§ Order for Committee read.
§ 2.33 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I beg to move,That the Order for Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Standing Committee.If I may recall the facts to the Committee, the Second Reading of this Bill was on the 27th of February, and afterwards the Motion to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House was moved and carried. It was thought then that there would be sufficient time for the Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House, but intervening events have lessened the time available. So that the Bill may make progress the Government now wishes that the Bill shall go to a Standing Committee upstairs.
I am glad to think that this course is one which will appeal to hon. Members opposite, whatever may be their point of view in that party; because when that party was in office it made great use of the Standing Committee procedure for many important Bills. Many hon. Members present tonight remember that, as we were present when the matters were dealt with. One of the best known ex-Ministers of the last Government, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said only a few weeks ago:We are entitled to ask them why they have not sent certain legislation upstairs."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2795.]I am glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman and those who co-operate with him will have every satisfaction in the course that I am taking tonight.
In order that I may not seem to concentrate on any particular section of hon. Members opposite, may I say a word for those whose views are slightly different and remind the House of what the Leader of the Opposition said as short a time ago as 21st April, when, with some vehemence, he said to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House:Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the trouble really comes from the fact that he is trying to take a complicated and technical Bill on the Floor of the House instead of upstairs?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 46.]2658 That was referring to the National Health Service Bill. We have had from every group of the Opposition a request that we should take this step and I am glad to think, therefore, that whatever may be the points on which we disagree, on this point I can anticipate almost universal agreement.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman be able to add now the evidence of the agreement of the temperance group, for I have never heard of it?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I had not come to that. The presence of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) was sufficient warranty to me that that important section of opinion would have to be considered. Nothing was closer to my thoughts than that his well-known power of debate and his charm of manner, which delights us all, would find an equally good vehicle in the smaller compass of an upstairs room.
I felt that some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen might have made research into these matters. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is here, and I am sure that in his passion for research, of which we all know, he has looked into them. I wondered whether he and some others, being fundamentally conservative, in favour of the status quo, would be a little alarmed at the fact that this Motion is somewhat of a novelty in late years. I know that in matters of procedure there are no more rigid upholders of practice than those whose views are most extreme Left-wing. I thought I ought for a moment, therefore, to deal with that point and to try to calm these troubles. It is quite true that the last precedent for this actual Motion was a considerable number of years ago.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
It was 1917. I thought the hon. and learned Member had found that out. But the hon. and learned Member is aware that there have been a number of Motions which have done the converse—transferred Bills from upstairs to the House. There are two that come to my mind from the time of our predecessors—the War Damage 2659 (Valuation Appeals) Bill and the Coal Industry (No. 2) Bill.
One has to consider—and it is a problem which both sides have had to face—a change in the procedure of the House. As the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is well aware, a Bill now goes automatically to Standing Committee, whereas up to about 40 years ago it went automatically to the Floor of the House unless there was a Motion. The procedure, if I may say so, has still to be worked out in relation to this modern state of things when there are small majorities in the House. I thought I ought to refer to the point for that reason, and for the other very good reason that, had I not, the hon. and learned Member opposite would have referred to it.
We have to consider that the procedure of Standing Committees has to be taken into account; nobody would deny that for a Government with a relatively small majority to send a Bill upstairs shows courage and a disregard of the risk of influenza or anything else affecting the voting power of the Committee. That is to be encouraged in these modern days. There is also the consolation that anyone unfortunate enough not to be nominated to the Committee can reserve at any rate part of his fire for the Report stage.
I thought that I ought to put that to the House in opening, rather than wait for points to be raised later. But, also, the House may quite properly say, I ought to make some explanation about the practical need for this. Why does the Government want to speed up the passage of the Bill? Three of the development corporations are already building new public houses, for which the corporations themselves have taken over responsibility in view of the introduction and passage of the Second Reading of this Bill. It is likely that one or two of those will be completed in the early autumn, and the Corporations were not in a position to apply for licences at this year's Brewster sessions because they had not then had time to find tenants, and the Bill was in its earliest stage.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
They were, but the Bill was already introduced and, therefore, the corporations had still the responsibility for the building of the houses. Apart from the Bill, licences could not be applied for until next year's Brewster sessions, and would not become effective until some time next year— April at the earliest. It is undesirable that these houses should stand completed, but unused, for several months: this would be an inconvenience to the local residents, and would involve loss of revenue to the corporation. But, once the Bill has become law, the Secretary of State may grant certificates under Clause 4 (8), and licences may then be obtained at the next transfer sessions, thereby cutting out delay.
The next point, which is not so urgent, but which, nevertheless, is urgent, is that there are a number of proposed houses for which sites have been selected, and for which plans have reached various stages of completion. These were originally intended for treatment by the procedure under the law of hon. Members opposite, but these sites will be certifiable under the same Clause 4 (8) of the Bill. Progress in regard to them is impeded in the matter of selecting tenants, and the corporations are in a difficulty in the matter of completing contracts for letting the sites or buildings until the final stage of the Bill is known.
The third point is that the development corporations must also proceed fairly soon with the preparation of plans, so that they can finally settle their building programmes for 1953 and beyond. No further progress can be made as regards deciding the sites for further houses, until the committees proposed under the Bill have been set up and are in active operation. Under the Bill the committees have to consist of representatives of the development corporations and of the justices. This point, therefore, makes it essential for the Bill to make progress.
