HC Deb 03 December 1951 vol 494 cc2036-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill now standing committed to a Standing Committee be committed to a Committee of the whole House and that this House will after the Order of the Day relating to Ministers of the Crown (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) [Money] has been disposed of, resolve itself into the said Cornmittee.—[Mr. Crookshank.]

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch) rose

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman wish to raise a point of order?

Mr. Bing

If I may respectfully say so, Mr. Speaker, this is a debateable Motion. I was rising to speak very briefly on it, since the Leader of the House has not seen fit to explain the need for it. I thought I might make a few apologies to the House on his behalf.

This is a quite unprecedented Motion. On Thursday, at half-past three, the right hon. Gentleman himself rose in his place and said that we should discuss this matter in Committee of the whole House today. At seven o'clock, the Patronage Secretary saw fit to go through those motions which resulted in the matter being sent to a Standing Committee. Which of those two decisions are we to accept? Are we not to have some explanation to show which was right? Did the Patronage Secretary make a mistake or did the right hon. Gentleman make a mistake?

Was it owing to the absence, in another place, of the co-ordinating Minister that no decision could be made? I can understand that as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's long absence from office these mistakes might be made, and I think we on this side of the House would be wrong to be hard on him for that. But there are many other hon. Gentlemen who can read. When they read in HANSARD that the Bill had been committed to a Committee of the whole House, why was not a statement made on Friday?

It is a matter in which the House as a whole should protect the Chairman of Committees from any inconvenience from the discourtesy of the course which has been adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. I have been approached by a number of my hon. Friends who wished to put down Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the difficulty they were in. They had to wait until the Standing Committee had been appointed, to see whether they were members, before they could put their Amendments on the Paper; and when it was too late for them to put any Amendments down at all, they found this Motion on the Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman hopes he will carry through on the nod without a word of apology to the House or anything else.

I shall advise those of my hon. Friends who have Amendments not to put them forward. In present circumstances, I do not think it is fair on the Chairman of Committees, because this is a Bill which is done by reference, and it is impossible to discuss a manuscript Amendment referring back to other statutes in these circumstances. I hope that the Leader of the House will support me here, that we should not proceed to discuss the Bill at all unless we get the agreement of both sides of the House that there will be no manuscript Amendments, because, after this Motion is carried, in my submission the Chairman of Committees will have no option but to accept them in circumstances in which Amendments could not otherwise have been put down.

Unless we get the agreement of both sides not to put down manuscript Amendments, I do not think we should proceed with the Bill. I would say this to the right hon. Gentleman: I hope that the House will carry his Motion, but I think this is an occasion upon which we might make this plea—that we should have a little more co-operation from the Leader of the House in seeing that the House is treated fairly and has an opportunity to have first business first.

I am not trying to make any bargain with the right hon. Gentleman. All I am asking is whether, if the House passes this Motion, he will not reconsider the business. He might even report somewhere else and alter some of the other items. To take an example, we did not have a debate on African federation because the right hon. Gentleman thought it was impossible that the Consolidated Fund Bill could take any time. He was entirely wrong about that. I want to ask him whether, if we pass this Motion, there will be any Ministers in attendance in the House to deal with it. As he knows perfectly well, although he was given notice on Friday that the Consolidated Fund Bill would be debated all day, he had no senior Minister present on the Front Bench at all. We ought at least to be told by him, if we pass this Motion, that we shall not have hon. Members opposite bringing out the excuse that because the Chief Whip had put the Bill down for a Standing Committee they were not in attendance. Let us, first of all, have an assurance—

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

I was in the House on Friday and my recollection is that the Home Secretary was on the Front Bench almost the whole time.

Mr. Bing

I was glad to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman and surprised, in those circumstances, that he was not able to answer any of the points raised—but perhaps he is not one of the co-ordinating Ministers.

We can understand the difficulty of the Leader of the House. He has to get the House up before alterations are made in the Control of Engagements Order. We all know the orders he has received, and we are trying to help him to get the business done. I am appealing to my hon. Friends to see that this Motion goes through. But if we agree to do that, he, on his side, should make it perfectly clear to us that Ministers will be in attendance, and should say who made the mistake. Let us be clear who was responsible for the mistake, let us be told who did not apologise and explain to the House on Friday, who was responsible for not letting the House know in time to put down Amendments. Let us have that clear. When we have it clear, let us try to approach this in a new spirit. I say that in all sincerity.

