§ 8.19 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
I beg to move,That during the remainder of the present Session—I will not inflict myself on the House for more than a few minutes. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will, of course, deal with any points which arise, but it is only right that I should explain the reason for this Motion. As soon as it was announced that there would be a dissolution of Parliament on 6th May, the Government took into consideration not only what essential business had to be concluded before that date—about which we shall be making a statement, not tonight, but tomorrow—but I also wanted to see how best we could suit the convenience of the House as a whole.
- (a) Government business shall have precedence on Fridays;
- (b) any resolution relating to taxation which may be reported from the Committee of Ways and Means may be considered forthwith by the House; and
- (c) notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules to be moved in Committee on any Bill which may be ordered to be brought in on any resolutions of the Committee of Ways and Means relating to taxation may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
The first point that seemed to emerge was that we should try to conclude the debate on the Budget statement this week. To do that it will be necessary to give Government business precedence on Friday. That is the purpose of paragraph (a) of this Motion. In the Motion we use the word "Fridays," in the plural, so as to cover the two subsequent Fridays.
We are very sorry, of course, to have to ask the House to deprive hon. Members of those opportunities, but it is not so bad as it sounds. This Friday the first Motion, which would have been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden), deals with the North Atlantic Treaties. I should think that with a little ingenuity he will be able, between now and the dissolution, on general debates which may arise, find an opportunity to make a speech on that subject. A second Motion has not been put 285 down on the Order Paper at all. An hon. Member, I suppose, did not think there was much hope of our reaching that one.
The Motion will mean that on Friday next week, 29th April, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) will lose his opportunity of moving the Second Reading of his Slaughter of Animals Bill, but as there will be no chance of its proceeding that would be a useless way of spending the time. As for 6th May, of course, no Ballot has yet been taken, so no hon. Member can be aggrieved about that. I do recognise that it is hard to ask hon. Members to sacrifice those days, but I would ask them to look at the matter, as the Government have, from the point of view of the House as a whole.
The Motion will enable us, therefore, to conclude the Budget debate by Friday, all but for one point which is contained in paragraph (b) of the Motion. Under the practice of the House it is not proper, unless an amendment is made, to take two stages of a Budget Resolution or of the Finance Bill on the same day. Hon. Members will realise that the Budget debate takes place on the last Resolution, which is left open, the Question on which was not closed yesterday. The proposal is that on Friday we shall conclude the debate on the outstanding Resolution; but to complete the whole of the Budget debates we would desire to take the Report of the three Resolutions.
As the House knows, under recent procedure those are no longer debatable. We could leave them over, of course, until Monday, but if we did it would be impossible to introduce the Finance Bill and circulate it during the week-end. For the convenience of hon. Members the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday produced a White Paper of the draft of the Bill, but even so it is a much more tidy procedure that the Bill should be introduced forthwith and circulated. That is the purpose of paragraph (b).
Paragraph (c) of the Motion is for the convenience of hon. Members, because that lays down that although the Bill has not been read a Second time it will be possible to propose Amendments, new Clauses and Schedules as if it had been. That, older hon. Members will recollect, was the practice during the war, and which was brought to an end in 1950, for reasons which are very good reasons—I 286 am not questioning them—but this seems to be an occasion on which it would be very reasonable to revive it for the general convenience.
That is all this Motion does. It takes away the three Fridays of private Members' time that remain before Dissolution, but the purpose of it is to enable the Budget debates to be concluded this week and the Finance Bill to be presented and circulated during the week-end. I do not know whether there are any other points which may occur to hon. Members on the matter, but, as I said, the Financial Secretary will answer them, I hope, if they are brought up. I think that, on the whole, hon. Members will feel that the Government have done their best to meet the convenience of everybody concerned.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in the trouble that he is having with his throat. It has prevented him from presenting this Motion to us in his usual sprightly way, in which he would doubtless have produced for us many amusing reasons to persuade us that it hurts him a great deal more than it hurts private Members to deprive them of their time. That is a customary procedure of Leaders of the House on occasions such as this. I do not intend to find quotations from speeches made in the past when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in opposition, when they were valiant defenders of private Members' time, and when they were suggesting that members of this party were its foes.
We have to face the fact that the Prime Minister decided on a General Election. As far as we are concerned we are very glad he did, and we shall meet him and the Lord Privy Seal on the stricken field somewhere or another. That being so, it is desirable at least that this Session and this Parliament should wind up with a reputation rather better than being the Session and Parliament which passed the horror comics Act. I suggest that that would not be sufficient legislative cargo for the right hon. Gentleman to take into harbour. I regret, therefore, that one very useful Measure which has been through Committee upstairs has not been salvaged.
I allude to the Measure which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Mem- 287 ber for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), dealing with public service vehicles and travel concessions. That is a Bill which was caused by a decision in the courts, which, I think, many town clerks did not expect to go the way it did. They rather regretted that the issue had been raised. There was a concession made with the good will of the bulk of the population of the country to old-age pensioners and other people, enabling them to travel, in vehicles owned by municipal corporations, at reduced fares, or, possibly, at no fare at all. That concession was declared invalid.
In the passage of the Bill through Committee my hon. Friend and those associated with him had the very valuable and practical assistance of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, for which they and, I think, the local authorities concerned are very grateful. Now that this matter has been declared invalid by the courts, local authorities are, of course, incurring expense illegally—knowing it to be illegal—in continuing this procedure.
But part of the arrangement that the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friends reached was that the Bill should apply retrospectively so as to cover these breaches of the law which it was thought should be countenanced, as it was expected that the Bill would become law during the current Session. Otherwise, local authorities might have had to promote Private Bills, or a Government Measure might have had to be introduced to enable the local government auditors to sanction the expenditure to which, undoubtedly, their attention would have been directed.
I understand that, after careful and friendly negotiations, an arrangement was reached in Committee which would probably have meant that there would have been no serious Report stage, and that a Third Reading might have been anticipated. So far as I know, there is no opposition to this Bill. It is a practical Measure to deal with a situation such as we know is occasionally created by the courts. I have even heard it suggested that the Government have brought forward a Measure before the courts have reached a decision on a matter, because the Government have gathered, from the way in which learned judges looked at 288 their counsel, that they would probably be in trouble; and so they have stepped in to meet it.
