HC Deb 07 November 1956 vol 560 cc119-35

3.7 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I beg to move, That—

  1. (1) save as provided in paragraphs (2) and (5) of this Order, Government Business shall have precedence at every sitting for the remainder of the Session;
  2. (2) Public Bills, other than Government Bills shall have precedence over Government Business on the following Fridays, namely, 7th December, 1st and 15th February, 1st, 15th and 29th March, 12 April, 10th and 24th May and 28th June;
  3. (3) on and after Friday, 12th April, Public Bills other than Government Bills shall be arranged on the Order Paper in the following order:—Consideration of Lords Amendments, Third Readings, Considerations of Reports not already entered upon, adjourned Proceedings on Consideration, Bills in progress in Committee, Bills appointed for Committee and Second Readings;
  4. (4) the ballot for unofficial Members' Bills shall be held on Thursday, 15th November, under arrangements to be made by Mr. Speaker, and the Bills shall be presented at the commencement of Public Business on Wednesday, 21st November;
  5. (5) unofficial Members' Notices of Motions and unofficial Members' Bills shall have precedence in that order over Government Business on the following Fridays, namely, 30th November, 14th December, 8th and 22nd February, 8th and 22nd March, 5th April, 3rd, 17th and 31st May; and no Notices of Motions shall be handed in for any of these Fridays in anticipation of the ballots under paragraph (6) of this Order;
  6. (6) ballots for precedence of unofficial Members' Notices of Motions shall be held after Questions on the following Wednesdays, namely, 14th and 28th November, 30th January, 6th and 20th February, 6th and 20th March, 17th April and 1st and 15th May;
  7. (7) until after Wednesday, 21st November, no unofficial Member shall give notice of Motion for leave to bring in a Bill under Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nominations of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business) or for presenting a Bill under Standing Order No. 35 (Presentation or introduction and first reading).
This Motion is somewhat long, but it is simple in form. It carries out the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1946 to the effect that 20 days should be reserved for private Members' business. Ten Fridays will be for Bills and ten for Motions, and of the ten days for Bills, six will be reserved for Second Readings and four for the later stages which will have priority. Thus we are attempting to preserve, according to tradition, the business of private Members.

Hon. Members who wish to take part in the Ballot for Bills will be asked to sign their names in the book on the following days in the usual way. The days are Tuesday and Wednesday, 13th and 14th November, and the Ballot will take place, as I said yesterday, at the very beginning of the third week, on 15th November. There will then be six days before the Bills are presented, and they will be presented on 21st November. That is the sense of the Motion on the Order Paper.

If there are any questions to answer or any arguments to adduce in answer to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who has an Amendment on the Order Paper, I shall be glad to give the answers at a later stage.

3.9 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I beg to move, at the end to add: unless such Notice of Motion or such Bill shall be concerned with legislation having for its principal object the abolition of the Death Penalty. Having regard to the world-shaking events which the House has been discussing this past week—and their consequences are as yet unknown—it may seem a little unrealistic, if not almost frivolous, to ask the House of Commons to turn its attention to matters which seemed so very important to us a few weeks ago but which have now been overtaken by a series of tragic events the outcome of which none of us can yet foresee.

Nevertheless, perhaps this representative Parliamentary democracy will not be doing anything that would generally be thought out of place if we continue with the discussion of our own affairs, because the preservation of Parliamentary representative democracy as we practise it is obviously more important to the world than even we thought it was a few months ago.

The purpose of the Motion has, of course, the unanimous support of the House. The principle in the last paragraph, to which I have tabled my Amendment, is one which in normal circumstances would be absolutely right and unchallengeable. The purpose of it is to ensure that no private Member of Parliament shall jump the queue. Since the House is giving its consent to a ballot system, in which each of us who wishes to share in it has an equal place and an equal right, it would be very wrong to allow any private Member, in anticipation of that machinery, to get some kind of priority on the Order Paper or some lien on Parliamentary time in advance of the lottery which is to take place.

