§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move,That
- (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) Public Bills, other than Government Bills shall have precedence over Government Business on the following Fridays, namely, 27th November, 11th December, 5th February, 19th February, 4th March, 18th March, 1st April, 29th April, 13th May and 27th May;
- (3) on and after Friday, 1st April, Public Bills other than Government Bills shall be arranged on the Order Paper in the following order:—Consideration of Lords Amendments, Third Readings, Consideration of Reports not already entered upon, adjourned Proceedings on Consideration, Bills in progress in Committee, Bills appointed for Committee and Second Readings;
- (4) the ballot for unofficial Members' Bills shall be held on Thursday, 5th November, under arrangements to be made by Mr. Speaker, and the Bills shall be presented at the commencement of Public Business on Wednesday, 11th November;
- (5) unofficial Members' Notices of Motions and unofficial Members' Bills shall have precedence in that order over Government Business on the following Fridays, namely, 20th November, 4th December, 29th January, 12th February, 26th February, 11th March, 25th March, 8th April, 6th May and 20th 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) ballots for precedence of unofficial Members' Notices of Motions shall be held after Questions on the following Wednesdays, namely, 4th November, 18th November, 16th December, 27th January, 10th February, 24th February, 9th March, 23rd March. 6th April and 4th May;
- (7) until after Wednesday, 11th 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 nomination 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 makes arrangements for private Members' time for this Session. It will be seen that it is proposed there should be 20 Fridays for Private Members' Bills and Motions as in previous Sesions, this being in accordance with the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Procedure in 1946, a 209 Committee which was distinguished in its membership by the Leader of the Opposition and also by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). We are, therefore, starting our deliberations in an atmosphere of happy unity, at least on one subject.
§ My duty, as I see it, in moving this Motion is to be short and to put as simply as I can, both for the benefit of Members who have been in the House for some time and new Members, what this would entail. I will certainly do that. I would only say, however, in these opening remarks, that as is or should be the case with the Leader of the House certain little birds have been informing me that there are views which will be expressed on this matter, notably by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). If so, I would say to the House that I should like to listen to any views which are put in relation to private Members' time at the beginning of the Session, and perhaps, if I have the leave of the House, it may be possible for me to speak a little later when we end this debate and answer any points which are made, I hope in as reasonably a sympathetic way as I can.
§ The position, as it emerged from the Select Committee on Procedure in 1946, is that now we have 20 days for Motions and Bills. Before that, there were 21 days. It is true that some of the days were Wednesdays and other days were Fridays, but taking into account the fact that previously it was possible for the Chairman of Ways and Means to intervene with opposed Private Business on Wednesdays there is not very much difference in the time allocated now to private Members and as there was in the days when certain private Members' business was taken on Wednesdays and certain of it on Fridays. Now there is no inroad on Fridays by the Chairman of Ways and Means with opposed Private Business.
§ Therefore, I think we are approaching a matter in which there is comparative equality of opportunity for private Members in continuing the practice which has been in vogue for some little time. I say in vogue for some little time because, actually, the findings of the Select Committee in 1946 were not implemented until 1950, when there was a somewhat truncated Session. The hon. Member for 210 Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was also a member of the Select Committee, whose findings were not implemented until 1950. That was a somewhat truncated and difficult Session, so that there was really time only for private Members' Motions. Therefore, it is only since 1951 that we have been working to the present procedure for Private Members' Motions.
§ I should like to say again, as this is the beginning of a new and a long and fruitful Parliament, that it will be our desire that private Members should express themselves and that we should have ample opportunity for private Members. There is no desire on any side to exclude the possibility of this or that general debate. As I said in a previous speech on procedure before the appointment of the last Select Committee on Procedure, I think that perhaps the only weakness in our arrangements, apart from the comfort of hon. Members, which will always be a source of irritation and sorrow to us, was the fact that we could not have more general debates, and if hon. Members can contribute to the life of the House by giving us opportunity for general debates I am sure that it enhances the value of the Legislature and increases the respect in which we are held by the country.
§ Private Members' Motions and Bills will be taken on alternate Fridays, the first being on Friday, 20th November, when Motions will be taken. As is customary, the first six Fridays for the Bills will be for Second Readings and the last four for those Bills which have made the most progress.
§ There is a period of nine days' notice from today until the Ballot for Bills and a further period of six days thereafter before Bills are presented. Thus, Members who are fortunate in the Ballot will or should have adequate time to decide on their proposals. Hon. Members will be asked to sign their names for the Ballot for Bills in the No Lobby on Tuesday and Wednesday, 3rd and 4th November. I mention that so that they may have as much notice as possible. The first Ballot for Motions will take place in the House on Wednesday, 4th November, for Friday, 20th November. As in recent Sessions, it is proposed that once the Ballot Bills have been presented private Members are, naturally, free to present Bills in the ordinary way or under the Ten Minutes Rule.211
§ I do not think that I need go into the many details of the Motion, because I think that I have described sufficiently in general the dates for the Ballots and the days for Motions and the days for Bills, but I should just like, for the purpose of the record, to note that the 10 Fridays on which Private Members' Bills are to have precedence will be 27th November, 11th December, 5th February, 19th February, 4th March, 18th March, 1st April, 29th April, 13th May, and 27th May. That will be, then, in the record for people to follow who want to have an opportunity of introducing Private Members' Bills.
§ That, in simple terms, is the proposal which we put before the House. As I say, we shall be glad to hear any observations raised by any right hon. or hon. Members. This is not a matter only for the usual channels, which, I hope, will work with the same fluidity as in previous Parliaments, but it is also a matter for private Members and for the House as a whole. I do not suggest that we should take up the whole afternoon on this matter, because of the debate on the Motion for an Address, but, of course, it is absolutely reasonable that on a matter of private Members' time anyone who wishes to make a contribution to the debate should do so, and it will be my duty to listen to what is said.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Perhaps I might open my remarks by expressing on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and, I am sure, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House, our felicitations to the Home Secretary upon his marriage.
§ Mr. Bevan
Although we cannot permit private preoccupations to interfere with public business, whenever we keep the right hon. Gentleman here in the House of Commons, as we shall quite frequently, we shall be conscious all the time of invading his privacy.
The right hon. Gentleman has already told the House that the birds have been whispering in his ear, and we shall try to find out whether they came from this side of the House or not, but he is obviously prepared for some opposition to his Motion.