There was just one further point that. I heard, troubled certain hon. Gentlemen opposite, and if I may deal with it, it will, perhaps, save some searching in the course of debate. It is, I am told, that hon. Gentlemen opposite have worried lest the rights to move instructions are impaired by the course which I am suggesting by this Motion. However, 2661 if hon. Gentlemen will consider Erskine May, page 526—if I may refer to that to show that the point has no substance —they will find that "Time for moving instructions" is dealt with as follows:An instruction to a Committee of the whole House upon a bill is usually moved when the order of the day for the first sitting of the committee has been read, except an instruction founded on the report of a Committee of the whole House, which is given when the resolution as reported from the committee has been agreed to by the House.It goes on to say:In the case of bills referred to standing or select committees, an instruction can be moved as soon as the bill has been committed, or subsequently.I think that that deals with the fear of technical troubles which, I am told, have been aroused.
In the two parts of my speech I have, I hope, satisfied all sections of hon. Gentlemen opposite, first, that I am doing what they desire and, second, that it is necessary from the practical point of view for providing these new houses for the new towns.
To the hon. Gentleman who was good enough to remind me—though I scarcely needed reminding—that there was another point of view, I repeat what I said. I am sure his point of view can be urged in the Committee if he is a member; and, if the Committee is unfortunate enough not to have him as one of its members, I am sure he will find on the Report stage and on Third Reading the opportunity to ventilate that point of view. I say that with complete certainty because I have never found any subject of debate in this House, in all the years that he and I have been Members, on which he has failed to put that point of view. I do not think he will fail to find one on this Bill.
§ 2.49 a.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
This Bill was given a Second Reading on 27th February. I believe we are now at 27th June—although not for the Sitting of the House, for which we are still at 26th June. It is remarkable that it has taken four months for the Government to make up their mind about this matter.
Let me disabuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman straight away: the House decided unanimously, on a Motion moved by the Government, that the Bill 2662 should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. As a matter of fact, I was somewhat surprised that the Government moved in that direction. I was just about to jump up to do it when I was forestalled by one of the junior Whips moving it on behalf of the Government. Therefore, let it be understood that we are being asked to depart from the unanimous decision of the House.
I have heard nothing from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that convinces me that there is any need for this course. All the Amendments tabled so far come from his own side of the House. The hon. Gentleman now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, who is, I understand, about fourth in command at the Treasury as well, has put down some Amendments; the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) has his name associated with those Amendments; there is one more to which the name of the hon. and learned Member appears at the head of the list, and the name of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation is a little lower down on the same Amendment.
Then there are a number of Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Notice of those was given on 12th March and 21st April, so that some of them have been on the Order paper for three and a half months and others for two and a quarter months, and no approach has been made to this side of the House to ascertain whether our views have changed or whether there was any desire on our part that the Bill should be taken upstairs. I do not regard this as a complicated and technical Bill, although it was apparently very hastily drafted, if one can judge from the number of Amendments that the Government themselves have found it necessary to put down in the name of the two Departments concerned.
This change of Committee is described by Erskine May in these terms on page 513, after dealing with the reverse process:On the other hand, an order committing a bill to a Committee of the whole House can be discharged and the bill committed to a standing committee or a select committee, though the necessity for such a proceeding rarely arises.2663 Therefore, apparently it is desirable, judging from that broad hint, that necessity should be the governing principle in the Government's plea for such a transfer. Now, I do not know whether the necessity is in this case, and I am bound to say I was very surprised when I found that the Government had proceeded in this way.
It is true that the last occasion on which this was done was on 27th February, 1917. The Motion was then taken as the first Order of the Day, and was moved by Mr. Bonar Law as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House. It was obviously regarded as a matter of very considerable importance. I do not intend to go further back than that, because I think most of the earlier precedents deal with a time when the procedure of the House was very different from what it is now. From what I have been able to discover, without any very serious studying of the matter, they were generally with regard to Bills which we would now regard as Private Bills and not this type of public Bill.
On that occasion, in 1917, there was a debate and a Division, and I looked through the Division list to see what happened. There are two present Members of the House who voted in the Division. One is the present Father of the House who voted for the Bill going upstairs, but the present Prime Minister, although a supporter of the Government which had tabled the Motion, voted for it staying on the Floor of the House, and as a good House of Commons man, desired that the largest possible number of Members should participate in the discussion of the Bill.
I do not think that any of the three reasons that were urged upon us need have any weight with us at all. What is quite clear is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is encouraging the development corporations to proceed on the assumption that because the Government have introduced a Bill it is already the law. The Act that the Parliament of 1945–50 passed is the law of the land, and the appropriate procedure at the moment is in accordance with that law.
There is, as far as I can see, no excuse, and I am surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman as a lawyer suggest- 2664 ing that some of the things he has advocated are in accordance with the existing law. The three houses being erected at the present time are being erected under the existing law, and I cannot see why it is necessary that this Bill should be sent upstairs so that it should be passed. At the beginning of the present Sitting of the House the Leader of the Opposition suggested that there was a process known in former Parliaments as "the massacre of the innocents," and I gather that the Prime Minister remarked that some of the Bills were not so innocent as all that. I suggest that this is one of them.
