HC Deb 31 March 1953 vol 513 cc1051-107

Order read for consideration of Lords Amendments.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

I beg to move, to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day three months."

I understand that three months is the necessary form and, whilst we might have been content with somewhat less than that period, it does not suffer from being on the wrong side as far as we are concerned. I want to appeal very strongly to the Prime Minister, as well as to the Leader of the House on a matter which is of considerable Parliamentary importance.

I will give the history of how these Amendments were received. The Bill had its Third Reading in another place as late as Thursday. The Lords Amendments were not received in the Vote Office, and could not very well be received in the Vote Office of the House of Commons, until Friday. It is the case that some of my hon. Friends asked in the Vote Office for the Bill as it went to their Lordships' House, without which, of course, it was not possible properly to consider the Lords Amendments, and that Bill was not available in the Vote Office to some of my hon. Friends. There may have been a mistake, but there it was—or rather there it was not.

That, in itself, is a very serious thing. The Lords Amendments were not in the Vote Office until Friday morning. I want to be fair and I admit that there was available to a limited number of us on the Front Opposition Bench some duplicated copies through the usual channels, but the last of those did not come until late on Thursday and that does not alter the fact that whatever is supplied privately to the Front Bench does not meet the point of view of the House as a whole.

Therefore, I start with the point that the Lords Amendments were not available in the Vote Office until Friday morning. The House was counted out, on the initiative of an hon. Member opposite, on Friday about one o'clock. Clearly, there was not time on that day for the responsible leaders of the Opposition, or for anyone else on the Opposition side, to consider what Amendments to the Lords Amendments should be drafted. The House was dispersed; hon. Members went to their homes and their constituencies and Friday was ineffective for this purpose.

The next day was Saturday, the day that followed was Sunday and the House did not sit on Monday for sad reasons, with which the House is familiar. So Monday was not an effective Parliamentary day and it was impossible adequately to get together with one's hon. Friends interested in the Bill and make proper preparations for the proceedings which are before us today.

I submit to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House that, in these circumstances, it is quite unfair to the House of Commons, and quite contrary to good Parliamentary tradition and usage, to consider these Amendments today. I beg them, on the basis of elementary Parliamentary decency, not to proceed with the consideration of the Lords Amendments today. Moreover— I say this with some hesitation and I will not dwell upon it—this is an unhappy day on which to be involved in the series of highly controversial debates which are bound to arise. For that reason alone I think it undesirable to take these Amendments today.

We were informed that our Amendments to their Lordships Amendments had to be with the Public Bill Office by 4.30 p.m. yesterday, because the House was not sitting. In the ordinary way the Amendments to the Amendments need not have been in until the rising of the House. So we were at that additional disadvantage. Not only was Friday ineffective, but Monday, which was substantially ineffective, would have been wholly ineffective as well, had I not asked some of my hon. Friends to consult me about this. Even then, the Amendments had to be in by 4.30 p.m., instead of at the rising of the House. These are all material points which have made a farce of Parliamentary procedure on these Amendments.

The House is in no proper condition to proceed to the consideration of the Lords Amendments themselves. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, indeed, hon. Members on this side of the House and anybody else —except those of us who drafted them— have not until this morning at the earliest, seen the Amendments to the Amendments which we propose. I submit, therefore, that the House will be proceeding to debate the Amendments from another place and the proposed Amendments to them without having had an opportunity to study them.

The important feature of Parliamentary procedure is that the House should know what it is doing. Hon. Members cannot know what they are doing if mere is not a reasonable time between the circulation of papers and Amendments and the discussion on them. I doubt whether the Minister himself has had adequate time to consider these Amendments to the Amendments. Presumably they were not in his hands until yesterday evening at any rate, and officially they were not printed and available until this morning.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have spent the last five hours on them. They were nearly all very old friends.

Mr. Morrison

That will not do. If he is proposing to adopt that attitude of contempt at this early stage, the Minister is not being a sensible Parliamentarian. He is being unwise. What he means is that he has given a fleeting glance at these Amendments. He has just been to the office and said, "I don't care what the Opposition have put down. Away with them. I will oppose the lot." That is the consideration which the Minister has given. I submit that though this may be "smart Alec stuff" it is not a good Parliamentary policy.

All through the proceedings on this Bill the Minister of Transport has not treated the House of Commons fairly, I do. not support the Minister of Supply. I thoroughly dislike his Bill. But if we contrast these two Ministers in their handling of two Bills involving a similar principle, the Minister of Supply was much more competent than the Minister of Transport. That is well known.

A number of substantial Amendments have been put down by their Lordships. There are some new Clauses. In some cases they represent policies which, in part, we urged upon the Minister. One proposed new Clause could have been a Bill and ought to have had consideration by the House in Committee and on Report. All the Minister said was, "I will consider the matter, and, if necessary, something may happen in another place." He did not tell us what he was going to do. We had no opportunity of debating it. Time after time the Minister set aside the House of Commons. He almost ignored us. He adopted an attitude of contempt. He proceeded on the basis that he was proposing to do things in another place.

Another place has its job to do. I consider it to be a body of considerable ability when revising legislation. But we cannot accept it as a substitute for the House of Commons. These Amendments of substance have now to be considered by us as though it were substantive legislation before the House of Commons for the first time. As we were not able to consider them in Committee or on Report, we must give them adequate consideration now.

There is another difficulty which affects you, Mr. Speaker. The Government have been unfair to the Chair in involving us in a situation whereby the Chair could not see these Amendments until this morning at the earliest. I am not sure that you, Sir, could have seen them even this morning. I submit that that is not treating the Chair properly, because the Chair has to decide what Amendments to accept —and possibly what Amendments should not be accepted, although I hope there will not be many of those. However, the Chair has that direct responsibility and I submit that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have not treated the Chair properly.

The House must not think that we have put down these Amendments merely to use up time. Indeed, they cannot think that, because in the case of the Labour Government's Transport Bill the consideration of the Lords Amendments was not completed until 10.20 a.m. on the following morning. Therefore, the Government knew that the Lords Amendments to a Bill of this nature were liable to take a long time. They must have regarded it as legitimate to involve the House in the consideration of those other Amendments until 10.20 a.m., and it is obvious that the consideration of these Amendments will take a substantial amount of time.

Now we have had another event which is a further reason for not considering these Amendments today. At seven o'clock our proceedings will be interrupted under Standing Order No. 9 and we cannot resume until ten o'clock if the Adjournment debate goes for the full time. Then we start again. In all these circumstances, and on a day such as this, I put it to the Government that we ought not to proceed today with the consideration of the Lords Amendments.

The Third Reading of the 1947 Bill was on Tuesday, 15th July, and the Lords Amendments were not taken until 23rd July, eight days later. In this case the Third Reading was on 26th March and the Lords Amendments are being taken today, five days after. But the intervening period has been substantially ineffective for proper Parliamentary purposes. In the circumstances, I ask that we should not be pressed to proceed with the consideration of these Amendments today.

If it was a matter of urgent public importance that the Bill should reach the Statute Book by Easter I could understand the position. But whatever may be thought about the merits of the Bill— we think that it is a bad Bill and, presumably, hon. Gentlemen opposite think that it is a good one—there is no urgency for its being on the Statute Book before Easter. I should have thought that it would have been good enough if the Government got the Bill this Session.

The Government will merely be standing on a basis of rather obstinate false dignity if they try to force consideration of the Bill today. The Amendments could easily be handled later. I know that the Budget comes after Easter, but this Bill could be dealt with possibly between the Budget and the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. It is not essential in the public interest that the Bill should be dealt with before Easter.

Whatever may be thought of the merits of the Lords Amendments, or of our Amendments to them, there is one consideration which I always thought united this House and that is respect for the proper conduct of our Parliamentary institutions. I think that it must be accepted, by the Prime Minister at any rate, that I have proved that we have not been treated in time on this matter and that, owing to the circumstances of the sad bereavement with which we are all familiar and certain consequences that followed from it, it has been utterly impossible to consider properly the Amendments from the other place and our Amendments to them.

I earnestly plead with the House, and especially with the Prime Minister who, as I have said before, I regard as a Parliamentarian—a man who has the Parliamentary spirit. I think he will see the point that it is impossible for the House to be effective in considering these matters today and that to do so will do an injury to the prestige and the rights of Parliament. I trust that the Government will be good enough to accept the proposal which I have made.

4.23 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

We have listened with great care to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said. Perhaps the House will now allow me to put the other side of the picture. I accept from the right hon. Gentleman that there have been difficulties in the circumstances of the last few days, but those circumstances were known at the time when this business was set down for today. There is no surprise about it—none at all.

Mr. H. Morrison

There was.

Mr. Crookshank

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me. May I make my case?

Mr. Morrison

The right hon. Gentleman is saying something that is not true. This was announced on Thursday. It was not known then that Her late Majesty was dead.

Mr. Crookshank

It was.

Mr. Morrison

It was not known until Thursday night. Therefore, it was not known that the House would not meet on Monday.

Mr. Crookshank

I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman because I thought that he had a point to make. I should like to repeat exactly what I said on Thursday which was, of course, subsequent to the sad event. In answer to the Leader of the Opposition I said: Yes, Sir. In view of the Lying-in-State in Westminster Hall of Her late Majesty Queen Mary, the House will not meet on Monday next. Then I said that the business would be consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Transport Bill. I added: These Amendments are expected to be received from another place during the course of today's Sitting. The fact of the matter is—

Mr. Morrison

I am sorry about that. I made an error in the day. The right hon. Gentleman is right. He will appreciate, of course, that it is still true that we had not got the Amendments at that point. We had not seen the measure of the job which was to be put before us on the Tuesday.

Mr. Crookshank

The right hon. Gentleman has made his case. I ask him to let me make the case for the Government. I have just read that I said on Thursday: These Amendments are expected to be received from another place during the course of today's Sitting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1953; Vol. 513, c. 840.]

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

They were not.

Mr. Crookshank

They were.

Mr. Lindgren

We did not have them.

Mr. Crookshank

They were received by this House though, and they were in the Vote Office by Friday morning. That is the normal procedure.

I hope that I may be allowed to explain what the situation was and is. The fact remains—the right hon. Gentleman knows it and everybody else knows it—that the business for the week was made known at the usual time. There were conversations, as there always are, before that. When I made the statement on Thursday about these Amendments being taken today no representations were made by anybody in this House or anywhere else.

The Leader of the Opposition, upon whom the duty normally falls if exchanges are to be made on the Floor of the House, said nothing. If any pressure is put upon us, if a case is made or even if a question is asked, I am always only too anxious to consider the matter, but not a single word was said on this subject.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Crookshank

No. I propose to explain what happened.

As a matter of fact, all the Leader of of the Opposition inquired about was the procedure on the Leasehold Property Bill, which I explained and he was good enough to say that that would be satisfactory. So we had not one word about the Amendments to the Transport Bill at a time when, if there had been any feeling, I should have expected to have heard about it.

