§ Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of Parliament to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
§ Considered accordingly.
|Amendments to Standing Orders|
|Standing Order No. 12|
|At end add—|
|10||"Provided that no notice shall be given, except by a Minister of the Crown, for a day earlier than the seventh day after it has been received at the Table or for a day on which a notice of motion under this order already stands on the paper".|
|Standing Order No. 16|
|Paragraph (3), line 26, after "year", insert "motions relating to any Navy, Army and Air Services [Expenditure];".|
|15||Paragraph (6), at end add—|
|20||"The chairman shall then in like manner put severally the questions on motions relating to any Navy, Army and Air Services [Expenditure] (provided that the Public Accounts Committee have reported that they see no reason why Parliament should not sanction the virement temporarily authorised by the Treasury in each case) that sanction be given to the application of the said sums".|
|Standing Order No. 57|
|Line 7, leave out from "committee" to "Strangers" in line 11, and insert—|
|25||"The quorum of a standing committee shall be one third of the number of its members excluding the chairman, and in calculating the quorum fractions shall be counted as one".|
|Standing Order No. 58|
|Leave out from the beginning to "Provided" in line 9, and insert—|
|30||"(1) Each of the said standing committees with the exception of the Scottish Standing Committee shall consist of a chairman to be appointed by Mr. Speaker pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Chairmen of standing committees) and not less than twenty nor more than fifty members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection to serve on that Standing Committee during the consideration of each bill allocated to it.|
|35||(2) In nominating such members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to the qualifications of those members nominated and to the composition of the House, and shall have power to discharge members from time to time and appoint others in substitution for those discharged".|
|Line 14, leave out from "Monmouthshire" to end of Standing Order.|
|Insert New Standing Order. (Seconders)|
|40||"No Motion or amendment shall require to be seconded before the question thereon is proposed from the Chair".|
|Standing Order No. 1|
|45||That for the remainder of the present Session, the following paragraphs shall have effect in substitution for paragraphs (6), (7), and (8) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House):—|
|"(6) A notice of motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown standing upon the order paper at the commencement of public business to the effect either—|
|50||(a) that the proceedings on any specified business be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House); or|
|(b) that the proceedings on any specified business be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House, for a specified period after ten of the clock.|
|55||shall stand over until the moment of interruption and shall then be proceeded with in accordance with the following paragraphs of this order.|
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move,That this House, taking note of the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure of 1959, approves the amendments to the practice, procedure and Standing Orders of this House set out in the following Schedule.
|60||(7) If the business under consideration at the moment of interruption is included in the business specified in the motion, or is exempted under paragraph (10) of this order, Mr. Speaker shall immediately after the interruption of business and if the House has been in committee before any day is named for the House again to resolve itself into that committee, call upon the Minister to move his motion, and the question thereon shall be put forthwith without amendment or debate and after that question has been decided the consideration of the business shall be resumed if such business is exempted under paragraph (10) of this order or if the motion be resolved in the affirmative.|
|65||(8) If the business interrupted is not included in the business specified in the motion, or is not exempted under paragraph (10, of this order, Mr. Speaker shall call upon the Minister to move his motion at the conclusion of any proceedings arising on the interruption of business under paragraphs (2) and (3) of this order, but before the resumption of any proceedings postponed under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking private business) and Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance).|
|(9) If a motion made under either of the two preceding paragraphs be agreed to, the business so specified may be entered upon at any hour although opposed, and, if under discussion when the business is postponed under the provisions of any standing order, may be resumed and proceeded with, though opposed, after the interruption of business:|
|75||Provided that business exempted for a specified period shall not be entered upon, or be resumed after the expiration of that period and, it not concluded earlier, shall be interrupted at the end of that period, and the relevant provisions of paragraphs (2) and (3) of this order shall then apply|
|80||(10) The proceedings on a bill originating in Committee of Ways and Means, proceedings in pursuance of any Act of Parliament or of any Standing Order, the proceedings on the reports of the Committee of Ways and Means and of the committees authorising the expenditure of public money, except the Committee of Supply, may be entered upon after ten of the clock though opposed, shall not be interrupted under the provisions of this order (save where paragraphs (6) and (7) apply) and if under discussion when the business is postponed under the provisions of any standing order may be resumed and proceeded with, though opposed, after the interruption of business.|
|(11) The provisions of the foregoing paragraph shall apply to the proceedings of a committee on a motion authorising expenditure in connection with a bill:|
|90||Provided that any questions necessary to dispose of such proceedings shall be put at a quarter to eleven o'clock or at the expiration of three quarters of an hour after the House shall have resolved itself into that committee whichever is the later".|
|Standing Order No. 16|
|95||That for the remainder of the present Session Paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 16 shall have effect with the omission of all the words after "Crown", in line 17, and the substitution of the following words therefor:—|
|"standing on the order paper at the commencement of public business, and moved in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House)".|
|100||That for the remainder of the present Session, a complaint of breach of privilege may be heard if the complaint be made before the commencement of public business on the next sitting day after notice thereof has been given to Mr. Speaker, and if Mr. Speaker is satisfied that the notice has been given at the earliest opportunity.|
§ Perhaps it might be convenient to discuss on this Motion, Mr. Speaker, the Opposition Amendments to the Government's proposed Amendments to the Standing Orders, which are also on the Order Paper.