After all, we have not had the real reasons. I get every month from the brewing industry a very interesting little booklet—which I believe is sent to all Members, irrespective of the extent to which they contribute to the funds of the brewing industry—called the "Monthly Bulletin." I received in the middle of the month the copy for June, and it has on page 93 an article beginning "Licensing in New Towns." I am quite sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman has probably got the words off by heart. It reads:By the time this number appears in print the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill may be approaching its passage to the House of Lords. The time has come for a more detailed examination of its provisions and to compare them with the pertinent sections of the Licensing Planning Act.It adds, in brackets:(The Bill may, of course, be amended in Committee.)It is quite evident that the brewing industry has said, "Well, what about this Bill? It was introduced early. We have heard nothing more about it and we expect in view of the probably short life of this Government that this Bill shall become law while they are still there."
It is not good enough that this arrangement, which was made unanimously by the House, and which both the Opposition and the Government desired, should now be set aside. Because of what we believe to be its origin, we think it should be discussed on the Floor of the House with the fullest publicity given to it instead of being sent upstairs to be discussed in a place where there is far less publicity.
2665 The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given us no reason for sending the Bill upstairs. It is weeks since the Bill was introduced and nothing has been done with regard to it. The Government Amendments have been tabled, but for a very long time nothing was done and no approach was made to us in view of the alleged difficulties of the Parliamentary time-table. Erskine May speaks of some justification for an action like this on the grounds of necessity, but as far as we are concerned we would prefer that the Bill should remain on the Floor of the House with every Member participating in the debates on it.
I do not think that the courage which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said the Government were showing in sending this Bill upstairs is a spirit to which we need give encouragement. After all, if any Amendment were made upstairs the Whips would be on when we came down here again. Unless we have some better reasons than those advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we cannot agree that there is any reason for relieving this Bill from being discussed in the fullest possible glare of publicity.
That is what we desire, and I sincerely hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that, so far as we are concerned, we cannot be taken as in any way feeling that this is a Bill in which we are called upon to assist the Government by enabling them to dispose of it upstairs and relieving pressure on the Floor of the House. We have no intention of assenting to the Motion which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has moved.
§ 3.4 a.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The intervention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman has, of course, made it difficult to continue the antipathies that the Front Bench managed to work up a little while ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has the capacity to put a thing as reasonably as it can be put. He is very friendly in his approaches to us. He has approached us in a reasonably, Parliamentary fashion.
All the same—and he will forgive me for being forthright about it—that statement that was read out just now by my 2666 right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) showing that the liquor trade intended that what the Government are actually doing should be done and that the discussions on the Bill should be held upstairs, is but a continuance of the spirit shown by the trade from the beginning of this matter.
From the beginning of this Bill we have charged the Government with the fact that the thing was imposed upon them illegitimately without a fair opportunity for the country as a whole to consider what was being done. In spite of our protests, the Government have been determined to go on with a step which, at any rate until the Bill was completed, ought not to have given them any excuse at all for regarding these public houses embarked upon as a reason for entirely departing from the plans that had been carefully worked out.
Under the schemes that have been considered in the new towns, it is not only a question of building a public house that is involved. It is a question of an entirely different approach to the problem of the supply of alcoholic beverages, with not only the question of the place where the liquor was supplied and sold to be taken into account but the question also of the part that was to be given to residents in the locality to have representatives on advisory committees to look carefully at every point of development that was taking place.
All these things are involved in the plans that are being worked out in the new towns. I have been getting letters recently from ministers of religion, temperance reformers, and others who are well disposed towards trying to get a reasonable development along the lines that were suggested by the last Government. Complaints have reached me wholesale that they want to know where they stand in regard to the committees they, too, have been setting up—committees of well-meaning people who want to be of service to the community. They are asking where they stand in the confusion that has been introduced as a result of the introduction of a Bill which has been left high and dry for the four months that have elapsed and is now to be pushed away into a Committee to meet the fate that awaits it there.
I submit that there is something different about this Bill when considered 2667 alongside those that are dealt with by committee procedure. It is different from the Bill that was referred to by my right hon. Friend, the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). This Bill requires a very careful scrutiny by the general public, who have been very much more interested in latter months than I can remember at any time in the power that the liquor trade possesses in getting a great party to wander away from its commitments.
The party opposite made commitments before the last Election.
I have recited before how the party opposite went to the General Election with a promise given to the temperance movement and to the churches that they would take carefully into account the issues that are raised in the community by too much drink on the roads and too much neglect of child life.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is not entitled to go into the merits of the Bill on this Motion, but must merely discuss whether or not the re-committal Motion should be passed.
§ Mr. Hudson
I must bow at once to that reminder, Sir. Probably I have transgressed, under strong feelings, more than I should have done.
The party opposite, in sending it to a Committee, where there is not the same amount of reporting—and they know it as well as we do——
§ Mr. Hudson
There we have an interruption which indicates the way in which the hon. Member looks at the matter. All he wants is a holiday. I am rather in need of a holiday myself, but I have my duty to do on occasions like this.
As a Member of Parliament, I know that the general public feel they are being cheated by a powerful interest in the securing of a Bill that was not in line with what was best in the party opposite. There has been a throwing-over of the unanimous agreement to deal with the matter in public, in the full light of day and with the Press reporters looking on, in a way which shows that powerful interests have too great a power. Hon. Members may look up at the Gallery 2668 now, but there is nothing to encourage us in that direction at present.
If the Bill had been taken, as other Bills of the Government have been taken, on the Floor of the House itself there would have been an opportunity for the mass of the public to be taken into our confidence. We should even have been able to secure that the great body of people who are drinkers—people who do not take the view I take—could at least have been made aware of the dangers involved in the life of the community by permitting a powerful interest behind the scenes to pull its weight with the Government and bring in a Measure which, when passed, will not have received the discussion, which it ought to have had from the House of Commons in full, and concerning which the people generally will not have had the opportunity to understand it and the issues involved in it, in the way that I am pleading they should have.