212 I anticipated that the right hon. Gentleman would mention that the procedure which he is now following was established under the aegis of the Labour Government between 1945 and 1950, but I should not imagine that that will count very much these days with the right hon. Gentleman. After all, we were then in the aftermath of the war. Although hon. Members in all parts of the House might not agree with the volume or character of the legislation that was passed at that time, nevertheless there are very few who would say that an enormous amount of legislation was not necessary at that time. It was, therefore, essential that the Government of the day should take private Members' time, which we did with very considerable reluctance, and we restored it partially and then wholly when it became possible to do so.
The actual effect of the right hon. Gentleman's Motion is to continue to frustrate the operation of Standing Order No. 4. It is significant that, in fact, we have never altered Standing Order No. 4, because it is with very considerable loathing that we alter Standing Orders that limit the rights of private Members. So no one has yet had the courage to substitute the Sessional Resolution and Order for Standing Order No. 4.
Therefore, if we do not carry the Motion today, nothing very calamitous will happen to the Government. All that will really happen will be that Standing Order No. 4 will be at once put into operation. So the right hon. Gentleman must not pretend that in resisting it we are attempting at all to frustrate the activities or intentions of the Government.
Standing Order No. 4 says:Subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this order, government business shall, until Easter, have precedence at every sitting except at the sittings on Wednesdays and Fridays, at which sittings unofficial Members' business shall have precedence; and on Wednesdays notices of motions shall have precedence of orders of the day, and on Fridays public bills shall have precedence of notices of motions.Therefore, if the Motion is not carried today, what will happen will be that the same amount of private Members' time will be divided between Fridays and Wednesdays, Fridays allotted to Private Members' Bills and Wednesdays to Motions.
213 Therefore, we shall not, in fact, invade the Government's time at all, but even if the effect of resisting the Motion would be to do that I do not think very many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen could complain, because no one can suggest that the mandate which the right hon. Gentleman secured from the electorate was one that arms him with the right to give us a cascade of legislation. On the contrary, we understood that what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite said to the country was "Everything is all right, boys. Do not interfere with it very much." If that be the case, if they think that nothing very much should be done, it hardly presages an avalanche of legislation, does it? Indeed, that is confirmed by the contents of the Gracious Speech. If, therefore, official inspiration is lacking, unofficial inspiration might be allowed to take its place. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman might give us an opportunity for private enterprise as there seems to be a lack of Governmental legislative fertility.
Therefore, as I say, although it might be that resistance to the Motion would reduce Government time, I hardly think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have very much to complain about. But, in fact, it would not. As I said, all that would happen would be that the same amount of time for private Members would be distributed between Motions on Wednesdays and Bills on Fridays.
I am particularly anxious to press this point upon the Government. It might, of course, be—I at once concede this—that Motions on Wednesdays might have the effect of mobilising much more pressure in the House of Commons upon the Government than Motions carried on Fridays and, therefore, the Government might want to continue to have Fridays only for private Members' time because they would wish to continue the under-education of the Members of the House of Commons.
My experience, which now goes back over thirty years, taught me that before the war Wednesday debates were exceedingly valuable. In the first place, they occur in the middle of the week, and, therefore, we are much more likely to have a considerable attendance. Also, of course, the Motions are very wide. Although one cannot be precise in framing 214 them in the form of a Bill, nevertheless there is hardly any limit at all upon the kind of subject about which one can move a Motion. Therefore, we had very interesting debates indeed. So, if the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in his desire to hear private Members, this is the best chance of doing so. Also, perhaps it would be a good thing for private Members to hear private Members, and there is no better way of doing it than for a private Member to have a Motion to be opposed by another private Member. The procedure used to be to have two Motions, one finishing at seven o'clock and the other finishing at ten. As I say, we had very interesting debates indeed.
I have, as it were, a rather peculiar relationship with this procedure. I noted in my inquiries on this occasion that on 13th November, 1929, I moved a Motion for the setting up of a Select Committee on Private Procedure. For the purposes of hon. Members who are not familiar with this, because it has not been adopted now for so many years, I should like to read out the Motion to show them how wide and important subjects can be:That, in the opinion of this House, inquiry should be instituted into the desirability of so amending the Standing Orders relating to Private Business as to facilitate and shorten the proceedings on legislation promoted by local authorities and to lessen the heavy costs now incurred."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November. 1929; Vol. 231, c. 2125.]
§ That Motion was carried and a Select Committee was appointed, and some of the Private Bill procedure recommended by that Committee is still in operation. Also, very considerable reductions took place in the cost of private legislation, a result not entirely popular with members of the Parliamentary Bar.
§ Therefore, I suggest to hon. Members that they ought to look twice at the Motion before they pass it. Now that we have a House of Commons with a large Government majority—we do not know yet how calamitous that is going to be for the country—it seems to us, and it must seem to people outside the House of Commons, that if we proceed with this Parliament for another four or five years after the conventional fashion of the last ten to fifteen years, it may be that a very considerable lessening of interest in our Parliamentary proceedings may take place, especially—I 215 am sure hon. Members m every part of the House will not be angry if I say this—when it is true that in the course of the last half century, in particular, the growing rigidity of the party machines has expunged originality in the House of Commons itself.
§ Therefore, I would suggest, in an entirely non-party spirit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I say "in an entirely non-party spirit" because I am an established Parliamentarian and I am very anxious for the reputation of this House—that hon. Members opposite, especially new Members, must realise that there stretches out before them endless hours of infinite boredom, almost limitless stretches of arid desert, that will be almost unendurable unless we can put a few oases ourselves here and there.
§ The best single way of accomplishing that, in my opinion, is to allow the backbench Members of the House of Commons to have a chance of moving Motions on a Wednesday when we are likely to get an audience. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I like to get an audience, because one of the frightening things about the way Parliament is going on at the present time is that even Members of Parliament are not now properly educated in public affairs, because they do not listen to debates sufficiently. Therefore, I would suggest that we give second thoughts to this Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has moved.
§ Before I sit down I want to answer one point made by the right hon. Gentleman. He suggested that he might be allowed to speak a second time. Of course, he is the Leader of the House and it is a courtesy that we would willingly extend to the Leader of the House, especially if he realises, as of course he does, that his obligations are to the House as a whole and not merely to his colleagues around him.