The Bill with which my Amendment is concerned is no longer really private Members' legislation at all, for two reasons. First, it is not a matter on which the House is being invited for the first time to make up its mind. It is a matter which the House decided, at the invitation of the Government, on a free vote in its last Session. The question which the House really wishes to decide with regard to the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill is not whether it is in favour of it or not, because we all know that on a free vote the House would reaffirm its decision, but whether it wishes to exercise its rights under the Parliament Act, having regard to the difference of opinion which has emerged between the House of Commons and another place. If the Government had promised us facilities to put that question to the House on a free vote, for which I asked a week ago, I should certainly not have found it necessary to table my Amendment.

I want at this stage to call attention for a moment to the constitutional position. There was an extraordinary constitutional doctrine advanced in a leading article in The Times the other day. It was to the effect that Members of the House of Commons ceased to be representative of their constituents whenever the Whips are taken off. I should have thought that, if there was any difference at all, the argument was all the other way. However, I think that a better argument is that there is just no difference at all.

When a Member of the House of Commons speaks and votes, he does so solely by reason of the privilege accorded to him by his election by a majority of his constituents, and he certainly does not do it with less authority when he is doing it on a question in respect of which he is exercising his private judgment and his conscientious views than when he is complying with some party or collective loyalty irrespective of what his private and personal opinion might be. I think it is a rather dreadful thing that The Times, with its tradition and its abrogation to itself of pontifical expression on constitutional propriety, should invite people to suppose that Members of Parliament cease to be representative precisely when they are acting most as representatives.

The second point is that this policy ought now, according to the Government's declaration, to be Government policy. I should very much like to know what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about this. An extraordinary answer was given by the Prime Minister last week from which it appeared to me that a Government pledge as to policy lasts for only one Session. On a closer reading of the Question and Answer, I think that the Answer was limited to a pure question of procedure and time.

It may very well be that the Government were not pledged by what they said and did last time to do more than provide time in the last Session and that the offer to provide time must be fairly interpreted as meaning an offer limited to last Session. However, I am not referring to that.

I am referring to the debate which took place in the House on a Motion and an Amendment, which preceded the Second Reading of the Bill. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman himself said that the House must make up its mind very responsibly indeed just because the Government expected to base their policy on what the House of Commons then decided. The House of Commons decided, and I think I am entitled to say that the Government cannot honour the pledge which they then gave without making the principle of that Bill their own policy. Consequently, the principle of the Measure goes right outside the run of Private Members' Bills.

It was only a convenience to the Government which made the Bill go through as a Private Member's Measure, and it was at their request, because when the Amendment was carried and the Government Motion defeated, it was thought that the Government would take over the Measure and make themselves responsible for it, in fulfilment of their pledge. It was they who decided that they could carry out their pledge another way. Many of us were not happy about it. Some people thought that it was a breach of the pledge. I myself said that I did not think any such thing. I thought the pledge could perfectly well be fulfilled that way as in any other way.

However, what I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman now is that if the further stages of the Measure—the Second Reading, the Commitee stage, the Report stage and the Third Reading—went through on the basis that it was a Private Member's Bill, that was only at the Government's request, in order to carry out the policy which they said they had made their own, in a way which best suited them. Therefore, if the Government still prefer that this policy of the House of Commons, against which they have advised the House, should be carried through as a Private Member's Measure, we have no objection, though we should much prefer that the Government themselves took it over.

However, if they do not do that and still wish us to take the responsibility of seeing it through the House of Commons again, we are prepared to do that; but they must not now seek to go back to the position that obtained twelve months ago, and in those circumstances to treat the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill as if it were de novo, a new Private Member's Bill, liable to take its place with other Private Members' Bills in the Ballot. That would be a total repudiation of every pledge which the Government gave on that occasion.

It may very well be that the Government did not like this Measure. It may be that they still do not like it; I do not know. They could, of course, have come to the House of Commons and said, "We exercise our authority as a Government; we advise you and call upon you to reject this Measure; if, in spite of that advice, you adopt the Measure, we shall resign, because that will mean that we no longer enjoy the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons." Had they done that, they would have been perfectly within their rights and no one could have taken the slightest exception to it.

