HC Deb 06 November 1958 vol 594 cc1207-16

Order for Second Reading read.

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

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Between the hours of 10 and 10.30 last night at a time when, we are now told, the effort of the late Mr. Fawkes to blow up the House of Commons was being celebrated with a fervour and enthusiasm not previously exemplified in the last 350 years, I ventured to raise a point of order in connection with this Bill. I ventured to say that it could not be discussed on Second Reading, in accordance with the rules of the House, after 10 o'clock unless a Motion specifically providing for that eventuality had previously been moved.

At that moment we had been discussing a matter apparently regarded as of great importance for five and a half hours—whether Tory motors work—and the captains and the kings were departing from the Chamber. I had some difficulty in finding out what had been said and what observations had been made until I read my HANSARD this morning when, not for the first time. I was not surprised to find that I was absolutely right and that that proposition had apparently been accepted, though not wholly without some reluctance, by both sides of the House.

But it was said, and it was news to me, that there had been agreement between the parties that we would accept Second Reading formally and discuss these matters in Committee. I would be the last person to try to invalidate such an undertaking, which is of the essence of the working of the House. Sometimes they are wise, sometimes not so wise, but they are agreements that are made. Had I known I would not have done so. I think everyone who knows me will realise that I am the last person to say that mother is not always right, but when one has fifteen mothers it is sometimes not possible at short notice to consult each and every one of them to find out what arrangements have been made.

So I am now left in the difficulty, which weighs heavily upon my shoulders, that if I pursue the discussion I break the undertaking, and if I do not pursue it I appear to have interfered with the rules of order of the House quite unnecessarily and perhaps without due thought. I must therefore try, if one may coin a phrase, to sail between the Scylla of verbosity and the Charybdis of propriety in trying to put my point to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with the brevity which would accord with the spirit of the undertaking and with the humility which would justify my intervention last night. This, of course, is clearly a difficult proposition, and I speak, therefore, with great humility about it.

The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill has been passed year after year for a great many years. I will make one concession at once. I have not the slightest doubt that next year my right hon. Friends above the Gangway, then the Government of this country, thank God, will be bringing forward much the same proposition as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is putting forward now, and, I think, putting it forward perhaps more fully and more ably, but, nevertheless, putting forward much the same proposition.

On Second Reading there are two questions which arise. The first has been laid down by the Chair constantly, namely, that on Second Reading we can raise and discuss the question whether such a Bill is desirable and whether such a method is desirable. The reason why my right hon. Friend the Member for Sraethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and I raised this point last night was that the procedure of the House is involved, that at the moment a Select Committee on Procedure is sitting—of which I have the privilege to be a member—and which therefore cannot be discussed. However it would hardly be either revealing a secret or hazarding a guess if one said that some of the questions incident to the suspension of the rule may or must inevitably be under consideration by that Committee.

I do say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, who was I think responsible for the arrangements and in view of whose constant courtesy to me personally I would be the last person to wish to go behind any bargain he had made had I known about it, and having. too, a lively sense of possible favours to come, that I think the point overlooked last night was that previously, even when it has been said that we would take the Second Reading formally, there has always been a Motion for suspension moved. Why it was not done yesterday, I do not know, but it was not done yesterday and that was the reason why I intervened.

It has been said—I have said it too—that one can discuss on Second Reading the question whether this kind of Bill is desirable. One of the matters that affected my mind very much was that we were to consider the question of aliens. Under Mr. Speaker's Ruling, which for the moment I say with respect that I accept and will follow, and which in a few moments I propose respectfully to challenge for future consideration, we cannot discuss the question of aliens but must wait for an Amendment to the Schedule. As I understand it, the proposition of the two parties was that ample time would be given for discussion of these matters, and that being so, it is not my desire at the moment to go behind that agreement.

Having made that clear, there are some unhappy precedents about the Closure being moved on this Bill in a very short time. I say this very humbly and very respectfully to the Chair, only adding that all of us are human—at least all of us are human except the Chair and I would not like to have it thought that I was calling the Chair inhuman—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Order. I do not think we can discuss that matter on the Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Hale

I entirely agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I was not thinking of doing so. All I was saying was that in the early hours of the morning the urge for brevity becomes more accentuated, in some people at any rate. As you say, I cannot discuss this. I will merely state the fact that there was an extraordinary speech from the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) on the question of aliens, which really suggested—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am afraid we cannot discuss the question of aliens on the Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Hale

I thought it was the sort of thing one cannot discuss at any time, and I am not proposing to do so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am merely saying seriously that on the Second Reading it was ruled by Mr. Speaker that we can discuss the question whether such a Bill should be produced in this form and I was only making one observation in relation to whether the Bill should be discussed in this form. But when we have a suggestion from a supporter of the Government that a Bill should be introduced this Session which would enable the Government to deport Jesus Christ and eleven of the twelve Apostles, Judas Iscariot and the thirty pieces of silver being exempt—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is getting out of order. We cannot discuss the merits of any Measure which it is proposed to continue.