§ I hope we shall give the right hon. Gentleman a second opportunity to make a statement, but I hope he will not tell us that he will look sympathetically at this. I have never known a statesman able to produce more fruitless sympathy than the right hon. Gentleman. I have never known such an amiable mask hiding a barrenness of intention all the time. If he tells us that he will 216 look sympathetically at this in the light of the length of the Session, that will not be good enough, because the length of the Session is within his own control. It might last two years. That will not be quite good enough. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said. If he is not able to be a little bit more substantial in his promises than he normally is, we might ask the House to divide.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
Bills and Motions introduced by private Members, in the past have, by common consent, played an important part in the life of Parliament. Private Members' time was restricted during the war and, with rather less justification but certainly some justification, after the war, and it is still restricted today in form, if not in hours, as compared with pre-war practice.
The restriction on private Members' time is rather like the imposition of a new tax. It is always said to be temporary to meet some particular difficulty but tends to become permanent. Many useful Measures have been brought forward by private Members—just as useful as many Government Bills—and have reached the Statute Book through the initiative of back bench Members.
Many hon. Members past and present—I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is not in his place—have made useful contributions in this respect, and we think especially of Sir Alan Herbert. After all, some things are too delicate or too difficult or too dangerous, or, indeed, too small, to be the subject of Government legislation, but they may nevertheless have an important impact on the lives of the people and an important bearing upon their happiness and well-being, which is really why we are here as Members of this House. It is not only a question of Private Members' Bills. Motions, too, play a valuable part, particularly on Wednesdays—if we could have Wednesdays—in drawing the attention of the Government and of the country to matters which would otherwise be neglected or overlooked.
One of the criticisms we hear most often nowadays from our constituencies is that the party machines are altogether 217 too powerful, that the Whips are too powerful and that we all have to toe the line and vote in our respective lobbies. That is quite a valid criticism, especially during the last ten years since I have been a Member when party majorities have tended to be rather small and precarious. We have had to accept these things; but the power of the Whips can be very frustrating indeed to back benchers. They like us to be seen in the Division Lobbies but they do not like us to be heard in debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] And when we do make speeches on Government Bills, or seek to do so, we often find ourselves in the position of merely dotting the i's and crossing the t's of what the Minister has said or is about to say.
On private Members' days, however—and I particularly agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) about the value of the Wednesday in this respect—we can say what we like and vote as we like. We can speak as we think and as we feel, and this gives life and purpose not only to what we say but to Parliament itself. After all, Parliament was not intended simply as a machine to ratify Measures proposed by the Executive. If I may say so to my right hon. Friend, no Government has a monopoly either of wisdom or, indeed, of good intentions. We have constitutional rights in this place which are important, rights for which men have died in the past and which we should not lightly sacrifice to the Executive. Much of the early history of this House, as all hon. Members know, is the struggle for the preservation of those rights against the eroding domination of the Executive. In stressing that, we are really only stressing the rights and freedom of the nation as a whole.
The usual excuse advanced for taking private Members' time is the amount and pressure of Government business. I cannot think that that would be a fair or a justifiable argument on this occasion. After all, my right hon. Friends have been in power now for eight years and have brought forward a great deal of important and beneficial legislation. In the ordinary course of events, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, they can now expect another four or five years, with a majority of 100, to bring forward 218 more legislation for our benefit. I do not believe that after eight years and with four or five years to come there is such a mass of important Government legislation that we cannot be spared a day for Motions as well as for Bills.
For these reasons, I must honestly say that I cannot vote for this Motion. For the present Session, inasmuch as the Government have made their plans—[HON. MEMBERS: "Free vote."]—and since the time element of the Government programme is, I think, based on carrying this Motion, and as I have no wish to embarrass my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary in the difficult discharge of his onerous task, I do not propose to vote against this Motion but to abstain.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will regard this little debate as a warning shot fired across the bows of their future plans. If they cannot concede our arguments on this occasion, I hope they will make arrangements to do so in the next Session. If they do not do so, many of us on this side as well as on the other side of the House will feel obliged on the next occasion to vote against a Motion which, in my view, unjustifiably restricts our time and, if persisted in year after year, will end by restricting our time for ever.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I find myself especially impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), the more so because it sounded very like many election speeches which I made. My Tory opponent did not take this view nearly so heartily as seems now to be the case on the benches opposite.
§ Mr. Grimond
Yes, he lost. I also welcome the rethinking on the part of the Tory Party. Is this a sign of an incipient revolt?
The Leader of the House introduced the Motion with a great deal of sympathy. Whether it was fruitless or not we have yet to see. His manner did not lack sympathy, but he should not be allowed to get away with two statements, one of which was that this was a Motion to make provision for private Members' time. It is, in fact, a Motion to take 219 away the rights of private Members. The right hon. Gentleman used both barrels to try to shoot down the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), a powerful combination of two old birds well able to reach cover without taking wing.
I hope that we shall not have the usual dreary answer to criticism that the Labour Party did all this before and that this is justification for going on with it now. After all, 14 years have passed since the war and times have changed, and there has even been a further Select Committee on Procedure since those days.
We must fight against this Parkinson's Law of whatever time the House of Commons has the Government are always willing to fill with their own business. I agree that, on the face of it, there is no great diminution of private Members' time if we do not restore Standing Order No. 4. I may be wrong, but I thought that the Leader of the House minimised the change. Surely, it depends on the amount of precedence which the Government take for their business. The important point is that it is a valuable right for private Members to have the Wednesday and that this is part of the Standing Orders which we ought not to give up without good reason indeed.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he welcomed the fact that the House of Commons should have less legislation and more time to consider the great affairs of the world and also the many matters which private Members might wish to raise. We have heard the enthusiasm of private Members opposite, roused by the very pungent appeal of the hon. Member for Surbiton for more time for private Members, more respect for their rights, more freedom and less control by the Government machine.
Surely, the Leader of the House will look at this matter again, not simply with fruitless sympathy, but with determination to give effect to what are clearly the wishes of back-benchers in all parts of the House, and, in view of the statement by the Prime Minister himself, allow us at least to get back to our established rights under Standing Order No. 4.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). I see that there were 159 days of business last year. That seems to me about the average number in the last few years. If we have 159 days of public business this year, it appears that we shall have 20 days for private Members out of those 159 days. Those 20 days have to be shared among all the back benchers, and there are about 500 back benchers in the House. Therefore, each of the 500 will get a very tiny slice of those 20 days.