This complaint is made a little late in the day. If there really was any strong feeling about it it should have been expressed then. If the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is shaking his head meaning that there was no strong feeling, that may be the explanation—

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

May I make it clear to the Leader of the House that I was not shaking my head to indicate that there were no strong feelings but to indicate that, as soon as we saw the size and number of the Amendments, representations were made through the usual channels last Friday to try to get the situation altered and the business put back? We were told that it was not possible to do that.

Mr. Crookshank

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point. It is true that we received a message, but it was too late to do anything because the House had risen and the business bad already been put down. Therefore, those representations were out of time. But the fact remains that the number of Amendments coming from the other place, and their quality, could not have been unknown to hon. Gentlemen who were following the Bill. They were not all passed on the last day of the consideration of the Bill by the other place.

As always on these Measures, a number of hon. Gentlemen who are interested in what is going on attend the Sittings of the other place. They are well aware of what is happening and the kind of Amendments which this House will eventually be asked to consider. That is always so.

Lieut-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

We have to sit in two Houses now?

Mr. Crookshank

Not at all. We do not ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to sit in either. I am merely saying that that is the normal practice for hon. Gentlemen who are interested in a certain piece of legislation. Of course, we are bound to be in difficulties when, for any reason, the House does not sit. That is accepted.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

The point which the right hon. Gentleman has just made must strike the Prime Minister as extraordinary. What the right hon. Gentleman has now suggested is that we had more time than we alleged because hon. Gentlemen knew what was happening in the other place. Can we now reverse the position and say that, as the other place has now got some Members interested in what is happening in the House of Commons, we ought not to give them any notice either about legislation?

Mr. Crookshank

That is a very clever remark, but I do not quite take the point.

I am merely speaking from the point of view of hon. Gentlemen who have been following this legislation, and I was only saying that, on the number of Amendments, the right hon. Gentleman had said that it was a large number, and that was the only point with which I was dealing at the time. I merely said that hon. Gentlemen who were interested in this legislation probably had a very good idea of the number of Amendments that would be coming along. If they had not, and if they had been curious enough to ask me, I should have been able to have given them that information myself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will allow me to put the case. I quite realise the difficulties which have arisen in this particular case. I am only trying to put to the House how the matter arose.

On Thursday, when the announcement was made, there was no protest, no complaint. Not a word was said against our proceeding with this business today, although it was known that the House was not going to sit yesterday, and, therefore, the usual opportunities which would have been open had the House been sitting were not going to be there. All that was known, and there was no surprise element about it. As far as I can see from what the right hon. Gentlemen has said, the only surprise element was the number of Amendments with which we were confronted on Friday evening. In reply to that, I say that the number was not at all an unknown number, and, indeed, I am certain that it was, in fact, known to many hon. Members.

Mr. H. Morrison

The right hon. Gentleman must not get irritated if he gets interventions now and again. It is part of what we are all paid for. May I put this to him? Is he not now advancing the doctrine, not that there is a responsibility on the authorities of the House or the Government to print and circulate the Lords Amendments—that is not the official act—but of passing the responsibility for knowing all about Lords Amendments that may come down to us on to every Member of the House who has to discharge his own responsibilities?

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we could not know adequately on Friday the whole picture and that I did make representations through such channels as were available to me, putting forward our point of view, but, as the right hon. Gentleman says, because the House rose early on Friday, no effective action could be taken. All these are reasons for the Government reconsidering the situation. Their dignity will not suffer, but the dignity of the House of Commons will be enhanced if they will give way.

Mr. Crookshank

That is a matter of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman and myself. I am not laying down any doctrine; I am merely stating the facts of the case.

I pass now to the second argument which the right hon. Gentleman put. That was that five days was an inordinately short time between the receipt of the Amendments from another place and their discussion in this House—that it was an inordinately short time to discuss Amendments to a Bill of this magnitude.

Mr. Morrison

I said effectively.

Mr. Crookshank

It depends whether they are effective or not. Sometimes, the fact that the House is not sitting makes it more effective for those who are concerned in working out Amendments, and they have more leisure to do so than would otherwise be the case, especially at week-ends. That is a matter for consideration.

I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, who was saying that, when his Government's Transport Bill came to this House, there were, in fact, eight days between the consideration of the Lords Amendments and the return of the Bill from the House of Lords, that that is quite true in that particular case, but there were also over 240 Lords Amendments, which was more than three times the number which we have to consider on this occasion, so that that is not a very good analogy. If the right hon. Gentleman likes to cast his mind back to other cases of major Bills—of a nationalisation character and others—he will find that this occurred at the end of a Session in 1947. This is always apt to happen at the end of a Session or a section of a Session, because that is the time at which the House has more or less finished with legislation. In 1947, the length of time given for considering the Amendments was exactly the same—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is exactly the same in days, whether it happened in March or July.

In that year, on 31st July, this House received the Agriculture Bill and the Electricity Bill, both major Government Measures, and the Lords Amendments to the Agriculture Bill were taken on Monday, 4th August; that is to say, four days after its receipt. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many were there?"] There were over 70, just the same number as in this case. The Electricity Bill was also received on 31st July, and the Lords Amendments were taken on 8th August; that is to say, after five days, again the same as in this case. As to the number of Amendments, there were over 120, so that the right hon. Gentleman is not on very strong ground in saying that there are only five days available, because here were these two cases of major Measures coming simultaneously before the House, and in one case the interval was four days and in the other five days.

The fact is that it is always the experience when Amendments come from another place that there is not over-much time before the discussion, and that is the practice of the House and the Government of the day, whatever Government is in power, which hopes to get the Bill enacted, if it is to be enacted at all. The right hon. Gentleman said it was the hope of the Government to have the Bill enacted by Easter, and the number of days available from the receipt of the Lords Amendments is not very different from what happened in the time when he was in charge of public business.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

What is the urgency of the Bill?

Mr. Crookshank

The urgency of the Bill is the desire of the Government to put it on the Statute Book, which is endorsed by a majority of this House and of another place, so far. So far, so good.

As a matter of fact, I understand from my right hon. Friend that about one-third of these Amendments are about matters which were of direct concern to the Opposition at the time when the Bill was going through its earlier stages, and, therefore, there does not seem to be anything in the nature of the Amendments which have come to us—I see that the Opposition have put down Amendments of their own to them—to which exception could be taken by the Opposition, judging by the debates which have taken place hitherto.

It is unfortunate that there should be an interruption of business at 7 o'clock, but that certainly cannot be put down to the responsibility of the Government. [Interruption.] It is not our fault that the Adjournment of the House is to be moved at 7 o'clock, because a sufficient number of hon. Gentlemen opposite stood up and demanded that it should be done; it was granted, but it was not our fault that it was to happen today.

In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, in view of the fact that it was known that this business was to be taken this week, despite the changes which have been necessary in business owing to the events of last week, and in view of the fact that no comments and no representations were made at the time —they were not made at the tune—it is necessary, in the opinion of the Government, to get this Bill as soon as we may. We have made good progress all through the year, and we therefore hope to get this Bill on the Statute Book this side of Easter.

It seems to me from what I have gathered about these particular Amendments that there is no particular reason why, if we apply our minds to them and go forward now, instead of having a long discussion on whether we shall discuss them or not, we might make very good progress. I therefore hope that the House will reject the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman and accept the Motion to proceed with the Lords Amendments which has been moved by my right hon. Friend.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

It would be a great error if this House were to proceed with this matter under a misapprehension created, I am sure entirely unwittingly, by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. From what he said, it is clear that he is all too unfamiliar with the procedure of another place, and we on this side feel that if steps were taken better to familiarise him with it by giving him a seat there so that he need not just watch the proceedings from the outside like one of those "near-peers" that he advises us all to be, the business of this House and that of another place would go more smoothly.

His main complaint was that my right hon. Friends did not complain of the number of Amendments when he announced the business. But, my Lord— [Laughter.] That comes of paying too great attention to the proceedings of another place. The point that the right hon. Gentleman entirely omitted was that in another place, unlike in this House, Amendments can be moved on Third Reading, and if he will examine the actual times—which are, fortunately, marked—he will find that he made his announcement before 3.50 and that it was not until 4.15 on Thursday that the Amendments in another place were being moved. So what is his complaint? It is that we did not know in advance that the Amendments were to be moved. He knew, but he did not bother to tell the House.

What does the right hon. Gentleman say? He says that because he did not bother to tell the House the amount of the business, and because we could not know, owing to the fact that the Amendments had not been moved, we ought to have complained, and that, as he has pulled off a fast trick, we ought to sit down and think how clever he is. I do not think the House works in that way or that all hon. Members on this side should be converted into a kind of "near-peers." We already have some hon. Members opposite who are as near "near-peers" as possible, and we do not think any more of this nearness. I think we are far better occupied dealing with the affairs of this House than snooping round trying to see what is being done elsewhere.

We on this side adhere to the original and ancient arrangements of this House and we do not take notice of the affairs of another place until they are officially communicated to us. The Bill was brought from the Lords on Thursday. It was ordered by this House to be printed on Thursday, and it was available on Friday, when the House sat and was counted out by the party opposite.

Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)

May I interrupt my hon. and learned Friend to correct him on one point? The Bill was not available in this House on Friday, at least not at one o'clock.

Mr. Bing

The argument which is being quite seriously adduced by the right hon. Gentleman is that we should not have devoted ourselves to the other business—all the other business was unimportant—but should have been in the House of Lords preparing for this business. Why? Because every hon. Member on this side should have anticipated that some such trick as this would be played on us.

Normally speaking, there is no reason why hon. Members should concern themselves with what is happening in the House of Lords; they should wait until the Amendments are prepared and put before them in the normal form. The only reason they should run to the other place to see what is being moved is that they anticipate that they are to have the thing rushed on top of them at a moment's notice. That is the only reason anybody on this side should have gone to the House of Lords. I suppose that we on this side are to blame for believing that the right hon. Gentleman would lead the House in a proper manner. That is a vital assumption to make, but it is because we made that assumption that we did not run round to the House of Lords.

That was practically the only argument adduced by the right hon. Gentleman why we should consider this matter tonight, other than that he had announced it. But that does not decide what this House decides. Fortunately, what the right hon. Gentleman can announce is not what Parliament decides. All he can say is what the business is to be, and the business he announced was that a Motion would be moved to the effect that we should take the Lords Amendments into consideration. It is a question for this House to decide whether or not we should, and I hope that is a matter to which many of my hon. Friends will give a little time and attention.

The only other argument adduced was a short interuption from the Minister of Transport. He said, in regard to all these things, that they were very old friends— that was his argument—unless, of course, the right hon. Gentleman treats his very old friends in the same way as the party opposite treat their electors, making promises one moment and paying no attention to them the next. This is a very shabby way to treat the Lords Amendments.

To take the first of his very old friends, he forgot it entirely. What does the Amendment that we shall come to consider deal with? It is a matter, I should have thought, paramount in the mind of every hon. Gentleman opposite—property. We allowed this Bill to go through the House without containing any proper definition of "property," and this was a matter which obviously had to be looked at with very great care and attention in another place. I have here the actual passage, which I can quote, from the speech of the Earl of Selkirk who, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that this was a very important issue.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I do not think we are yet dealing with the Lords Amendments, and, therefore, we must only discuss whether we should discuss them now or not.