We are all agreed that the General Election must be fought. No one would suggest that we should prolong Parliament until the date on which this Bill would come up on the Report stage in the ordinary way merely to get the Bill passed. This is a Bill to enable local authorities to continue something that everyone desires them to continue, and as we are agreed on those two points, I think the Government might afford time—perhaps after 10 o'clock at night, or something like that—for the further stages of this Bill.
The Leader of the House may take it from me that if he is able to meet us in this matter, we on this side of the House will do everything we can to facilitate the passage of this Bill.
§ Mr. Crookshank
To do what the right hon. Gentleman wishes would require a procedural Motion to bring the Bill back from the date for which it is set down, namely, 13th May. In view of what he said, we can discuss this matter further to see what we can do to help to get it through this House and also, I hope, through another place—although, of course, about that we cannot speak with such certainty. But we appreciate the point which the right hon. Gentleman has made, and accept his offer of cooperation.
§ Mr. Ede
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman and express my regret that the mauling which the Road Traffic Bill received in another place should have made him so nervous about his capacity to control what happens there. In another place, they are not often "bad boys" twice to a Conservative Government.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has taken up the point I raised and everything I have said about the Measure applies also to the procedural Motion.
We come now to the other parts of this Motion, and I must say that I do not regard them as being quite so easy of acceptance. This House is the custodian of the public purse. It is the duty of this House to examine with care the financial proposals of the Government for 289 the year. Although it may be said, "Well, they are rather meagre this time," after all, they are the Government proposals for the year. I understand that in 1929 the Budget was divided into two parts. One part was taken before the General Election on the assumption that the other part would be proceeded with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer after the General Election. I hope that the omen is a sound one on this occasion.
We have been examining these proposals for the year, and here I should like to pay a tribute to the courtesy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have provided us with a White Paper containing a draft of the proposed Bill. Paragraph (c) of the Motion gaily talks about Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules. Our examination of the Bill and of the Resolutions makes us very doubtful as to whether there is any need for paragraph (c) in view of the careful work of the Government draftsmen in preparing the documents. I gather from the smile on the face of the Prime Minister that he is not surprised that we have made the discovery.
It is not for me, at this stage, to indicate what situation may arise if, in fact, it is impossible to draft and lay Amendments which will be in order. Of course, as we are sitting in the House we can get no guidance as to whether any suggestions that we put forward would be in order or not. But I must warn the right hon. Gentleman that if my surmise that it is not possible to draft Amendments which can be accepted by the Chair proves correct, a very difficult situation may arise with regard to the discussion of the Finance Bill on Second Reading and during the subsequent stages. I do not want to say any more than that tonight, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to know that we have been studying the position.
Apart from that, I think that the time during which the Bill could have been examined—had it been possible to draft Amendments—might have been rather longer than the time which we understand will be allotted to it after it has been introduced. If, by the ingenuity of the draftsmen, we are prevented from having a full discussion on the Measure, the right hon. Gentleman must expect some difficulty in arranging the business of the House.
290 I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Bill. I regret that we have these misgivings about paragraph (c) of the Motion, and I can only say that it will depend on what answer we receive on that point what advice I shall give to my right hon. and hon. Friends as to the course that they should take when the question is put from the Chair.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I had intended to make a speech supporting my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in his plea concerning the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Bill, but, in view of the co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, all that I now propose to do is to thank him and his colleagues for what they have said in the matter.
The Bill is a small one, but is very important. Its passage through Committee was marked by very friendly cooperation between the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and hon. Members on my side of the Committee. It completed its Committee stage, and, as far as I am aware, there is no opposition to any part of it on either side of the House. I am very grateful to the Government for their help in the matter, and I am quite sure that the local authorities throughout the country which are affected by the Measure will also be grateful to them.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I readily join in the observations made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short). I sat with him in the Committee stage of the Bill, and I agree that it was a valuable piece of legislation which he initiated. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for so readily agreeing to the attempted effort to provide facilities for its acceptance. I am sure that the House must have been quite touched by the sympathy which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) offered to my right hon. Friend. Such expressions of sympathy I am always delighted to see, and it is gratifying to have them at the close of a Parliament.
The Motion appears to me to be one which should commend itself to the 291 House. It is true that my party was the defender of Parliamentary time for private Members, but the right hon. Member for South Shields failed to point out that his Government did not yield very much to our protestations. During the period of office of the Labour Government we were continually pleading for what we never got. We sought it assiduously, but failed to obtain it. Perhaps it can be said that what the Lord gave the Lord is entitled to take away.
Judging from the speeches made by hon. Members opposite during the last two days, it appears that the Opposition is desirous of having a General Election. I am sure that hon. Members opposite would not like to have it lie against them that they hesitated to join the fray. It is for that reason that I hope they will support the Motion. Let us get on not only with the business of the House, but with the business of the General Election.
Paragraph (a) of the Motion says:Government business shall have precedence on Fridays.This is something about which I feel less anxiety than some other hon. Members. I confess that I am very rarely here on Fridays. Owing to a suitable arrangement with an hon. Member opposite, I am usually absent on those days. I can give away what I have never very much enjoyed, and I give it to the Government as a sacrifice, quite willingly.
Paragraph (b) says:any resolution relating to taxation which may be reported from the Committee of Ways and Means may be considered forthwith by the House.I have never wholly followed the circumlocutions of public business, but a certain urgency and promptitude is shown by the phrase "may be considered forthwith." That is a mark of a Government of determination. We want no dilly-dally and delay. That part of the Motion should be readily accepted as showing that the Government are altruistic in their consideration of these matters.
Paragraph (c)—with a consistency which is a remarkable characteristic of mine—I find admirable. It says:notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules to be moved in Committee on any Bill which may be ordered to be brought in on any resolutions of the Committee of Ways and Means relating to taxation may be 292 accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.It will be of guidance and help to the Clerks at the Table. I hope that the Motion will be accepted. My main reason for hoping that is that I want to get on with the business of the House, the death of which has already been announced—and get on with it with the greatest expedition.
The sacrifice of private Members' time which would be called for would be a burden which we could lightly and logically bear. The problem of Amendments under paragraph (c) will not, with ingenuity, be insuperable. For these reasons I hope that the Motion will have general and prompt acceptance.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
I quite understand the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) being worried about this Motion, and his reluctance to agree to Fridays being given up. To escape the wrath of the Patronage Secretary the hon. Member will have to be in London for the next few Fridays instead of being in Edinburgh.