Mr. Hale

I am so anxious tonight to be brief, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I will not even challenge the Ruling. I hope I may say, in parenthesis, that it appears to me that if we are arguing about whether a Bill should be taken in a certain form, we can briefly indicate the difficulties inherent in taking it in that form. After all, we are in a country in which Notting Hill exists—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot do it with regard to the merits of the statutes included in the Bill.

Mr. Hale

Then may I come to the point of Order which I wanted to raise? Mr. Speaker ruled in the debate of 1953–54 that on Second Reading it had been ruled previously that we could not discuss any of the questions arising from the Acts which it was sought to renew. I am only proposing to suggest, as I ventured to do in a brief interruption last night, that Mr. Speaker might be good enough, as he always does on reasonable representation being made, to reconsider the Ruling that was then given. I ask that because a careful review of all the authorities in HANSARD, and of all the authorities referred to by Erskine May, appears to suggest that the Ruling which he applies to Second Reading was made on each occasion on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. With respect, I think it will appear to most of us that the Ruling about the Second Reading is virtually so wide that this appears to be a difficulty Ruling and one which I ask Mr. Speaker at his leisure to consider, not tonight, because no doubt this matter will come up on a subsequent occasion.

I conclude by saying that the one thing we can discuss is whether this is an appropriate method of renewing or of ceasing to renew vital Acts of Parliament affecting the community. You have said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—and I do not seek to challenge it now—that I cannot discuss the question of aliens except to quote it as a solitary example of the kind of thing which might enable us to argue that this is the wrong method.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I do not want to be obstructive to the hon. Gentleman, but he cannot quote it even as a solitary example.

Mr. Hale

Then I venture respectfully to seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to how on the Second Reading of this Bill, which is down for discussion, one can discuss whether the Second Reading should be passed if one is prevented from saying what the Second Reading involves. How can I respectfully submit to the House that, in my view, the Second Reading of this Bill should not be carried tonight if I am inhibited completely from mentioning to those hon. Members of the House who have come in, perhaps without knowing what is the Order of the Day, what are the matters which are under discussion on the question of passing the Second Reading of the Bill?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's difficulties, but it is a well established Ruling of many Speakers, and also contained in Erskine May, that we cannot on the Second Reading of this Bill discuss the merits of any Measure which it is proposed to continue.

Mr. Hale

I respectfully agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have not challenged that, but surely one can say that there are Measures which are being renewed as annual Measures without discussion after 10 o'clock at night, without being given the time which the question of whether Tory motors work or not is allocated in the time-table. Here, after all, it is a question of one issue which challenges the whole of our moral system, the whole of our relations with our colonial peoples, the whole of our attitude to the world, the whole conception of the brotherhood of man and, indeed, some unhappy parts of our history in the 1930s which I think men on both sides of the House now regret.

I do not wish tonight to enter the field of controversy. I have risen only to say that I regret raising this matter in view of the undertakings which were made—had I known about them I would not have raised it—but, having raised it, it seemed to me that I should fail in my duty if I did not try respectfully and briefly to indicate the sort of matters that we wish to discuss freely, and, I hope, without any Closure when they are in order, on Second Reading next year when Mr. Speaker has had an opportunity to consider the Ruling that he gave which I have ventured respectfully to doubt.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has said. I do not think it is necessary for him to apologise in any way for having detained the House by a speech on the Second Reading of this Bill at this hour. After all, it is only twenty minutes past eight o'clock and the House has suspended the Standing Order, so that if necessary the discussion on Second Reading could continue after ten o'clock.

Like my hon. Friend, I was unaware of any agreement that had been made between the two Front Benches about about yesterday's business. I also noticed that, contrary to the custom in previous years, there was no Motion on the Order Paper yesterday suggesting that the rule should be suspended. I do not yet know what the agreement between the two Front Benches was, but I understand that it was an agreement that there should be no prolonged discussion on the Second Reading and that the Second Reading should pass without a Division, which has not always been the case.