It is quite impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to dictate to the House what it will discuss. All he can do is to see that we discuss rather less important instead of rather more important matters. Perhaps I can give this example. It would have been far better for him to have given way to the Leader of the Opposition and to have allowed the debate on West African affairs during the time we took upon the Consolidated Fund Bill instead of saying, quite wrongly, that there could be no debate upon it—and then allowing another debate to take place.

The right hon. Gentleman should take this opportunity, first of all, of making apologies to the House; and secondly, of responding to the appeal that we should all get together and try to arrange the business a bit better than it is being arranged at present.

3.55 p.m.

The Minister of Heath (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

It is a rather novel proposition that we should all get together, because normal practice is that we get together through the usual channels, with the official spokesman for the official Opposition. I thought this Motion was self-explanatory. When I announced business last week I said that this stage of the Bill could be taken as the first item, but by sheer inadvertence the Motion to commit it to the whole House was not moved. It therefore automatically went to Standing Committee, and it was to carry out the original intention that I put this Motion on the Order Paper—so that we could do what we said we intended to do and what was agreed that we should do, carry on with it on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

Not very bright.

Mr. Crookshank

The right hon. Gentleman says that it was not very bright. It was sheer inadvertence and I am very sorry that it has occurred. But it has happened before; indeed, it happened twice during the life-time of the last Government, when the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), was himself leading the House. We then absolved him from the consequences of his inadvertence, and I hope the same may be done today.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

But it has misled the House.

Mr. Crookshank

It was not more misleading to the House, in this case, than it was in the two cases involving the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. I would add this: the hon. and learned Gentleman makes great play of Friday's debate, but it is a fact that not only was my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary here but also the Secretary of State for Scotland—both Cabinet Ministers. His complaint on the ground of there being no senior Minister present was, therefore, unfounded. I hope the House will now allow us to have this Motion so that we can carry on with the business which we hope to see done.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I can only say that we note the defence of the right hon. Gentleman. We had better let the matter go. but I am bound to say that this is an extraordinary Government, whose defence seems to be either that they did not know before they got into office or, now, that if they make a mistake, somebody also made a similar mistake before. It is a poor defence for a Government which claims to be perfect, but the more we see of the Government the more we know that it is not perfect.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

The explanation given by the Leader of the House seems to be utterly inadequate. It may be that former Governments have made similar mistakes, but what we are considering is whether this Government have taken adequate steps to try to put the mistake right. The point which seemed to be most important, among those made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), was this: this mistake was made on Thursday. By simply putting this Motion down today the Government have made it quite impossible for anybody to put down an Amendment.

Why was not the House informed of this mistake on Friday? It would have been quite possible then for the Leader of the House to have come here, not in this jaunty manner, but to have made a proper apology to the House for having made a mess of its business by his mistake, and for other Members to have had now the opportunity to put down Amendments, and to have known where to put them down. Instead of that the Government apparently wish to make a profit by their mistake by not getting this business but, at the same time, preventing Members of the Opposition from putting down any Amendments today.

After all, it is not as though the House seemed to consider, on Second Reading, that this was a very satisfactory Bill, or a Bill of such perfection that it pleased everybody. It was a Bill on which, I should have thought, one would have expected Amendments. Now we are being asked to deal with it without any opportunity of putting them down. Before my hon. Friends allow the Government to get the Motion we want to have an explanation from the Government as to how Amendments are to be dealt with.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether it is due to sheer inadvertence that a gross injustice has been done to Scottish Members in framing this Bill and presenting it to the House in this way? There is a subsection which deals particularly with Scotland, and deals with the appointment of three Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland. In the debate on that it would be quite competent to discuss questions affecting Scotland ranging from John o'Groats to Dumfries.

I suggest that the Clause applying to Scotland should be referred to the place it should, and that is, the Scottish Grand Committee; and I appeal to the Leader of the House, in view of the assurances which have been made that the Government intend to give fuller opportunity for the discussion of Scottish questions, to see that this question of the Scottish Under-Secretaries is sent to the Scottish Grand Committee. We do not want to waste the time of English Members discussing purely Scottish matters, and I suggest that the Scottish Members should receive the support of English Members in asking that this purely Scottish business should be remitted to the Scottish Grand Committee, where it rightfully belongs.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Bill now standing committed to a Standing Committee be committed to a Committee of the whole House and that this House will after the Order of the Day relating to Ministers of the Crown (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) [Money] has been disposed of, resolve itself into the said Committee.