I would remind the Lord Privy Seal that he has a measure of responsibility for a Private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), because the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill, said:The case of Prescott against Birmingham Corporation has occasioned the drafting of the Bill. The Government have naturally had to consider all its aspects, not only from the purely technical transport point of view, with which I am primarily concerned, but also from the point of view of broad human sympathy with those who, under this decision, are in danger of having taken away from them concessions which they have been accustomed to enjoy for a very long time.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 794.]For that reason I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will exert all the efforts he can to make the Bill law before Parliament is dissolved. If he does not, there will be great difficulty in a large number of local authority areas. Some corporations who had promoted Private Bills have withdrawn them, I understand, anticipating that my hon. Friend's Bill would become law. If the utmost cooperation is not exerted to see that the 293 Bill becomes law before 6th May, a good deal of hardship and discomfort will also be caused to a large number of elderly and maimed people by the danger of their privileges being taken from them.
I hope that, after the assurance given to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), the Lord Privy Seal will endeavour to see that the Bill becomes law.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
In general, I object to Private Members' time being taken away, but on this occasion it is obvious that in the time left in the present Session it will be impossible to get any Private Member's Bill on to the Statute Book. However, I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal one question.
In the Scottish Standing Committee tomorrow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) will be discussing the Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill. If that discussion leads to the expected result that the Bill is returnable to that Committee, my hon. Friend will, naturally, be anxious to see it passed through its remaining stages in the House and the other place before the end of this Parliament. I should like to know whether the Government can facilitate the passage of the Bill if it receives unanimous consent from the Scottish Standing Committee tomorrow, so that we can strike a blow for the libraries of Scotland in the time that remains to us in this Parliament.
If my right hon. Friend can say that should all parties agree—should all Scotsmen agree—to this Measure it will be adopted by the Government, and that facilities will be given to my hon. Friend in Government time to ensure that the Bill goes through this House, I am sure that the other place would not delay its passage. In that case, my hon. Friend would have the great distinction of having been responsible for the passing of a Private Member's Bill of considerable interest to the literary people of Scotland in the last few weeks of this Session.
If that is not possible, then my hon. Friend would have to take his luck in the Ballot, maybe next year. [An HON. MEMBER: "If he is returned."] Well, we are expecting my hon. Friend to be returned with a greatly increased majority. I am quite certain that everyone in the House who knows my hon. Friend will 294 realise that there is no better representative possible for South Edinburgh—but not for South Angus—than he.
The Private Member's Bill procedure is always rather complicated and is a great gamble. I have been in the Ballot for years and have never drawn a Private Member's Bill. I am one of the unlucky ones in this world. My hon. Friend is fortunate now; he may never again be fortunate in this respect in his life. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to say that if, tomorrow, there is a quorum in the Scottish Grand Committee and if the Measure is accepted unanimously by that Committee, facilities will be given by the Government to proceed with this Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill so that it receives the Royal Assent before the end of this Parliament.
If I may turn to paragraph (b) of the Motion. I agree that in the circumstances, when we have had a decision that a General Election shall take place on 26th May, it is important that we should get through the business necessary for this Parliamentary Session with the utmost possible expedition. Ordinarily, of course, things would be very different. It would be necessary to have detailed and long discussion and consideration of all the problems arising out of a normal Finance Bill.
I spent many hours on the various aspects of the Finance Bill of 1952, particularly dealing with Purchase Tax. I remember having an argument with lady hon. Members on various aspects of that tax. The Bill made a tremendous difference at that time to the housewives of Britain, because by it we were able to lighten their burdens by reducing Purchase Tax on many household articles. The same applies in a limited sphere to textiles now. In short, I think that in view of the exceptional circumstances, it is necessary to pass this Motion tonight, and I hope that it will be passed unanimously.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
No matter what Government may be in office I have always considered that private Members' time is of paramount importance not only to this House but to the people whom we represent. There are many occasions when hon. Members have a private point of view which may not be in line with that of the parties they may have to 295 represent. Nevertheless, in this House they should have the opportunity to press forward their legislation, if lucky in the Ballot or in other ways. What I want to know tonight is where exactly do the Government stand about the Bill which I moved on Second Reading the other Friday, and for which we obtained the approval of the House, namely, the Non-Industrial Employment Bill? This Bill implements the Gowers Committee's Report. It is no use any hon. Member on the other side of the House running away from this question. There is much talk about what we will do for the unorganised white-collared workers and for the agricultural workers and others, and here is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate their sincerity.
The Non-Industrial Employment Bill went through the House. The Government had not the courage to vote against it because so many hon. Members opposite had been lobbied by their constituents on account of the importance of the Bill. Fiddling criticism was made of the way in which the sponsors and others had constructed the Bill, but whatever criticisms were made it was, nevertheless, a better Bill than any produced by hon. Members on the benches opposite, because they have produced nothing for the workers since the findings of the Gowers Committee.
There are six days left in which we can go into Committee upstairs and discuss in an amicable fashion this Bill and accept Amendments. [Laughter.] It is not a matter which I would treat with hilarity—the conditions, health and welfare of 12 million people. I do not consider it a laughing matter, neither do I consider it a matter for Micawber-like speeches from hon. Members opposite.
I hope that the Leader of the House will make the same concession to us as he has been kind enough to make to both sides of the House over the excellent Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short). I should like an assurance that if we take this Bill in Committee for two or three days before the dissolution of Parliament, we will have an opportunity for discussion and to put forward suggestions which will be of value in the next Parliament. We owe that to the people in the country who believe that a 296 Parliament that gets into power will ultimately do a job of work which will benefit their health, welfare and safety.
I should like the Leader of the House to give an assurance now, if he would be kind enough to give it, that we will be enabled to go into Committee for at least the two or three days that are available to discuss this Bill.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I should not like to mar the harmony of this occasion by entering into any controversy with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I am to a certain extent in agreement and to a certain extent in disagreement with what he has said.
In the first instance, I should like to reinforce what has been said by other hon. Members about the great importance of not interfering with private Members' time and private Members' rights. I have had some pleasing and some not so pleasing experiences of Private Members' Bills through being responsible for one myself and through having had to deal with a number of complicated matters at short notice on a Friday. I should be the last person in the world to want to support any unnecessary interference with those rights.