I strongly support the right hon. Gentleman in the protest he has made, and I plead with the right hon. and learned Gentleman to reconsider this matter before plunging us into a most difficult situation.
§ 3.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
The whole House probably sympathises with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary in the always invidious task of moving a Motion which is not only in the name of another right hon. Gentleman but was the responsibility of one of his right hon. Friends. We all regret that the circumstances are such that his right hon. Friend did not see fit to sit through and listen to the debate on a Motion in his name concerning the duties with which he is now solely entrusted.
If there was one proposal which met the convenience of the House, it was surely this one. Every hon. Member was glad when the right hon. Gentleman was divested of his responsibilities as Minister of Health and was able to concentrate on the business of the House. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is to reply to the debate, or whether he feels that he will be able to do it better without having heard it in the first place. It may be so. But it is a little unfortunate if the Minister has to seek leave of 2669 the House to speak twice because his right hon. and learned Friend is afraid to speak even once.
The question we are asking is why this unanimous decision of the House was reversed. There is one reason. It is the good nature and good manners of my right hon. Friend which have persuaded him not to put it forward. It is one which would commend itself to his hon. Friends; because originally the Motion was moved by the Patronage Secretary. In those circumstances, no doubt all his hon. Friends behind him would like to set that aside and demonstrate that, having been moved from that quarter, it was evidently one of those mistakes which happen there. But that has not been the argument put forward.
This is really a matter for which there has been no precedent since 1917. Of course, there are precedents in the other way, because it is not necessary to move a Motion if a Bill is to go upstairs. In 1917 there was a change of policy which was explained; but since then there has not been a Chief Whip or a Government who have not understood their business and who were not able to say whether they wanted a Bill on the Floor of the House or upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman said that the business of the Government is congested. But it is not hon. Members on this side of the Committee who introduce the business. Surely he had some idea of what business was coming forward, and of what sort of time it was likely to take.
But business has been congested for some time. We have warned hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were taking holidays that perhaps they ought not to take such long ones; but there was never any suggestion from the opposite side of cutting them by a few days. When did it become apparent that it was not possible to take this Bill on the Floor of the House as originally decided? It seems to have become apparent at some time between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning last week. On Friday the order for the Committee stage of this Bill in Committee of the whole House was read, and the Whip on the benches opposite postponed it until Tuesday.
There appeared on the Order Paper for the first time on Monday a Motion to do this unusual thing. By this time the 2670 matter had become so urgent that the right hon. Gentleman could not even give any notice of business. I have had to complain before when hon. Members opposite brought up debatable business without giving notice. The Lord Privy Seal has control of the business of the House. If any hon. Gentlemen want to set down instructions, the only time they can be certain the instructions will be considered is when the Order for the Committee is read. If, as was attempted here, the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts it down without notice, there is no opportunity for setting down instructions.
We have not put down any Amendments so far and the small matters I want to put on the Order Paper, in the hope that they may be considered—in case I am not on the Committee—can be raised without instructions, but it was unfair to present the House with a situation where hon. Members could not put down instructions if they wished to do so.
We ought to hear a little more about the reason for this change of plan. All the right hon. and learned Gentleman has exhibited is a touching faith—apparently not shared in any other quarter of the country, so far as one can tell from Gallup polls—in the permanence of this Government. His case was that this matter should be brought forward because the new towns corporations were not obeying the law; they had given up following the law and were devoting themselves to doing what they thought the Government would do if it survived long enough.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
Amongst this high rate of abuse and insults, the hon. and learned Gentleman should not include the belief that this Government will be short-lived. He may be interested to know that in my division today there were three municipal elections, all of which we won with increased majorities.
§ Mr. Bing
I am glad to hear that the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) has been making some profitable speeches. What a pity he does not make them in the House. If I may put myself in order by phrasing it in this way, if that 2671 is the situation, why does not the Prime Minister take the opinion of the country on this and other Measures if, in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member, he is certain to win?
We should like to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman about this strange change by the Government. There was a long period—two or three months —in which the House was adjourned in order that Her Majesty's Ministers could prepare the important legislation which they wished to place before us. The first Measure which was introduced after the pause, the fruit of the nine weeks' Recess, was this Bill. It was so urgent that it was the first Measure. We had been told that we were in the middle of an economic crisis, but the first Measure to be introduced was this.
Was it brought forward at that time because the right hon. and learned Gentleman could think of nothing eise? If that was not the reason, surely it must have been a matter of urgency; and if it was urgent, why was this Committee not set up long ago? I can understand that, confused as he was at the time, and unable to give all the attention that he should to the business of the House, the Lord Privy Seal did not appreciate that he had no time left for the first month or so, but as time went on surely it must have been apparent that it was not going to be possible for the Bill to be taken. Why was it not sent upstairs then?
It is very unfair to the House to ask hon. Members to rush through a Bill of this sort at the tail end of a Session. Whatever our views on the Bill, we are all agreed that it needs careful and detailed consideration. Why should we suddenly be asked to deal with it at this time and under very unfavourable circumstances? The right hon. and learned Gentleman holds a pistol to our heads—and not a water pistol; and he says, "Here is the position. The new towns are doing illegal things, they cannot get a licence, they are deprived of drink, and in those circumstances this Bill must be sent through." That is his case as to why it should go upstairs. But, he must have known this some time ago; and why should he not have set up a Committee then. at the earliest stage?