However, they were equally entitled, and followed the precedent set by previous Governments as well as by themselves, to say, "This is a matter on which the Government will give the House of Commons advice, but we do not make it a matter of confidence; we give you our advice; listen to it, attend it, consider it, weigh it, but if in the end you decide not to accept it, then we will make that our policy." When Governments do that, they cannot thereafter wash their hands of the policy adopted by the House of Commons in that way. They cannot do what The Times leading article suggested they could do, and make themselves a kind of arbiter, an umpire between the House of Commons and another place. That is not their function. There is no such constitutional function.

The House of Commons having made up its mind, if there then develops a conflict between the House of Commons and another place, it is the constitutional duty of the Government to comport themselves in accordance with the majority view of the House of Commons and not in accordance with the majority view of another place. I do not see what is the escape from that constitutional proposition. No Government need to retain the confidence of the House of Lords. If that were a constitutional requirement, there could never be any Government in this country except a Conservative Government. Nor could any Government always undertake to retain the confidence of both Houses, unless they could guarantee that both Houses always took the same view.

One of the rather foolish things which the Government did was to permit a free vote in both Houses, pledging themselves to both without any guarantee that the two Houses would come to the same conclusion. That is one of the causes of their difficulty. The duty of the Government, if they desire to be constitutional, is to retain the confidence of and act in accordance with the view of the majority of the House of Commons. If that is in conflict with the House of Lords, the Government must at least provide the House of Commons with the necessary time so that the House of Commons can decide for itself whether it wishes to avail itself of its rights under the Parliament Act or not.

I say seriously to the right hon. Gentleman that in principle it is no exaggeration to say that in the course which they have followed the Government have reverted to an administrative and executive practice rather more than three hundred years old. I think that it was the Government of King Charles I which decided to proceed without the authority of the House of Commons.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

We know what happened to them.

Mr. Silverman

I am trying to protect the Government from that fate, but they are stopping me.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

They have lost their heads anyway.

Mr. Silverman

Here the Government said in advance that they would adopt the policy of the House of Commons arrived at in the way the Government asked of the House of Commons. In the absence of any pledge by the Government to find time or to back the policy of the House of Commons in its conflict with the House of Lords under the Parliament Act, I invite the House of Commons to pass the Amendment. If it does that, we shall be able, without Government support, without Government help, under the private Members' machinery to proceed with the Bill, but without being subject once again to the changes and chances of the Ballot.

Mr. Montgomery Hyde (Belfast, North)

I beg to second the Amendment.

3.28 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I want to detain the House for only a few moments to add one or two points to those which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has raised. I want first to say that on this side of the House there are hon. Members who regard this action of the Government as a direct breach of the pledge which the Leader of the House gave to the House and to say that the Government's action over this Bill has had the effect of reducing the status of the House of Commons in this matter to an advisory one. It is quite intolerable that the Government should regard the view of the House of Commons on this Bill as only one of the factors which they have to take into consideration in arriving at their policy.

I want to advance a case for the exception of this Bill on constitutional grounds. When the rules of order were first devised in the House it was thought desirable that, owing to the pressure of time, Bills which had a prima facie chance of success, that is to say, Bills sponsored by the party with a majority, should have precedence over Bills without a prima facie chance of success. That, of course, is the basis for the Sessional Order which we are now discussing, which gives any Bill which the Government advance a precedence over Private Members' Bills.

However, the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill which my hon. Friend moved in the previous Session is an exception to that rule, because it is a Bill which, like every Government Bill we are to debate in this coming Session, has a prima facie chance of success in that it is known that the House of Commons as at present constituted is, by a majority, in favour of the Bill. Therefore, I urge the Leader of the House to consider this Bill, whether it is sponsored officially by the Government or not, as a Bill which does in fact represent the will of the House and which should therefore be regarded with other Bills which it is assumed have the will of the House because they emanate from the Government Front Bench.

The Government's action in forcing the new Bill to be regarded as a Private Member's Bill is not only a breach of the pledge which the Leader of the House gave, but a breach of the pledge given by the Leader of the House of Lords in another place. The case for another place is that it gives the House of Commons a chance to think again. I do not accept that view, but it is the view advanced and always advanced by another place when it turns down legislation coming to it from this House, particularly, of course, when it does so on Second Reading.