I did not quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he said that he thought that we had to end with a desirable thing, or an undesirable thing—the horror comics Bill. I should have thought that it might have been said that a suitable Bill to end these proceedings just before a General Election would be the Slaughter of Animals Bill, because that might possibly have certain other applications in the course of the next few weeks. But there it is.
There are various matters which we would have liked to have proceeded with, and I am sure that we all agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and on this side of the House we are grateful to him for taking such a statesmanlike view and for not taking advantage of this opportunity to make political capital out of what he recognises to be a very proper, desirable and commendable Parliamentary procedure.
I did not understand him to have any violent objections to paragraph (b), and 297 I think that in the circumstances it will be agreed that it is a quite sensible provision. With regard to paragraph (c), I find it a little difficult to follow what the right hon. Gentleman was concerned about, because he seemed to think that there might be some difficulty in putting down Amendments. But, after all, it would be simple for the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) to put down an Amendment to Clause 1 of the proposed Finance Bill whereby Income Tax should be charged not at the standard rate of 8s. 6d. but at the standard rate of 9s. 6d. No doubt, he would have plenty of opportunity of raising the question.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Has it escaped the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that such an Amendment would obviously be out of order?
§ Sir L. Heald
Certainly there would be no difficulty in proposing a reduction to 7s. 6d., which no doubt would be desirable to many hon. Members. For example, in the case of Clause 2 (7) relating to the rate not exceeding £210 and the rate between £210 and not exceeding £360, it would be possible, within appropriate limits, to make Amendments. But no doubt those are not the Amendments which the Opposition want to make. The Opposition want to introduce Amendments dealing with an entirely different subject matter outside the range of Income Tax, and that matter is left out very advisably because there are no proposals relating to it and it is unnecessary to occupy the time of the House discussing it.
Therefore, if there are any relevant matters—and I apologise if I have taken the wrong example with regard to Clause 1—it is possible to devise Amendments, but they would be Amendments which would be undesirable from the point of view of the Opposition in a General Election. The real complaint is that the only Amendments that could be put down would be those that would not be politically desirable from the point of view of the Opposition. The Amendments that it is suggested they may be debarred from putting down are Amendments which have no relevance to the Finance Bill at all. Therefore, we are glad that the matter has been approached in this 298 way, and it appears that the policy of the Government in this matter is accepted generally in the House.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I want to reinforce the plea that some thought should be given to providing further discussion on the Non-Industrial Employment Bill. This question affects 12 million workers. It is also one in which the whole trade union movement is vitally interested, and it would be a reflection on the Government's appreciation of the importance of the trade union movement if that Bill were slaughtered without further consideration being given to it. There are a few days in which it could be considered in Committee, when Amendments could be considered and the ground prepared for a better conception of the Bill in time for the next Parliament.
Unlike the hon. Member who said that he had never been successful in being able to raise a subject on a Friday since he had been in the House, I was successful once in a period of 10 years. But then my Motion, which dealt with the very important question of the reform of the rating system of this country, was defeated by a count being called. I think we are entitled to ask the Government not to be too greedy and grab all the time that is left between now and the end of this Parliament.
What is going to happen to the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which aroused a lot of discussion in the country and about which chambers of commerce and ratepayers' associations have been passing resolutions? I agree that it is Government business, but I should like to know whether we shall have any time to discuss the matter. It has aroused enormous interest and is of great importance to ratepayers and local authorities all over the country. Is it to be dropped? The country and the House are entitled to know whether any further progress is to be made on a Bill of that kind, and I hope that whoever is to reply will say something about it.
I conclude by expressing the hope that attention will be given to the plea for further consideration of the Bill dealing with the recommendations of the Gowers Report. If there is one section of the working people of this country which has been neglected in this field all down the years it is that covered by the Bill—the 299 clerical workers, shop assistants and others for whose benefit the Gowers Committee made some strong recommendations and on whose behalf my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) made a valiant effort in drafting the Non-Industrial Employment Bill which he introduced. It would be a shame if this Parliament ended without giving further consideration to what is proposed in the Bill, and I strongly press the Government to give some hope for further discussion of that Bill.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
Hon. Members on all sides will agree that it is a sad thing that private Members' time should be lost, but surely the present position is exceptional.
After listening to the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) earlier today, I thought that a debate on this issue would scarcely be necessary. So intoxicated was he with the exuberance of his own apparent economic virtuosity that he wanted an Election right away with nothing to stand in the way of it. Indeed, the dessicated calculating machine seemed to have new life. Like one of those fairy stories from Grimm or Hans Andersen, suddenly the machine became alive, and the right hon. Gentleman received rousing if not rip-roaring support from his own side of the Committee before his economic fallacies were fully exposed by my right hon. and hon. Friends during the debate.
The issue here is comparatively simple. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, South clearly said, what the nation needs is an Election—
§ Mr. Fraser
—and a Government with a greater power and a larger working majority.
The point raised by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) about his own Bill is rather typical of the difficulties which befall us at this period. Undoubtedly, the hon. Gentleman's Bill is an important one, but to conceive that it can be got through before 6th May is surely folly, deluding people and trying to play politics with things which cannot, within the time available, be made actual and effective.
300 As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already said, the Government have agreed—subject, of course, to the acceptance of the Bill in another place—that the Bill put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite will be put through, but the time ahead is short. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot, on the one side, ask the Government to provide, so to speak, a Dutch auction of time for the number of Bills, they would like to put forward, and, at the same time, have a proper debate on the Budget Resolutions. I believe that the course put forward by my right hon. Friend is the most sensible course in the conditions with which we are faced.
Finally, I believe that private Members' time, important and sacred though it be to back benchers in this House, would be wasted if Bills were to reach the initial stage of their passage, without any possible chance of going through the Committee stage and receiving the necessary assent from this House and another place. That would merely be opening up the possibility, at this late stage before the General Election, of an attempt at electioneering from this House. Indeed, certain hon. Members might well find HANSARD charged against them as an electoral expense.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I hope that the House will not dismiss this important question very lightly. I do not mind a little hilarity or a few jokes, but this is a very important question, affecting ordinary back benchers.
I recall very vividly the fight we put up many years ago when an attempt was made during the war period to take away private Members' time. There was violent opposition to the proposal, and that opposition was justifiable, because if there is one thing which we as private Members in this House covet it is the opportunity to present a Bill dealing with some matter near and dear to our own hearts. Therefore, there is no justification for the Leader of the House or the Prime Minister asking us to give up our time or our privileges without giving us an assurance that we shall have a quid-pro quo in return.