Anyone who is a fairly regular attender here on Fridays, as are my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton, myself, and some others of my hon. Friends, knows that Friday is a rather miserable day and that there are not many people in the House. I would suggest to the Leader of the House for his consideration that he might give the back benchers one Wednesday a month for the next six months, that is, one Wednesday a month up to April and the Budget. If he were to give us this extra Wednesday a month, I am sure the House as a whole would agree with the Government in allowing the Session to be extended by an extra six days. I cannot help feeling that a great majority of hon. Members would agree with that being done.
I have had a look at the list of Private Members' Bills which were sought to be passed in the last Session of the last Parliament. It was sad to see that quite a number of good Bills were crowded out. I am sure that many hon. Members have good Bills in their pockets again. Incidentally, I have one. In order that some of this beneficial legislation should reach the Statute Book, I should like to ask the Leader of the House to consider giving us a Wednesday each month during the next six months. This would be of great benefit to back benchers.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I think that not only should we have the Wednesdays given over to Private Members' Motions, but that all Fridays should be given over to Private Members' Bills. Some very useful Bills have been passed, particularly since private Members' time was restored after the war. There are many who would like to bring forward 221 Bills which the House would probably accept. Some of them are non-controversial and some definitely controversial, which is a good thing, for those which are controversial cut across both parties and have backers on both sides of the House.
There are a great many issues, like reform of the law relating to marriage, which require to be dealt with by the House which few Governments find the time or the courage to deal with. It would be of advantage to the House if we had more time for such Bills to be dealt with in this Chamber. If we are to give more time for Private Members' Bills, we should also take greater care to assist private Members in getting their Bills through the House. Some alteration should be made in the rules of procedure for that purpose.
On a Friday, a private Member can easily have the whole of his Bill defeated if a small group of opponents decide to defeat it, because it is practically impossible for a private Member to get the Closure when a minimum of 100 Members are required to vote for the Closure. A change should be made. J would suggest that 40 Members should be the minimum required to vote for a Closure on a Friday. There is a strong case for altering the situation on a Friday. Government legislation can always have the Whips behind it. The Government can always keep their numbers here and have their Closure, but private Members cannot easily get the required numbers. Only on an extraordinary occasion can a private Member get the necessary turn-out to carry a Closure when the Whips are not behind him.
The position has altered since the early part of the century. Up to the middle '30s, Friday debates were well attended. Hon. Members still regarded Friday as one of their working days and turned up. The types of Bills brought forward were also quite different from those brought up nowadays. Up to the middle '30s, Fridays were used by back benchers for party propaganda purposes. In the main, they brought forward some proposal which was in the party programme. There were big debates on party lines, with main speakers from both Front Benches taking part. The whipping was unofficial, but there was a Closure and 222 the Government of the day was able to turn the Motion down.
In those days, if there happened to be a Tory Government, Labour Members brought in proposals for nationalising the coal mines, or reforming industrial insurance. The Liberals brought forward proposals for proportional representation, and Members of the Irish Party brought forward Home Rule Bills. Others introduced proposals for military conscription, or something in which they happened to be interested.
That was the case up to the time when Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, as Prime Minister came to the House in 1936 strongly to oppose a Bill which had been put up by some of his own back benchers on a matter of trade union law. He took the view that a Bill on a matter of important Government policy should be produced by the Government of the day and ought not to be a kite flown by back benchers. He carried his party into the Lobby against that Bill. He advised his supporters that in future private Members should bring forward Bills only when they had some chance of passing through the House Bills which were not controversial from the party point of view. On the whole, his party tended to follow that lead and our side did later. Some important Bills came forward, including one on hire purchase reform brought in by Ellen Wilkinson, and A. P. Herbert's Bill on marriage reform. Since the war that has been the general position of the House.
I do not think anyone wants to go back to the position in which we use Fridays mainly for party political propaganda. There are plenty of other opportunities when the House can be used for debates on party issues and party controversies, and that is largely the reason why the size of attendances on Fridays has died away.
I suggest that if we are to use Fridays in a useful way, we have to make an alteration to the rules of procedure so that we can have a Closure with a majority of forty, or something of that kind. It is exceedingly frustrating to a back-bench Member to have a small group of people able to torpedo a Bill which may command the general good will of the House. My suggestion is not only that we should hand over Fridays for more use by private Members, but that we should alter the rules 223 of procedure in connection with the Second Readings of Private Members' Bills.
I do not think we would find that Bills which were not generally approved by the House would get pushed through. If a Second Reading were given to a Bill which aroused some opposition in the House, Members who did not like it could vote against it on Third Reading. Thus, my suggestion would not take from the House, the great mass of hon. Members, effective control over private Bills. I hope that the Leader of the House will take these points into consideration when he replies.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I want to go back to what was said by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who began by saying that he was not inspired by party feelings, the implication being that he was speaking as a Member of the House of Commons. I fully accept that. I found particularly charming his prophecy to new Members that they have hours and hours of boredom before them. Nobody fills more columns of HANSARD than the right hon Gentleman, so that his comment was both charming and humble.
My recollection also goes back to the days when we debated Private Members' Motions on Wednesdays, but my recollection differs from that of the right hon. Gentleman. In spite of his success with his Motion, which he quoted. I found those Wednesday debates profoundly unsatisfying. I believe that Members whose recollections do not go back to those days are misleading themselves if they think that the granting of Wednesdays for Private Members' Motions would be any solution to this great problem of our time, namely, the fact that we, and the country, feel that private Members are being squeezed out of politics, and are not exerting the influence they should.
One of the great problems before Parliamentary democracy today is that we are at the mercy of more or less monolithic party machines. What is the remedy? I assure hon. Members that the remedy is not to increase the facilities for the introduction of Private Members' Bills, nor to increase facilities for debating Private Members' Motions selected at random by ballot.
224 We all know that on days when we have the Ballot for Motions our Whips hand us lists of subjects. The moral of that is that most hon. Members do not have a subject up their sleeve which they are burning to produce. Four out of five, if not nine out of ten, Members rely on the list produced by their Whips.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
That may be the case and I do not wish to stress that point. Very likely I am wrong, but that is what I feel.
