HC Deb 20 July 1955 vol 544 cc380-2

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

3.32 p.m.

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

I do not want to take advantage of my Parliamentary rights to the extent to which I should be justified, because I want to facilitate business today, as I have very much respect for the miners. Nevertheless, it is essential that someone should take a stand and ask for the protection of Mr. Speaker if private Members are to retain their historic, democratic rights as Members of this House.

Those of us who were here before the war remember that at least two or three days were devoted to the consideration of the Consolidated Fund Bill. I know that this Bill is more limited than the usual Consolidated Fund Bill. At the same time, the average man and woman will not think it very limited when it is seen that it deals with £40 million. If you will be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to glance through the Schedule you will see many issues raised, including an issue upon which I have been waiting for ten years to make a speech.

I will not attempt to take advantage of that; I will suppress myself and content myself with trying to establish our legitimate Parliamentary and democratic rights. It is a well-known constitutional right of elected Members that before we vote Supply the grievances of the people are remedied, or at least ventilated, in the House. During recent years all parties have been responsible for preventing that Parliamentary right from being exercised.

I have discussed this matter with one of the best-informed authorities of the House, for whom I have a great respect. He differed from me, within limits, on what I have said. Since then I have checked it and I find from one of the prefaces to Erskine May that I am fully justified in the interpretation which I am putting on our rights.

Throughout the ages there has been a gradual limitation of our rights in Supply. I am not complaining of that. Our rights of debate in Commitee of Supply have gradually been limited. The preface to Erskine May states, however, that provided they do not touch upon matters affecting Royalty, the judiciary and legislation, hon. Members can raise what they desire on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

I therefore want to ask you this Mr. Speaker: if you agree with my line of reasoning, will you be good enough to say so in precise and definite language, so that those of us who have been prevented from ventilating the people's grievances may in future resume our historic rights of having the opportunity to do so in the House?

Last year—I give credit where it is due—there was a partial restoration of our rights. This year we have been through a General Election and have lost a certain amount of time. [HON. MEMBERS: "And some seats."] It has been a real treat to shake hands with many of my hon. Friends since the Election; they are new Members, young men and women who have come right from the heart of the people. Already, they are beginning to feel frustrated. This is an opportunity for Mr. Speaker to assist them.

Mr. Speaker

I am not quite sure what the hon. Member wants me to say. If I knew what it was, I would say it. He is, of course, quite right in invoking the old principle that redress of grievances should come before Supply, and it is competent on some Consolidated Fund Bills—not on all—to raise any matter of administration which is covered in the grant comprised in the Bill. In the case of the big Consolidated Fund Bill at the end of the Session, which generally covers practically every Department of State, a debate of very wide-ranging description is in order, but sometimes the House agrees, for its own convenience, to try to canalise the debate along a particular issue or issues.

The Bill before us today, as the hon. Member himself was quick to point out, is of limited character because, speaking roughly, it deals only with those elements of Supply which have recently been debated in Committee and on Report in the House. A speech on Second Reading of this Bill, therefore, to be in order, would need to be confined to the same ground as that which we have lately covered in Committee and on the Report stage of these Supplementary Estimates. I want to make that clear first of all. This is not the big Consolidated Fund Bill which the hon. Member may perhaps have had originally in mind.

Today, instead of having a general discussion on these topics which have already been discussed, the House has decided, so I am told—and I am in the hands of the House—to accept the Second Reading of the Bill and to proceed to have a debate about coal.

Mr. Smith

With respect, Mr. Speaker, the House has not decided yet.

Mr. Speaker

As I said, it is entirely a matter for the House, but I was told that that was the general sense. There being nothing irregular, out of order, or in any way reprehensible about the proposal to have a debate on coal, I would fall in with that proposal if that were the desire of the House. Beyond that there is nothing I can say to the hon. Member. I must say that I appreciate his desire to keep for private Members every possible liberty of expression; with that sentiment I am entirely in sympathy. I hope the hon. Member will consider that what I have said is enough.

Mr. Smith

I very much appreciate what you have said, Mr. Speaker, and I am satisfied that what you have said is good, but may I point out that the first business is the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill and that that has not yet been agreed to; so we could carry on the debate a little, though we do not want to do so. The next business is consideration of a Motion and then an Amendment. Am I correct in understanding that the further business, dealing with borrowing powers, is exempted business and that my hon. Friends, who do not often have an opportunity of speaking, will be able to speak on that matter as long as they wish?

Mr. Speaker

It is true that the Draft Coal Industry Nationalisation (Borrowing Powers) Order is exempted business, but I should not like to prejudge what is in order upon that Order from the point of view of relevance. I had better put the Question now.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Committee Tomorrow.