I know that the Leader of the House, when he mentioned this proposal yesterday, claimed that the Government had 301 restored private Members' time, and had the right to take it away again. If that is the only argument which the right hon. Gentleman can advance, it is a very weak one indeed. All Bills, no matter from which side of the House they come, are important, particularly if they are introduced by private Members.
The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) said that Private Members' Bills were important to an hon. Member who was fortunate in the Ballot after a long period of waiting, and who, in the situation facing us now, must forgo the opportunity of seeing his Bill reach the Statute Book. I know that sound arguments can be advanced from the Government benches, but that is because of the fixing of the dissolution of Parliament by the Government. If the Government had examined Private Members' Bills on the stocks, or passing through their various stages, they would have given some consideration to the rights and privileges of ordinary back benchers.
Of the several Bills concerned two, in particular, deal with a large number of people. My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) promoted the Bill dealing with non-industrial employment. That is a very important Bill. If the Government knew of the rejoicing there has been among people who have been long neglected by this and preceding Governments when they heard of that Bill, they would hesitate to deny it the opportunity of reaching the Statute Book. All those people were looking forward to the Bill getting on to the Statute Book, but the Government say, "We must get the Finance Bill through all its stages by 6th May."
I want to reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek and my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). Can the Government give an assurance that that Bill, which affects the lives of 12½ million, may be sent to Committee upstairs, receive its Third Reading in this House and, finally, the Royal Assent?
There is an old saying, "Where there's a will there's a way." I know that the Leader of the House has the ability to find ways and means of getting the Bill on to the Statute Book. If he would give us an assurance that the Bill would reach the Statute Book by 5th May there 302 would be a possibility of us refraining from dividing the House. I do not want to do so and I know that my colleagues do not, but we are very covetous of the rights of private Members. No one can blame us for that because it is very rare that we get an opportunity to present a Private Member's Bill, sometimes after waiting many years. Hon. Members have said that they were fortunate in being successful in the Ballot after 20 years, 10 years, or 12 years.
Surely we are not acting fairly, justly, or honestly with ordinary back benchers if we take away from them the right to promote Bills dealing with subjects which are near their hearts. I therefore ask the Leader of the House, very seriously, to give an undertaking that the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), which has gone through all stages but Third Reading, and the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek, who is anxious that it should reach the Committee stage, will be helped through Parliament. If we can get that undertaking we shall consider not dividing the House against the Motion.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Sir Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) is a greatly respected Member of this House. I would join with him at once in agreeing that, whatever the complexion of the Government of the day, it is our duty as back benchers to be extremely jealous of private Members' time. A back benchers' trade union on that matter would be a very useful organisation, whatever the complexion of the Government and the circumstances of the House.
I well recall, when I first entered Parliament, how we always had two days a week for private Members' business, Wednesdays for Motions and Fridays for Bills. Gradually the Executive—more than one Executive—has eaten into those privileges and prerogatives. When the Second World War broke upon us, the House, with universal approval, surrendered all these rights.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
We were confronted, the hon. Member will agree, with an external enemy who had to be confronted, and we wanted to give all the time possible for the prosecution of the 303 war to the Ministers concerned in that very vital matter rather than take up their time with private Members' business. It is true that there was a fight, but it was something of a sham fight. We went through the motions; we never fired our rifles.
When the war ended, there was a general anticipation that private Members would have these privileges restored to them. In fact, on that fateful Sunday, 3rd September, pledges were given from the Treasury Bench that with the cessation of hostilities, we would regain these very important opportunities for promoting legislation. I hope I carry the House with me up to this point, anyhow.
But the General Election of 1945 returned to power a Government composed of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, who proceeded to take unto themselves, in time of peace, not only for the first Session of their reign, but for the first two Sessions, all private Members' time and privileges including—I speak from memory but I think I am correct—the Ten Minutes Rule. For the first two years, no facilities of any kind were given for private Members' time.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) is not in his place, because he was leading the House at that time, aided and abetted by the right hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley), who was then, as he is now, his party's Chief Whip. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, said that so important and urgent was it to pass certain Measures, which have brought great evil upon us, nationalising various industries, that private Members' time must be surrendered in toto, not because of any external enemy, but so that Socialism might continue its onward march.
I do not remember whether the hon. Member for Ince protested at that time, not against three Fridays being taken from us, but against the two whole Sessions of Parliamentary time in which there were no private Members' opportunities at all.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
That is true, but since this Motion was put down I have 304 had time to look at the Division lists, and I have looked in vain for the name of the hon. Member for lnce or of any of his hon. Friends, so eloquent and persuasive were the speeches of the then Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South.
There were some mild fulminations. The right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), I remember, got peevish about it. I do not think that the hon. Member for Ince made a speech. I have not had time to look at all the debates but his name is certainly not in the Division lists, and that, after all, is the acid test of conviction in this House.
And so, when the hon. Member tells us that he bleeds for the private Member, let me tell him that I bled in the Lobby in 1945, 1946 and 1947. The hon. Member tonight appears before us respected and with a whole skin. He never went to the front line—at any rate, in defence of the private Member. So much for that.
I well remember our ex-colleague Sir Alan Herbert, the independent Member, throwing on the Floor in disgust three Bills which he had prepared and which he was anxious to introduce. He threw them at the feet of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South as a protest against tyranny. I think they dealt with betting and divorce; not subjects in which I am particularly interested. However that may have been, no opportunity was given for their consideration.
Indeed, one of the best speeches made in defence of the procedure that was followed was made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I have had just time enough to look him up on the subject. He said that we could not go back to the old days when private Members had more time, because there was too much legislation and the House was too busy, but that we might some time get back to having Fridays, with Motions and Bills alternating as now, but not to the full amount of private Members' time of the old days, when there were Wednesdays allotted.
I did not quarrel with that. Parliament is overloaded with legislation. Though it was some years ago, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made out a good case, though not good enough a case to keep me out of the Lobby, I admit. 305 I bled again on that occasion, and I regret to say that the hon. Member for Ince was one of the butchers.