I think that I shall have many hon. Members with me when I say that the liberation of private Members from the domination of the party machine is not the multiplication of facilities for debates on often relatively unimportant subjects which do not have much bearing on the course of events. As a private Member, my grievance is quite different. It is that I cannot with any reasonable hope of certainty count on being able to take part in debates on the important issues which shake the world.
I am referring not only to major Bills, but to debates on foreign affairs, on colonial, and on imperial affairs. I should not feel that I had fulfilled my duties as a Member if I introduced a Private Member's Bill or Motion. I should feel that I had carried out my duties to my constituents, and to the country, if I made the best speech I could, with my limited power, on, say, disarmament, Africa, unemployment, the Finance Bill, the Budget, or the great economic questions which influence our future.
I think that the Government's decision in these proposals which they are now putting before us is right, but if private Members are to have their rights—not privileges, but rights—it is essential that major Government Bills should be allowed two days on Second Reading and that major debates—Motions of censure, foreign affairs, and so on—should also be two-day debates.
It is common knowledge to all old Members that on important days, unless the time has been extended, perhaps one-and-a-half hours or an hour and forty minutes is taken up with opening Front 225 Bench speakers and an hour-and-a-quarter or an hour and twenty minutes by Front Bench winding-up speeches, and a great deal of time by Privy Councillors. I admit that if I were a Privy Councillor I should speak whenever I could—although I should not be popular with the House.
If new Members read accounts of important debates they will find that perhaps only three back benchers from each side have spoken. It is a curious thing that the fewer one's opportunities for speaking the longer one tends to speak. The rights of private Members are being squeezed out not by the diminution of private Members' time, but by the almost complete elimination of opportunities for back benchers to take part in the great debates on the great affairs of the day. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will not only stick to his guns, but will also bear in mind what I have said.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I am not at all surprised that in the course of this debate the old, outworn bogy of Privy Councillors' privileges should have been raised. In what I am about to say, I offer this challenge perfectly seriously. Copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT over the past few years are available for inspection and I guarantee that the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson)—who came to the House a long time after I did; I came here in 1922 and I therefore speak with some experience—speaks far more often and bores the House more than any Privy Councillor.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
I am sure that I would not dare to compete with the right hon. Gentleman on that score.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not do it on any score. This cut and thrust is very welcome. We all remember what Mr. Speaker FitzRoy observed many years ago—when he found himself in the geographical position in which Mr. Speaker finds himself—about the lack of cut and thrust in debate.
That is our problem. I do not suggest, and nobody, not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has suggested, that by reviving Standing Order No. 4 we will 226 solve the problem that confronts private Members. We must consider this more widely. We recently had a debate in the old Parliament about procedure and the revision of our procedure. It has been suggested in several quarters of the House that instead of having these boring, maudlin—this bears no reference to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade—and frustrating debates which attract the attention of a mere handful of hon. Members we might have more debates of a general character on the momentous issues confronting not only this country but the world at large. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House knows, I have for long pleaded for debates of that character.
The right hon. Gentleman observed that we have Fridays and that there was a time in the experience of this House when Fridays were occupied to some extent by Private Bills and Private Business, but that, that no longer being the case, we have gained some advantage. My plea to the new Members of this House, as to the older Members, is that if we are to inject any interest and excitement into our debates there must be a revision of Standing Order No. 4, or an understanding in the House that Bills which are not of a momentous character will go upstairs, thus providing facilities in the Chamber for debates of a general character. That is the only way in which we can impart excitement and interests to our debates.
This is not a Government matter at all, with the reservation that if one is a member of the Government it is a Government matter. When one occupies a humble position on a back bench it becomes a House of Commons matter. It is fundamentally a House of Commons matter. It is for hon. Members of this House, and even right hon. Gentlemen if I may so describe them, to decide how our business should be conducted. I agree that from time to time the Government have to concern themselves with the passage of legislation. They even have to adopt the technique of the Guillotine. If Bills go upstairs for the Committee stage, and if the Finance Bill goes upstairs, where it ought to be—and some people would like to send it much further—there will be time available for the Government to carry through their business.
227 Let us have a free vote on this Motion. It is a House of Commons matter. Already we have the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who speaks ably and with wisdom, expressing a desire to be independent. Unfortunately, as is natural with hon. Members on the other side, his courage may fail at the last moment, but there are hon. Members on the other side who are anxious to be independent and enter into agreements even against their own Government.
Let us make a good start. Let us decide that the Government cannot have their own way, at any rate not at this stage. Let us have a free vote on this issue. It is a House of Commons matter and I believe that if we decide to extend our privileges by the retention of Standing Order No. 4 it will be to the advantage of the House and the country.
I further suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman cannot go as far as my right hon. Friend suggested, and as we desire, we should have one Motion on Wednesday. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Farnham to say that it does not matter, because these Motions are not important. I recall moving a Motion on behalf of the Labour Party, many years ago, on the provision of meals for school children. It was rejected by the Government, but subsequently became law. That is a great achievement and one is proud to be able to undertake tasks of that kind and meet with some measure of success.
Hon. Members on the other side can do the same thing for the benefit of their constituents. They would thus enhance their prestige in the country and justify their existence. If the Government cannot let us have two Motions on Wednesdays they must let us have one for some time to come.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who followed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I have been in this House for some thirty years although I must confess that during that time I have dwelt in the greater obscurity. I should like to take up the point that was made about the prestige of the House of Commons because it appears from reports in the Press and from private conversations 228 that I have had that the debates in the House of Commons have become a set piece which is merely formal, the decision having been taken in the Committee room upstairs or elsewhere. As a result, the prestige of the House as a debating Chamber is sinking in the eyes of the country and the world.
We are, after all, the mother of Parliaments. We have given Parliamentary Government to the world. It is a distressing thought that the prestige of the House of Commons is falling, particularly with new Parliaments springing up in parts of the Commonwealth where we are giving independence.
With that in mind, the issue that we are debating here is whether Private Members' Motions are to be on Wednesdays or Fridays. That is the only point at issue. The right hon. Gentleman raised the point that if debates on Private Members' Motions were held on Wednesdays they would be better attended because it would be the middle of the week. Also, more notice would be taken of them. The right hon. Gentleman advanced that as one of his main reasons for putting back Standing Order No. 4.
