HC Deb 21 December 1954 vol 535 cc2612-37

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 25th January.—[Mr. Crookshank.]

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I wish to oppose this Motion, and I do so because I think that the House of Commons is not justified at present in prolonging its Christmas holidays until 25th January. There is such important business that needs to be transacted that the House should come back at least a fortnight sooner and get to work earlier on the Government's legislative programme which is so much behind time.

I suggest that, in view of the grave international situation, in which grave matters affecting the ratification of certain treaties may precipitate difficult problems in international affairs, and so that the House shall keep a check and maintain vigilance upon the Government's policy, the whole of the foreign situation justifies our returning a fortnight earlier so that we can keep a vigilant eye on what Her Majesty's Government are doing.

There are other matters in the foreign field. There is, for example, the question of Cyprus. In view of the state of affairs in Cyprus and in view of the Government's attitude, I believe that this House is justified in coming back a fortnight earlier. I see no reason whatever why the House of Commons should have an extended month's holiday at Christmas when most of Her Majesty's subjects have only a fortnight.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

Only two days.

Mr. Hughes

I am putting it on the generous side. My constituents will be perfectly justified in asking me on 3rd or 4th January, "What are M.P.s doing to justify their existence? Are they justified in having this extended holiday at the present time, with pay and expenses?"

Mr. Robens

Without expenses.

Mr. Hughes

There are other matters that this House should have under consideration. For example, the whole question of Civil Defence is hanging fire. We were told at Question time this afternoon by the Prime Minister of grave perils that threaten this country in the event of an atom war. Without going into the merits of that, I believe that when this country is told that it can be annihilated in 30 hours, the Government should at least produce their programme and policy for the civil defence of the people.

The question of Formosa has not been cleared up. We would be far better employed a fortnight earlier in January in discussing these matters and giving guidance to the Government on the whole question of foreign affairs in the interest of the people of this country.

I ask for the co-operation of the Leader of the House in this matter, because I wish to be helpful to him. After Questions on Thursdays, the Leader of the House is always being asked by hon. Members on both sides when he can find time to dispose of this or that Motion. Questions affecting Scotland alone justify Scottish Members demanding that this House should come back on 14th January.

I have looked very carefully at the questions on business that were before the House for the month of December, and I find that on 2nd December my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who speaks for Scotland from the Front Bench on this side of the House, raised questions on the Balfour Commission and the Sorn Report, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) raised a question on the problems of education in Scotland. In Scotland, even with the New Year celebrations, all the holidays should be over by 14th January, and our place is in this House.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Provided, of course, that we get our holiday on the 25th.

Mr. Hughes

I understand that my hon. Friend means 25th January and not 25th December. It is not only Members on this side of the House who are pressing the Government to give more time to various matters.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The hon. Member has apparently misunderstood my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). He was referring, I think, not to Christmas Day but to Burns' night.

Hon. Members

That is what he said.

Mr. Hughes

Only an Irishman could have misunderstood that.

What I submit to the Leader of the House is that the requests from hon. Members behind him, who are loyal supporters of the Government, for more time to discuss business affecting them are worthy of his consideration. Take, for example, the question asked on 2nd December by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). The hon. Member is not a humble back-bencher; he is chairman of an influential committee called the 1922 Committee. If the Leader of the House does not listen to me, surely he will give a respectful ear to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee. If not, his occupation of his position will be rather precarious.

On 2nd December, the hon. Member for Hertford rose during the discussion following the announcement of the business for the following week, to ask for a debate on the exchange equalisation grants if not before Christmas, then at any rate soon after our resumption."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 318.] Although the hon. Member for Hertford is not in his place, I suggest that between 14th and 25th January the Leader of the House could solve his problem by giving a day to the discussion of the question which was raised by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

On the same day—2nd December—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised the question of capital punishment. The Leader of the House has carefully and deliberately side-tracked this issue week after week for the last 12 months. If the right hon. Gentleman agreed to come back a fortnight earlier, he would find an opportunity for the House to debate the findings of the Royal Commission—

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Which he has promised today.

Mr. Hughes

—which he has promised today; it would accelerate business. There are other reports of committees and commissions that are waiting in the queue, and we are perfectly justified, after a fortnight's or three weeks' relaxation, to come back in order to give the Government time and to help the Leader of the House in solving his difficulty.

On 9th December we had a question from the Government benches by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who asked the Leader of the House: Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the report of an important committee, presided over by Sir Hugh Beaver, on the subject of atmospheric pollution, or smog? Can he provide early facilities for a debate on this subject? Although the hon. Member for Kidderminster is not here at the moment, we are justified in bringing his grievance to the Floor of the House.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

Is the hon. Member not aware that that matter is now the subject of a Private Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)?