We have listened to speeches from hon. Gentlemen who have Bills prepared or before the House. May I have the attention of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) for one moment? He has a Bill which is at issue here, a Bill dealing with the conditions of non-industrial workers. It is disappointing, of course, when one has had a Bill read a Second time, not to have a chance to take it to Committee. It is a most galling experience.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
However, the hon. Member for Leek seems to be showing a lack of confidence in the forthcoming appeal to the country. If this Bill has the support of his hon. and right hon. Friends on the benches opposite, and of some of my hon. Friends over here, has he no confidence either in the result of the General Election or in any Government which may be formed from amongst his own right hon. Friends? That Bill has been described by the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) and the hon. Member for Ince, jointly and separately, as a most important Measure.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
I agree, and far too important to be rushed through between now and dissolution. It ought to have the most meticulous examination in Committee. It is capable of improvement, and ought to be examined in Committee. The hon. Gentleman takes the view that if he does not get the Bill by 6th May he will not get it at all. I wonder why.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
Has he no confidence in the result in the Leek division, no confidence in the result of the General Election as a whole?
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Member for Leek has complete confidence in his own division and complete confidence that he will be returned, in view of the fact that the party opposite has neglected the small farmers I have had to represent. It has completely neglected them for the last four years. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am concerned with that Bill as a private Member. The hon. 306 Gentleman has been talking about the rights of private Members. I am having regard to my right as a private Member. I do not want the juggernaut of any party machine to roll out of a Committee room without our having a chance to discuss that vital and important Bill. I hope the hon. Gentleman will remember that, despite the leadership of the ex-Prime Minister in 1945 and the hopes of the party opposite, it was this party which was overwhelmingly returned to office, and I beg the hon. Gentleman not to count his chickens before they are hatched. I was simply asking the Leader of the House for an assurance that that important Bill would go to Committee.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
That was a very lengthy interruption. I was merely suggesting that if the hon. Gentleman had any faith in his chickens being hatched—
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
—he need not worry, and we can leave it to the small farmer, who is embarrassed by the holding up of a Bill dealing with non-industrial workers—
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
—;and the prospect, to which we shall look forward, of watching a juggernaut rolling out of a Committee room upstairs. I hope I shall be there to see that. If the hon. Gentleman has any faith in the chances of his party and its support for his Bill, he need not worry too much about the fate which has overtaken it.
There is another Bill dealing with transport, and I think that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) is unlucky about that. If he can recognise his Bill in the form in which it emerged from the Committee, he must have a very strong imagination. If he can get a Third Reading for the Bill, well and good; if not, what is all the trouble about? I do not see that anything is holding us up there.
This is the sort of thing which overtakes hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House from time to time. We all sympathise with private Members whose Bills get held up in this way, but we cannot accept hon. Gentlemen opposite appearing 307 as champions of the private Member when we remember the period from 1945 to 1947.
I remember that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, sitting then in Opposition, protested warmly and eloquently—as he always does—against that particular outrage. So did I, and it is a matter of great comfort to me that as soon as the present Administration took office no one was more meticulously careful to safeguard the rights of private Members than my right hon. Friend. It is all very well for the Socialist Opposition Members to make a hullabaloo about losing three Fridays, but they will lose not only three Fridays; they will lose the respect of the electorate, and the Election.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been moved by the recital of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) of the number of times he has bled for the cause of private Members and Private Members' Bills. Were there any logic in that part of his argument, it is surely right that he should bleed again tonight. If, in fact, he was so sincere in the votes he cast in 1945 and 1946—when he was under the same kind of instruction as he would be tonight if a vote were taken—he could prove it tonight by voting with hon. Members on this side of the House. Then, at last, we should know that on those previous occasions in 1945 and 1946 the hon. Gentleman, instead of merely being driven in the herd through the Division Lobby, had been sincerely expressing his conviction. If he was genuine in the martyrdom he displayed on those earlier occasions he should repeat the performance tonight for the gratification of us all; and then, in retrospect, we should be willing to pay a tribute to him.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
The fact is that I have not yet sufficiently convalesced from my Socialist wounds.
§ Mr. Foot
I thought that it was all a piece of hypocrisy.
We all know exactly what happened on those occasions. The votes on private Members' time in 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950 and 1951—in fact, on almost every occasion—were cast with the Whips on. Therefore, it is cant, at any rate for most 308 hon. Members on either side of the House, to pretend that they fought great battles and made great sacrifices for private Members' time. It may be regrettable, but we know that practically all hon. Members voted exactly as the Whips told them. Speeches about how much they opposed and how deeply they are prepared to attack their own leaders on this issue are just so much cant.
A great deal of cant is talked on the subject of private Members' time, and a good contribution on that line was made tonight by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West when he said that the fact that private Members' time was taken away in 1945 and in 1946 was a monstrous invasion of the rights of private Members. I do not think that that was the case at all.
Some people might imagine from such statements that if private Members lose their time in which to introduce Bills or to move Motions, therefore private Members cannot contribute to the debates in this House. We all know that to be a fallacy. In fact, it is a perfectly proper procedure on occasions when private Members have a Government which they think have a long list of useful and effective Measures—probably more useful than Measures which are likely to be introduced by most private Members—to accept the proposals of that Government to abandon private Members' time for a certain period.
I believe that in 1945, 1946 and 1947 it was absolutely right to do this, because, in fact, the time taken from private Members was used to pass a whole series of first-class legislation. Indeed, had it not been for the passage of those Measures, the Chancellor would not have been able to get up yesterday and pay his generous tribute to nationalisation.
A number of Measures were introduced and passed at that time. There were the nationalisation Measures and the National Health Service Bill, which was opposed by members of the present Government on at least three occasions, and a whole series of other Measures. I do not think that hon. Members were wrong in giving up their time to facilitate the passage of those Measures through the House.
Everyone knows why it was done, and everyone also knows that the martyrdom of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West and his opposition to the withdrawal 309 of private Members' time on that occasion were more because he hated the Measures which the Government intended to put through than any desire on his part to introduce private Measures of his own. If the hon. Gentleman is so passionately desirous of introducing a Private Member's Bill, why does he not do so? I cannot recall his coming forward to introduce a Private Member's Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule—at any time during the last two years.
In the present situation, it is possible for any private Member to present a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That means that we could have three Bills every week. Why does not that happen? It does not happen, first because it is known that there are not so many of these Private Members' Bills, and, secondly—and this is much more important—because most Members know that even if they get a chance in the Ballot they will not get their Bill through anyhow. The chances against their getting a Bill through are fifty or a hundred to one.