§ I will, with the permission of the House, say a few words by way of introduction to the general proposals of Her Majesty's Government and myself as Leader of the House. This will give an opportunity to hon. Members to state their opinions on any of these matters. I will reserve a more detailed reply in answer to the particular points raised by hon. Members when we come to the Amendments. I wish now to refer to the more general issues and, in particular, to the proposal of the hon. and learned 36 Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) with reference to the interruption of business at ten o'clock.
§ First, may I say that I should like, once again, to pay tribute to and to thank the Select Committee on Procedure. We had a discussion on procedure in July last year, which, I think, was valuable. We had the benefit of the opinions of several senior and experienced Members who have now left us and have either gone to another place or retired. I hope that we shall now have the benefit of the advice of some of our new Members, because procedure affects not only the efficiency of Parliament but also the happiness of Members in taking part in its work.37
I said in our previous debate that
If … we cannot adapt our procedure to get the best people into the House, it will be our fault."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 168.]
Judging by the result in those whom we have recruited, we have succeeded in getting the best people, although hon. Members opposite may, perhaps, think that too many of them are of our persuasion. At least, they are useful and interesting parliamentarians. I hope that they will take an interest in the procedure of the House and realise, as their predecessors have done before them, that it is only by this procedure, which is not fully understood outside, that our liberties are preserved and minorities get an opportunity of expressing their views. If people do not understand procedure, the more they are in the House the more they do understand it and the more they understand that it preserves the chance of the minority and of the private Member expressing his or her views.
§ The only general observations I want to make in introducing these reforms are as follow. We have to try to strike a balance between the following necessities in our practice as the House of Commons. The first is that we have to be, and must be, a legislative assembly. People outside forget that when we have what is called a dull day, we may be passing a vital Bill, containing, for example, borrowing powers for the gas industry, or something of that nature. While it may not make quite so liberal or ecstatic a debate as a general subject, and while it may lead to what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) once referred to as great areas of boredom, it is a job which has to be done by the main legislative assembly of the country.
§ If we are criticised outside by the popular Press for not being popular enough, we cannot help it. The legislative work of the country has to go on. We are a country governed by its laws and by the statutes on the Statute Book and unless these are carefully and deliberately framed the citizen outside will have no more liberty than the Member in this House if our procedure is lax and if we do not face the realities of the need to pass Bills of that sort.
§ I should, of course, like further opportunities for general debate. They make the House more interesting. 38 Another place has recently been showing considerable signs of life, largely thanks to the magnificent reform passed by Her Majesty's Administration in the creation of life peers, and there has been many a useful debate there. There are, however, fresh opportunities also in this Session, as I promised before the Recess, for private Members' time. Besides the opportunities on Supply, which are the responsibility of the Opposition, that will give, I hope, opportunities for general debates in which we can illustrate our interest in national affairs.
§ We must, first, be a legislative Assembly. Secondly, we cannot avoid, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering will remember when I first introduced these ideas, being an arena in which the struggle for power takes place. If we so cushion our procedure as to make everything completely comfortable, with no surprises, no traps, nothing unexpected, no warfare and no political unpleasantness, we should not be a House of Commons or a Parliament at all. People outside must also respect that our procedure must be such as permits that struggle to take place. Speaking purely as a member of the Administration, if there were no struggles, certainly my life would be easier. As a parliamentarian, however, I consider that this House must not only be a legislative Assembly, but should also be a centre in which the struggle for power continues healthily to take place.
§ Our third need is that we must, as a House, capture the popular imagination. I shall not today enter into the question of broadcasting, or anything of that nature, but I think that if in any way we can bring home to our own constituents or others outside the popular side of the work we do we should be fulfilling the third objective of a healthy House of Commons.
§ The hon. Member for Leeds, West, (Mr. C. Pannell), who frequently takes part in these debates, once said wisely—and I draw this to the attention of hon. Members—that the younger one's life is in the House of Commons the more irrational appears our procedure, and that the longer one is here the more one understands the type of what, at first sight, may appear the rather pernickety Amendments that we move.