There is a further argument. Before we agree to send this Bill upstairs, we 2672 ought to consider if there is going to be any value by so doing. Have we got all the information or knowledge at our disposal which makes it of value to send it up now? When is it proposed to send it up? Immediately? I suggest that one of the reasons why we have not taken the Committee stage before now is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely ignorant about the whole Bill.
I set down two Questions, the answers to which are obviously necessary before one deals with the first Clause of this Bill; and they were: who are the owners of these public houses? But somehow, he cannot get hold of this information; perhaps the clerks to the justices will not reply to his letters, but whatever the reason, it is strange that he did not know who owns any of these houses.
That, I suggest, might be a very good reason for not taking the Committee stage for some time. Then, we do need to know a little more about the plans for future business. Nothing would be more unfair to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who work hard, and attend for long hours at a time—and there are far more hon. Members on that side than on my own—to have them locked up in a Committee room in the mornings as well when they were not likely to reach any fruitful conclusion.
One cannot tell whether it is worth while sending a Bill upstairs if one does not know for how long the Session is going to continue. If, after much work upstairs, we finally approve the Bill in Committee and bring it back here, it may be that we find it impossible to take the Report stage.
Can we be told when the Session will end? Will it be this year? Is the right hon. Gentleman going on until March, or will he end it at the normal time? When are we to have the Recess? Should we wait until after that Recess in order that he might collect the various material which is necessary for our deliberations? All of these are highly material questions which should be asked when considering whether we shall send this Bill upstairs or not.
Cannot we be told a little more about the motive behind this matter? There were two important items which won the last Election—"red meat "and" public houses to go back to the brewers." One 2673 got the votes, and the other got the money. It was said, very naturally, that the first promise could not be honoured, and then decided that they had better have the second as quickly as possible.
We started off with a return for a definite pledge given; but if the pledge had been given, why, after the Second Reading, was it forgotten completely? Surely this is one thing that ought to have been on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's conscience—that here was a Bill of importance, here was the one pledge of the pledges given that it was possible to keep. Or is the case that all the other pledges were so automatically broken that hon. Gentlemen opposite felt that this, too, just should go?
Why do we have this long gap? Why, after four months, send this Bill upstairs? I can understand putting a Bill upstairs straight away, because then there would be a good deal of time in Committee upstairs, but at this stage of the Session it is most unusual to send any Bill upstairs that is controversial. I think, looking back on past Parliaments, that in a normal Parliament—it is a pity we have not the Leader of the House here to explain the matter to us— this is the time when the Standing Committees are closing down, when Bills cease to go to them; and now we are suddenly to send the most controversial Bill of all upstairs to a Committee.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be frank with the House —if he feels that this is a discreditable Measure. Because that is the interesting thing. That was the reason the 1917 Bill was sent upstairs—the 1917 Bill which amended the criminal law—for it was felt that the subject was such that it should not be discussed in the whole House; and that was the reason why the change took place there. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to cite that precedent in favour of doing this, but is he doing it for the same reason? Is his argument the same why the Bill should be sent upstairs—because it is not quite nice to discuss it with the full publicity downstairs.
If that is not the reason, what is it? He hopes to save Parliamentary time down here? Will he tell us what for? 2674 What other Measures are there to be discussed in this Chamber? If there is none, then we have plenty of time. Or are we to rise soon? Then, the Standing Committee will rise, too. I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the many unanswered questions on this matter.
§ 3.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
This topic has been discussed with so much fervour and zeal by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that it would be impossible to accuse them of any insincerity, but, of course, one might otherwise have been driven, perhaps, to the conclusion that their motives might not have been unconnected with the enthusiasm to get controversial Bills of this kind on the Floor of the House to delay other work which has to be done. But they have omitted to tell the House something—and this is the only point on which I wish to take up the time of the House in considering whether this Bill should go to a Standing Committee or not.
It would be quite inappropriate to discuss the merits of the Bill at this stage, but it is essential for the purpose of the argument just to recall what this is about, and what this Bill does is to repeal one part of the 1949 Act. The 1949 Act was a very major Act affecting a wide field of the licensing law, but what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have talked on this subject tonight have not told the House is that the very major Measure of the last Government was sent upstairs to a Standing Committee. It was perfectly proper for them to take that major Measure upstairs, but now they seek to tell the House that it would be most improper to send this much smaller Measure upstairs.
I ask the House to have some sense of proportion about this. The real position is that there was a major Measure in 1949 which made material and important changes in the law. This Bill is to restore the status quo ante as to a part of it. It was proper to send that Measure upstairs before, why is it improper to send this one upstairs now?
§ Mr. Marlowe
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman: because at that stage we had only just begun this Parliament, and we supposed that there would be an effective Opposition; we were not quite sure whether it was safe to send Bills upstairs. Since then we have learned that the Opposition have no desire to defeat the Government and we feel much safer, and we know perfectly well that we can send Bills upstairs with safety.
§ 3.36 a.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Not the least attractive attribute of the Home Secretary is his rollicking sense of humour, but I thought that this evening he overstrained it a little when he gave the Government's courage as one of the reasons for their change of mind. It was also unfortunate if that was not a joke, because it was made quite clear, if he did not know it already, that on the Government benches sit a collection of men shivering at the result of every urban district council election. The Government have made it quite clear that Measure after Measure, in the last few weeks, has been wholly dictated by electoral results, and when the right hon. and learned Gentleman comes here now and tells us that it is an act of courage that prompts the Government, after a lapse of four months, to change their minds, we can rule that out.