Mr. Hughes

I am always pleased to have assistance which is given to me by the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). But, if that is the case, our earlier return would provide another fortnight of Parliamentary time so that plenty of facilities could be given for debating the Bill; there would be Fridays, and that would help the Leader of the House too. But the Leader of the House said in reply to the hon. Member for Kidderminster: I am afraid not … The Committee's recommendations are being considered, and he"— that was a reference to the Minister of Housing and Local Government— will make a statement in due course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1120–1.] Why not devote a few days, if necessary, to the question of atmospheric pollution? The Leader of the House has been pressed by London Members that this is an urgent matter.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hughes

There would be no better time to discuss the whole question of atmospheric pollution in London than the second and third weeks in January.

Then, on Thursday, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) called attention to the fact that … approximately 150 hon. Members of the House have signed a very strong Motion against …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1987.] the inadequacy of the National Assistance scales. That raises the question of the Report of the Phillips Committee, which vitally affects the future of the Welfare State. It vitally affects the plight of the old-age pensioners and the injured and incapacitated workmen. The Government ought not to disregard the Phillips Committee's Report. We should have an opportunity of considering it.

I suggest that I have made out what the lawyers call a prima facie case why the House should not go on a sit-down strike when so many urgent matters are demanding its consideration.

Sir T. Moore

Why adjourn at all?

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has made out not merely a prima facie case but, in my view, an overwhelming and shattering case against the Motion, but I should like to bring to the notice of the Leader of the House yet more reasons why it is ill advisable for the House to adjourn for this lengthy period. I do so because he failed to do justice to a question that was put to him a little while ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall).

The Leader of the House will be aware, in connection with the proposed redrawing of constituency boundaries as suggested by the Boundary Commission, that certain seats in London have been altered. The Orders effecting the changes will, presumably, be placed before Her Majesty in Council tomorrow or in the very near future. That will provide an insufficiently short time, goodness knows, for the constituencies concerned to get out the appropriate registers for the London County Council elections which take place on 31st March, but I would draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that only some of the Orders concerning London have been approved by the House and that there is one further Order which will have to be discussed by the House when it resumes.

The position boils down to this, that the London County Council elections will, so far as a certain number of constituencies in London are concerned, be fought on the amended register which there is time to bring into effect on 28th February next, but with regard to London seats in respect of which the draft Orders have not yet been approved by the House it will be quite impossible—for the Borough of Woolwich, for example, whose fate has not yet been decided—to make the necessary arrangements in between the time when the House, resumes and the time when the February register has to be compiled. I would, therefore, urge the Leader of the House to give some consideration to the disorganisation which will ensue as a result of having some of the London Orders disposed of before the House rises for the Christmas Recess and having the balance still requiring attention when we resume.

The position will be made very difficult if the Leader of the House does not give us this assurance, that so far at least as the London County Council elections are concerned, either they will be fought on the basis that prevailed before the boundary changes were proposed, or at least that the complex situation will not be allowed in which the election has to be fought in one part of London on one basis and in another part of London on an entirely different basis. I would ask the Leader of the House to give some thought to the difficulties that will be created for those who are responsible for the conduct of the London County Council elections on 31st March next.

There is one other reason I should like to adduce in favour of the resumption of the Sittings of the House earlier than Tuesday, 25th January. It will be within the recollection of many hon. Members that I have for some time been trying to elicit from the Government what they are really trying to do about the tenants who are my constituents and who have the dubious distinction of occupying property formerly owned by Brady, known as Arthur Bertram Waters. The position there is that, in accordance with a decision of the Court of Appeal last June, it was held that the properties of those Irish companies were now forfeit to the Crown. The Attorney-General has announced that stops are being taken to test the validity of this judgment at the earliest possible moment. That means when the legal term resumes, which will be on 11th January. That will be a fortnight before the date on which the House resumes.

This situation may, therefore, arise. As a result of the complicated legal manoeuvres on which the Attorney-General is engaged, it may be that the commencement of the legal term about a fortnight before the House resumes will have brought about a situation in which those properties which at present belong to the Crown will be handed over to Arthur Bertram Waters, the slum racketeer. That is a situation on which I should like to comment at the time when it takes place, if it does take place, rather than be kept waiting until 25th January. It is very necessary in the interests of my constituents who have been very badly treated by this slum landlord and who look like being equally badly treated if the Attorney-General gets his way that I should have the opportunity of drawing attention to the difficulties that have arisen on 11th January and not 25th January.

For these reasons, I support the plea that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, and I do hope that the Leader of the House, before we wish him "Merry Christmas," will take heed of what has been said and do something towards removing the doubts and fears that prevail on this side of the House.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has made a very strong case indeed. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked about the business of the House for the week when we resume, the Leader of the House, almost with contempt of Scottish Members, stated that on the Thursday two Scottish matters of great moment to the people of Scotland would be dealt with in a very little time. Very little time will be allocated for the Crofters (Scotland) Bill.

