hon. Gentleman can give a date today, it will make it more convenient for all concerned.

Mr. Morrison

I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Member. It is intended that the first Friday to be utilised for Private Members' Business shall be Friday, 24th November. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite right in contemplating that it would be during the present month.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered permitting Members to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule, as was the practice before the war?

Mr. Morrison

That is a little premature. I think we have gone a good way towards meeting the feeling of the House.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

May I press the perfectly friendly point put by my right hon. and gallant Friend? Can the right hon. Gentleman answer specifically whether the terms of the recommendations made by the Committee, which I confess I have forgotten for the moment, are covered by this Motion?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir. The noble Lord can easily refresh his mind. The Select Committee made its recommendations in 1946, and we are proposing to act on the basis of those recommendations—that is, 20 Fridays, half for Bills and half for Motions.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

On a point of order. As Members seem still to be under the impression that they are speaking through microphones, will you, Mr. Speaker, again make the request that Members should speak up? Otherwise, no one will be heard.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I am not quite certain whether the Lord President thinks he is answering Questions or making four speeches. I understand that he has moved a Motion, but he has risen three times since without asking the leave of the House to speak again. The fact is that we are engaged on discussing this Motion and not on Questions. This is a very unusual Motion. The right hon. Gentleman speaks as if the Prime Minister had granted this concession. It is nothing of the kind, because the Standing Orders provide for this anyhow. [Interruption.] Members opposite have not the faintest idea what freedom means, either inside or outside the House.

I am wondering why the House should "otherwise determine." This is indeed a novel Motion, and if we read the Standing Orders, it will be realised that there is no need for it. The Prime Minister and the Lord President should get into their minds that this is a free assembly. If this Motion had not been moved, we could still have gone on with the business in the usual way, according to the Standing Orders.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Miss Ward) asked about the Ten Minutes Rule. That is only a special procedure for introducing Private Bills. The more customary procedure is to present a Bill formally for First Reading, when it is printed, and then to debate it in the ordinary way on Second Reading. That is a much wider privilege than the Ten Minutes Rule, when any Member can get up and say he does not like the Bill. I am anxious to have the full restoration of the privileges Members enjoyed before the war, under which a great deal of the beneficial legislation of the country ultimately came into operation. I hope that if the Lord President makes a fifth speech, it will not be until the debate has been concluded.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

If, as the hon. Member suggested, we did not pass any Motion of any kind, the position would be that the House would revert to a practice which no one wants, and to which the Select Committee on Procedure was unanimously opposed. If the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) thinks that that is establishing the freedom of Parliament, he is probably alone in that view. The Lord President of the Council says that the Motion which the Government intend to introduce is to give effect to the recommendations of the Select Committee. Will he bear in mind that the Select Committee unanimously recommended, as well as the 20 Fridays, the restoration of the right to introduce a Bill and to make a short speech in its support, to have one short speech made against the Bill, and then, if necessary, a Division?

That is a privilege which the House has always valued. Of course, it can be abused, but so can any privilege. If we are not to have them because they might be abused, we shall never get anywhere. But if the House makes the same kind of wise and intelligent use of that privilege as it always did in the past it is a valuable addition to the rights of the Private Member, and the Select Committee was unanimous in recommending its restoration.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but I feel that on this occasion he has, in his reference to the Ten Minutes Rule, adequately expressed the views of Members who have had any experience of it. If the mind of the Lord President of the Council is not entirely closed about the restoration of the Ten Minutes Rule, and he merely thinks that this is not an opportune time for that to be done, I would add a request to the many which he has received on the matter from other parts of the House, that he should consider the widespread desire of Members that the right to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule, under Standing Order 12, should be restored as speedily as possible.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

I should like to reinforce, briefly, the argument which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), which I am sure has met with the approval of the vast majority of back benchers on both sides of the House. I wish the Government would give earnest consideration to it. Having said that, I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) that I think it would, on the whole, be a pity if we attempted to revert to the allocation of Wednesdays for Private Members' Motions and to have, in addition to that, the Fridays for Private Members' Bills. That is asking a bit too much.

I do not want to become involved in a row with my hon. Friend, but, at the same time, I always felt, in the old days, that those Wednesday Debates were apt to be sparsely attended, and caused a good deal of boredom to those concerned except those who were speaking. I think that the Select Committee's recommendation for the allocation of alternate Fridays for Private Members' Bills and Motions is admirable. I urge the Lord President of the Council seriously to consider the appeals made from both sides of the House for the re-introduction of the right to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

I do not know whether, on this Motion, it would be in order to say anything about Private Members' Motions. In view of the fact that the Prime Minister said that alternate Fridays would be allotted for Private Members' Motions, will that question arise subsequently, and will there then be an opportunity to say something about it, or can what one wishes to say about it be said now?

Mr. Speaker

So far as I am concerned, it depends on what the hon. and learned Member says.

Mr. Paget

I feel that in the last Session Private Members' Motions were very much wasted. What happened was that all Members put down their names for the Ballot, and when someone was successful in the draw the Member then went round to the offices of his or her respective Whips—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly the Motions which came to be selected were either Opposition Motions or Government Motions, and I do not remember a single occasion on which one of those Motions crossed the House——

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

The very first of those Motions was a nonparty one relating to the development and use of science in industry.

Mr. Paget

I apologise if there was one, but there were very few.

The point I wish to make is that Private Members ought to use that time to introduce Motions which cut across party divisions and that if one is so fortunate in the draw as to secure the right to move a Motion one should bring forward a Motion on which one can seek the help of the other side of the House. As I understand it, the point of Private Members' time should be the opportunity it provides to introduce the sort of Motion which neither the Government nor the Opposition can introduce. If instead of simply putting one's name down to ballot for the right to move a Motion, one put down the actual Motion which it was desired to move, that would be better than merely balloting on the chance of one side or the other getting in.