There is a possibility that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. It may be that the well-known influence of the brewing industry on the Tory Party has been decisive. If so, it is wrong to suggest that it is merely in fulfilment of past promises. I do not think the Conservative Party can be relied upon to fulfil their promises to the brewing industry any more than is expedient, any more than their promises to the electorate as a whole.
If the Government have now changed their minds because they are conscious of their obligations to the brewing industry, it is not in fulfilment of past promises but in the hope of favours to come. It is the realisation that the coffers of the Conservative Party are empty, and that unless they make a gesture of fulfilling those promises there will be no money for the next Election.
My view is that the reasons why the Government have changed their minds 2676 are not specifically connected with that, although I am sure that is not far absent from their minds. The reason why they have changed their minds was touched on by the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe). It is the change in the political atmosphere since 27th February. When this Government took office they were wholly persuaded of their success, and as a result they suffered from the same complaint as the late Dr. Goebbels of believing in their own lying propaganda. They completely failed to appreciate the decision the country had given.
I do not know who was responsible for that. Maybe that brilliant intellectual the Patronage Secretary is their chief-of-staff and guide in these matters. It is quite clear that they failed to realise that the electorate had given the same answer to the Conservative Party as they gave to the Labour Government in 1950. The electorate had said, "We do not want you to carry out any wide, sweeping legislative changes. What we want you to do is to concentrate on administration. Go in and carry out the promises you made. Give evidence of the fact that you are the competent administrators you claim to be."
But the Government did not take heed of that. They embarked upon a vast legislative programme, and they have got completely bogged down as a result of their own efforts. Now, of course, they are forced to send this Measure upstairs, otherwise they will jeopardise it. It is perfectly true, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, that in fact the Government could, had they wanted, sent the Bill upstairs in the first instance. But they did not do it. It was positive action on their part which determined the Bill being taken here. Having made the initial mistake on 27th February they have been guided by hope until now, on 27th June, when all hope has been abandoned. There is no prospect of getting this Measure if it is left on the Floor of the House.
What the country wants to know is whether, if the Government cannot get this Bill through, is there any prospect of getting the Steel Bill through. I do not think there is the least prospect. What is to happen when the great steel interests who also sympathise with the Conservative Party realise that? That is 2677 the real reason why the Government have hoped since last week-end to smuggle this through. What the Government are afraid of is that the steel interests, and the other interests behind the Conservative Party who have paid in the past, and whom they hope will pay again, will draw the correct lesson from their action. That is the accurate and charitable explanation of their action.
§ 3.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Devonport)
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) made a powerful point when he said that the previous Bill which dealt with this matter was sent to a Committee upstairs when the Labour Government was in power, and that possibly the same course should be followed in this case. If that was the right argument it was even a more powerful argument when the original proposal was made by the Government.
What is remarkable is that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have stayed to make this powerful intervention, but was not prepared to make the same point on the previous occasion. It was all the more remarkable when one recalls that he began his speech by demanding that everyone should prove his sincerity. If he was sincere in thinking it was altogether right that this question should be referred to a Committee upstairs rather than the whole House, then, obviously, his sincerity would have been more apparent if he had intervened on the previous occasion.
I am sure on a matter of this kind, which might be considered a House of Commons matter, if the hon. and learned Member had appealed to his Whips for a free vote he might have got the same answer as he got tonight when he asked whether he could go home.
The hon. Member for Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) said, quite rightly, that a Bill sent upstairs cannot be reported in the newspapers on anything like the scale of a Measure taken on the Floor of the House. It was a very great Parliamentarian, Henry Fox, who said, about two centuries ago, at a time when there was not reporting of speeches," I will speak so loud I will be heard outside the House." I sometimes think that my hon. Friend models his oratorical style with that in mind.
2678 Due to the unfortunate pressure on space in the newspapers it is difficult for them to report at one and the same time proceedings on the Floor of the House and in Committee upstairs. Therefore, I think that that was one of the factors which should have been taken into account by the Government before they proposed this plan of altering their original decision.
I must agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North when he implied that however reasonable and however orthodox this proposal may be, we must admit that the Home Secretary would bring it before the House in the most reasonable spirit possible. If the attempt is to be made to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear the best person on the Government Front Bench to attempt that hopeless task would be the Home Secretary. It is a pity that he is called on to perform this alchemistic feat so often.
I should like to refer, briefly, to some of the points made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman based his case on four separate propositions. He referred, first, to the unanimity that we had established on this side of the House. That was dealing with the constitutional aspect of the matter, and I will come back and refer to that again in a few minutes. The second part of his argument referred to the question of the procedure, and, I will add nothing to what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), because I do not think the Home Secretary dealt with the novelty which was involved in this proposal in anything like adequate fashion. A full answer was also made on all the points by my hon. and learned Friend and by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).
The third point he referred to was the question—I suppose laughingly referred to—of the courage of the Government in committing this matter to a Committee upstairs, and that I think has been dealt adequately with by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). The fourth point dealt with the practical needs of the situation, and I would only add a few words to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, because this is a further example of the new kind of legislation which this Government seems to be increasingly 2679 favouring. We had a similar example in the recent National Health Service Bill
We have had a lot of complaints about retrospective legislation, but it seems to be a growing fashion to have anticipatory legislation. In many respects anticipatory legislation is a much greater insult to the authority of the House of Commons than retrospective legislation, because in the case of retrospective legislation the House of Commons has the advantage of being able to review the facts. In the case of anticipatory legislation the situation is very different. If there is an increase in this practice, we will see the Government coming along before the normal stages of a Bill is complete and saying that they must speed it up because they had anticipated that the Bill would complete its passage through the House much sooner.