The Leader of the House suggested that, because we had had the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Crofting Conditions, we should not find much in the Bill to complain about. I understand that the Bill will be available in the Vote Office about now. What the Leader of the House forgets, surely, is that the Report of the Commission of Inquiry contains a Minority Report. Possibly he assumes that we should pay no attention to that Minority Report, but I can assure him that many Scottish Members will certainly deal with the points raised in it. He proposes that we shall have from half-past three until seven o'clock for the discussion on Second Reading of the Crofters (Scotland) Bill. We do not think that that is time enough.

The Bill will bring wide and sweeping changes to the crofter counties. Whether the Leader of the House recognises it or not, it is being regarded by Scottish Members on both sides of the House as the last chance that any Government will have to cope with recurring Highland problems, and it is believed that if the Government fail to take the chance they will not be able to stop land nationalisation in the Highlands. Surely that is of great importance and the Leader of the House ought not to dismiss the subject by allowing a matter of three hours debate, thinking that we can say all that we want to say in that time.

I tried to get into the debate after the Leader of the House had communicated the week's business, but I was not successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye. Therefore, I take this opportunity to show that, because we are to return after approximately one month, there will be great pressure on the transaction of Scottish business in shorter time than otherwise would have been the case. I do not agree that the Recess is a complete month's holiday. We all have a great deal to do in our constituencies but we have to put first things first, and my constituents intended when they sent me here that Scottish business should be treated and given time in the House on an equal footing with English legislation.

I do not like to raise the nationalist issue, and I do not do so, but unless the Leader of the House and the Front Bench opposite treat us a little better when Scottish business is being transacted, they will certainly create a situation in Scotland which they are not envisaging at the moment. After 7 o'clock on the Thursday of the week in which we resume, we are to deal with the Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs until 10 o'clock. Many sweeping changes are suggested in the Report. We are to have the Secretary of State for Scotland in charge of certain functions in connection with roads and transport which were formerly carried out by the Minister of Transport.

The Leader of the House was asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) if he would extend the hour and give more time for the discussion of this most comprehensive Report. He dismissed the question with no consideration whatsoever. He gave no satisfaction to his hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] If the right hon. Gentleman did so, I am willing to sit down and allow him to tell the House that the Rule will be suspended and that we shall be able to debate Scottish affairs for perhaps two hours longer on that night. I can assure him that we shall utilise the time very fully if we have that opportunity.

If we are to be put into this position in which we are having Scottish business crammed into odd corners to suit the Leader of the House and the Front Bench opposite, we shall need to seize every opportunity of raising the matter, as we are doing on this occasion. I appeal to the Leader of the House most sincerely to give some consideration to this question. Would he not at least agree that on the Thursday we should give a further hour or so to discussing the Report of the Royal Commission? If the right hon. Gentleman is going to be quite adamant and not give an inch at all, I am afraid that we shall have to continue, in whatever fashion we can, to take what action we can to bring to the notice of our constituents in Scotland how Scottish affairs have been dealt with in the House.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

I rise to oppose the views which have been put by my hon. Friends, and I wish to explain to them why I do so. It is certainly embarrassing to me to find myself in partial agreement with the Government. I hasten to say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that it is not because I disagree with him on any of the issues which he hoped to see raised if the House were called together earlier. He mentioned capital punishment, he referred to Formosa, he referred to the international situation and to many other topics; and indeed on all of them I am in full agreement with him. It may be that I should be in full agreement with him even on the issue of education in Scotland if I knew anything about it.

The reason why I disagree with him about the earlier recall of Parliament is that my hon. Friend does not seem to understand or appreciate from what has happened in the last few days that it does not matter a fig whether or not the House of Commons debates a subject, because the Government have made it clear that they pay no attention to what the House of Commons says. We had a perfectly clear illustration of that in connection with the Boundary Commission's Report. We had reasons given at Question time today which make me fear a repetition of the same thing if we meet earlier in January.

We had a statement at Question time that the Attorney-General had dealt in the House of Commons with the issues which were raised in the court. If the Attorney-General had come to the debate on the Boundary Commission's Report with a fully prepared speech and had stated the case for the Government's acceptance of the Commission's recommendations, that tribute to the Attorney-General would have been perfectly justified, but the House knows that he did nothing of the kind. He made no effort at all to give the views of the Law Officer of the Crown as to whether the Boundary Commission had carried out its functions or not.

All he did was to come in at the fag end of the debate, after we had had a winding up speech for the Government from the Secretary of State for Scotland. The fact that the Government put up that right hon. Gentleman to deal with this issue was a pretty good way of showing the Government's contempt of the House of Commons. After all, if one is to insult the House of Commons one might as well choose a Stuart to do it. That was how the Government dealt with the debate. The fact is that the Government did not choose to discuss the issue at all and enable the Attorney-General to present his views.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Has the hon. Gentleman finished?