That being so, do not let us have any more of this hypocrisy about private Members' time. Of course, there is a good case for such Private Members' Bills as that of my hon. Friend. His is a first-class Bill, but very often we have a series of twopenny-halfpenny Measures about various kinds of animals. A Bill which was coming up on 29th April sought to rob Jewish people of their rights in this country. I am glad that that Bill has been strangled under this procedure, and I congratulate the Government upon it.
My objection to this Motion is an entirely different one. The Motion is typical of the way in which the Government have run the business of the House ever since they were elected in 1951. One has only to look at their record to see that there has been a most appalling series of mismanagements in Session after Session. The Leader of the House is still there. We all like him very much for the way in which he presents his usually bad case. He always does it with great skill and courtesy, but he is not so good at managing the affairs of the House of Commons. I do not hold him entirely responsible; we know that the Patronage Secretary has had a finger in the matter, and that may explain it all. The fact remains that for Session after Session the 310 business of the House during this Parliament has been hopelessly mismanaged.
In 1951, for instance, we had the King's Speech, and a number of Measures which the Government said they were going to put through, such as the denationalisation of steel, the denationalisation of road haulage, and a Measure to ensure that the brewers got their chance in the new towns. All the main Measures failed to get through in that Session. The only Measure that did manage to get through, after the Government had used the Guillotine during the Committee stage upstairs, was the one which handed over to brewers the public houses in the new towns.
§ Mr. Speaker
The terms of the Motion provide for a wide debate, but not for one so wide as that which the hon. Member is now putting before the House.
§ Mr. Foot
I was proposing, Mr. Speaker, to move very swiftly from 1951 to 1952.
It is clear that the Government made the same kind of mistake in 1952. Then, we had only the two Measures to which I have already referred, and everyone now agrees that it would have been very much better if they had not been passed through the House, because, even in 1955, the Government have not been able to sell off the properties which they had arranged to sell off.
To come to more modern times—we spent a Session in considering what the Government referred to as Operation Rescue." How many houses have been rescued by that Measure? Precious few. One can go to city after city and find that nothing has been done under this great Measure.
§ Mr. Speaker
I can imagine this being an admirable speech in a certain context and upon another occasion, but it has little relevance to the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. Foot
I understood that the relevance of what I was saying was that we should not be surprised at the way in which the Government have had to truncate the business of the House upon this occasion, because we have had experience of it before. The Government have bungled their legislative programme now, just as they did upon previous occasions.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir, 311 for my hon. Friend to suggest that "Operation Rescue" was not successful when, in fact, rents did go up?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order. The only point of order with which I am concerned in connection with the hon. Member's speech is that of its relevancy to the Motion. Although it is permissible to discuss the question of private Members' time, that does not bring in an unlimited discussion of Government time, which is quite another matter. The hon. Member seems to be devoting most of his speech to what was done in Government time, rather than in private Members' time.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sorry if I have in any way gone further than I should have done. I was seeking solely to argue that the Government have bungled matters on this occasion by having had to knock out Bills upon which a considerable amount of the time of the House has been spent. We have had several days of discussion about Measures whose heads are now to be lopped off. All that time is now apparently to be wasted. That is typical of the way in which the Government have managed legislation.
Some of us ask ourselves—because we do not expect an answer from the Government—"Why is it that the whole affair has been rushed in such a way that these Bills have to be set aside as casualties?" I am sure that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), would not have tolerated this interference with the normal conduct of the House of Commons. The party opposite had to get him out of the way. They pushed him overboard and determined to rush through with the election because of the perilous economic situation which has now been so clearly described by the Chancellor—quite irrespective of what may happen to private Members' time, Government time, or anyone else's time.
The Prime Minister's colleagues said, "We have to get it through by 6th May at all costs." They were in some difficulty, because they had been hoping to carry out this other "Operation Rescue"—the real one, as they believe—upon three or four previous occasions. The right hon. Member for Woodford would speak for private Members if he were here today, and if the Whip had not been 312 withdrawn from him. Whether the Whip had been withdrawn from him or not, he would say, "Why is this being done?" The fellow members of his Government have tried to do it on three or four previous occasions. We might have had this spectacle last year. That is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted. He wanted a General Election last year. Everybody knows that. He thinks that the Government are taking a terrible risk in leaving the General Election so late.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not care about all these Bills being set aside. He said, "As soon as we have got rid of the 'old man' let us get on with the General Election as quickly as possible." He has got his way, and he has had to bring in these Budget proposals and put them through. We do not know why the Government want to do all these things, but for goodness' sake let us not have this kind of nonsense talked about private Members' time. We all know that neither Front Bench cares twopence for private Members' time.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
In other circumstances, the Leader of the House would have wished to wind up this debate himself, but hon. Members who were present about an hour-and-a-half ago will be aware that my right hon. Friend has, in the past two days, already given the House the best of his voice. Indeed, he has jeopardised his voice to such an extent that he runs the risk of appearing before the electors of Gainsborough like a Trappist monk. He has, therefore, invited me to wind up the debate and to deal with a number of relevant points which have been raised.
The debate has ranged rather more widely than anybody could at first have foreseen. We have watched my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) licking the blood from his wounds of seven or eight years ago, and we have heard a disquisition from the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). In one way and another the House has had a good time.
A great deal that has been said was really by way of objection to an early Dissolution and was not relevant to the main subject of the Motion, the taking of three Fridays of private Members' time. It has been rather difficult for me 313 to square the objections I have heard to the impending demise of this Parliament with the assurances given by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that he and his hon. Friends were anxious for an Election at the earliest possible moment and that they were going to face up to what I noticed he called a "stricken field." His friends will be stricken; but the Motion does not concern the date of the dissolution. That would be going far beyond our power. It concerns, in the main, what is to happen on the next three Fridays.
A number of hon. Members have asked about the fate of certain Private Members' Bills which are, so to speak, in the pipeline. I hope that none of those who have spoken on this subject will take offence if I mention that one of the Bills concerned stands, for two reasons, in a special position. I refer, of course, to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) which, I think, has changed its name in its progress and is now the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Bill. That Bill was introduced into the House because a decision given in the courts upset the arrangements, working in a number of cities, to which people had become accustomed, and a great deal of local ill-feeling, so I am informed, would have arisen had no action been taken to restore the position. It was not a Private Member's Bill which was just thought up as a good idea; if arose from a situation which was none of this Parliament's creating.