It is a serious constitutional departure and particularly alarming when a novel constitutional proposal of this kind is introduced primarily to upset what has already become the law of the land. Therefore, there should be a much fuller explanation by the Home Secretary as to why he embarked on this form of anticipatory legislation, so strongly condemned by many hon. Gentlemen during the discussion on the National Health Service Bill when the same risk was attempted by the Government.
My main point is that the first matter the Home Secretary dealt with—the general question of what sort of Bills should be sent to the Committee and what are the kind of circumstances in which the House should decide to send a Bill upstairs. I agree with the inference at the beginning of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech that this is an important and, in many respects, a difficult matter. Nobody can be dogmatic about it. Whether a Bill should go upstairs or not depends on the circumstances, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to some speeches from this side on this subject at an earlier date. He said that we then claimed that we were entitled to ask why Bills had not been sent upstairs, a reference to a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan).
It is interesting that the Home Secretary should say that on 27th June, because when my right hon. Friend put that ques- 2680 tion on 9th April the Leader of the House refused an answer. It is a bit hard that my right hon. Friend should have to wait three months for the answer, and it would have been much better for the Home Secretary's case and the whole procedure of the Government if the answer had come when the question was originally put.
What happened on 9th April, when there were roughly 10 Members present opposite? I am glad there are more present tonight to listen to the arguments that were then put, for on the earlier occasion they were upstairs discussing whether they were going to have a Transport Bill at all, and unfortunately that clashed with an important discussion on how the business of the House might be conducted. If more attention had been paid to that debate, the Government might have saved themselves a great number of difficulties.
Let me refer to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who referred to the Marine and Aviation War Risks (Insurance) Bill—we are still in the middle of it. It was suggested it might have been an advantage to the Government to send that kind of Bill upstairs. My hon. Friend said on 9th April:The very first Bill on (he Order Paper in this Session was the British Museum Bill."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2801.]It is still on the Order Paper; we have not reached it. The Government would not listen when we said some of these Bills should be sent upstairs. If they had sent them to Committee, it might be that the British Museum Bill would now be on the Statute Book.
The Marine and Aviation (War Risks) Insurance Bill might have made further progress, and there were other Bills as well. But the main argument to which I was referring——
§ Mr. Foot
This proposal was made to the Government by Members of the Opposition at a time when it would have been possible for the Government to have used this procedure in the way it has been normally used in previous 2681 Parliaments. It was regarded as a matter of such little importance, and so much annoyance was shown, that they would not listen to the suggestion. The Patronage Secretary was most impatient on that occasion, and tried to bring the debate to an end as quickly as possible.
What I want to do is to quote a passage from a speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, though he did not reveal the full implications of it in the reference which he made to it in the House tonight. On 9th April, my right hon. Friend said this:…the practice has always been either to abandon contentious legislation and confine the legislation to what is required by the Constitution and by the first requirements of the nation, or to divide their Bills into two classes—Bills which are required absolutely essentially and Bills which are not so essential.Those which are not so essential are sent upstairs, and if they are murdered upstairs because they cannot be passed in a way that is congenial to the Government, then past Governments have always accepted their demise. In fact, I sat on Committees with the present Leader of the House, who was very dexterous in legislative assassination."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2794.]That was the general case presented by my right hon. Friend, and that is the argument which has been invoked by the Home Secretary in his speech tonight. What I want to ask him—if he can tear himself away from his discussion with the Patronage Secretary for a second-on the point he himself raised at the beginning of his speech, is whether he accepts the argument put forward by my right hon. Friend. Did he mean to imply, by his reference to that speech, that he is now, three months later, accepting that general argument?
Are we to understand that the Motion which we are discussing, which is a matter of some importance in the constitutional history of this country, because it introduces a precedent never resorted to since 1917, is an isolated proposal by the Government, or that it is a general change of policy? It would appear to be indicated by the very fact that the Home Secretary did refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend that he is accepting the general argument.
Therefore, he must really try to clear up the matter, and tell us whether he has now accepted the proposition that, 2682 because of the narrow majority in this House, it is not possible for such contentious legislation to be introduced, and that the only possibility is that Bills should be divided into two classes, and that the Government would be prepared to accept the situation that many Bills sent to Committees upstairs shall be murdered, according to the pattern described by my right hon. Friend.
It is only right that we should have a full reply on that point, because it does make a difference to our attitude to this Motion. If this is an isolated proposal to deal with one particular Bill, then all the sinister implications that have been very rightly suggested by my hon. Friends are fully substantiated.
But if the Home Secretary is going to say that they have at last discovered the wisdom of the advice given on 9th April; that this is a general change of policy and that they are proposing to abandon much of their contentious legislation and to send other Bills to the Committee and to run the risk of losing them; if they accept the proposition that it is better late than never. I think we ought to have an explanation from the Home Secretary of why it has been done. It will be treating this matter more lightly than it deserves if the Home Secretary does not give an answer to the quetion whether this is a general change of policy, or whether it is a policy to be applied only to this Bill.