Mr. Bing

Exactly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that is the point to which my argument was devoted. I am only going to say that it may be necessary to ask you to accept a manuscript Amendment relating to this very issue of property. I think it would be far better if hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are far greater experts on property than I am, had an opportunity of examining the thing when they see it on paper rather than having a very complicated and long Amendment read out to them.

The only point I was going to make was that in another place a Bill of this sort is looked at in quite a different way from here. The point that occupied their Lordships on the first occasion was the nature of the property they were discussing. It was said on behalf of the Government, "Now that we are in the course of transfering property, particularly to companies, we wish the definition to be rather wider." That was their trouble, but when they came to the question of what was the property which they were to sell, then, of course, they had to have the definition rather narrower.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think the hon and learned Gentleman is going beyond my Ruling. He must not discuss the Amendments now.

Mr. Bing

In that case, I shall, no doubt, have an opportunity of discussing this aspect of the matter later.

I only wish to add one or two arguments which I hope will appeal to the Leader of the House. I do not know how long hon. Members on this side have had the Amendments. I have an arrangement with the Vote Office by which I have the full Vote sent to me every morning, and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends who take a great interest in the work of this House have a similar arrangement. I did not receive these Amendments this morning. Indeed, I had to ring the Vote Office at 9.30 a.m. in order to study the Amendments on the Paper, and I think that may have been happening in the case of many of my hon. Friends.

I do not blame the Vote Office in the least. The arrangements of this House are not geared to deal with procedural tricks of the type which the Leader of the House likes to play on Parliament. Therefore, it is quite impossible for the very able and very devoted servants of this House to be up to, and to gear their printing machines to, the chicanery of the right hon. Gentleman. That is one of the practical and technical problems which we must face in this House.

If that is so, it ought to be understood by other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that it really brings Parliament into contempt if the only place where there is not to be a Guillotine on discussion of the Transport Bill is another place; that their Lordships can go into it at all the length that they like, and into exactly what is the right sort of property to suit property interests and every phase of property; that they are allowed all facilities to deal with it, yet when it comes to this House another Guillotine applies. It is not a Guillotine of time, because, fortunately, we have all this week and probably next week to discuss the Bill, but a Guillotine on opportunity to consider the Amendments. Incidentally, that is why I referred to the first Amendment, because we may be able to dispose of that one, at any rate, tonight.

It really brings the whole of Parliamentary procedure into contempt if we are to be told that another place can have as long as they like over this Measure. If this Measure needed to be passed before Easter, has the Leader of the House no influence in another place? Could he not have speeded up their proceedings a little, or is the time-table of this House to be adjusted to the dinner hour of their Lordships? That is what the Leader of the House is saying. It is quite true that their Lordships sat until midnight once—what an appalling imposition! But the procedure of this House, where things really matter, is to be fixed by a time-table dictated from another place. That is a most reactionary idea which is derogatory to the dignity of this House. It is possibly what we might expect from the Leader of the House, but not what we might expect from all other right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

I hope, therefore, that one or two voices will be raised on the other side of the House in favour of this House of Commons. We all know that many hon. and right hon. Members opposite have their eyes set on another place, but that should not prevent them in their transitory stay here from saying a word or two in favour of this House. It makes a mockery of democracy when we have long speeches about the value of democracy, when we are told that we have the most perfect democracy in this country, and then people who happen to be in another place through the hereditary principle decide things and we in this House cannot have a clear 24 hours to examine what they have decided but must vote on them straightaway. That is no way to run a democracy, and it is one which I hope that this House will reject.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

One wants to be thoroughly reasonable in matters of procedure, but one expects a certain amount of reasonableness from the other side of the House. That something has gone very wrong here I should have thought ought to be obvious to any reasonable person. Quite apart from whose fault it may be, or the other reasons for it, what has gone wrong is that a very large number of hon. Members of this House were unable to see the Lords Amendments until Friday, and even a larger number were unable to see them at all until either Saturday, or, in some cases, today.

After all, these Amendments are 70 in number. They introduce substantial and important changes in an important Bill, and the Lords Amendments have had to be considered by the majority of hon. Members of this House at quite inadequate notice. The practical difficulty has been very much greater than that. These Amendments introduce not merely verbal changes, but whole new Clauses and new Schedules which will require consideration as important pieces of legislation and which, if they had been introduced in the Bill in the first instance, to some extent would have had that consideration in this House.

They were flung at us—that is really not too strong an expression—without any opportunity or time to consider them and under a threat, not made by any person but arising out of the situation, that any Amendments to them had to be brought in by 4.30 p.m. yesterday. One does not need to be an expert, one does not need to have any political prejudices to realise that that kind of thing is dead wrong and is grossly unfair to individual Members who want to do some work in connection with this Bill. The effect of it is to deprive hon. Members who are interested and the whole House of a proper opportunity of considering beforehand what they have to debate today.

I cannot exaggerate from my own point of view the extreme unfairness of conduct of that kind if it is attributable to anyone. Does any right hon. or hon. Member opposite really feel satisfied with what has happened, quite apart from the question of who is to blame or how it happened? I cannot think that any right hon. or hon. Member opposite really thinks that this has been a proper procedure, fair to the House and to hon. Members and such as to enable us to discharge our duty to our constituents and to the country as a whole. I do not really believe that any right hon. or hot). Member can defend it.

I was exceedingly interested, as I always am, by the speech of the Leader of the House. I find him a fascinating study from the point of view of advocacy as well as other points of view. I hope that he will not mind my saying that his speech was altogether too clever to be remotely convincing. The reason was very simple. He did not really go into the merits of the case, the real difficulty into which we have been put, more than superficially. He did not attempt to defend any action of his or even attempt to give any reason for it. All that he tried to do in quite a long address to the House was simply to say, "Even if I did the wrong thing you did not put me right." That is a really remarkable view of the business of the Government.

I should have thought that the Government as a whole, and the Leader of the House in particular, had some responsibility for sustaining the institutions and decencies of Parliamentary democracy. They have not dotted the country with constitutional clubs for nothing, but when they go into those clubs, or their supporters do, they have to blush for what has been done by the Tory Party in this connection.

It is pertinent to remember that this Bill was forced through this House by the Guillotine. It was, therefore, all the more in need of some Amendments when it reached another place; and when the Bill comes back to this House the more is the need that those Amendments should have full and proper consideration. In those circumstances we were told on Thursday that Amendments which had not then been completely passed would be considered by this House today. We were not told how many there were. There are, in fact, no fewer than 70 on the Order Paper.

We were not told, of course, the nature or character of the Amendments. We are now told, "That is your fault. You ought to have run along to another place to see for yourselves." Apparently quite a number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are so busily engaged in doing that that they expect us to do the same. I can only reply that I find it hard enough already to do my work in this place and I do not consider that I ought to be expected to run along to another place to listen, even for the short time of the day during which the other place is in active operation, to the momentous words of those who sit there.

Are Members of Parliament nowadays supposed to be completely full-time Members? Is there no right hon. or hon. Member opposite who, when he was in Opposition, was engaged in other comparatively lucrative employments? Is there no hon. Member opposite now who has not other things to do besides his duties here? Do we really wish that Parliament should be solely composed of whole-time Members, whole-time Members of an athletic character engaged during a large part of the afternoon in attempting to be in two places at once? That sort of thing needs only a little examination for anyone to realise that a thinner excuse was never put up from the Front Bench by any Government for what has been, in effect, a silly muddle and one which is grossly unfair to this House as a whole and to hon. Members.

The next thing that was said was, "Oh, you were just as bad." The right hon. Gentleman, or someone on his behalf, has raked through the history of legislation to find cases with which he could compare this one. I am getting rather tired of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite defending the preposterous by attempting to show that it was also done by the Labour Party when it was in power. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that it was so done. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite really resigned to setting as the very highest standard that they can attain in these matters the very lowest standard that we ever attained? Are they really saying to the country that that is the very best they can do, and that, however ridiculous, however inconvenient, however hostile to every principle of democracy some piece of procedure is, it can always be defended if only one can say that something like it was done by the Opposition?

That is Conservatism in essence. Conservatives never advance, never get any better; they stand by the worst traditions of the past and defend themselves by saying, "Oh, this was done before by someone else."I did not think we had relapsed to quite those depths, but that was the right hon. Gentleman's second line of defence, and he had no more than the two. He said, first, "You might have told me on Thursday I was doing the wrong thing," and at the end of it he said, "If you call me black, you have at any rate been a dark grey in the past." The dignity of those arguments will not, I feel sure, appeal to his own supporters, it certainly ought not to appeal to the House and it certainly ought not to appeal to the country.

Let us look a little at what really ought to be done. What is the reason for this indecent haste to apply the Guillotine to us in the early stages of the Bill and then to force us to deal with Lords Amendments which we obviously have not had time to consider properly? The only reason is that the Government wish—we had it from the right hon. Gentleman himself—to get the Bill before Easter. The Government might have had some regard to things which have been happening in the country.

If the Parliamentary time-table has been interfered with, it has been interfered with by the floods, which the right hon. Gentleman will find as difficult to control as did his predecessor in office, King Canute. It has also been interfered with by other matters, to which I will make no detailed reference, which are well in the mind of the House, and which are, of course, beyond the control of mortal man, be he right hon. or hon. Gentleman or not.

Surely when the Government lay out for themselves a nice tidy time-table and say to their supporters, to the road hauliers or to the United Dominions Trust —who appear to be the dark figure behind all this—or whoever it may be, "We will get the Bill through before Easter," they cannot regard their decision as fixed and irrevocable. I do not pretend to talk Scots, but I believe that Robert Burns was once responsible for saying: The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley. Whether we are to regard the right hon. Gentleman as a mouse or a man, he might certainly take that maxim to heart. In this case his time-table has been wrecked by circumstances entirely outside his control.

What may earlier have been a matter of pride or some virtue or other, now becomes, if persisted in, a matter of folly. There is no particular point in getting the Bill before Easter. It never had any point, and now the Government are simply showing themselves too obstinate and too blind to give way, when they are obliged to give way not by anything that we have done or by anything that has been said here but by quite inevitable and unexpected circumstances.

Nobody will blame the Government for a moment if they give up a proposition which has become completely impossible and impracticable, but everybody will blame the Government, and blame them quite rightly, if, by adhering to something which is impracticable, they deprive the House of the opportunity of considering carefully what is on any showing a Measure of very considerable importance and, in particular, of considering those parts of the subject which arise out of the Amendments and now form a substantial part of the Bill as a whole.

If the Government do that, and if we are driven to hurry through these Amendments, to deal with the matter in a hustle and a bustle, to give it no fair consideration and to pass it knowing that we have not given it proper preparation. I say with confidence that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and his supporters are in effect sacrificing the decencies of Parliament and the principles of democracy to a bit of what I can only call prejudiced pigheadedness-unless, of course, they have some bargain with the United Dominions Trust, or someone else, that, notwithstanding anything, they will get the Bill through before Easter.