It is an argument advanced selectively, since on certain Bills—the Television Act is an example—the House of Commons was not thought necessarily to need second thoughts. In this case the Leader of the House of Lords has said that this is an occasion when the other place should give the Commons time to think again. The action of the Government in refusing to sponsor this Bill is preventing this House from having a second chance to think again and express its opinion. I therefore urge the House to pass the Amendment which will put the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill in the same category as other Government Bills in the coming Session.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I wish to submit a point of view on the Amendment, which I support. There is no doubt that the Motion proposed by the Leader of the House has tradition behind it, but so has majority opinion in the House. Majority opinion has an even longer and stronger tradition behind it. It is within the recollection of hon. Members that the capital punishment Bill was one on which the House expressed a majority opinion. It seems to me, in those circumstances, that though there is tradition on both sides, the stronger is in favour of the Amendment, and, therefore, I hope that the Government will accept it.

I suggest that paragraph (7) of the Motion is, in the circumstances, an attempt by an indirect method to override the majority will of the House. That is regrettable, wrong and contrary to the spirit of the constitution. I submit that the Amendment would cure that wrong. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept it. If he does not, I hope that we will divide the House and approve the Amendment.

3.32 p.m.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has raised some important issues, but, without wishing to be evasive, I really must keep to the terms of the Motion, which are that we should adhere to the traditional handling of private Members' business. The tradition for Private Members' Bills is that they should be allotted as fairly as possible by Ballot. If the Government were to accept the Amendment, it would mean that an exception would be made, in that, to read the words of the Amendment— … such Bill shall be concerned with legislation having for its principal object the abolition of the Death Penalty. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne made quite a persuasive case, in his usual way, for such an action, but the Government could not accept an Amendment to this effect, because then we should not be able to keep faith with other private Members who might have other Bills relating to other subjects which we should have to treat in a similar way.

Mr. S. Silverman

I apologise for interrupting because I have made my case, but the right hon. Gentleman will remember that when leave was given last Session to introduce the Bill about 230 Members of Parliament from both sides of the House signed a Motion urging the Government to find time for the Second Reading. The Government resisted that on the very ground that the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned—that it would be unfair to give precedence to one Private Member's Bill over any other Private Member's Bill. We all accepted that until the time came when the Government decided, for their own purposes, to do that very thing. Can the right hon. Gentleman now advance that argument again in view of what has happened?

Mr. Butler

I cannot, because of that, alter the procedure which we adopted last Session and which has been adopted ever since the Select Committee of 1946 when dealing with private Members' business.

I am not absolutely clear how this issue will work out, but I am clear that we have decided to bring forward our own Bill on the remarks of the Prime Minister that we had a very great pressure of public opinion to put forward a point of view in a Bill which represented the greatest maximum measure of consent. As the Homicide Bill is to be published tomorrow morning, hon. Members had better read and examine it. That does not affect the order in relation to Private Members' Bills; it does not affect the operation of a Private Member's Bill, namely, the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, which may be brought in under Ballot; and it does not affect the operation of the Parliament Act, because there is nothing in the bringing forward of a Government Bill which affects the operation of the Parliament Act in relation to a Private Member's Bill relating to the death penalty.

Mr. Silverman

What about the time?

Mr. Butler

We must discuss all these matters, but, while I am moving this Motion, none of these issues is finally decided. The Parliament Act is not affected, because it is not affected by time. It is quite clear to me that if I were to move the Motion and prejudice completely the chances of a Private Member's Bill rehearsing and repeating the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill which we passed last Session, and not permitting it to take advantage of the Parliament Act, I should be doing something which was immoral; but in fact I am doing no such thing.

There is ample opportunity and time for a Bill dealing with the abolition of the death penalty to pass through the channels of the private Member's legislation and to take advantage of the Parliament Act and to operate under that Act.

Mr. Silverman

If it gets a place in the Ballot.

Mr. Butler

That is what we must see. It would not be in order, when going into these issues, to deal with private Members' business. What I cannot foretell—and I wish to be absolutely frank with the House—is the relationship of the timetable of the Homicide Bill and any private Member's Bill which may repeat, rehearse or reintroduce the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill for which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was responsible.