Mr. Foot

No, Sir.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Perhaps I might be allowed to say something. We might get back to the Question before the House.

Mr. Foot

I am sorry if you feel, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I am not addressing myself to the Question. I was arguing that it does not really matter whether the House of Commons meets on 25th January or 25th February or 25th March or 25th December, 1955 or 1956, if we are to be treated as we have been treated in the past two or three days. If we are to judge the Government's conduct when we meet again by the way in which they have behaved in the last few days, as I should have thought we would be perfectly entitled to do, I would have thought that it was quite useless to ask that the House should meet earlier and that it would be better to propose that we should close up the House of Commons and forget about it.

If anybody thinks that that is an exaggeration, I would quote the answer which was given to me in debate by the Home Secretary, in reply to a question which I put to him. I asked whether he would explain why, in the case of the constituency with which I am associated, he had not taken another and much simpler course to deal with the problem. This was his reply: I am not in a position to tell the hon. Member for Devonport what he asks. I am sure that he will appreciate that it is not possible for me to know all the details of all these cases. I am simply saying that the Commission"—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have already asked the hon. Member to keep to the Question before the House. What he is saying has nothing to do with the subject we are discussing, which is when we should return after the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Foot

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you would allow me to complete the quotation from the Home Secretary's speech I think it would help. I am in the middle of one of his sentences and I should not like to cut the hon. and gallant Gentleman off in the middle of a sentence. If I quote the remainder of the sentence I am sure you will appreciate the relevance of my argument, because this is what the Home Secretary said: I am simply saying that the Commission, in its judgment, followed out the instructions given to it, by the Rule and in accordance with the Statute, and I do not see how the House can do otherwise than support it. In other words, the Home Secretary said that it was not necessary for the House of Commons to pass judgment. He remarked: I do not see how the House can do otherwise than support it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 2055.] "It" refers to the Boundary Commission.

It is now proposed that we should meet on 26th January to continue this farce—to continue proceedings under which the Home Secretary will get up and make exactly the same reply to every hon. Member as that which I have quoted. Thus, as far as I can see, it is quite useless to suggest coming back on 15th January—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

But, if we came back on the 14th or 15th January, the Home Secretary would have an opportunity for apologising and amplifying the statement in a way which would satisfy my hon. Friend.

Mr. Foot

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is not aware of how this business is done. It has been fixed up by the Boundary Commission, the Conservative Central Office and the Cabinet. These are the three bodies which rule this country, and I would have seen some sense in a proposal by my hon. Friend for an earlier meeting of the Conservative Central Office to see whether it is not possible to effect a change in any of the Orders which we shall discuss on 26th January; or, more seriously, if my hon. Friend suggested that the Boundary Commission should reconsider this matter during the month's Adjournment—it is perfectly possible for them to do so; indeed, it might be advisable even to propose a Motion suggesting we meet five days later if the Commission does not feel it can go to work immediately after Christmas—to see if something can be done to satisfy the sense of grievance and outrage which prevails in so many parts of this country, as is shown by the representations which have been made to this House during the past few weeks.

The Boundary Commission could at any rate hold the public inquiries so that the House of Commons could have an opportunity, when we meet again, to judge these things after local spokesmen in all the different areas have had a chance of putting their viewpoint.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that we on this side of the House should abdicate our responsibilities because the Government have chosen a dictatorial policy?

Mr. Foot

I am not suggesting that any of my hon. Friends should abdicate his responsibilities, but what I think we should do is illustrate to the House and to the country exactly what is happening in this case. I hope my hon. Friend will be with me when we have the all-night Sessions on our return to discuss these Orders, and I hope that every one of them will be fought because that is the only way in which we can show to the country that in dealing with the recommendations of this Boundary Commission, we are debating a matter which, after all, lies at the basis of our democratic and representative system.

It is only by debating the matter in full and by illustrating the fact that the House of Commons has been denied its rights by the Government that we shall show to the country how grievously this Government have departed from the traditions of this Parliament, and how sorely they have failed to listen to the complaints of tens of thousands of citizens from every part of the land, who think they have been robbed of their rights and Parliament of its privileges by the behaviour of this tyrannical Government.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) began by expressing his regret that on this question he should find himself at variance with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). May I begin by expressing my own regret that I should differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, a thing which has not happened now for a number of years.

I always try, I suppose with indifferent success, to be a good House of Commons man, and in that endeavour I always, when I support opposition of this kind, do it with regret. I do it with regret now. I think the public is very easily misled in matters of this kind. They are apt, on the one hand, to under-estimate the amount of real hard work that Members of Parliament do in the time that the House is in Session. On the other hand, they are apt to regard it, as my hon. Friend so rightly said, in the light that when the House decides to go off for a month Members of Parliament all go to the South of France and sport themselves there in the interval. Of course, they do nothing of the kind. Such vacations as the House permits are very well earned and most of them are very well spent by the majority of the Members.