Sir T. Moore

Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby), was wrong in his statement that the House should not ask for more. It is not for the House to ask for anything; it is for the Lord President to ask the House to give him the opportunity of enabling the Government to have priority in the use of our time. I hope that my hon. Friend will learn something of the procedure of the House before he misguides us in future. We must all recognise that this is a fight between the Executive and Parliament. The Executive come here and ask Private Members to surrender their time. We do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us time. We have our rights, and I suggest to the House that we should insist upon having them.

Mr. H. Morrison

We were going on——

Sir H. Williams

By leave of the House?

Mr. Morrison

I do not think so, although I am, of course, subject to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] I will, if people will keep quiet, but if Members go on talking and shouting and asking me to speak up in order that my voice might rise above the noise, we shall all be bawling at each other before we know where we are.

We were going on very peacefully with this discussion until, from the eminently quiet and respectable neighbourhood of Croydon, of all quarters, there was suddenly trouble, and the good temper of the House was nearly upset by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). Merely because I courteously answered questions put to me, he accused me of taking part in the debate, and generally started up all the trouble of which he could think. I hope that he is enjoying himself. I gather that he is.

These matters will, of course, arise again when the Motion about the proposed allocation of Private Members' time is brought forward. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman—with a distinctly Irish accent—from Ayr was very rough on his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby). When my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) makes a speech which I would not say was 100 per cent. correct—he has a perfect right to express his opinion—hon. Members opposite say how nice it is that his argument cuts across party boundaries. When the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East, expresses his point of view, down comes the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) and drops on him, and tries to stop him from expressing his own opinion. I think that is shameful. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire. East, is perfectly free to express his opinion, and, as it happens, there will be some agreement with him in other quarters of the House.

The two questions which have been raised are the presentation of other Bills and the so-called Ten Minutes Rule Bills. I will take note of what has been said. I will only say about the Ten Minutes Rule Bills that the House will no doubt keep in mind that under that rule one or more Bills could be presented. A ten-minute speech could be made for and a ten-minute speech against the Bill, and a Division might follow. [An HON. MEMBER: "Five minutes."] I think a ten-minute speech was the practice. I introduced one of those Bills. The result will be that at least half an hour of the time of the House has been occupied, and if the House adjourns at Ten o'Clock——

Sir H. Williams


Mr. Morrison

It does so, but it is for the House to determine whether it will do so or not. Except for certain hon. Gentlemen who like to stay up at night I think it is the general view of the House that that time is about right. It is a point to be taken into account that there may also be a Government statement and that the debate may therefore, start late. There may be great discontent. That is one of the points to be considered in relation to the presentation of Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule.

In connection with the presentation of other Bills I cannot give any undertaking whatsoever. Certain hon. Members have made submissions and the Government will, of course, consider them and take them into account. I do not want to get on to a discussion about them now. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had the idea that it might be desirable for Private Members' Motions to be backed from both sides of the House. I think that was going a little far. It was almost a plea for a Private Members' coalition, and as a Member of the Government I do not know that I want a Private Members' coalition. It may be healthy for Parliamentary vigour; anyhow, it is an idea. This is a free country. Anybody can think what he likes about it.

I hope that the House will be good enough to agree to the Motion. We can see what discussion takes place when the positive Motion as to Private Members' time is brought forward.

Mr. Churchill (Woodford)

I hope that the Government will not dismiss lightly the plea for the revival of the introduction of Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule. There is a general wish for it, and quite a number of important Measures have been brought forward in that way. I am sure it would be quite easy to arrange—I was hoping to have the attention of the Lord President of the Council for this point—that not more than one Bill should be introduced on any one occasion under the Ten Minutes Rule, so that the consequences which the Lord President indicated to us would not be inevitable. I hope that this may be carefully considered and that we shall have a favourable answer from the Government upon the point.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I was very much surprised at the Lord President of the Council, with his long Parliamentary experience, indicating that he thought there might be serious inroads upon Parliamentary time by the reintroduction of the Ten Minutes Rule. I wonder whether he would refresh his and our memories by getting out a list of the number of "Ten-Minute" Bills that were introduced before the war. I think he would find that not more than 20 minutes of the Parliamentary day was taken up in that manner. The rule worked very well for many years, and I was a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman spoke as though it were an innovation fraught with multitudinous dangers. Past practice shows that that was not the case.

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

Perhaps I might also appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter of the Ten Minutes Rule. First of all, and subject to correction, I seem to recollect that only five minutes was allowed for speeches and not ten minutes. If there was no limit at all, one could be introduced. I am venturing to make these brief observations, because there are many hon. Members who are new and who do not know what valuable small measures can be brought to public notice.

With all due humility I want to mention two which I brought to this House between the wars and which would not otherwise have been introduced. Both the Bills received the assent of the whole House, were starred by the Government, and were passed. One of them gave a free wireless licence to every blind person and the other adjusted the voting system in the case of blind persons so that they might have the largest measure of secrecy in their voting, which they had previously been denied.

Those are trivial matters in comparison with the nation's business, but they took only ten minutes each when they were introduced and another ten minutes at about eleven o'clock at night. I recall that the present Prime Minister, who had been Postmaster-General, gave his backing to the Bill for the free wireless licence. Those instances illustrate how small measures which are of great interest to the public are able to come to light under the Ten Minutes Rule. They probably would not come to light in any other way.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That until the House shall otherwise determine Government Business shall have precedence at every Sitting, and that no Bills other than Government Bills be introduced in anticipation of the ballot.