§ I circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 16th December a summary of the 39 recommendations that I would make and I also circulated the list of recommendations which had been discussed with Mr. Speaker. Those refer mostly, first, to reducing the number of Oral Questions allowed each day from three to two. I hope that that, lying within the sphere which I am now describing, may be effected as a reform. The second of these recommendations extends the time allowed for a Count from two to four minutes and I hope that that may also be accepted. The third follows up Recommendation (xxxii) of the Select Committee concerning balloting for Adjournment Motions in the way described, which, I think, will be in the interest of hon. Members. The fourth is the revision of the Order Paper, upon which it was thought that you, Mr. Speaker, would seek the advice of the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports. Probably, after today's debate, you may feel able, Sir, to proceed with the implementation of these recommendations. That will suit hon. Members.
§ There is also an Amendment on the Order Paper dealing with the position of Privy Councillors. I do not think that this should be decided by a vote of the House. Looking back on the discussions and taking the wisdom of various right hon. Gentlemen, including, I believe, the Leader of the Opposition and, I am sure, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, the former right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, I think that this should be a matter for the Chair.
§ I would only say that in implementing the recommendation of the Select Committee you would certainly have me on your side, Mr. Speaker, if you occasionally adopted the Nelson blind eye in regard to Privy Councillors, especially in the course of debates.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to define what he means by "Privy Councillors"? Will he define their geographical position in the House, apart from the Front Bench?
§ Mr. Butler
I mean such distinguished persons as the right hon. Gentleman himself, anybody who has taken the Privy Council oath and is a Privy Councillor. Had the right hon. 40 Gentleman not interrupted, I was continuing to say that what I have in mind is anyone who normally, according to the tradition of the House, has the right of precedence in being called by Mr. Speaker.
I think it wise that, in general, that right should be continued, because the Privy Councillor has a great deal to contribute. But it is quite possible for Mr. Speaker to exercise discretion, as, I hope, he will, on certain occasions when, for example, there is a string of Privy Councillors waiting to intervene and it is impossible for a private Member to get in. In those conditions, it is all a question of common sense. I am the last to wish to deprive Privy Councillors of their inalienable right, but I am equally sure that there are occasions when the string has to be broken and an occasional glimpse of a back bencher has to be seen. That is merely common sense and I would rather leave it to the discretion of Mr. Speaker than lay it down by order or accept Amendments on which we vote in this House.
§ Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to express an opinion on Privy Councillors having a right of precedence at Question Time?
§ Mr. Butler
I was referring to debates. At Question Time, there is a great deal to be said for accepting the view of the Select Committee. At Question Time, equally, there can be a blockage by Privy Councillors, perhaps unwittingly, owing to the great keenness of a Privy Councillor on a certain subject. On these occasions, I should like also to leave it to the discretion of the Chair to enable, as, I believe, is now done, a private Member to make his point before it is too late.
Leaving those matters which fall essentially within the discretion of the Chair—
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that category would he deal with the recommendation, also involving the discretion of the Chair, about the length of hon. Member's speeches during an hour to be set aside about which we did not wish to table an Amendment?
§ Mr. Butler
That I had not intended to go into in detail, though I have a note of it here. My own opinion of that is that I do not think we can lay anything down about that at this stage. I think that the best way is through the discretion of the Chair, if it were the wish of the House, to indicate the time available and that if hon. Members would make shorter speeches that would enable so many more to be called. I think that absolutely laying down a five-minute limit for hon. Member's speeches is rather difficult to reconcile with our normal practice in Parliament.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are a number of hon. Members who would object to the laying down of a Parliamentary "Children's Hour"?
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. The hon. Member has put it more graphically than I could. I would include myself in that category. I agree with him that the laying down of five-minute intervals would not accord with Members' liberty; but if, in a major debate, say, a two-day debate, at the least active hour, presumably the dinner hour, hon. Members will restrain their speeches so many more can be called. That will lead to a compromise without deprivation of liberty. It results in more hon. Members being called, but does not offend against our feeling about the five-minute limit on speeches. It is a case of give and take and of common sense.
One other matter of a general character, and that is consultation with the Opposition about the uneven distribution of Allotted Supply Days. I think that I made a statement on that point. It might suit the convenience of the Opposition if, for example, the Supply Days started earlier in the year, and we were able to spin them out longer over the year. That might have the effect of giving us more general debates and might enable Her Majesty's Opposition to use the time to better advantage than they do now.