The other reason why I always support opposition of this kind with regret is that such opposition mostly comes from the Opposition side of the House. That side of the House is ex hypothesi in a minority. Therefore, the Opposition is bound to be unsuccessful, if not futile. So one attracts to oneself a reputation for hard work and virtue on the cheap, knowing that one's endeavours are likely to be defeated anyhow when the time comes.

When all possible account has been taken of all these considerations, I still think the House would be very ill advised on this occasion to adjourn for so long. While I appreciate to the full the exquisite ironies of my hon. Friend's argument, I know he did not mean a word of it, and he would be the last Member of this House to allow a dictatorial or tyrannical Government to get away with it by dismissing the House of Commons precisely as though the Cabinet consisted entirely of Members of the Stuart family.

One has only to look at the business announced by the Leader of the House for the first week after we come back to realise how wrong it is to wait so long. May I at the beginning refer to a matter which he mentioned. The House is at the moment for the first time in all the years that I have been a Member without a Select Committee on Estimates. To some extent that is my fault. I object to it being appointed for reasons which are widely understood in the House and for reasons which, I venture to think, are to some slight extent shared also by both sides.

That, however, is not a situation which can go on for ever. This House could not do its work without a Select Committee on Estimates. The primary function of the House of Commons, the function which makes it the sovereign assembly of this country, is its control over finance. It exercises control over finance in the first place through the Select Committee on Estimates. Therefore, it is intolerable that the House of Commons should go on for long without a Select Committee on Estimates, no matter of what Members it is constituted.

What did the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House say? I think I am quoting him correctly, if not verbatim—"I hope we will find time to deal with that question, and with another similar question about a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, during this first week." I wonder when? Hon. and right hon. Members will remember his recital of the work to be done on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the first week in which we come back, 25th, 26th and 27th January.

If the right hon. Gentleman is going to show sufficient consideration of the arguments that are being advanced by replying to them at all, I ask him in all seriousness on what did he base his hope that those matters could be dealt with in the first week, having regard to the fact that they are not exempted business, having regard to the other business which he proposes for those three days, and having regard to the undesirability of dealing with such a question in the middle of the night on some Motion to suspend the Rule for that purpose? It will be an intolerable position. The right hon. Gentleman really cannot have any sound hope that the House will be able to deal with all this business during those first three days. But if he has any hope at all, I can tell him now that it is a forlorn one.

What else does the House propose to deal with that week? On 26th January it proposes to deal with the remaining Orders required to put into operation the Report of the Boundary Commission. I recognise to the full that it would be completely out of order to say a single word about the merits of that matter, and I do not propose to do so. I am not the representative of a constituency whose boundaries have been affected by the Report, and there are many right hon. and hon. Members of this Chamber better qualified than I am, when the proper time comes, to deal with the merits of that matter.

However, it is not out of order to point out that some of the undesirable features associated with dealing with the matter in the way which the right hon. Gentleman proposes arise out of the handicap of time. It is clear that if the Government want these Orders to go through and want the electoral registers to be prepared on the basis of these Orders in time for the local government elections, then they will have to get these Orders quickly if they are to get them at all.

Mr. Foot

As the Government know that the Orders will go through anyhow, why cannot they print the registers now?

Mr. Silverman

Because the merit of a rubber stamp is that until the rubber stamp is on the document is not valid.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

That is a poor answer.

Mr. Silverman

It is a sound answer. The argument of my hon. Friend is that the Government are treating the approval of the House of Commons merely as an automatic rubber stamp to the decisions of the Boundary Commission, and he asked, why not do without it? I say that the Government cannot do without it, even if it is a rubber stamp, because this is the only place where they can get their rubber stamp. I am pointing out that they have to deal with the matter in this way, with a three-line Whip, and to sit all through the night.

Although there is no merit in the argument, and although the argument ex hypothesi will not be allowed to affect the result, the Government have to deal with it in this way because of the time factor. The Government could give themselves much more latitude with regard to time, and therefore with regard to the mode of dealing with this matter, if they refrained from sending the House of Commons packing for five weeks at Christmas. Nobody else in the country gets so long. If we did not have all that time, no one would be better pleased. I am sure that the Government, in this situation, need quite a lot of time to look round, to try to find out before we come back where they are, because at the moment they do not seem to know.

Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. What is to be the position regarding the important matter of the National Assistance Regulations? Will you allow the time for that debate to be extended beyond seven o'clock in order to enable those Members who still want to speak, and those who are responsible for conducting that business, to do so?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

As far as I am concerned, seven o'clock conveys nothing to me. The National Assistance Regulations are exempted business and the House can discuss them until seven o'clock tomorrow morning if it so wishes.