I must confess that if it had been a general change of policy which was intended, the Home Secretary ought to have read more carefully the speech of my right hon. Friend, who said:We are therefore entitled to ask the Government— and this is an exceedingly serious matter—why they have cluttered up the House with legislation and not sent certain legislation upstairs. If the Government want to ventilate certain issues and to move the Second Reading of them, in my respectful submission they ought to accept the logic of the Parliamentary situation and the logic of the electoral situation, and ought not to seek to force through the House of Commons legislation repugnant to the vast majority of the people of Great Britain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2795.]Are we to understand from the quotation which the Home Secretary has given us that he has accepted the advice of my right hon. Friend—that he accepts the logic of the Parliamentary situation and the logic of the electoral situation? If 2683 that is so it may be difficult for me to follow my hon. Friend into the Lobby against him, because I always thought that there was a powerful argument for the whole of the case put forward on that occasion. But if the Home Secretary will not say that, and if he is going to prove that he has chosen this particular instrument to deal with this particular Bill, the whole case made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, and by the Front Bench on this side stands proved and substantiated. It proves that the Government, unable to get this miserable Bill through in the open, intend to try to do so in the dark. To use a metaphor, they do not think that they will get served in the public bar so they are going to try to get what they want in the bottle and jug department. But the Home Secretary may find that he has to face a few difficulties upstairs, just as he would have to face difficulties downstairs.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the Committee will give me leave I shall try to deal shortly with the points which have been raised. I will begin with the point put by the hon. Member who has just spoken. He has asked whether I accept a constitutional thesis which he elaborated by quotation, a constitutional thesis which would have made Blackstone blench and Dicey shiver, and which contained a novel, jejune, unfounded suggestion, based neither upon history nor fact. I think it was Sheridan who was the first Member of this House to remark that an hon. Member opposite took his jokes from history and his facts from his imagination. The hon. Gentleman has certainly followed the second part, but he has given a speech singularly free from jokes—except one, which I will give him: he said, with all that synthetic passion to which we are accustomed, that if I took a certain line, he would consider abstaining from following his hon. Friends into the Lobby. Following his hon. Friends into the Lobby! We know, and everyone knows, that 13 Socialists have sufficient interest in the Bill to be here tonight, and we know that those 13 Socialists will never summon up courage to go into the Lobby in any event.
I tried very hard to find some subject, something, on which I could unite the divided ranks opposite me. It is a diffi- 2684 cult matter. We on this side of the House have tried in foreign affairs, home affairs, transport, economic problems— and we have always found that a yawning chasm showed itself more and more with every subject. I thought here, tonight, was a really kind act. Here, I said; is a quotation from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in which he says, "Send Bills upstairs." Here is a quotation from the Leader of the Opposition in which he says, "Send Bills upstairs." I thought I might be the new uniter of this party which is rent by division; but my generous efforts have failed. Not one right hon. or hon. Gentleman opposite has supported the plea of the Leader of the Opposition—of course, we are used to that—and only one hon. Gentleman, and then in a most qualified way, has supported the plea of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that Bills should be sent upstairs.
If the debate has done nothing else, it has shown how inevitable and incurable these divisions are; and it has also shown the complete lack of interest in this subject by the party opposite. I except the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who approached it from a different way. The debate has shown the complete insincerity of everything that has been said tonight. We are left with a small group of rhetoricians to support what they say is a great cause and a great attack. When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite sent the Transport Bill upstairs, they were only too ready that it should go upstairs to be guillotined, and the livelihood of thousands of men and women taken away. Did they think that Bill was important? They sent the Town and Country Planning Bill there, too, and the Licensing Bill itself.
After many years in the House, one knows the phrases in which procedural protests are always couched, and even the hon. Member for Devonport, with all his literary experience, scarcely avoided the proportion of two clichés per sentence which is almost universal on these occasions. But he did try to make certain points; and those I shall try to deal with. It is quite clear that the situation in February, when we were opening the second part of the session, was such that it was impossible to judge what would be the effect, either on the time of the session, or on the House itself.
2685 But, may I say that, on this one point, we have had two conflicting views. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from opposite asked why the Government claimed to be courageous in sending this upstairs; because, if beaten there, the Government could put things right on report stage. The argument of every other speaker has been that we were afraid to take it on the Floor of the House.
I have taken first of all the plea from the party opposite and, secondly, the needs of the Development Corporations. There is no question of illegality, but of practical planning, which it is their duty to carry out. We have heard nothing from hon. Members opposite on that basic point.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is addressing the House for a second time, with the leave of the House; and to say that certain representations have not been made, and to refuse to give way, is a discourtesy when addressing the House by leave.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am trying to deal with the points which have been made. With regard to giving way, the hon. Member knows that an argument suffers greatly if one does not complete it; and on the run of the game, taking one session with another, I think I may fairly claim that there are not many people who give way more than I. But what I want to make quite clear with regard to the Bill is the position of the session. That has changed with regard to the amount of business to be taken, and the amount of time available for it. It is most unfortunate if I may say so with respect, that, in these circumstances, the only answer of a small body of something like 4 per cent. of the party opposite, when their fellows have not the courage to come and face this debate, is the making of base charges. It is reducing Parliamentary opposition to something which they will live to regret.
§ Mr. Donald Kaberry (Leeds, North-west) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House proceeded to a Division. Mr. CEDRIC DREWE and Mr. HENDRIE OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to 2686 act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
That the Order for Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Standing Committee,
put accordingly, and agreed to.