I listened attentively to my hon. Friend. As I understood his speech, he was trying to do two things. He was trying, legitimately, to assert the rights of hon. Members to discuss the Bill on Second Reading if they wished to and to elucidate from Mr. Speaker some clarification of what is said in Erskine May and what Mr. Speaker said in the debate on Second Reading in 1952. It is important for the benefit of future Parliaments that we should be clear about the rights of hon. Members in this respect. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you have indicated that there is a. limitation on what can be said in the Second Reading debate on the Bill. You have indicated that one cannot discuss the merits of any of the matters in the Schedule; but that is a very different matter from saying that we cannot have any discussion at all on Second Reading. There are numerous precedents that the Second Reading—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There may be some misunderstanding. No one has suggested that there can be no discussion at all on the Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Fletcher

I am very much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that by that Ruling you have really gone a long way to remove what I think my hon. Friend thought and what I certainly thought, that there was some very wide restriction on what could be discussed on the Second Reading of the Bill. I gather that it is now recognised that the Second Reading admits of discussion provided that one does not enter into a discussion of the merits of the matters referred to in the Schedule. I am content, naturally, and would wish at all times, to observe your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

May we in the light of those observations just consider what it is that the House is being asked to do tonight? We are being asked to extend for a period of one year a miscellaneous set of provisions contained in a number of Acts passed between 1919 and 1953 which have no causal connection or relationship between them whatever.

It may well be a legitimate matter for consideration whether, if any of these Acts are to he extended, they should be extended for as long as twelve months. It would obviously be possible during the Committee stage when we reach the Schedule to table Amendments suggesting that if any of the Acts remain in the Schedule they should be renewed for only six months. There would be a very good reason for considering such a limitation on this occasion, for we are in the dying days of a decadent Government and, long before the period of twelve months had elapsed, there will have been a General Election and there will be a new Government in power.

It is a matter of great concern to the Opposition that the Government are using the few precious months left to them in office to drive through the House a number of Bills suited to their own convenience, such as the monstrous Bill which the Government carried on Second Reading last night and the Bill which we shall be discussing on Wednesday next to take away various controls which the Government have enjoyed for a long period. I mention those only as instances of the line of conduct which is actuating this mischievous Government in putting this kind of legislation before the House. When we have a Labour Government in power I do not think for a moment that we shall want these provisions to last as long as a year. We shall certainly want to do something about the aliens question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Hon. Members cannot discuss Acts which are to be continued.

Mr. Fletcher

I have no intention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of discussing the merits of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment', Act. Nor do I intend to discuss the merits of the Accommodation Agencies Act and Part II of the Licensing Act. However, those Measures have this in common, that the Government are proposing to continue them for a year. I was trying to suggest that, in so far as any of them are worthy of renewal at all, a year is far too long. I believe that long before the year has expired we shall want to make changes in the provisions of the Licensing Act and, certainly, the provisions of the law relating to aliens.

It does not follow that the period of a year will be equally applicable for the renewal of all these Measures, but one can say that this method of legislating is most unsatisfactory. After all, in the White Paper dealing with emergency legislation and published the other day the Government took some measure of pride—I think unjustified pride—in an attempt which they alleged they were making to tidy up emergency legislation. That is a course which has long been overdue. We have been urging them to do that for a long time.

The Bill is part of emergency legislation and we are dealing with an expiring Government. Why they should want, as an expiring Government, to continue a miscellaneous set of provisions for a period which will extend beyond their own life as a Government is something which has yet to be justified. One of the emergencies with which the Bill deals was started in 1919. It is most unsatisfactory that any Bill, dealing with aliens or any other subject, introduced as a temporary Measure and in a time of emergency, pushed through at a time when there was no proper opportunity for Parliamentary debate and discussion and intended to last for only a limited time, should be renewed year after year without adequate discussion. Either temporary and emergency legislation should come to an end when it expires, or, if intended to be permanent, it should be put on a permanent basis.

There are two objections to the Bill. The first is that its mechanics are unsatisfactory. It is impossible to have the full discussion on these matters which the House and the country would be entitled to have if the subject of aliens, or any other subject, such as population statistics, came up for general discussion. One of our difficulties is that when we come to the Schedule we can consider only whether an item should be included or not. That limits the opportunity of debate. It makes it impossible for us to do what many of my hon. Friends would wish to do, to examine each of these subjects separately and to have a full discussion about them.

One example is the Accommodation Agencies Act, 1953. I take that merely as an example, for I do not want it to be thought that every time I mention one of these Acts I mention aliens. The subject of aliens happens to be at the top of the list and happens to be a subject about which there is much concern at the moment in many parts of the country. The same observations are true of other items in the Bill.

I very much hope that, as a result of this point having been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, the Government will appreciate the concern which is felt about their gross neglect in having allowed this custom to persist year after year since 1951 without any attempt having been made, until it is too late for them to do it, to put this kind of legislation on a far more satisfactory basis.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

Committee upon Monday next.