The second respect in which it is unique is that it has already not only had a Second Reading but has passed through Committee and is down for consideration on Report on 13th May. That Bill, therefore, stands in a place by itself, and those hon. Members who were here earlier will recollect that the Leader of the House said that, on the assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, the Government would seek to facilitate its passage through this House.
It will be realised that there must be a procedural Motion to bring it forward from 13th May to an earlier date. I understand that that Motion will be taken as agreed and that no difficulty will be caused from the other side of the House 314 in the course of the remaining stages of the Bill. I therefore hope that it may be possible for that Measure to be sped on its way to another place.
There are 22 Bills which have not yet received a Second Reading. I think that hon. Members on both sides will probably agree that, in any circumstances, the chance of their passing all stages in this House and in another place within the next 16 days is relatively small.
Two Bills have had a Second Reading—the Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill, sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) and the Non-Industrial Employment Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). I have no doubt that both Measures deal with important subjects. I would not myself venture to express an opinion on a Scottish matter. As regards the Non-Industrial Employment Bill, let me assure the hon. Member for Leek that I, as a London Member, am interested in the purposes which that Bill seeks to secure, although I do not wholly agree with the methods the Bill itself proposes. I understood him to volunteer the information that it would probably require Amendment.
I believe that the Bill consists of 22 Clauses, so the hon. Member will probably recognise that whether or not Fridays are available for Private Members' Bills the chance of any Bill of 22 Clauses passing successfully through Committee and its remaining stages here, and passing through all stages in another place, is limited. I cannot say more about those two Bills than this. It is impossible to indicate what can happen to either Bill in the House when neither has yet passed through Committee.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
But could the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that at least the Non-Industrial Employment Bill will go into Committee in the coming week?
§ Mr. Brooke
I have no power to stop it in any way. So far as I know it has been referred to a Standing Committee, and there is no power whatever in the hands of the Government to claw it back. What may happen to that Bill in Committee, and, still more, what may happen to the Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee, are hypothetical questions on which I really cannot be called upon to pronounce.
§ Sir W. Darling
I should like to answer this hypothetical question. There is to be a meeting tomorrow at 10.30 of the Scottish Grand Committee and I have had assurances that in half an hour the Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill will be approved.
§ Mr. Brooke
I always like to accept my hon. Friend's assurances. He no doubt knows a great deal more about the Scottish Grand Committee than I do.
There have been, I am glad to say, two Private Members' Bills which have not only passed through all their stages but received the Royal Assent in this Parliament—the Imperial War Museum Act and the Trustee Savings Bank (Pensions) Act. More of the 22 which I have mentioned as still awaiting Second Reading might have proceeded further but for the energies of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) who has gone in, I will not say for total abstinence, but for total objection to Bills every Friday at 4 o'clock.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
The hon. Gentleman must not blame me; he must blame the Leader of the House for chucking out my Decimal Currency Bill.
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that as a Treasury Minister I had better not be led into decimal currency at this hour of the night.
The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) asked about the Rating and Valuation Bill. He and I share a common interest in local government, but we are today dealing with private Members' time and Private Members' Bills, and no doubt the Leader of the House will, on a future occasion, make a statement about Government business. The whole House will, I think, regret that, on what may be a unique occasion, when my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) has been successful in the Ballot on two successive occasions for bringing private Members' Motions forward on Fridays, although he got the first one, he will, under this procedural Motion, lose his second one. I had the duty and pleasure of replying for the Government on the first one. I believe that I might have escaped replying on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but, in any case, I feel that even he will agree that he has had his fair share.
316 As regards paragraph (b) of the Motion, I believe that there is no precedent for it, and I should hate to be the one to urge upon the House that it should take action that in any way curtails debate on finance, which not only in my official position but according to my personal predelictions I consider the House ought to treat with the utmost care. Erskine May, in page 674, states:In the case of motions and bills of a financial character the ancient practice of the House prescribed the rule that not more than one stage should be taken on a single day.… The effect of the standing orders concerned with this matter has been to reduce the rigidity of the rule by abolishing some of the intervals required by practice.The interval between the two stages of a Ways and Means Resolution preceding a Finance Bill has, so far as I am aware, never previously been shortened in this way. On the other hand, it is only in the last seven years or so that our standing Orders have been altered to preclude debate on the Report stage of such a Ways and Means Resolution. Therefore, paragraph (b) of the Motion in no way interferes with the rights of the House to debate. It only provides that the Report stage may be taken on the same day as the Committee stage. That, of course, is purely for the convenience of the House because otherwise it would not be possible for the Finance Bill to be brought in and made available to hon. Members before this week end.
Finally, there is paragraph (c) of the Motion, which is designed to restore the wartime practice under which it was possible to put down Amendments to Bills before they had had a Second Reading. Again, this paragraph is presented wholly for the convenience of the House in order that the opportunity to put down Amendments may not be confined to the period between the Second Reading of the Finance Bill next week and the time when the House goes into Committee on that Bill. The text of the Bill has already been published as a White Paper, and, if the Motion is agreed to, it will be possible for hon. Members to put down Amendments at an earlier stage than would otherwise have been possible.
The right hon. Member for South Shields raised questions about the scope of the Bill and the type of Amendments that will be in order. I am bound to point out that this Motion is without prejudice to what Amendments to the Bill 317 may or may not be in order. In that sense it imposes no restriction whatever. It merely widens the time during which Amendments can be put down. Whether a particular Amendment is in order is entirely a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. It would be wholly wrong for any member of the Government to seek to express an opinion on that, and I would have said that the Chairman of Ways and Means himself could hardly have given his opinion until the Amendment was on the Order Paper. This procedural Motion will expedite the time when Amendments can be put down.
If the right hon. Gentleman is still concerned about this, let me remind him that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, in no way ruled out the possibility of another Finance Bill later in the year. The right hon. Gentleman said that he welcomed the idea of an Election. I presume from that that he, however vainly, hopes to win the Election. If he wins it, there will then be freedom for him and his right hon. Friends to bring in a Finance Bill containing whatever Clauses they like. I think that that is the possible scope for action which is open to him after the Election. As to what is available between now and then, let me assure him that by agreeing to this procedural Motion, he will in no way be restricting the number of Amendments that will be found to be in order.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That during the remainder of the present Session—