What are we to think about a party which treats Parliament in this way and treats our duty to the country and to our constituents in this way, and which, through nothing more than a piece of pigheadedness and in accordance with a catch-word which they have put into their own mouths, insists on depriving this democratic assembly of the opportunity of doing its job decently, properly and fairly on behalf of those who sent it here?

5.9 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I wish to add my word of protest against what is being done by the Government, because whatever may have been said from the Opposition Front Bench about comings and goings, about delays in getting notification of the Lords Amendments and lack of opportunities for putting down Amendments to their Amendments, this House has to recognise that the back bench Member is an essential part of the House and that, without the effective participation of the back bench Members, our constituents are not represented. It would be a deplorable thing if the procedure of this House were to deteriorate to a matter of bargaining between the Front Benches, even on the basis of the most fair and adequate method of exchanging information between those two quarters.

I am one of those who have followed the Bill through the whole of Second Reading and the Committee stage and have taken considerable interest in the details of the Bill because of the feeling that the Bill, irrespective of the political purposes behind it, was a piece of major legislation, vitally affecting the interests of large numbers of people in the country one way or the other. It is a matter of argument whether it affects them for better or worse, but it is beyond argument that this is a first-class item of legislation the implementation of which, in whatever form it may emerge from this Parliament, is of first-class importance and will directly affect the lives and interests of many hundreds and thousands, and maybe more, of our people.

How are we to have an opportunity of deciding on the final form which the Bill should take? It has already been pointed out that in the Committee stage the Bill was driven through under the Guillotine and we were not able to give adequate attention to some of the important propositions which were made in Amendments to the Bill. However, we got through the Committee stage, and the Bill has now been to the Lords, and the Lords Amendments have come to us.

I do not want to give a long recitation of the facts—I emphasise "facts"—that we had from the Leader of the House. The facts have been peculiarly changed by interventions by my right hon. and hon. Friends; but I leave that for the moment. The simple fact for me is that very important and far-reaching Amendments have come from the Lords for consideration by this House. What opportunities have back benchers had of seeing the Amendments?

Like some of my hon. Friends, I have an arrangement with the Vote Office, whereby I am sent papers relating to official business. I returned from my constituency on Monday morning. Whatever may be said by the Leader of the House, it is part of our duties and responsibilities to visit our constituencies occasionally, and if we do that at weekends when the House is not sitting, I do not see that anyone can criticise us for it, because it is our duty.

Returning from my constituency yesterday morning, I found copies of the Lords Amendments. Monday was not a sitting day, and it was not until this morning that I was able to obtain a copy of the Amendments to the Lords Amendments. They would never have been tabled but for the fact that a number of my hon. Friends came here yesterday and by some special arrangement were able to see the Amendments.

Mr. Mitchison

There was no special arrangement. Those Amendments were handed in. as they had to be, by 4.30 on Monday.

Mr. Hynd

I understood from my right hon. Friend that if it had not been for his persistence or for some other factors, that would not have happened as the House was not sitting. However, I stand corrected. I am speaking from the point of view of the back benchers, and the fact is that we had no opportunity of seeing the Amendments to the Lords Amendments before this morning.

It has been pointed out that in these Amendments from another place there are proposals, in some cases new Clauses, which in themselves represent almost major pieces of legislation. Certainly in some cases they have a greater import and will have more important effects upon the industry of this country and upon the lives of some of the people than some of the thousands of items of delegated legislation to which hon. Members opposite have always objected so strongly —indeed, against which over a period of years they have carried out a major campaign, claiming that so much of this delegated legislation, without adequate opportunity for the House of Commons to consider it and move Amendments to it, is undermining our Parliamentary democratic procedure.

Some of these Lords Amendments are certainly as important and far-reaching as many of those items of delegated legislation about which we have had so many protests and in respect of which we have witnessed so many late-night scenes in this House when we on these benches were the Government. Yet we are to have no opportunity of examining those Amendments. Some of us got together this afternoon during the earlier part of Question time, when we should probably have been in the Chamber, to try to tie up the Amendments to the Lords Amendments with the Lords Amendments to the Bill. I submit that it is quite impossible to expect us to do that satisfactorily.

It is not as if it were merely a matter of scoring points off each other in this House. It is not as if it were merely a matter of the Government "putting one across" and getting away with it because they happen to have a majority. There are many thousands of people outside this House who are concerned about this Bill. There has not been a single word about the 600,000 or so railwaymen and their wives and the hundreds of thousands of road transport workers and their wives and families who are concerned by this Bill, and who, whatever the Government may say, have staged protests about this Bill all over the country during the last two or three months.

There are many hundreds of thousands of people who are concerned about the buying and selling of the transport units and about what is going to happen in the long run to our transport system after that buying and selling has taken place. What is to be the economic position of our railways? They are not being given an opportunity through the representatives sent to this House to examine the implications and the repercussions of the proposals that have come from another place. Some of those people were discussing the Bill with their representatives last Sunday, and even on Monday, as the House was not sitting.

I think it is really a monstrous situation, and whatever the Leader of the House and the Government may say about other occasions when there were only five days provided to consider Lords Amendments to major Measures, they have not been able to cite a single case where five non-effective days constituted the only time that was given, when there was no opportunity at all in the normal course of our Parliamentary meetings for dealing with the Lords Amendments.

I do not want to overload the appeal that has been made with regard to the special circumstances which prevented us meeting yesterday. They should be clear to the Government. If the position is not sufficiently clear to the Government, I think it will be clear enough before this night is over to the country at large that the Government on this occasion are engaged in a piece of slick practice which will do no good to our Parliamentary reputation in this country; and will do no good to the cause of democracy throughout the world, which in many cases is based upon a careful study and emulation of the methods which are adopted in our Parliament.

In view of the importance that we on these benches and so many people outside this House attach to the situation that has been created by the Government—the impossibility of discussing, not merely adequately but at all with any clear understanding, the very important propositions which are before us today— I wish to make a very strong appeal, as a representative of the back benchers, in support of the appeal made by my right hon. Friend to withdraw this item from our programme so that we can proceed to our other business.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I wish to support, as strongly as I can, the appeal made by my hon. and right hon. Friends to the Leader of the House and the Minister of Transport not to proceed with consideration of the Lords Amendments this afternoon. I ask the Leader of the House to try to imagine what the feelings of people outside will be. I am sure that the ordinary decent commonsense person will regret and resent the attitude of the Government in not allowing adequate time to Members of Parliament to consider, not only the Lords Amendments, but proposed Amendments to those Amendments tabled by the Opposition Front Bench.

The circumstances which have arisen out of the passage of this Bill cannot be divorced from the discussion of this Motion. We have had a virtual Guillotine at all stages of the Bill. Although I have spent a lifetime in the transport industry, I was unable to catch Mr. Speakers eye on Second Reading because of the limitation imposed on that debate. There are many hon. Members on this side who, because of the serious time limitation, were not able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye at any stage of the Bill and put forward a constructive point of view.

As I understand it, the Lords Amendments were not available to back bench Members of this House until Saturday morning at the earliest. The proposed Amendments to those Amendments, which have been put down by the Opposition Front Bench, were not available to back bench Members until today. In those circumstances, it is obviously physically impossible for back benchers to give a considered opinion upon either the merits or demerits of the Lords Amendments or the proposed Amendments tabled by my hon. and right hon. Friends.

The average citizen of our country is a decent-minded individual, and, whether he is for denationalisation or against it, I believe that he, like hon. Members on both sides, is conscious of the need to satisfy the public, not only that we are maintaining the democratic system in the country, but that we are allowing it to be applied in Parliament. If this Bill were a question of life and death, if it were a question of preserving democracy in this country, or of dealing with an urgent matter affecting the well-being of society, one could understand the indecent haste of the Government.

But here is a Bill which has been cold-shouldered by every section of the industry which understands anything at all about transport. It has been received luke-warmly by some hon. Members on the Government side. Many of them have supported the Government in the Lobby out of sheer loyalty, realising that this is a thoroughly bad and disgraceful Bill. During Second Reading, and at the other stages of the Bill, many of us were prevented from putting forward the constructive viewpoint of men and women engaged in the industry with whom we have had such a long and intimate association.

We have had to tell the workers in the transport industry—men and women who have rendered such great service over so many years—that the Government have allowed inadequate time for the discussion of this Bill in the House of Commons. We now have, in effect, to consider a miniature Bill, which is what the Lords Amendments represent, and we are told that we must proceed to consideration of these Lords Amendments although we have had inadequate time to consider the matter.

We are indebted to the workers in the transport industry for their contribution to the development and welfare of this nation, and they are entitled to better treatment than this. Are we to go from this House and say to our friends in the transport world that a Tory Government, who are always paying lip-service to the desire to be fair to organised labour and to the trade union movement, who are now compelling us to consider about 70 important new Amendments and an important new Clause to the Transport Bill, are apparently afraid of proper examination and are denying us the opportunity, first, fairly to examine the implications of these Amendments; and, second, an opportunity to give our considered opinion upon them?

I do not understand the great urgency in rushing this Bill through before Easter, unless it be that the Government are anxious to give a nice Easter egg present to their friends in the road haulage and investment industries. That can be the only reason. There is no urgency about this Bill which, if it does anything at all, will cause great difficulties in the transport industry; it will have repercussions upon the facilities available to other industries using transport; it will disturb the well-organised and developing principle underlying the Transport Act; it will confer no advantage upon the nation or upon industry. The only advantage this Bill can confer is an advantage to those who want to benefit financially at the expense of the nation.

These Lords Amendments are of vital importance to organised labour. Am I to go to my friends in the transport industry and say, "We are not to be allowed to make our contribution towards considering these Amendments?" Are we to tell them that the Government are so afraid of examination of these Amendments, so scared that the mistakes contained even in these Amendments will be revealed to the community, that they do not want them fully considered, lest, perhaps, they may be compelled to have further thoughts about carrying out this Measure?

I appeal, if any appeal is of any avail, to the Leader of the House. It has always been accepted that the Leader of the House has not merely the duty of pushing through the House the business of the Government but also the responsibility for seeing that there is fair play to every Member of the House on both sides. I say to the Leader of the House that he has failed lamentably in that duty, his first duty in the House, of seeing that the back bench members are given some consideration. His duty is to lead this House in a dignified way, and in such a way that the general public may be able to say, "We do not agree with the policy of the Government but, at least, they have allowed the Opposition a fair chance of putting forward their case."

If this bad example of the Leader of the House is followed by future Leaders of the House there will be a deterioration in the whole system of Parliamentary government. With all the dangers that there are arising from dictatorships in the world, the most important thing for us in this country to do is to set an example in the application of our democratic system, to show the world that it can work. It is a part of our democratic machinery that the back bench Members of this House, whether on the Government or the Opposition side, are entitled to put forward the viewpoints of the people they represent here.