I agree with him. I was a Whip before the war and I remember that the Government of the day were always concerned with what happened to Private Members' Motions on Wednesdays. I have not been a Whip since the war, or recently, so I do not know whether the same thing applies, but I suspect that a Private Members' Motion on Friday does not command the same excitement, certainly not the same attention, in the country as a Motion on a Wednesday did.
Ought we not, in the interests of the House of Commons, to go back to having Private Members' Motions on Wednesday? It may be that it will not have the effect of ensuring the attendance of more hon. Members, many of whom may say that although it is a day in the middle of the week it is still possible to be absent, but I believe that the net effect will be that Private Members' Motions on a Wednesday will put back into this House some of the life which has been disappearing in these last years. The experiment is worth trying for the sake of the reputation of the House of Commons. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to this suggestion.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I congratulate the Leader of the House on the way in which he introduced this Motion. It was exceptionally skilful, in that it concealed the purpose of the Motion. The first line says:save as provided in paragraphs (2) and (5)…Government Business shall have precedence at every sitting …This is not a Motion in which the Government graciously surrender time to private Members; it is a Motion in which the Government annually demands the surrender of private Members' time. The Leader of the House is famous for penal reform, and if we are to understand that he will approach the House with a humane killer every year we are naturally suspicious.
§ The Motion raises very substantial questions of principle. The Government take the majority of the time every year for their own business—which is quite right. They surrender to the Opposition Front Bench and the main Opposition party certain Supply days, which the Opposition can use for the deployment of major political points on the great issues of the day, but they leave only very little time for Members who wish to raise other subjects.
§ I can assure the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), with whom I very much sympathise, that the purpose of the Motion is not to get more time for private Members to speak. Some private Members are called in every debate. We have not yet reached the moment when Front Benchers are able to occupy the whole day, although that time may come. At present, we are not discussing the amount of time available for private Members, nor are we discussing the question of the time allowed for speeches by Privy Councillors. Quite frankly, when I want to speak I object to everyone else who wants to speak, and not merely to Privy Councillors.
§ What we are discussing today is the question whether the subjects for debate are to be picked by the Government or Opposition, or whether private Members shall have a greater opportunity to say what shall be the subject of debate. The subject of debate is the key to this Motion, because there are certain subjects which, although they are of no interest to the Government, since they are not part of the legislative programme 230 and do not cause party fights between the Conservative and Labour Parties or the Government and the Opposition, nevertheless may be of great importance to the country as a whole, and concern questions which we should be trying to debate more fully.
§ I am not a great admirer of another place, but it has one virtue in that it has nothing to do and, therefore, can have many more debates on general subjects which are of interest to the public. In some respects it is, therefore, able to be ahead of this House in the matters that it takes up. It would be a very great pity if we were to fall behind the other place in our ability to raise and discuss these questions ourselves.
§ These questions were all ventilated in the debate on procedure nearly two years ago, and were also discussed in the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which was generally accepted by many people, including the Leader of the House himself. What we want is more time for this type of debate, but the difficulty always is that a private Member must, naturally, come behind the Opposition and the Government in the queue.
§ The question we now have to consider, however, is whether the private Member shall come second to a Parliamentary Recess. If hon. Members study the Motion very carefully they will see that the Christmas Recess is intended to be a week longer than usual. With the aid of a Nautical Almanac, Boots' Diary and all the other facilities which are available to Members in the Library, together with an examination of the terms of last year's Motion, it is possible to deduce that we are intended to have an extra week at Christmas as compared with last year.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
Is my hon. Friend aware that season tickets for London Members are issued only until 18th December?
§ Mr. Benn
I was not so much concerned with that date; I was concerned more with January.
If my hon. Friend looks he will see that no Friday occurs for private Members' Motions until the very end of January, which suggests that the House will have five weeks for Christmas. I hope that I am not too revolutionary when I say that a month's holiday at Christmas 231 should be enough. When the House considers the question whether private Members should have more time, or whether the House should have a fifth week's holiday in the Christmas Recess, there is surely no doubt what the answer should be.
I go further than my right hon. Friend. As there is the smell of revolt in the air today from the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) and others, I am inclined to think that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not go far enough. I should like more Wednesdays even than we had before the war. There are 11 Wednesdays available and I would say, in the traditional phrase, that we should be given back our 11 days, because this struggle that we are discussing is much more important simply than the traditional political arguments of Parliament. We are debating the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature.
It is very unfortunate if any hon. Members should have suffered a decline in public estimation. Part of the reason is that we have not sufficient facilities or amenities to enable us to do our jobs—although it would be out of order to go into that question. One reason why a back-bench Member always comes off worse than a Government Front Bencher is that members of the Government have briefs and back-bench Members have not, and are, therefore, handicapped. Another reason is that they do not have the opportunity to pick the subjects for debate. I strongly hope that the Leader of the House will be as good as his intentions when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I have not extended my researches on this subject to that period of two years between the wars when the Labour Party were in office but not in power. It may be that it then did something inimical to the interests of private Members. I have, however, combed through the rest of that twenty-year period pretty thoroughly, and I find that there were only two occasions on which Standing Order No. 4 was rescinded. One occurred late in 1922, when the Bonar Law Government took private Members' time for three months—no 232 more—for the Irish Treaty Bill, and the other occasion was when Mr. James Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Baldwin, together—I forget who actually was Prime Minister—in the Session 1934–35, took the whole of the time of the House for the gigantic Government of India Bill. It was on that occasion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), then Member for Epping, was so infuriated by this proceeding that he went straight into the Lobby with the Labour Party.
For the rest of the time, Munich—a period of great stress and anxiety—and the terrible days of 1926 and 1927, when the country was violently disturbed, private Members' time remained in force, and no Government thought fit to take it away. Of course, it was wholly removed for the period of the war and, of course, in the implementation of the Socialist Revolution in 1945 Mr. Herbert Morrison saw to it that it was taken away. He also saw to it that the Select Committee on Procedure, of which I was a very humble Member, was directed by a Government memorandum to turn its attention to certain aspects of House of Commons proceedings, and the four or five Conservative Members were quite powerless to suggest any kind of change in the amount of private Members' time. After that, it was slowly replaced by the present situation.
