HC Deb 07 July 1955 vol 543 cc1360-3

Amendment made: In page 8, line 14, column 3, at beginning insert "Paragraph (i) of."—[Mr. H. Brooke.]

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Bill reported, with Amendments.

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I beg to protest against the Bill, as amended, being now considered.

To me that seems to be an affront to the rights of the House of Commons. This Bill has been considerably amended in Committee by Government Amendments. We learned during the Committee stage that the Government had found it necessary to introduce a number of very complex, very obscure Amendments that they had not thought of but which arose from the Second Reading debate. There may or may not have been consultations with the Government of Ireland or with the Bank of Ireland. The Financial Secretary has tried to explain some of his Amendments by saying that the Bill, as proposed, had an extra-territorial effect, and that the Government of Eire were aware of the Amendments proposed.

We had the most diffident explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to exactly what had taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Eire, but when he was questioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) it became quite obvious that a great deal more lay behind the Amendments than we had been told. We all know how sensitive the Irish people are about matters affecting the interests of Ireland. The Financial Secretary says that matters contained in the National Debt Acts go back to 1860 and 1870. The reasons he gave for these Amendments were quite unintelligible to us on this side of the House, and make it impossible, without reflection, to do justice to the important and fundamental questions arising between the two countries. Therefore, in the interests of the House of Commons, I protest against the Government's proposal that we should now proceed to consider on Report a Bill that has been very considerably amended in Committee by the Government.

In support of that proposition, I desire to quote the authorities. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that Erskine May quite definitely lays down the procedure of the House in this matter. It is no doubt always possible for the House to control its own business, but you will recall that for a very long time, whenever a Bill has been substantially amended in Committee there is almost invariably an interval of a few days before the House is asked to comment on it at the Report stage.

That is the universal practice of the House, and if authority is wanted for that proposition I refer you to page 572 of Erskine May, 15th Edition. It there states: It should be remembered that when it is desired to tike forthwith the report stage of a bill which has been reported with amendments from a Committee of the whole House, a question for the consideration of the bill, as amended, has to be proposed; and the motion therefor has been withdrawn. There have been various occasions when the Government of the day, with obvious good sense, if I may say so—because most Governments have had regard to the rights of the House of Commons—when a protest of this kind has been made, have withdrawn the proposition to proceed automatically from the Committee to the Report stage. Most Governments have recognised that it is not only the right but the duty of the House to scrutinise Bills of this kind, particularly when a Bill is not only of very considerable financial importance, involving considerations of Parliamentary control over Her Majesty's Treasury, but equally when involving matters which may be in dispute between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Eire. It is obviously desirable that the House should have the opportunity of reading in HANSARD what the Government spokesman has said.

Therefore, I have no doubt, speaking for myself, that I have only to make this protest, support it on its merits and quote precedent, to feel some confidence that the Government will accede to it. I am very glad that the Leader of the House has now arrived, because this is a matter which affects him. He is a great Parliamentarian and I will quote one important precedent for his consideration. I do not know whether the memory of the Lord Privy Seal goes back to July, 1918; I know that he has been in the House of Commons for a long time. In July, 1918, an exactly similar situation arose when a Bill called the Corn Production (Amendment) Bill [Lords] was before the House. Corn Bills have often been troublesome to Tory Governments.

That Bill was considered in Committee and a Motion was made by the Government of the day, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered." Protests were at once made by hon. Members of the Opposition of those days. Mr. D. White—I do not know what his constituency was—and Mr. Raffan pointed out how inconvenient it was and how it would derogate from the rights of hon. Members if they had to discuss the matter on Report without having the benefit of seeing the Bill reprinted as amended. Other hon. Members protested and as a consequence Mr. Prothero, the Minister of Agriculture at that time—a very distinguished Conservative Minister of Agriculture who, I believe, became a member of another place with the title of Lord Ernle—readily acceded to the protests and said: I should not like to go against the opinion of so many hon. Members, but I hope if we put the Bill down for next week the House will allow us to get it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th July, 1918; Vol. 108, c. 2093.] In making this protest on behalf of hon. Members, I have no desire whatever to be obstructive. I desire merely to protect and preserve the rights of the House. Having made this protest, I hope that the Leader of the House will advise his colleagues not to proceed forthwith with the Report stage. We should then have an opportunity of reading the Bill, as amended, and considering in HANSARD the very obscure remarks the Financial Secretary has made as there would be an interval before we considered the Bill on Report.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) is quite clear. If we are to consider the Bill forthwith the Minister must move a Motion to that effect which, of course, would be debatable.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshauk)

I am not quite sure whether I am in order in saying anything at this point.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Minister will have to move a Motion; the Minister in charge of the Bill, or someone on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Crookshank

I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

I do so to put myself in order, but I hasten to say that the Bill will not now be considered because we recognise the validity of the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). It was agreed that all stages of the Bill should be taken this week because the Bill is of some urgency, as the House will realise. Today, I announced the date when we are to rise for the Summer Recess. It is essential to get the Bill through both Houses before that date, but the protest made by the hon. Member is a valid one. If anyone makes such a point the Government must consider it seriously. If no one had objected we would have gone forward with the Bill.

The hon. Member has objected and he is quite within his rights to object. I am quite ready to agree that we should not proceed further today with this Bill, but we must put it down for consideration on whatever is the proper occasion next week, with a view to getting it through the House. I think the House can congratulate itself on the fact that we still have watchdogs and that the heroes of 1918 have been succeeded by perhaps even greater ones in 1955. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, as amended, to be considered Tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 24.]