Once we create the impression in the minds of the electors that Parliament is no longer the place where the back bench Member can fight for the interests of his constituents, however poor and however humble they may be, we shall be on the road to dictatorship. If we value our democracy we should make sure that this House of Commons reflects it as a shining light, a beacon, to the whole world, particularly to the dark areas of the world where they have no opportunity of democracy and of voting to select democratic governments.

I make an earnest appeal to the Leader of the House even at this late hour that he should assert leadership; not political leadership, but dignified leadership of the whole House. Let him show that the protests of the back benchers have penetrated even his mind. If we cannot penetrate his mind, let us, at least, try to penetrate his heart.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Has he one?

Mr. McLeavy

These are genuine protests that are being made against the Government's proposals. Let the right hon. Gentleman show that he realises that, and realises what will be the repercussions of his refusal to heed them on the minds of the people engaged in the industry. Let him be big enough to say that, in view of all the circumstances, in view of the misunderstanding which may arise from the Government proceeding with this matter now, the Government will take another day, or at any rate give ample time, to allow the House of Commons, and the trade union Members of the House, to put forward considered views upon these Amendments. I believe that that is the way we shall preserve our democracy, and that that is the only way in which democracy can deserve to be preserved m any country.

5.36 p.m

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I should like to support the passionate plea to which we have just listened, though I should like to adduce rather different reasons why I would hope that the Leader of the House will respond to the request being made to him from these benches. We are face to face with one of those occasions when, whether or not democracy is involved, the decencies of Parliamentary conduct are involved. We are concerned with the proprieties of Parliamentary conduct. I think it is really an intolerable outrage that the House should be asked to deal with the Lords Amendments today.

We are faced with the problem of dealing with a lengthy series of Amendments from another place to this Transport Bill. I do not propose, as my hon. Friend did in the course of his remarks, to argue the merits of the Bill. That is a matter we have debated on other occasions, and if necessary, will debate again. What we are concerned with at the moment is whether it is reasonable, fair or tolerable to ask this House at this short notice, with no adequate preparation, to consider this lengthy series of Amendments made to this Bill in another place and at the same time to consider the Amendments put down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and others.

The Leader of the House knows perfectly well that the Amendments made in the House of Lords are Amendments which, presumably, are deserving of consideration by this House. They are of varying importance. Some are technical, some arc matters of policy, some are matters of principle, some are matters of detail; but they are all complicated. I am sure that the Leader of the House would be the first to agree that this House would not be fulfilling its functions if it were to treat any of these Amendments which have come down from another place in a perfunctory manner. I am sure that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary and all the members of the Government wish to give the attention which they deserve to these Amendments. They all require careful consideration.

We have as part of our constitution this bicameral arrangement under which the Lords have a great deal of time and leisure, leisure denied to us in this House, to go through a Bill of this importance. This is the only opportunity we shall have of being able to consider with leisure the Amendments which have been made in another place. I am speaking purely for myself. I did not get an opportunity to take part either in the Second Reading or Third Reading debates, and owing to the Guillotine arrangements with which the House were confronted by the Government, I had only the briefest opportunities on the Committee stage. Under the Guillotine our debates were notoriously curtailed, and there were very few facilities for ordinary back benchers like myself to take part in the debates.

When a Bill is subject to the Guillotine procedure it is inevitable that the burden falling on the Opposition to examine the Bill in detail is concentrated into the hands of a relatively few Members, but that does not relieve every other hon. Member of his duty and responsibility to make sure that before the Bill finally leaves this House it is in a state which is as near perfection as it can be, notwithstanding the fact that on these benches we are violently opposed to the principle of the Bill. We are not concerned today with the principle of the Bill but with its technicalities as a piece of machinery, and every Member of Parliament has a duty to make sure that any ambiguities have been removed before we part with it. This is our last opportunity to tidy it up and to consider what Amendments their Lordships have made.

Hon. Members on this side of the House are not particularly in love with the House of Lords as an institution. Many of my hon. Friends would regard that as an understatement. I realise that I should be out of order if I ventured very far on a consideration of the merits or demerits of the House of Lords as at present constituted. For the purposes of this Bill we have to take the House of Lords as we find it, with all its faults, hoping that before long we shall have an opportunity of changing its constitution. But having the House of Lords as it is, we must assume whether or not we agree with it that they are a responsible body. Many of my hon. Friends have their doubts about that, but I am prepared to assume that some of the Amendments which have been introduced by the House of Lords have been introduced by a responsible Chamber and are therefore worthy of our consideration.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

That is a most unwarrantable assumption.

Mr. Fletcher

My right hon. Friend says it is an "unwarrantable assumption."

Mr. Ede

"Most" unwarrantable.

Mr. Fletcher

It is a "most" unwarrantable assumption. But a great many assumptions which we make in this life are quite unwarranted. Very few assumptions, if one took the trouble to probe and analyse them, could be justified in logic, reason or common sense. But this is not the occasion for pursuing that theme.

I am prepared to base my arguments to the Leader of the House on the footing that some of the Amendments made in the House of Lords, as at present constituted, are put forward by persons having some responsibility and are therefore worthy of our consideration. As the elected Member for Islington, East, I feel it is my duty to consider as best I can the proposals which have come from another place. I did not receive the Lords Amendments until this morning, and only then did I have an opportunity of considering the Amendments—put down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South—to those Amendments.

As everybody knows, I am a loyal supporter and admirer of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South. I should be disposed to assume that any Amendments to which he attached his name were Amendments which deserved my support, but no Member on either side of this House should be put into the position of having blindly to support either Amendments to Lords Amendments or anything else. As elected Members of the House of Commons it is our duty to exercise our individual, independent conscience and judgment, and to see whether Amendments are right or wrong by examining them.

Apart from the principle of this Bill, to which hon. Members on this side of the House are violently opposed, we are anxious to see that when it does become an Act it is as free from ambiguities and absurdities as we can make it. Therefore, since this is the first opportunity we have had to discuss this Bill without being subject to the Guillotine or to a closure Motion—

Mr. Ellis Smith

That is to come.

Mr. Fletcher

No. I suggest that it is quite inconceivable that a closure Motion will be moved on this debate. This is a matter which affects the dignity, the decencies and the proprieties of Parliamentary Government, and I do not imagine for a moment that even the Government Chief Whip would have the effrontery to attempt to stifle discussion of a matter which touches us all so seriously and vitally as does this debate.

I want only to do my duty. I want to understand these Amendments which have come from the House of Lords. There are 70 pages of them. I could not be expected—as the Leader of the House suggested a moment ago—to listen to the House of Lords while they were debating the Transport Bill. A moment ago the Leader of the House almost suggested that it was the duty certainly of those who were particularly interested in the Bill, if not all of us, to follow line by line and Clause by Clause what was happening in the House of Lords.

That is not my conception of my duty. I believe my duty is to attend in the House of Commons to watch the Government and be vigilant in seeing what they do here. I cannot follow what is happening in the House of Lords at the same time, and if Amendments come from the other place, before I can pass any judgment upon them I want to understand them and then read the debates which have taken place in the House of Lords in order to see by what argument the Amendments have been supported. How else can I decide whether to approve or disapprove of these Amendments, or how I should comment on the Amendments to the Lords Amendments which have been suggested by my right hon. and hon. Friends?

Other hon. Members on this side of the House have pointed out that some of these Amendments deal with matters not only of considerable complication but considerable obscurity. For example, we have an Amendment in page 8 of the Bill, occupying four and a half pages of very complicated Parliamentary language. It amounts to a new Clause, which introduces a new principle. It is something about which, presumably, the House of Lords had taken a great deal of time and thought before suggesting that it should be put into the Bill, and we must, at any rate, consider whether or not it should go into the Bill. If it is to go into the Bill, we have also to consider whether it should be amended in the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South, suggests.

All that I am asking the Leader of the House to give me and my hon. Friends is the due opportunity of considering these documents. I would suggest that to enable us to perform our Parliamentary duties in this House we must have time to examine them. It is not enough to consider the document containing the Lords Amendments; it is not enough to consider the Amendments to the Lords Amendments which have been framed in circumstances of great haste, but, if I may say so, with great ability, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South. In order that we can appreciate the points we have to consider the Bill itself. We have to consider the debates that took place in this House and the debates that took place in their Lordships' House. It really is not fair to ask the House to deal with a matter of this seriousness and this magnitude at this short notice.

It is not the fault of the Government that there has been, unfortunately, this interruption in our business during the last few days, owing to the circumstances of national bereavement in which we all suffer alike. Because of these circumstances, I think that the Leader of the House and the Government have a particular obligation to observe what, I should have thought, was an elementary principle of Parliamentary decency.

I am pleading with the Leader of the House, who I do not think is entirely devoid of feeling. One might sometimes think from his appearance and demeanour that he was not particularly responsive, but it is, after all, his duty as Leader of the House to be responsive to these human appeals which are being made to him by back benchers in the interests of Parliamentary decency. I want most seriously to urge that in order that we as Members of Parliament may fulfil our constitutional duties adequately and well, we should have a much longer opportunity of considering these Amendments from the Lords and the Amendments to the Amendments of the Lords before we are asked to pass an opinion on them.

May I, in conclusion, make this observation: if the Leader of the House fails to respond to this appeal, he, and he alone, will be responsible for the consequences that ensue. If we have an opportunity of studying this matter at our leisure during the Recess, which will be a convenient opportunity, we shall then be able, no doubt, to formulate a judgment upon the Lords Amendments. If, on the other hand, we are compelled to consider this matter in circumstances of stress and haste and at a late hour tonight, after the business that takes place between 7 and 10 p.m., it will inevitably take the Government much longer, because then we shall have to press each particular Amendment as we come to it. Every Member of this House will want to be satisfied as to what the Lords had in mind in putting down these Amendments.

We shall not have had an opportunity of looking into them ourselves. We shall have to try to study them as we go along. I and other of my hon. Friends will have questions to put, and it will produce, I should have thought, an interminable debate. We shall be failing in our duty unless we examine every Amendment. We shall not be able to consider and pass any Amendment until we are fully satisfied. Therefore, I should have thought that, not only the considerations of elementary Parliamentary decency, but also considerations of expediency, would induce the Leader of the House to reflect on this matter, and bow to the wishes of the House.

I would suggest to him in all sincerity that, if he does that, he can do it with perfect dignity. After all, it is not asking very much, and if the right hon. Gentleman will listen to this appeal, and, as I hope, accede to the appeal we are making, we shall recognise that he is doing it, not by way of a concession, but because he is as anxious as we are to observe and maintain Parliamentary propriety. May I, in all seriousness, urge the Leader of the House to accept the Amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend.

5.56 p.m.

Mr. Aneurin Sevan (Ebbw Vale)

I do not rise to conclude the discussion, because I am quite sure that there are many hon. Members in all parts of the House who would like to make a contribution to the debate. A very great deal has been said, but very much more can be said on this Motion. This is a most unusual debate. It is very rarely that a Motion of this sort is resisted.