I have told him that these matters may have to be discussed between us. That may well be the case, but there is nothing in the Motion which prohibits the operation of the Parliament Act in relation to a Private Member's Bill dealing with the abolition of the death penalty, and I should be out of order if I were to introduce into this Motion an Amendment which gave precedence to a single Private Member's Bill, because that would be unfair to other Private Member's Bills. The only fair course I can adopt as Leader of the House is to ask the House to adopt the Motion referring to Private Members' Bills and to leave these other matters to be discussed in the ordinary course of our business.

Mr. Silverman

I am not sure that I understood the right hon. Gentleman. May I ask him a question? I gather that what he is saying to the House is that if the Amendment is rejected, or not pressed, there might be success in the Ballot for such a Bill. If there were success in the Ballot for such a Bill as to give it reasonable time then the Parliament Act can operate, but do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be saying that if the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill should not get a success-ful place in the Ballot then the question is still open as to whether the Government will find time in some other way to enable the House of Commons to decide whether it wishes to proceed under the Parliament Act or not?

Mr. Butler

I have only two observations upon which I can with safety and honour rely. One is that we must wait and see whether the Ballot produces the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill before we make a decision. The second is that the matter must be decided by the House of Commons—namely, a vote on the Homicide Bill must be a matter for the House of Commons and eventually a vote on any Private Member's Bill dealing with the abolition of the death penalty must also be a matter for the House of Commons, otherwise the Parliament Act cannot act.

Mr. Silverman

But the right hon. Gentleman controls the time.

Mr. Butler

I agree, but I cannot control the Ballot. We cannot tell what the Ballot will produce. Pending that, it would be unwise of me, indeed it would be wrong, to make any forecast of the situation, but I will maintain open contact with the hon. Member and any of his hon. Friends with a view, as far as I can, to placing them in the general picture as to the Government's mind on this matter.

Mr. Hector Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman is bulking the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill with other possible Private Members' Bills. Does not he agree that there is a vast difference between that Bill and the other Bills in view of the fact that the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill was actually passed by this House and went to another place. Therefore, does not he think that his argument against the Amendment is wrong? If he would take into account the view that the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill stands in a category by itself, bearing in mind that it passed through this House on a majority vote, then he should accept the Amendment.

Mr. Butler

Let me explain my difficulty. The Government gave facilities for this Bill last Session. The Bill was approved by a majority of the House of Commons but was then rejected by the House of Lords. In the interval of its long passage many representations were made, by leaders of the Church, by one of the leaders of the Liberal Party, as the Prime Minister said, and by many other leaders of public opinion, appealing to the Government to put forward a constructive suggestion for ending the difficulty in relation to the death penalty.

The constructive suggestion of the Government is embodied in a Bill named "The Homicide Bill," which will be published tomorrow morning. It is up to public opinion to examine the Bill and for the House of Commons to pronounce upon it. That does not preclude, nor does the Prime Minister intend it to preclude, the introduction of a Private Member's Bill dealing with abolition of the death penalty on the lines of the old Bill. It is clear that we are not at the end of our perplexities in this important matter.

It is not wrong for a Government to put forward a constructive line on these matters, particularly when many prominent leaders of the Government, including the Home Secretary, myself and others, spoke against abolition of the death penalty. This is still a free country, and it is quite possible for the Government to put forward a constructive view. As has been stated by the Prime Minister, there is a possibility, and indeed I think the likelihood, of a Bill being put forward by a private Member for the abolition of the death penalty. It will be extremely intriguing to see what the final position of the House of Commons is.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that it would be a great convenience to the House if we could get on to the debate on the Address by four o'clock, when, I understand, a statement is to be made. I am in the hands of the House.

Mr. Rankin

In order that there may be some analogy between the procedure on the Abolition Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and the Government's Bill, will the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be a free vote?

Mr. Butler

The Prime Minister has already said that there will be a free vote on the Private Member's Bill relating to the abolition of the death penalty.

Mr. Rankin

That was not the question I put to the Leader of the House, which was whether the Government will permit a free vote on their own Bill?