Mr. Silverman

I can assure my hon. Friend that no one is more conscious than I am of a situation which develops frequently, where one important matter which has to be discussed gets in the way of another important matter and one can easily draw the line in the wrong place. However, this is not one of those occasions. The National Assistance Regulations are exempted from the Standing Order about the Sittings of the House, and if my hon. Friend wants to debate them all night and until noon tomorrow I shall be ready to sit up with him and debate them with him. There is absolutely nothing which my hon. Friend, or anybody else, wants to say about the National Assistance Regulations that is being in any way limited—

Mr. Keenan

It is for others that I am speaking.

Mr. Silverman

—by anything that we are doing now. If my hon. Friend were proposing to divide the House against the National Assistance Regulations, then it would be important to get on to them at an early hour before everybody goes home. If my hon. Friend assures me that his opposition to the National Assistance Regulations is as bitter as mine is, and that he proposes to express it not only in a speech but in the Division Lobby, then I will co-operate with him in getting on to that business as early as possible by bringing this other matter to an end. But if he does not propose to do that, if he only wants to make a speech—

Mr. Keenan

I have already made one.

Mr. Silverman

—if he wants merely to protect the rights of other hon. Members to make speeches, they have the next 48 hours in which they can do so, because there is nothing to stop them. Now I will return to the point I was making. I say seriously to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that it is clear now that there is to be no other tribunal which can decide whether the proposed Orders under the Report of the Boundary Commission are fair and equitable as between political groups within this House of Commons or not.

Mr. William Warbey (Broxtowe)

My hon. Friend ought not to pre-judge the possibility that there may still be some other matters in relation to the way in which the Boundary Commission has acted which have not yet been tested in the courts and that some parties may wish to challenge Orders which have not yet been brought before the House.

Mr. Silverman

My hon. Friend is right. I agree with him completely. I was basing my argument on the view which was expressed by the Leader of the House when he made his statement. In the Government's view—we have to base our arrangements on that view—this is the only place where those questions can be determined. If that is so, it becomes all the more important that the House should be seen by the public as a whole to be acting in a judicial spirit. The public will not think it is behaving judicially if 30 or 40 Orders are rushed through the House one after the other during a night sitting with the aid of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) recently called "a dictatorial three-line Whip."

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)

The hon. Gentleman has only to look at the Division list to see that there was pairing last Thursday night. There was no three-line Whip at all.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman may be right about the pairing—I do not know—but is he really saying that no three-line Whip was in existence?

Mr. Fisher

It was not in operation.

Mr. Silverman

I did not ask whether it was in operation; I asked whether a three-line Whip existed. The Leader of the House will probably tell us whether there was one, and, what is much more important, whether there will be one when we come back. If the right hon. Gentleman said, "We are prepared to leave the matter to a free vote of the House when the matter next arises," a great deal of the opposition from this side of the House to the whole matter and a great deal of the opposition to the Motion now before the House would be removed. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to say now that it is not proposed to use any dictatorial methods of any kind, by means of a three-line, two-line or one-line or any other kind of Whip, but that he will leave it to each hon. Member to vote on each Order according to his own conscientious judgment after listening to the arguments—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is going a little beyond the subject of the date upon which the House should return after the Recess.

Mr. Silverman

When I have finished my sentence, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think you will see that that is not so. I was about to say that in those circumstances there would be no need to object to the House going away for so long. If the right hon. Gentleman will say now what I have suggested, he can have the Motion without opposition; but he will not say that because he is determined to get every scrap of party political advantage that he can out of the debate.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Surely the Boundary Commission is not a party political matter.

Mr. Silverman

It is if the Government try to force through an Order by means of a three-line Whip. By that very fact it becomes party policy. If not, what is the three-line Whip for?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope we can get back to the date of our return.

Mr. Silverman

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was diverted by interruptions. If the right hon. Gentleman does not want it to be a shabby political manœuvre and wishes the House to exercise a judicial judgment, he should give us the assurance for which I have asked, and then he can have his Motion.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

There are now three proposals about the return of the House. There is the proposal announced by the Leader of the House on behalf of the Government that we should return on 25th January; there is the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that we should return on 11th January; and there is the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) that at 5 p.m. tomorrow we shall have reached the point of no return.

I support very strongly indeed the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, and I do so on one particular ground. I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) about the repeated shabby treatment of Scottish affairs in the House, and I support all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). It is worth noting that the case put up by my hon. Friends has been so strong that it has completely silenced hon. Members opposite. There has not been one speech in support of the Government's proposal that we should not return until 25th January.

It is appalling that when the Government make a proposal not a single hon. Member on the other side of the House, although the Government are asking for more production from industrial workers, dares to support a proposal for more production in the House. Hon. Members opposite have been silent all the afternoon. I hope the Leader of the House will not follow that bad example, but will avail himself of the opportunity of saying a word in reply when this inter-party debate concludes.