I had thought that this debate would be a very short affair; that there would be one or two people who would make contributions and that the sense of the House would be wholly against any change in what the Government are suggesting. I had armed myself with a great mass of statistics to try to prove a case. The Leader of the House, however, will assuredly have noted the atmosphere. So far in this debate he has only one supporter—my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson). There may be others, but they are silent at this moment. Out of that mass of statistics I want to select only one or two in order to try to show that Parliament is capable of assimilating an enormous number of Government and Private Bills, and to show what the effect is of the suppression of private Members' time.
In the five years from 1925 705 Bills were presented, of which 273 were Government Bills and 432 Private Members' 233 Bills. In the five years from 1934 to the beginning of the war 589 Bills were presented of which 330 were submitted by the Government and 259 by private Members. The figure of 330 for the Government was swollen by the 60 Bills which were presented in connection with the outbreak of war. In the five years from 1954 to the present time 455 Bills have been presented, of which 262 were Government Bills and only 193 Private Members' Bills.
These figures show quite conclusively first, that, Welfare State or no Welfare State—this is extremely interesting—Socialism or no Socialism, the Government, every five years, produces about 260 or 270 Bills. It shows, secondly, that Parliament is capable of assimilating 300 or 400 Private Members' Bills in a five-year period and that since the war the presentation of Private Members' Bills has been quite unnecessarily suppressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), in a very able and cogently argued speech, indicated how the Government have limited private Members' time by habit, and that is a matter to which I am sure my right hon. Friend will pay due attention in his reply. If we have got ourselves into a groove because of the war, and because of Socialism thereafter, has not the time come to lift the gramophone needle and to play another record? I trust that my right hon. Friend, observing the temper in the House, will indicate that this Motion will be withdrawn.
The result of withdrawing the Motion would be, as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said, to put us straight on to Standing Order No. 4 which, as I have tried to prove from those figures, will do no mischief to Parliament and the rights of private Members and no mischief to the Government and their purpose in introducing in Parliament the spate of legislation which there may be in the Queen's Speech, or which there may not be. At any rate, I trust that my right hon. Friend will withdraw this Motion.
There are reasons why it should not be done. Already the Civil Service knows that on certain dates certain Bills will be taken. That is quite clear, at any rate up to Christmas, and it may be very disturbing at this late date to have nothing whatever to go on. But if my 234 right hon. Friend cannot withdraw the Motion, will he please concede the case for an alteration in private Members' time after Christmas? There are many precedents for taking the time of the House for three months. Let us ride on the present Resolution for three months if we cannot rescind it now, but after Christmas will my right hon. Friend come to the House and say that private Members' time will be restored in its pre-war pristine purity?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is certainly not for the Chair to restrain the House from discussing any matter which it wishes to discuss, but I think perhaps it would be courteous to remind the House that, to my knowledge, a great many hon. Members desire to speak in the debate on the Address. In those circumstances, I hope that we are gradually approaching the time when the House may be able to resolve this difficulty.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I do not desire to detain the House very long, especially in view of what you, Mr. Speaker, have said. But I wish to say one thing to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House before he replies to the debate. He must have been impressed, as was the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), by the fact that there has been only one speech in the whole of this debate in favour of the Motion which he has proposed. Even that speech—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman who made it would agree with me—was made with some doubt, with some hesitation, and was in any case the speech of an hon. Member who was not satisfied with the present position, even if the Motion were carried.
This is obviously a House of Commons matter, although the Government have an interest in it. But the right hon. Gentleman is speaking as the Leader of the House, with responsibilities to the House as a whole. It would surely be wrong, therefore, to insist on forcing a Motion through, with the Whips on and all the powerful pressure of the party organisation, to produce a result which, quite manifestly, is not the result which the House of Commons prefers. The noble Lord suggested that his right hon. Friend should withdraw the Motion, and 235 he meant withdraw it permanently, and restore in that way Standing Order No. 4.
I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to go so far as that. I recognise that he had to put down a Motion on the Order Paper to get a discussion at all, but perhaps if there had been some method of collecting the opinions of hon. Members before committing himself to a Motion, that would have been the preferable thing to do. What I wish to suggest, and it is for this reason only that I have ventured to intervene in the debate at so late a stage, is that he should withdraw the Motion for the time being so that he may consider the proposals which have been made to him and see whether there is any Amendment to this Motion which he could make now. For instance, it has been suggested that one Wednesday might be restored and one Motion might be restored on Wednesday, if not both. He could not do that were this Motion agreed now.
I suggest that nothing would be lost if the right hon. Gentleman withdraws the Motion for one or two days and considers whether it might not be amended in the meantime and an amended Motion put down on which we could all agree. I suggest that in the light of the debate which, I repeat, has shown quite manifestly that in no quarter of the House is there any substantial support for the Motion which he has moved
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A, Butler
I am very much obliged to all the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this debate. I think that it will be seen from the debate that I was not ill-informed as to the state of feeling which I perceived in the House and corridors yesterday evening. One of the difficulties has been the very short time since our return and the short time in which to crystallise opinion and to collect the voices generally in the House.
Before I come briefly to answer the debate, I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) for his kindly personal remarks and to say that I hope the same spirit of personal friendship will always exist in the House of Commons. That is why we are all so happy here together. I should 236 like to congratulate him, if I may, on assuming the post of Deputy Leader of the Opposition, a post which we are delighted to see is being ushered in by the most massive array of volumes on Parliamentary procedure which has been collected since the time of the younger Pitt. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will interest himself in this vital subject and further enlighten our debates. As to his remarks about avidity and description of my character, I would only remind him that the tree which grows best in arid land is the fig tree and that the fruit of that tree is most luscious when produced at the right moment.
I think that there has been one major misapprehension which has permeated most of the speeches, according to the short notes which I have made. Certainly it permeated the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) and one or two other speeches, and also that of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). It is that there is in this Motion something of suppression or the removal of privileges. In fact, not even the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) was correct, because it really is quite normal to phrase the Motion in this apparently offensive manner, offensive to private Members, but it is done like that only to make sure that we get our way. We are not being offensive to private Members.
There is nothing in this Motion which is designed to take away the privileges of the House or the powers of private Members. That is the first misapprehension, because the right hon. Gentleman did a great service by referring us back to Standing Order No. 4. At the time of the Report of the Select Committee upon which we have been working ever since this was referred to as Standing Order No. 3. The object of the Report made by the Committee of 1946, the Select Committee on Procedure, was, in fact, to make private Members' time more suitable and available for private Members.