I want now to deal with the reason for recommending acceptance of the proposal for moving the suspension of Standing Order No. 1 at the moment of interruption of business—that means 10 o'clock—and the automatic suspension for three-quarters of an hour for the 42 Committee stages of Money Resolutions. This will give us an opportunity of discussing the longest Motion on the Order Paper, relating to Sessional Orders, and the Amendment put down to it by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering. I should also like to mention the automatic suspension for three-quarters of an hour for the Committee stage of Money Resolutions.
We have been persuaded by the arguments of the Select Committee, namely, that the present arrangement for exempting the proceedings from Standing Order No. 1 is a source of great inconvenience to many Members and that it is aggravated by the irritation which arises because the suspension is often moved as a precautionary measure. So we believe that the adoption of this recommendation would mean that the Standing Order would be suspended only where the state of the day's proceedings made it necessary.
I shall not go into the detail of the drafting of this, to which I would draw the attention of hon. Members as being a fine piece of work of the Clerk of the House and comparatively comprehensible, but I am assured that it is correct and that it carries out quite simply what we mean in any of the main contingencies which may occur, namely, the business of Supply, or any other contingency, the Adjournment Motion and anything else. It does carry out what we mean, namely, that the business should be interrupted by Mr. Speaker calling upon the Minister to move the Motion, and then the Motion being carried, and then business going on.
That would cover every contingency—Supply, or the Committee stage of a Bill when it is not desired to exempt the Committee stage but when it is desired to exempt some other business. It would cover an Adjournment Motion. It would cover business interrupted by Private Business, which sometimes happens when the Chairman puts down Private Business for 7 o'clock. It would cover business interrupted by the Adjournment under Standing Order No. 9. Then there is the procedure when the Question is put and a Division takes place; the interruption would take place immediately afterwards.
It is a complicated matter and one in which simplicity would be of advantage 43 to hon. Members. We mean and see no abuse and nothing but profit in adopting this suggestion. What I would say, however, is that we propose to make this change by Sessional Order and not by amending Standing Orders, and the advantage of that is that it will enable us to make an adjustment later. I hope that hon. Members who are critical of this suggestion will realise that we are doing it by Sessional Order and that it will be an experiment, and that if it works, then, at a later stage, it can be embodied in a Standing Order.
I want to say something about Written Questions. It has been suggested that many Questions which are now put down for Oral Answer might be put down for Written Answer if hon. Members were more certain of getting an unstarred Answer on a specified day. This point was raised by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) before Christmas. The Government agree that action along these lines may help to make starred Questions and Answers more manageable. Following a recommendation made in 1946, instructions were given to Departments to the effect that a Written Answer should be given in seven days.
The House will realise that many Questions put down for Written Answer involve a good deal of research, and that if it involves consultation with overseas posts it may take several days to answer. We think that it is, perhaps, misleading to lay too much emphasis on the maximum period of grace, and that, in general, Departments should be able to answer most Questions within three working days. We therefore propose to issue instructions to Departments to the effect that if they are given not less than three working days' notice of an unstarred Question for Written Answer—naturally, if hon. Members can give more notice than that, it will help us—Departments should exert every effort to answer the Question on that date; where that clearly cannot be done they should notify the hon. Member as soon as possible.
To give an example of what I have in mind, this means that an hon. Member whose Question appears on the Order Paper on Tuesday may normally expect an Answer by Friday of the same week. I hope that these arrangements will be of 44 some benefit to the House and that hon. Members will help by giving notice of their unstarred Questions whenever they can.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. But, of course, nothing in this proposal takes away from an hon. Member's right to put down an unstarred Question without notice if he should so wish. I think that this small amendment, which I have agreed with the Prime Minister, for instructions to the Departments, will be some help to hon. Members.
I said that I would reserve points which may be made in reply to Amendments, and I will reserve some of the other matters till then. For example, I see that there is an Opposition Amendment about the Prime Minister's Questions. I would reserve my opinion till I have heard what is said on that matter.
The Government believe that the recommendations we are now asking the House to accept, together with the additional facilities for private Members' Motions, will affect a substantial and useful amendment of our procedure, based as they are on the Report of a Select Committee of an exceptionally wide and active membership and under an exceptionally well-versed chairman, well versed in every aspect of our procedure.
Some people may say that we take time to adjust our procedure. There is an Opposition Amendment down in relation to the imposition of a charge, not recommitting it to a Committee of the whole House, but taking it simply on Report. That would reverse a procedure which has been in force since 1707. One should reflect on the manner in which our procedure has developed over these years. If we were to depart unduly from these guardrails and these sorts of guides—because they are not all rails; some of them are guides—which have guided and looked after the liberties of our ancestors, we should be making a mistake.