I am asking that the House should return a fortnight earlier than the Government propose for a simple but very serious reason. No one on either side of the House will deny for a moment that the whole complex of international relationships has deteriorated immensely during the last week or so. Since this House agreed, despite the strong opposition on this side of the House, to sign the Paris Agreements there is no doubt that Russia has been talking in a firmer tone than ever before.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may be quite true, but it does not come anywhere near the date we come back from our holidays.

Mr. Rankin

It might bring us back earlier and that is the reason I am suggesting we do so.

Because of this development, Russia is already talking about denouncing her pact with France. Already, she is beginning to hint that she might denounce the Anglo-Soviet Pact. Are we to be on holiday if a calamity of that nature occurs? In view of that deterioration, it is imperative that this House should as closely as possible keep in touch with what are undoubtedly potentially important developments in world affairs.

I want, in conclusion, to direct attention to a rather remarkable omission, and I hope that the Leader of the House—I am sorry to interrupt a conversation, but I am referring to the right hon. Gentle- man; if he is searching for advice from the Patronage Secretary, all very well—will have something to say about this problem. In my experience it is usual, when we go into Recess, for the Government to indicate that, if affairs demand it, the House will be recalled. Today, we have had no such assurance. In view of the situation that can quite easily develop before 25th January, if the Government cannot accept the proposal so powerfully advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire can they not assure us that, if affairs either at home or abroad demand it, the House will be recalled to meet the contingency or contingencies that may have arisen? That is the very least the Government can do and I hope that the Leader of the House will now give us, at least, the assurance for which I have asked.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I want to put a point of view not put in this short debate and I want to put it shortly. I submit that we have a duty not only to this House, but a duty to the country, also. We have a duty to our constituents and a duty to ourselves. That duty involves a considerable Recess. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) put his case with that persuasiveness which is characteristic of him. But some points seemed to be inconsistent with what I thought was his knowledge of the duties of a Member of Parliament to his constituents and to the country. What he said did not demonstrate that close knowledge of his duties as a Member which he usually shows.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I may say that I live in my constituency and know it better than most people.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Far be it from me to in any way disparage the great services which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire indefatigably gives to his constituency and to this House. But the point that I am making is that the arguments which he has adduced in favour of the proposition that he put before us today were inconsistent—and inconsistent was the word I used—with those great services which he characteristically gives to this House and to his constituents.

He must know that Members of Parliament have a great deal to do outside this House, duties which they could not adequately perform if there were not gaps, and considerable gaps, in their attendances in this House. They have to make reports to their constituencies. They have to make contact with their constituents to undeceive them about the propaganda ladled out daily by Tory newspapers. They have to correct various other misrepresentations.

On the constructive side, they have to hold meetings with their constituents, with old-age pensioners, for instance, to explain some of the extraordinary speeches made on the other side of the House in yesterday's debate. They have to meet the women's sections, women who do such great and noble work in the constituencies. They have to meet leagues of youth and hold ward meetings. It is obvious that there is a great deal to be said on both sides about this proposition. In Aberdeen, we have a toast which runs like this: Happy to meet, Sorry to part, Happy to meet again. That is the aphorism or toast which is applicable to the present situation. Having done our work here—I hope faithfully and well—we are happy to part to be happy, in turn, to meet our constituents and to give them the benefit of our reports of what we have done in the past weeks and to give us the refreshment and happiness of meeting them. Perhaps this Recess is more necessary than other recesses, because of the way in which the work of this House has degenerated during the past few weeks.

The last example was the Reports of the Boundaries Commissions. It is not relevant to discuss that now, but for the purposes of my argument it is relevant to point out that an all-night Sitting was inflicted on the House because business with regard to the Boundary Commission was so mismanaged. Mistakes were made, conflicts with the law courts were precipitated and, indeed, there was created a very undesirable constitutional position vis-à-vis the Crown.

From all this it would seem that the Recess is essential, unless we are to have somebody like a business manager and not a Leader of the House who perhaps is, or may perhaps be—I do not want to be offensive to him—like that character of whom Dryden said: In the front rank of those did Zimri stand … A man so various that he seemed to be Not one, but all mankind's epitome: Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong, Was everything by starts and nothing long; But, in the course of one revolving moon, Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon. That is not, of course, the kind of Leader of the House that we have or want. Our thoughts go back to another Leader of the House, the late Sir Stafford Cripps.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not quite see how we can discuss Leaders of the House, past or present, on this Motion.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I am discussing it, if I may say so with respect—I do not in any way want to infringe the rules of order—for the purpose of showing that the Recess may perhaps be necessary, because we have not got a Leader of the House like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), or like the late Sir Stafford Cripps.