Mr. Butler


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am raising a point of order myself. The Question before the House is the very narrow one of whether a Private Member's Bill abolishing the death penalty shall be exempted from a general Order, not the merits of the Bill or what will happen in the future. The only question hon. Members have to answer is whether a particular Bill should be exempted from what is proposed for other Private Members' Bills.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Further to that point of order. It is of vital importance in deciding how to vote on this Amendment for the House to know whether, if the Private Member's Bill is postponed to the Ballot, its position will be prejudged by the Government Bill, which will be forced through the House by the Government Whips.

An Hon. Member

There should be a free vote on the Government Bill.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

It is possible that none of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), will be successful in the Ballot. If the Opposition gave up a day of its time when the result of the Ballot is known in order that the House could decide by a free vote on the principle of capital punishment, would the Leader of the House be prepared to give facilities to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne to introduce this Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule procedure, as was done last Session?

Mr. Butler

It is quite easy for me to answer this point. On the Government Bill, we shall not have a free vote. The Government Whips will be on. On the Private Member's Bill, we shall have no nonsense. We shall have a free vote of the House. [Laughter.]

Mr. Jay

No nonsense?

Mr. Rankin

Is the nonsense only on the Government's Bill?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps "prevarication"' would be a better word. We shall have a free vote of the House on the Private Member's Bill. As to what will happen if there is no Private Member's Bill for the abolition of the death penalty, we must discuss that position when it arises. It is impossible to foretell what chance brings forward. If chance brings forward a fortunate result for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, there will be no need for discussion, but if chance does not do so, there may be need for discussion. I am not prepared to discuss it today.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

On a point of order. As a new Member, Mr. Speaker, I would ask your guidance on this perplexing matter. Suppose the Government pass their Bill through on Second Reading and that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), or another of my hon. Friends, is successful in the Ballot and a Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill passes its Second Reading on a free vote, we shall then have before us two Second Readings of contradictory principles. What will then be the position of the House of Commons?

Mr. Speaker

That is a hypothetical situation about which I cannot give an answer today. I have not seen the Government Bill and know nothing about its contents.

Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)

I was the only Member on the Opposition benches to object to the Private Member's Bill when it was brought in. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I object still. I have not changed my mind, but I must admit that there is justice and logic in the claim of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that his Bill should come before the House this Session. We have had a long discussion and we have gone into everything relative to the position of the Government, who altered the position of that Private Member's Bill by adopting it themselves. The Government brought it forward in the House, not as a partisan Measure, but with a right to a free vote. The House of Commons declared in its favour. The only question which arose was about the power of the House of Lords. I agree that the House of Lords rejected the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not on that wider topic yet.

Mr. Logan

The Leader of the House ought to reconsider his decision and declare that the Private Member's Bill may again come before the House on a free vote.

Mr. Butler

Nothing I have said today has prejudged the final issue. All I have said is that we cannot make an exception for a particular Private Member's Bill in moving this Motion to reserve 20 days for private Members' business. That is all I have said. The rest will depend upon the result of the Bill and the opinion of the House of Commons. We are all ruled by the opinion of the House of Commons. I am only asking hon. Members now to decide the simple issue whether we can make an exception for one Bill.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

I know, Mr. Speaker, that you wish to dispose of this business as quickly as possible, and I shall not detain the House for more than a minute, but I have been trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman, who has been pursuing an extremely dubious line of argument with his usual elegance of phrase, which does not convince us on this side of the House.

I want to put quite seriously to the right hon. Gentleman that -quite apart from the mechanics of the situation as he sees them—the Government propose to introduce a Homicide Bill which varies in certain important respects from the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, which has already passed all stages in this House and was thrown out by another place. As the balance of opinion on this controversial matter is well known in the country and in the House and the balance lies with the abolitionists—for the moment I am not concerned at all with the merits of the matter—what would happen if the Homicide Bill emerged from all stages, subject to amendment, in exactly the same state as the other Bill and was then thrown out by another place?

Mr. Speaker

I really think that is diving into the future further than the human eye can see.

Mr. S. Silverman

I will not pretend that I am convinced or satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, nor am I even happy about the decision, but I do not think it would be right to divide the House on an issue which in principle goes beyond the merits of the broad question we are discussing. In the hope that the Lord Privy Seal, whose interests in the luck of the Ballot have been increasing in the last few months, may be of some assistance to us when the Ballot comes, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

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