I was trying to remember whether there had been an occasion during the time that I had been a Member of the House when a debate of this sort had occurred. Usually, the Lords Amendments are taken on the Motion of the Government without opposition, so the right hon. Gentleman will realise that this discussion today is of a most unusual character and must have a bearing upon the development of Parliamentary procedure. That is the reason why it is necessary for us to take note of some of the things which the right hon. Gentleman has said.

I must admit that, with my usual naivety, I thought the Amendment would be accepted, because when I heard last Friday that the House was up, and we had only just had all these Amendments from the Lords, and we were not to have a sitting day on the Monday, I thought that the combination of all those events would influence the Government to postpone the consideration of the Lords Amendments. I must, therefore, confess that I was astonished when I listened to the speech of the Leader of the House today.

It did not seem to me to make the slightest attempt to answer the very weighty case which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) had addressed to the House. In fact, not one single argument has been answered. May I also say that it really is not good enough—and for the record we must say this—to argue that a number of Members of the House are familiar with what is happening in the House of Lords and that, therefore, we should telescope the time available to us, because, apparently, we ought to be spending a great deal of our time in the other place listening to what they are saying. As a matter of fact, the physical organisation of the two Houses was never so arranged as to enable us to listen to each other at a given time.

If one is to take the statement of the Leader of the House seriously, apparently what we are supposed to do—all of us— if we are to have our time circumscribed in this way, is to troop to the House of Lords and listen to the debates there. The result will be, if this is to be an established constitutional precedent, that the House of Commons will be empty while we are listening to the debates in the House of Lords, and, as the same will logically apply to the House of Lords, the House of Lords will be empty while we are debating. I agree that if the procedure worked that way it would be to the advantage of the education of the House of Lords.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that the relationship between ourselves and the other place in the British constitution assumes that there must always be a decent period between the debates in the two Houses during which both can consider what the other has said. Otherwise, if that is not the case, obviously we must reorganise the facilities in both places. Or are we to stand at the Bar, with the utmost discomfort, to listen to what is being said there? Physical discomfort and mental boredom are very difficult to bear together.

Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore be good enough to assure the House when he replies to the debate, or through whoever replies for the Government, that that was not a serious argument, and that he cannot say that we ought not to proceed with the Amendment on account of the fact that some of my hon. Friends are familiar with what was said in the House of Lords?

As has been said by some of my hon. Friends, the right hon. Gentleman is the Leader of the House. The Patronage Secretary ought not to resort to the jaded old Parliamentary trick of whispering in the ear of the person who is being addressed. I am asking the Members of the Government to consider what they are going to say in reply, and if the Patronage Secretary has anything to say to the Leader of the House let him take him outside the House and say it there, but do not let us have such juvenile tricks here. I see that the Patronage Secretary has now left the Chamber. That is what comes of spending too much of one's time in the Oxford Union.

Evidently the Leader of the House had looked up the precedents in this matter, because he mentioned the two circumstances of the Electricity Bill and the Agriculture Bill, in 1947. The Leader of the House has an exceptional position. He is not only a partisan member of a political party, but his Office calls upon him to look after the interests of the House as a whole. Therefore, he ought not to deceive the House. When he makes his quotations and when he uses his illustrations, he ought to be impeccable in his selection. He ought not to try to trick the House, which is exactly what he did when he referred to the two Bills.

In the first place, as my right hon. Friend reminded him, these came at the end of July and one ran until 4th August, 1947. It is always understood that in circumstances of that sort consideration of the last stages of a Bill is likely to be rushed, and hon. Members prepare for that contingency; but they do not expect it in these circumstances. The Agriculture Bill was non-controversial in the sense that the Opposition did not divide against it. I have had some facts ascertained, because I am always so suspicious when the right hon. Gentleman recalls any circumstances, for I know very well that they will be very much edited. The Agriculture Bill was brought from the Lords on Thursday, 31st July. It was considered on 4th August. There were 84 Amendments, but 46 of them were preparing for consolidation, 15 were consequential and the remaining 23 were mostly Amendments put down by the party opposite which were accepted by the Government of the day. No one can suggest for a moment that that is a precedent for what is happening this afternoon. This is a highly controversial Bill, it has been opposed from the very beginning, and it sharply divides the nation; and it has, indeed, divided the party opposite.

When we come to the Electricity Bill the story is even more against the Government. It is true that the House of Lords finished it on 31st July, but we had the whole of the Friday for the consideration of the Amendments and the whole of the Monday up to 6.45 on Tuesday morning. What we have had this time is not one sitting day. Can the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that there is any comparison between the two? If the right hon. Gentleman has read HANSARD and has deliberately not quoted from it, that is very naughty of him, but if he has not read HANSARD referring to the illustration which he gave, he ought to have done so in order to arm himself for this debate. What happened was that when we came to the consideration of the Lords Amendments, the Minister of Fuel and Power moved that they be considered, and he went on to say: I understand that, because there is general consent to the Amendments which come from another place and which appear on the Order Paper, with the exception of two which are contested, it would serve the convenience of hon. Members in all quarters of the House if you, within your discretion, Sir, agreed to put them en bloc. If that were done, it would save hon. Members a considerable amount of time. Then up got Mr. Hudson, speaking for the Opposition, and said: If it is within your competence to do as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, I feel that it would be for the convenience of everybody. It would save a good deal of time and enable us to devote rather more time to the two points on which the Government are not going to accept the Amendments proposed from another place. Then Mr. Speaker said this: I must say, as one who sat up all last night, that I am very grateful for the suggestion. If the House allows, I propose to do what I have done before. I will have the lines called, and if any hon. Member wants to stop to query any point, then he may indicate."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1305.] Those are the two illustrations selected by the right hon. Gentleman as a precedent for what he is doing with this Bill. First, it happened at the end of the Session. Secondly, the Opposition was not opposing; maybe the Opposition had become wary, or had been converted, but by the time the Bill reached that stage they no longer proposed to oppose but accepted all the Amendments to be put en bloc. Moreover, the other Bill was a non-controversial Bill and most of the Amendments were non-controversial in character.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, in selecting these two without giving any of the other facts, he was once more guilty of that sharp practice that we have come to expect from him. Here we are on an entirely different basis. Here is a Bill which is deeply resented on this side of the House. It has been guillotined mercilessly. Many parts of the Bill have not been properly considered. This is the stage now that gives us an opportunity of further examining points which have not received proper examination before.

I want hon. Members on the other side of the House to listen to this if they will. I put it forward most earnestly. It has been suggested to many of us in different parts of the country, by groups of organised workers, that they should oppose the passing of these Bills by industrial action. There is very strong feeling about it, exceedingly strong feeling. Do not let hon. Members on the other side of the House misunderstand it. There is very strong feeling especially among road workers. It is starting among railwaymen, too, who are beginning to realise the consequences of what the Government intend.

Whenever that suggestion has been made, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House have resisted it. We have said that the House of Commons is the place where this must be fought out. But when we said that we were speaking quite sincerely, and we expected it to be fought out here. This is not only an unusual debate in itself, but the nature of the legislation is unusual. It has been pointed out by one of my hon. Friends that this is the first time for centuries that in so short a time major legislation has been repealed. Generally, Parliamentary government in this country stands on the rule that important social changes are accepted and the party that opposes them attempts to modify them, retard their occurrence or tries to prevent their repetition.

But in the repeal of these two Acts of Parliament dealing with steel and transport within so short a time we have a most revolutionary decision by the Government of the day. These Acts are to be entirely repealed within a year or two of the start of their operation, although the Government which are doing it have a slender Parliamentary majority and are in a minority in the country. In those circumstances, I should have thought that it would be in the common interests of all Members of the House to see that the Parliamentary consideration of these proposals is of such a nature as to convince the country that they are being properly considered.

What will happen when this debate is reported to the trade unions of the country? What will they hear? They will hear that the House of Commons received from the House of Lords certain Amendments. I am bound to inform right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that the House of Lords is not a popular institution among the vast mass of the industrial workers in Great Britain. It may be revered and respected by some, but I have never noticed any significant enthusiasm for it in any trade union meeting that I have attended.

What will they be told? They will be told that their livelihood, their prospects and their conditions of employment are being determined and decided by decisions of the House of Lords and the House of Commons without adequate opportunity for debating them. I suggest that that is a most serious situation. It creates a bitter psychology. Why do it? What is the hurry? We have not heard any real explanation. The right hon. Gentleman says the hurry is because the Government like the Bill and the Government want it by Easter because they like it. But that is no reason for juggernauting the proceedings of the House of Commons. There is no justification for setting aside the rules of the House and the precedents of the House merely because the Government like a Bill. I have never heard such a reason before. The Government are entitled to have it, but only by decently considering the rules of the House and the precedents that guide us here.

May I say this before I sit down? I expected that the Government would accept this Amendment. Tomorrow we are to have a Bill to deal with flooding. We shall facilitate the passage of that Bill, after giving it consideration, because the Bill is urgently required. I must say that if the Government are in a hurry with legislation they ought to have been in a hurry about that legislation, not about this. After all, the floods have been there for a very long time. That Bill ought to have been prepared a long time ago. It ought to have been passed into law a long time ago, but what the Government have been doing is devoting their energy to getting legislation through as quickly as possible in order to share the swag with their friends, neglecting the interests of the poor, flooded people in the east of England.

It is only tomorrow that we are to debate that Bill and we are not to have it passed into law until after Easter, although it could have been done long before. Therefore, it seems to me and to some of my hon. Friends here that in bringing forward these Amendments we were, in fact, serving the interests of the House.

There is a further point to be borne in mind. We have not yet finished our consideration of the Lords Amendments and the Amendments to the Amendments. Therefore, we may have to put in manuscript Amendments. That is inevitable, because as we go on we discover more and more defects in what is proposed. What will happen? At 7 o'clock we shall start to debate another issue. At 10 o'clock we shall be resuming discussion on this Bill with all the Amendments and manuscript Amendments.

Do hon. Members opposite believe that when they go to their constituents and report this matter they can seriously say that Parliament has given adequate consideration to this Bill in all these circumstances? I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept the Amendment, and that we shall consider this Bill after Easter. I am convinced that if the Government try to thrust it through against our wishes we shall be here until the early hours of the morning. We shall be here very late indeed. [Interruption.] I did not say which particular morning. We shall be here for a very long time, because there is no Guillotine. It is significant that we have always considered Amendments from the other place so respectfully that they have never been guillotined. I have never known of a Guillotine at this stage of a Bill, because at this stage we are anxious to finish consideration of the Measure and give attention to the Lords Amendments.

For all those reasons and for others which my hon. and right hon. Friends have advanced with great cogency, I hope that for once the Leader of the House will remember that he is not only a little partisan politician, but also Leader of the British House of Commons.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Crookshank

Perhaps I may speak again, with the leave of the House, and not because I want to argue the case with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). Some of the language which he has just used is tending to deteriorate the debate from the high standard at which it started. I hoped that we should not get into that frame of mind in this House, particularly today.