So we are not trying to do anything to torpedo Standing Order No. 4, but simply following the advice of one of our Select Committees in trying to find time for private Members which they thought 237 would be as good. In paragraph 2, the Report said that under this arrangement private Members would get substantially the same number of days, and the Committee says 20 instead of 21. If we work that out in hours, we find that when it is 14 Fridays of five hours each there are 70 hours. To that must be added seven Wednesdays of seven hours each, making 119. Under our present rule we have 20 days of five hours, which is 100–19 hours less. The Committee did not do the mathematics: they are mine.
It said that this was a small loss, but did not take into account the inroads which opposed Private Business used to make into the time of private Members. The result is that under the Motion I have moved today there is approximately the same amount of time for private Members as there would be if we returned to Standing Order No. 4. [Interruption,] I am not going to stop there, I am only saying that it is approximately the same amount of time. The Select Committee thought that it would be possible to get, for example, as many Private Members' Bills considered, and in paragraphs 51 and 52, and subsequently, it thought this arrangement as suitable for private Members as the one we had before. There is no question of removing privileges.
It seems to me that what has emerged from this debate is that there is a preference for certain debates to be taken on a Wednesday and not always on a Friday. That has emerged from several of the speeches. If that is so, I must in all good humour, and humanely, remind hon. Members that if we were to give up some of the private Members' Fridays and have Government business on those days we would expect hon. Members to be here on Fridays to support the Government. Therefore, they will not find, if we revert entirely to the exact measure and principle of Standing Order No. 4, that things will necessarily be easier for private Members, although there may be an opportunity for private Members' debates on Wednesdays.
After listening to right hon. and hon. Members I have come to the conclusion that this matter ought to be looked at with great care in the light of to-day's debate. The position is obviously one which has interested hon. Members. I am not satisfied myself that Standing 238 Order No. 4 is necessarily the right solution, so I do not want to leave it just as it is. We shall want a little time to find the right solution. I do not think that we can find the right solution by a snap Amendment to this Motion today, or by withdrawing the Motion and putting it down again tomorrow. I want to remind myself of various matters of procedure and we have to consider several questions of reform of our procedure. You, Mr. Speaker, have done us the honour of taking the Chair and I do not think it would be right to discuss those matters without there being opportunity to discuss them with you.
§ Another question about procedure in relation to Private Members' Bills has been raised, but in that this question of private Members' time was hardly touched upon. I do not think that we can take a snap decision on that today. My solution, therefore, would be that we should pass this Motion on the understanding, which was freely and humanely recognised by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South. He said that it has, in fact, been drafted against the background of the Government's legislative programme. It would be very difficult for us to withdraw the Motion immediately and not to know exactly what was to happen, at any rate up to the Christmas Recess.
§ Therefore I suggest we should occupy the time immediately before us in consultation, not only through the usual channels but also with private Members, with a view to finding what is the best Standing Order able to replace Standing Order No. 4, or to put back Standing Order No. 4 if that is felt better. My own fairly long experience in the House leads me to think that Standing Order No. 4 needs some amendment, but it would be in the light of discussion with hon. Members and we can perhaps add to the general accumulation of procedural questions which have to be dealt with in the near future.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not want to give an actual term, because of the difficulty of knowing how much one can consult, but I thought that the proposition put forward by my noble Friend was a perfectly reasonable one because we would 239 have until Christmas to consider the matter.
One other reservation I must make, because it is no use making a promise if one is not able to carry it out. When we have to consider making an amendment we have to consider how far we can go into this Session, having already announced the legislative programme of the Government in the Queen's Speech, to make the modifications which the House desires. Subject to that reservation, we would be happy to have these consultations, to meet the wishes of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Butler
No, Sir. I would say that there is every chance of modification this Session, every chance of it. It means that we have to examine our own legislation in the light of this debate. I think that it is perfectly right that the House should be consulted at that stage and that the views of private Members should be taken into account. That will not be done in a hurry, but the views of hon. Members will be taken before Christmas.
I hope that there will be opportunity for other procedural matters to be considered by way of Motion after Christmas. Whether that modification is sufficient to satisfy the House I cannot say until we have had the discussions and are able to put a Motion on to paper, but, if that is agreeable to the House for the time being, we might be able to make a more appropriate one next Session. Our only inhibition this Session is in having got our legislative programme and background, but I hope that will give the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends an opportunity of seeing the revised version and seeing whether we can agree on it or not.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am only anxious to avoid a Division if we can. I am asking these questions so that we may be quite clear. Discussions are to take place 240 before Christmas. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the House will become repossessed of this question when we resume after the Christmas Recess? I am not asking that there should be any concession by the Government at all, but merely that the issue should be brought once more before the House after the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Butler
Knowing the House, I think that it would be quite unreasonable to say that we could delay any longer than that. We shall resume at the normal time after Christmas. I have not as refined an idea of the calendar as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, but we shall resume at the normal time after Christmas.
§ Mr. Hale
Mr. Speaker, I rose to put a short point to the right hon. Gentleman, who made an observation of the Report on the Select Committee on Procedure in which—I am sure unwittingly—he may have given a wrong impression. When he said that it hardly touched on this annual Motion, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that from start to finish it was concerned about private Members' time and that the whole Committee was much concerned about the problem and also had to bear in mind that our developments were a little circumscribed by the approaching demise of the last Parliament.
§ Mr. Speaker
Under the delusion that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was rising to a point of order—and what he stated as a point of order was so attractive when it was not a point of order—I let him continue.
§ Mr. Hale
I did not raise a point of order, Sir, except the point that the Question should not be put while an hon. Member was on his feet. I tried to make it clear that I was only trying to make a short intervention. The right hon. Gentleman, with his customary courtesy, rose to reply to my intervention and I suggest that it would be a breach of the custom of this House that the Question be put while a Minister is on his feet attempting to reply to a very brief intervention. The Minister would probably have wanted only 30 seconds to reply to it.
§ Mr. Butler
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, may I say that I was not rising to criticise the recent Select Committee. I simply wanted to indicate for hon. Members' guidance that this matter was not included particularly in their terms of reference or in their final Report. There was no question of criticising their interest in private Members' time.
Question put and agreed to.