HC Deb 28 November 1951 vol 494 cc1669-73

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

We have, in two days, had a certain amount of what I venture to call almost indecency in the treatment of this House, but have we now reached the point where a Supplementary Estimate for, nearly £48 millions is to be the subject of no comment of any sort? I had hoped that when the Minister responsible had had the elementary courtesy to tell the House something about the Estimate for which he seeks approval—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is not even present."] Well, if he is not here, we must move the adjournment of the House.

Time was when this honourable House was famous for the attention which it paid to the allocation of even three or four shillings; when even that amount was not passed without full examination. It is quite monstrous that we should be asked, with all the time we have available, to pass this £47 millions odd without even being told what it is all about. Is there no Privy Councillor on the Government Front Bench? I am at least glad to see that one of the Whips has arrived, and he should whip up some of his Ministers to see that this House is treated with the courtesy which is its right.

Had a Minister been present to inform us on this matter, I was going to ask about the position with regard to the Consolidated Fund Bill. That Bill is not yet available in the Vote Office, because I have been there recently, and I am seeking the guidance of the Chair on a matter which deeply concerns hon. Members. This Bill is due for discussion on Friday morning, and here we are, within half-an-hour of Thursday, and no Bill is available to hon. Members.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

Those remarks are not in order on this matter.

Mr. Hale

I was not suggesting that. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it is a matter of very considerable concern, and—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It cannot be raised upon this Motion.

Mr. Hale

Then, can I move the adjournment of the House in order to consider the point which I have tried to put? We are told by the Leader of the House that the Consolidated Fund Bill will be introduced on Friday morning. We do not know and surely we are entitled to know whether the Consolidated Fund Bill will deal only with the Estimates moved on the Report stage, or with the the other Estimates which are referred to on page 2 of the White Paper.

I am glad to see you have returned, Mr. Speaker? At this moment I 'am trying to seek the guidance of the Chair on a matter which to me appears to be vital. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is proposing to reply to me.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)


Mr. Hale

Then I shall direct my question to him and hope for a reply. The figures of the Supplementary Estimate presented to us are shown in a summary on page 2. On page 3 other Supplementary Estimates for 1951–52 have been presented. I do not know, and I have sought to find out, whether or not these are the figures which are to be in the Consolidated Fund Bill to be produced sometime between now and Friday and presented for Second Reading on Friday. It would help if the hon. Gentleman would reply to that now.

Mr. Strauss

I would point out to the hon. Member that he is quite wrong in thinking that there has been any discourtesy to the House in this matter. I am not making any statement about the Consolidated Fund Bill on the Report stage of the Supplementary Estimate now before this House. As the hon. Member may be aware, that Estimate was very fully discussed on 21st November when it was presented by my hon. Friend the Secretary for Overseas Trade, who is not able to be here tonight, and approval was given to the Estimate by hon. Members, including right hon. Gentlemen the Opposition Front Bench. The custom on these occasions, as I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, is that when the Question is put from the Chair any hon. Member can raise any point he wishes.

If any point had been raised tonight I proposed to reply to it. My hon. Friend had notice only of one matter, which came from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson), and had he been in his place and raised the matter I should have endeavoured to reply to him. Apart from that, there is nothing here that has not been fully discussed and explained to the satisfaction of the House and of right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench. I did not rise in the first place to make a speech, because that is not in accordance with the custom of the House.

Mr. Hale

I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. I would point out to him, however, that this was discussed for one hour and one minute on the previous occasion, which is £800,000 a minute. If the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that that is full discussion I am not prepared to argue about it.

What I did ask the Minister who replied, and what I am entitled to be told even if it is not strictly relevant to the debate, was about the Consolidated Fund Bill. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, are concerned about the rights of private Members, and I am making the point—and if necessary I will move the Adjournment of the House in order to deal with the matter properly—that the Consolidated Fund Bill is not available in the Vote Office at this moment.

We are told it is to be discussed on Friday morning at 11 o'clock. Surely I am entitled to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to how I am to put down Amendments to a Bill I have not seen, and about items which I do not know if they are included or not. How is it possible between now and Friday morning at 11 o'clock to deal with these matters if they are not explained to the House and if no Minister is willing to explain them? It is a serious issue and this Bill raises large sums of money. I cannot get any information about it. Some of us approached you, Mr. Speaker, a day or two ago and we asked how it was possible to deal with these matters in proper form in accordance with the Rules of the House between now and Friday morning.

Mr. Speaker

The Consolidated Fund Bill cannot be printed unless these Resolutions are passed, because it is founded upon them. So, there is no way in which the hon. Gentleman can discuss the Consolidated Fund Bill. All he is entitled to discuss is the particular sums mentioned in the Resolutions which are to be reported. That is the business Before the House. To discuss the Consolidated Fund Bill is out of order.

Mr. Hale

I appreciate that, Sir, and I do not doubt the accuracy of your Ruling. If that be so, these Estimates could not be discussed on the day preceding the presentation of the Consolidated Fund Bill. If this debate goes on for half-an-hour on the day preceding its discussion, we shall be in the position that we are forced to discuss a Bill on Friday morning dealing with several hundred million pounds of public money without ever having seen it before it was presented to the House. Surely I am entitled to ask Ministers why are we put in this position? Why are we asked to deal with it in this way? What is the explanation? What is the urgency? What is the need and what machinery do they propose to provide to enable us to exercise that right?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that even if the hon. Gentleman does ask Ministers for the information, they would be out of order if they tried to reply.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

I hesitate to intervene, but we are in some considerable difficulty. I do not know if we could get your guidance, Sir, in dealing with this difficulty? There is no obligation, I understand, for any one of these particular Votes necessarily to be included in the Consolidated Fund Bill. I think hon. Members on all sides would be prepared to let the discussion pass now on the assurance that these matters might come into the Consolidated Fund Bill. The hon. Gentleman, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, has given no indication of which particular items the Government is proposing to introduce in the Consolidated Fund Bill which is coming up on Friday. It is difficult for hon. Members to prepare what they are going to say, within the rules of order, if they do not know which of the various items are to be combined together. If it is possible to indicate all the items which are to be included in the Bill, this discussion now could come to an end.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

May I ask the Leader of the House, or the Chancellor, if he cannot give the assurance my hon. and learned Friend asks? We are in a difficult position. We all appreciate it is largely on account of the proceedings on the Home Guard Bill taking longer than was expected by the Government which, no doubt, is the main explanation that there is this difficulty that we are discussing the Supplementary Estimates on the Report stage, while tomorrow we have to discuss the Consolidated Fund Bill. If the Leader of the House could give the assurance asked for, we could pass on to the next Supplementary Estimate, to which some of us attach a good deal more importance.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

I am very glad to oblige the right hon. Gentleman, but I ask him to remember that, on Thursday, I did say what was going to be in the Consolidated Fund Bill when I gave out the business. That was that this Consolidated Fund Bill would cover all the Supplementary Estimates brought in during this Session.

Mr. Hale

Does that include all those on page 3 of the Estimates?

Mr. Crookshank

If what is on page 3 of the Estimates was introduced during this Session, and I presume it was, the answer is, "Yes."

Question put, and agreed to.

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