My hon. Friends have adumbrated the many Scottish topics which would urge us to an earlier return. Only today there is an instance on the Order Paper with regard to the Army Bill, an essential matter which should have been dealt with before the Recess. It has not been dealt with and that fact is an argument strongly in favour of the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire.

On the Order Paper today there were two valuable and important suggestions about the Army Bill in its relation to Scotland, and I suggest that they are relevant to this debate. There were two Questions of mine which were not dealt with. One was: To ask the Secretary of State for War if he will take steps to alter the terms of the Army Act so as to ensure that a British soldier who is charged with a civil offence. …

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that they are relevant. I do not see how they can be relevant to the question of the date when we should come back.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I was arguing that there is much to be said on both sides for the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire that the Recess should not be so long. I was giving as an instance of that the fact that the Army Bill, which should have been dealt with before the Recess, has not been dealt with and, indeed, that valuable suggestions with regard to the relation of the Army Bill to Scottish subjects have not been dealt with.

Now that your have assumed the Chair, Mr. Speaker, may I put the point to you? If you rule that it is out of order I shall not pursue the matter. I was referring to two Questions on the topic of the Army Bill which were not reached today. I refer you to the Questions. One was: To ask the Secretary of State for War if he will take steps to alter the terms of the Army Act so as to ensure that a British soldier who is charged with a civil offence not specified in the Army Act while serving in Scotland …

Mr. Speaker

That is quite out of order on this Motion.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I bow to your Ruling, Sir. I will not say another word about it.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order. Would not the hon. and learned Member be entitled to argue that if we came back earlier the House could discuss the Army Bill earlier?

Mr. Speaker

That would be going into far too much detail.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I am not attempting to contest your Ruling in any way, Mr. Speaker, but the argument that I was venturing to submit was that the Army Bill is a Measure of fundamental importance. It was on the Order Paper to be dealt with before the Recess. Because of the unfortunate ineptitude and mismanagement with reference to the Boundary Commissions, it was not reached. It has to be postponed until after the Recess.

That would seem to me to be an argument in favour of the House not going into Recess for a very long period. Then the two amendments which I was suggesting, and mention of which you have ruled out of order for the moment, could be considered earlier. However, I now leave all these arguments.

I ask hon. Members to look at the question in perspective, to regard it in due proportion and to realise that a fortnight or three weeks at the outside would have been long enough for the Recess which we could use in meeting our constituents, in refreshing ourselves by our contacts with them in making our reports to them and doing our duty to them, to the country and to the House. In my submission, there is much to be said for the proposition of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

I hope that we can now bring the discussion to a close. It is slightly ironical that one of the reasons adduced by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was that if we had a shorter Recess we should have more time to discuss the National Assistance Regulations. That is exactly what we might have been doing.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I did not say that. I said the Phillips Report.

Mr. Crookshank

The hon. Gentleman said that as well. He says so many things that he forgets what he does say, but I take note of his remarks when they suit my argument. He said that, and we could have been doing it for 1½ hours, but we have been deprived of that time.

This sort of debate is very apt to occur and it always arises from the Opposition side, and sometimes apparently, as today, from the "opposition" to the Opposition. Two hon. Members who spoke, had they received the Whip of their party, would no doubt have been aware that this was an agreed arrangement, that we should rise this year for the same time as we do every year at this period.

Mr. Hector Hughes

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that we have been deprived of time, thereby implying that the time taken by this short debate has taken away from the time available for our discussion of the National Assistance Regulations. I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Is not this exempted business? Cannot we go on ad lib and ad nauseam?

Mr. Speaker

The Regulations are exempted business, but I hope that the House will not go on ad nauseam.

Mr. Crookshank

I was not necessarily dealing with the question of the global time, but with the time which hon. Members generally think is most valuable, in the early part of the day when more attention can be given to what they have said, both inside and outside the House. There is much truth in the old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Of what?

Mr. Crookshank

I can only hope that after the personal remarks the hon. and learned Gentleman thought fit to make about me I shall feel, in a month's time, a little fonder of him than I feel now.

Mr. Hector Hughesrose —

Mr. Crookshank

The hon. and learned Gentleman made offensive remarks. I do not want any more of them. One does not have to be rude and personally insulting.

The speeches made outlined a whole series of topics on which the House could engage itself. Of course it could. We could all think of topics not only for every day of the year but for a year twice as long, if one could imagine such a thing.

One must maintain a sense of proportion. The Christmas Recess has, for years, been for about 32 or 33 days. It varies according to the actual incidence of Christmas Day itself. We are taking exactly the same time this year as in any other year. I was asked why nothing had been said about recalling the House. It really is not necessary every time to state the obvious. There is now a Standing Order of the House, No. 112, which would be put into effect should the necessity arise. I hope that that satisfies hon. Gentlemen.

It only remains for me to say that I hope that we can get on to our next business and, as I may not have another opportunity, to wish everybody a Merry Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 25th January.