Therefore, I rise to make a suggestion. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members will listen. It is very difficult for me. They have made speeches at me for about two hours or more, to which I have listened most patiently. I have not left the Chamber for a minute. I have not been from here. I have been weighing up in my mind all that has been said, as it is my duty to do. I wanted to put before the House a proposal to which the House might be agreeable, in order to get us out of some of the difficulties which I appreciate have caused anxiety to hon. Members, through no fault of mine or of anybody else's.

The proposal is this: that we should not proceed with the Opposition Amend- ment now, but should get on to considering the Lords Amendments for such time as remains before the Adjournment Motion is moved at seven o'clock. We should fill up the gap by starting on consideration of the Lords Amendments. We should not proceed further with the Lords Amendments today, in order to make the position easier for hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have heard what has been said. I have not always enjoyed some of the remarks which have been addressed against me personally. Although we would not proceed after the Adjournment at ten o'Clock tonight, the understanding would be that means should be found through the usual channels by which the Lords Amendments and the other Business which I have already announced should be taken before we rise for Easter, on Thursday. I should be very reluctant to suggest that we should sit into what is normally the Easter Recess, or that we should—

Mr. Bevan

We are trying to understand what the offer is, but at the moment it does not seem to me that the right hon. Gentleman is making any concession. All he is saying is that we should facilitate the passage of the Bill at a time more convenient to the Government. We are suggesting that there is no reason why the Bill should be taken before Easter.

Mr. Crookshank

That may be the view of the right hon. Gentleman. I am trying to find a bridge, a compromise, between the two, and I was basing myself on the stream of argument that I have heard. Owing to the House not having sat after one o'clock on Friday and not having sat yesterday, it had been very difficult for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to marshal their arguments and the Amendments which they wanted to put on the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman also said that we would be threatened with a great many manuscript Amendments, and the rest of it. To get over that difficulty, I have suggested that we should carry on the debate on the Lords Amendments today only until seven o'clock, but the understanding would be that before we rise for Easter the Lords Amendments would be disposed of as well as the rest of the business. [HON. MEMBERS:"Why?"]

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale leads the cry "Why?" I am suggesting that an arrangement should be made, through the usual channels, on the understanding which I have outlined. If that is not agreeable to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am very sorry. I thought it was a fair offer, in view of the arguments which I have heard. By leaving over these Amendments they could deal with the difficulties which they have said they experienced. I have not had these difficulties put from other quarters, but hon. Gentlemen opposite have put them, and I am trying to meet them. The House should realise that we are giving a helping hand in those difficulties. [Interruption.]

The right hon. Gentleman keeps on asking why we should take these Lords Amendments before Easter. I have already said that the Government and their supporters feel that the Bill should be on the Statute Book as soon as may be possible. That was what we had in mind, and has been our objective all along. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—I am not quite sure which right hon. Gentleman at the moment is in charge of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman who interrupted me just now or the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) who opened the debate—will consider that what I have said is a reasonable way of getting out of the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman so much stressed, and which have occurred because the House did not sit on Friday after one o'clock or on Monday.

I must say, in conclusion, that to give a whole day to Lords Amendments on any Bill is very unusual. I hope that what I have suggested may be agreeable, and that we may dispose of the Opposition Amendment forthwith and get on to the consideration of Lords Amendments until the Adjournment is moved at seven o'clock.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I do not understand what concession the right hon. Gentleman is offering. We are all anxious that the Bill shall be as perfect as this House can make it, whatever side we sit on. I am in favour of the Bill and of its principles, but I know that other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are against them. When a matter comes before the House we should make as perfect a result of it as we can. The Constitution provides two Houses. There is the other place, which makes its own proposals, and this place. We are bound to consider one another's opinions. The other place has, as I understand the matter, made 70 Amendments to the Bill which left this House. It is only right that this House should consider those Amendments and consider them properly, and should have time in which to do it.

Why should the Bill be rushed in this way? If it is a good Bill it will be as good after Easter as before Easter. If it is a wrong Bill, then I can well understand why it should be rushed. Why cannot the Government give time for proper consideration of these matters? There is a real controversy going on in the country as to whether there should be a Second Chamber or not, but so long as there is a Second Chamber it is only right that this House, which is the dominant Chamber, should consider what is being done by the other place and have time in which to do it.

Therefore I appeal, with great sincerity, to the Government and to the Leader of the House that we should have time to reconsider this matter. What concession has the right hon. Gentleman made? [An HON. MEMBER: "None."] So far as I can understand it, it is nothing except that he insists upon the House agreeing to this Measure before it rises for the Recess. Is that a concession at all?

Mr. Crookshank

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will surely see that it is a very different proposition from the original one of going on today with these Amendments after ten o'clock.

Mr. Davies

We have already lost one day, in circumstances which we all deplore and regret. Surely this is a moment when the country is most anxious that we should work together in these very sad circumstances and agree to get the best Bill that we can. Whether we disagree in principle or not, we can at least do our utmost to see that when the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament it is the best that this House can produce.

6.29 p.m.

Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

I should not have intervened in this debate unless I had been a Member of this House for a very long time. This has been a very controversial Bill and, as against the Steel Bill, it was guillotined through the House. I do not object to that, if necessary, but it must inevitably mean that certain subjects cannot have been as adequately discussed as was necessary in the national interest. In those circumstances, Lords Amendments assume a greater importance than they otherwise have.

I was astonished at the attitude of the Leader of the House towards the House of Lords. He said that it was almost unprecedented that this House should give a whole day to considering the Lords Amendments. These Lords Amendments cover pages of the Order Paper. Quite a number of them are of very considerable importance and most certainly deserve most careful consideration by this House.

I have always understood that if it became necessary for a Guillotine to be adopted in respect of a Bill in this House there was always the safeguard of the House of Lords, which could then consider any specific cases which, under the Guillotine, had not received adequate discussion in this House, and make the necessary Amendments. I believe in a Second Chamber and I believe that we have a very good one. I am one of those who really believe in the House of Lords. I am almost alone in that matter, but I think they are very good and that their opinions deserve the most careful consideration.

In the last few days there have happened two tragic events, one abroad in East Africa and one at home, which have inevitably and greatly disturbed our Parliamentary programme. We all feel deeply about those happenings. In a short time we are to consider one of them and this House has already passed a Motion in respect of the other. Quite frankly, if the Government had held to their original intention and had kept this House sitting all night of the day of the funeral of Queen Mary in order to consider these Lords Amendments, we should have earned the contempt and derision of this country, and rightly earned it.

What is the position? We have one day tomorrow before the Easter Recess. Are we to be asked to sit all night tomorrow to drive this Bill through? If I were convinced that it was vital in the national interest, I would say that we must do it, but I cannot seriously bring myself to believe that it is vital in the national interest. In all the circumstances, the country being moved by the events that have taken place both abroad and at home, and on the eve of the Easter festival, I think the Government might reasonably say, "We will consider these Amendments carefully, and in the full light of the thought we have been able to give them, we will deal with them after the Easter Recess."

6.32 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

Like the Leader of the House, I can only speak for a second time by leave of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has made a proposal whereby these Amendments would be considered tomorrow. Whatever may have been possible if that had been considered at an earlier stage, it is not possible at this stage for us to accept that proposal.

We have had to make our preparations in a great hurry. I had to ask the Chief Whip to warn my hon. Friends that we should need them until a late hour or an early hour, whichever is the right word. Many of my hon. Friends, for sheer financial reasons that will be known to many of them, have cancelled their hotel accommodation tonight so that they will not have to pay for it. Having cancelled it, where will they be at 10 o'clock? They may be on the streets or in the soup. [Laughter.] No, this is a relevant point. It is not funny. When they were faced with an all-night Sitting, they cancelled their hotels because, quite frankly, they cannot afford to pay more hotel bills than are necessary. Having made all those arrangements, which are understandable to the House, at any rate to hon. Members with a heart, it is impossible now to go back on them.

If we take these Amendments tomorrow, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) said, we shall go all through the night by the look of it. I agree with him that it is not seemly in. this week that we should do so. The hon. Gentleman made an excellent speech, as did the Leader of the Liberal Party, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made a forceful speech also.

I suggest to the Leader of the House, in all friendship, or, at any rate, with understanding of the functions of the Leader of the House, that there are moments when the Leader of the House should bend. I know that he does not like doing it. I myself was not in the habit of bending when I was Leader of the House. However, there are moments when the Leader of the House must face the fact that the House is against him and that it does not like the flavour of things or the way of doing things. All we are asking is for a reasonable pause in which to consider these important Amendments that their Lordships have sent along.

Why did the Inter-Party Conference on the future of the House of Lords break down? It broke down on this very point of adequate time to consider the I nterchanges between the two Houses. The time is proved utterly to have been unreasonable, and while I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has made an effort to see whether he can solve the problem, I really do not think that his suggestion solves it. The alternatives are either that the Minister should withdraw his Motion "That the Lords Amendments be now considered," which we think the right thing to do, or we must go on.

I still say that I cannot understand why it is considered so absolutely vital that this Bill should be on the Statute Book this side of the Easter Recess. I could understand it at the end of a Session, but the Easter Recess is only an artificial interruption of the course of the Session owing to the holiday of a week or 10 days, and the Whitsun Recess is much the same.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman can see that the sense of the House, based upon considerations of decency and of Parliamentary correctness, is against him. I urge him, even at this late stage, to withdraw the Motion. His reputation will not suffer, his dignity will not have been hurt, and he will have shown that he is big enough and sufficient of a Parliamentarian to recognise the will and the spirit of the House at a crucial point in our history.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I rise only in order that the Government may have a little time in which to consider the situation afresh, rather than that we should proceed now to a Division on the Motion and the Amendment. I hope that I may have the attention of the Leader of the House because I am addressing a serious argument to him. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind two or three of us occupying the time between now and seven o'clock so that the Government may have an opportunity of considering the matter afresh?

The right hon. Gentleman might well consider what has been the history of this legislation. The Government introduced a White Paper long ago setting out their policy. As the result of public discussion they withdrew that White Paper and propounded a totally different policy in a subsequent one. Then, as a result of further discussion in the House and elsewhere, they produced the original version of the Bill which is now reaching its final stages. That, too, was withdrawn and another version substituted. In spite of the difficulties in the course of the Committee and Report stages, fundamental Amendments were accepted by the Government and made in the Bill as a result of the detailed Parliamentary examination of the proposals made.

This was not the case of a static piece of legislation proposed by the Government and driven through the House of Commons. True, there was a Guillotine; true, discussion was curtailed, but in spite of that, at every stage when examination of the proposals of the Bill revealed defects, the Government were compelled to change their minds. And now, after all the alterations that have been made so far, the Bill comes back from the House of Lords with 70 new Amendments. Some of them undoubtedly refer to matters that have been discussed before, but we are now being asked at this stage of a much altered Bill and a much altered policy to consider 70 new proposals.

What is wrong with the proposition of the Leader of the House? The objection to considering the Amendments today is only partly the lack of an opportunity of considering the Amendments on the Order Paper and Amendments to those Amendments. It is true that that is a formidable part of the case against the Government's Motion, but it is only part of it. The other part is that even if adequate time to enable us to discuss the Lords Amendments had elapsed, there is still not adequate time to discuss them here. Both things are necessary. It is not only necessary to consider what Amendments are being put before the House; it is not only necessary to consider what Amendments to those Amendments will be recommended to the House; it is also necessary that there should be adequate time to consider those matters in the House in debate.

What opportunity is left? Even if we accepted the proposal of the Leader of the House we should have only another 10 minutes to begin considering the Amendments today, and we should do nothing else until tomorrow, which is the last day before the Adjournment debate. Of course, it would be possible for the Leader of the House to say, "Let us do without an Adjournment debate on Thursday. Never mind all those matters which Members of the House have been waiting many weeks to discuss and which Mr. Speaker, in his discretion, has selected for debate on Thursday. Let us wash all that out in order that we may have a few more hours on these Amendments." Even if that were done, Mr. Speaker, there would still not be sufficient time, and what an outrageous thing it would be to do.

It has been asked time after time in the last couple of hours, what is the urgency of this Bill? Why hurry it through? It is no answer for the Leader of the House to say, "We are in a hurry because we are in a hurry. We are in a hurry because we want it. We want it now because we want it now." The House is surely entitled to know why the Government ought to have the Bill now rather than after Easter, and the House is perfectly ready to consider any reason for that which the Leader of the House may have. But it will not do to go on repeating, "We want it because we want it" without giving any reasons for dealing with it in such a hurry.

It is quite true that if the Leader of the House insists upon this matter he can have his way. The Government command more votes in the Division Lobby than we command. There may be some distinguished exceptions—I do not know. Judging by the speech to which we listened a short while ago, one would hope there would be some exceptions. It may even be that there are enough exceptions to prevent the Government from having their way, but that I doubt.

The right hon. Gentleman can probably have his way if he wants it. He can insist. He can say, "Never mind the arguments, never mind the reasons and never mind the decencies. We have the power and we will exercise it. We will call upon our supporters to disregard the debate, disregard everybody's opinion and disregard the merits of the question, and in the end there will be more Ayes than Noes, or more Noes than Ayes, as the case may be," and the Government will have vindicated their power.

Supposing that the right hon. Gentleman does that, what will he have achieved? What will he achieve that he will not achieve equally well or much better after Easter?

Mr. Callaghan

He is going to do it anyway.

Mr. Silvennan

We shall see. I hope not. It is suggested to me that the right hon. Gentleman is going to use a power of guillotining even this very debate in order to force this Bill through. What will he have gained if he does that? What he will have gained is that he will have put upon the Statute Book, perhaps a fortnight or three weeks earlier than it would have gone on to the Statute Book in any case, the Bill that he wants, in the form in which he wants it.

In order to gain that two or three weeks of time, which cannot really matter to him, which does him no good and which makes no difference to the merits or the faults of the Bill either way; in order to make sure of that, the right hon. Gentleman uses his giant's powers—he is not so big as that, but never mind—in order to get it through and to have his way and to get his Bill two or three weeks earlier. In order to do that he strikes one more heavy blow at the respect in which representative Parliamentary Government is held in this country and throughout the world. He will have said to thousands— perhaps hundreds of thousands—of industrial workers who are vitally affected by this Measure, "Parliamentary democracy is only the rubber stamp of whatever party happens to have a Parliamentary majority at any given time."

Is that really worth doing? Is it really worth doing at a time when representative Parliamentary democracy is under such heavy challenge in so many parts of the world? Is it really worth while, for the sake of having this Bill on the Statute Book, perhaps, 10 or 12 days earlier— and that is all—allowing people all over the country to say that there is nothing in Parliamentary democracy, that it is a mere farce and a question of arithmetic, of counting heads in Division Lobbies; that it has nothing to do with the merits of Measures, nothing to do with decency and with argument, but depends only on how many people there are in the House of Commons committed to one side or the other at any particular time?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman, who is an old Member of the House of Commons, and who at the moment is its Leader, Leader of the whole House of Commons in these matters, Leader of the Opposition on these benches as much as his own when it comes to considering the way in which Parliamentary affiairs shall be conducted, does not really think it worth while, for the sake of this 10 or 12 days, this fortnight, it may be, to strike so heavy a blow at the prestige in which Parliament is held. Surely it is not worth doing that.

Let the Leader of the House think again. I hope that my hon. Friends will give him the opportunity to think again, not now, when his passions are obviously involved, then he feels personally piqued because the proposal that he made was not immediately and gratefully accepted with both hands on this side of the House. Let the right hon. Gentleman give himself time to get over the natural resentment about his proposal being treated in that way, and consider the matter again against the broader background of what is really involved, weighing what he can gain by obstinacy against what he loses by temperateness, and seeing whether it is really worth while to proceed with the matter in the way that is now proposed.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I do not want to make a speech, but I should like to ask a question. I did not altogether understand what the Leader of the House meant by the "concession" which he offered to us. It did, however, involve discussing the Lords Amendments before Easter. Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore contemplate dropping or postponing the Bill for the repair of the river and sea defences which is set down for Second Reading tomorrow? If so, that is a perfectly monstrous proposition to make.

The Coastal Flooding (Emergency Provisions) Bill is an urgently needed Bill, far more urgently needed than the Transport Bill. The people in the flooded areas have suffered quite enough without having their interests set aside in this manner in order to gratify the Government's desire to get the Transport Bill through.

Even if that were not in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman—and if it were not, I do not know what was—the effect of pushing through these Lords Amendments tonight and tomorrow morning might very well cut into tomorrow's business and, therefore, the Bill dealing with the defence of the sea walls would have to be postponed until after Easter. So far, all the debates we have had about the floods have been on a non-party level. No partisan political bitterness has been introduced into any of them, but if the Leader of the House goes on with the intention to put this Bill dealing with floods in jeopardy, he will introduce into the question of the flood disasters the party bitterness which, so far. all of us have kept out.

6.51 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I think it significant that the only speech in favour of the Motion has been the speech of the Leader of the House. All other speeches, including the one from the benches opposite, have been against the Motion. It ought to occur to the Leader of the House that he has not anyone on the back benches supporting him.

I want for a few moments actually to have the impudence to talk about transport—

Mr. Speaker

Strange as it may seem, we are not talking about transport.

Mr. Mellish

I quite agree, Mr. Speaker, except that the Lords Amendments are, of course, related to transport.

In that sense I want to remind the House of one reason why we are so very concerned to have a full opportunity of discussing these Amendments. The Minister is aware that in May last year he indicated, on behalf of his party, that he would bring in a Bill to take transport back to pre-nalionalisation days and, under the original Bill, that would have been done. Throughout the proceedings on the original Transport Bill the intention was there but, fortunately, the Minister was able to learn something about transport during the process of that Bill because he was able to meet the trade unions, the British chambers of commerce, and all those interested in transport and they strongly advised him on the matter. As a consequence, on Third Reading, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), in a very able speech: it was not until we reached the Report stage that the Minister came to the House and told us that a large number of complicated Amendments would have to be put down in another place in order to try to meet the criticism which was focused upon him last summer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 904.] That was criticism of the previous intentions of the Government. The Minister has given his assurance, and these Amendments alter the whole structure of the Bill. The original intention of the Government has gone. What they intend to do now, having met the criticisms of all those people, is to amend the Bill by means of the Lords Amendments. I respect the Minister for doing so and for taking the advice given him by people who know a lot more about transport than he or I do.

We now come to the task of discussing the Lords Amendments which alter the Bill in a way in which many of us want it to be altered, bad Bill as it is. As a Member of this House I should like an opportunity of discussing with some friends outside the House, who have a great interest in transport and whose livelihood is affected—in some cases those who represent drivers, and so on—the implications of these Lords Amendments; but I have no chance of doing that. We are supposed, as responsible Members, to say what lorry drivers, trade union officials, and so on, think about the proposed Lords Amendments, but we are not given an opportunity of considering them properly.

In his last speech, the Leader of the House said that it was not the usual practice to give a whole day to discussing Lords Amendments, but I should have thought that a whole day in which to discuss matters of consequence like this is an opportunity which he has missed. It is an extraordinary argument that fully to consider these Amendments did not warrant a fully well-ventilated discussion. In my view, it is essential for the Minister himself to find out about the Amendments. We shall find out later whether he has considered the whole of the Amendments, which completely alter the structure of the Bill, with the outside interests.

Reference has been made to one Amendment alone which covers four and a half pages of the Lords Amendments paper. That is an Amendment which alters the Bill very much indeed. I do not think that the Opposition are asking anything unreasonable when we ask that those qualified to talk on these matters should be considered and that the whole question should be discussed in a decent atmosphere. There is a reference to page 35 of the Bill and to the question of compensation of those employed in the industry. That is another example of how absolutely vital it is, if the Bill is to work properly, that there should be satisfactory discussion with people outside who, after all, are affected by the Bill.

I do not think that even now the Leader of the House has realised what the Bill means to many people in the country; thousands will be affected. I should have thought that a day's debate, at the proper time with proper consideration of the Amendments from the Lords, affecting so many people, would not be an unreasonable thing to ask.

I appeal to the Leader of the House again. It has been said that he is a very experienced Parliamentarian. Many of us who are young in the House look to those with great experience to set us an example. Since I have been a Member —only since 1946— I have noticed that in opposition the right hon. Gentleman did set an example of ability and many times of integrity but, since he has been Leader of the House he has certainly not set that example to us. He knows that the Opposition have had to put down Motions of censure and that he has been personally responsible for complicating the business of the House.

Here is an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to show that he is a big man, that he recognises the rights of Parliamentary democracy and that there ought to be time to discuss a Bill of such a character. Not one supporter of the Government on the benches behind him has supported him—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] It is no good hon. Members objecting to that, because the only way in which to support is to get up and say that one supports the right hon. Gentleman

The only speech from the benches opposite was by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) who, with exemplary frankness, told the right hon. Gentleman just what he thought of him, and we entirely agree. There can be no doubt at all that the hon. Member has shown up the rest of his party by the courage he has displayed. In fact, he was so good that we almost forgave him for the nonsense he tried to perpetrate when in opposition. We of the Opposition have no doubt that we have a good case but we have tried throughout the discussions of the Bill not to provoke any unnecessary argument.

The Minister himself, in his Third Reading speech, paid tribute to the Opposition for the way in which they tried to meet him and said how much they had helped to improve the Bill. We want to meet him on the Lords Amendments and discuss them fairly and honestly, but at least we want to be given a chance to discuss them with a knowledge of what they really mean and what they are about. There is no doubt that we are being denied that opportunity.

On this issue we have the support, not only of the road transport men, in whom I am particularly interested. In my constituency there were 60 firms which were nationalised, but also in my constituency there are a large number of railwaymen who are very interested in the Bill. There can be no doubt that these people consider the Bill will affect their livelihood. What they are hoping and praying for is that the Bill will not weaken their position. They are looking forward to the next Labour Government—

It being Seven o'clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 {Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance), further Proceeding stood postponed.