I believe that these modest suggestions, including the general proposition that we should send Bills to Standing Committee whenever we can, and that we should make the Standing Committees smaller, as is suggested, will be of value to our procedure.
45 I do not think that we can go as far as setting up colonial or other specialised Committees in the foreign manner—in the manner of the United States Capitol Hill or the French Parliament. That would be difficult. I think that we can consider, when the time comes this evening, the special problem of Wales, and I hope that we shall consider the various Opposition Amendments on the Order Paper as sympathetically as we can.
I am satisfied that by putting this Motion on the Order Paper and by providing the extra days for private Members' business we have fulfilled in the spirit and the letter the statement which I made to the House before Christmas.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I hope that I may be allowed, first, to thank two people, one the Chairman of the Select Committee on which I had the honour of serving. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has just said about him—his knowledge of the procedure of the House was, of course, invaluable. He was impartial as a Chairman and he helped his highly variegated Committee to get through its business with perhaps more expedition than they would otherwise have shown.
The second person I should like to thank and here I am merely repeating the beginning of the Select Committee's Report—is, if I am allowed to do so, the Clerk of the House, for the help he gave us. I will not refer to it in detail. It is stated fully in the Report.
I should also like to thank, but with a rather more critical voice, the Government for accepting roughly one-half in number of the recommendations of the Committee. Where I become critical is when I look at what they have omitted and what the Committee itself had in mind in making these omitted recommendations. We were, I repeat, a variegated Committee. We had, on it, if I may respectfully say so, Members of character and individuality, who had strong views and who felt, as the Committee says towards the end of the Report, a sense of frustration.
Our main object, as a Committee, was to keep detailed business off the Floor of the House as far as we could, 46 to make more and better use of Committees and, in other ways, to get more time in the House for general debate. One can argue about what is general debate in these circumstances, but the general sense of what we were intending to do is clear enough and would, I think, appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
We made recommendations about Committee procedure and of those, with some minor exceptions about the size of Committees, and so on, nothing remains. Some of us suggested in the Committee that part of the Finance Bill should be sent upstairs, and the discussion of this difficult question occupied a long time and involved a great deal of evidence. That is sunk without trace. There is not even a Government proposal on the Order Paper about it. Some of us, a minority but a substantial minority, composed, I think, of my hon. Friends, were in favour of trying morning sittings. That, again, occupied a great deal of the Committee's time and called for a great deal of evidence and detailed consideration. That is not sunk without trace, because there is an Opposition Amendment about it on the Order Paper.
But none of these major suggestions for taking matters off the Floor of the House and for making a better and bigger use of Committees has the Government accepted. We are, therefore, left in the position that what, in fact has been accepted consists of matters which I do not think occupied half the time of the Select Committee. That with which we were principally concerned has been refused.
It is difficult for an Opposition to set out a whole scheme of this sort, and we have confined ourselves to putting down a number of Amendments about which I shall speak and in connection with which my own name appears. Those are the Amendments of the Opposition as such, and there are, in addition, a number of Amendments put down by my hon. Friends. We are considering this from our point of view as mainly a House of Commons matter and on those Amendments put down by my hon. Friends we shall not put on the Whips. My hon. Friends will, of course, be free to call Divisions if they so wish. In speaking now I propose to deal only with the official, if I may put it in that 47 way, Opposition Amendments, and to leave my hon. Friends to develop what they have to say.
I should perhaps mention one matter. That is an unofficial Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to which reference was made by the Leader of the House, for a Select Committee for colonial matters. That, again, was something which the Select Committee on Procedure considered at great length and, although there were differences about it and it was not a majority recommendation, I think that it at least deserves very careful consideration and very much more consideration than the strict constitutional line which the right hon. Gentleman indicated.
I will begin with the one Amendment on the Order Paper which is an omission or an attempt to secure an omission of one of the Government's proposals. It is in connection with the Motion to suspend Standing Order No. 1. That, of course, is taken at present at 3.30, and, as the right hon. Gentleman explained, the provision which he moved to introduce into the Standing Order would make it begin at 10 o'clock instead. It is quite true to say—and it is well that I should say it at once—that there was no Division in the Select Committee on this matter. It came on early one day, as, I think, the very first business, and it seems to have gone through without discussion or Division. Therefore, I am in this respect producing the result of our thinking it over on this side of the House and coming to the conclusion that there was not sufficient reason to make the change proposed.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he was persuaded by the arguments of the Select Committee. That is an odd way of putting it, for when evidence was given there was no definite evidence, or no firm evidence, about this matter except from two sources and one source was the right hon. Gentleman himself. He and the present Minister of Labour appeared together and spoke strongly in favour of this change, because it would enable the lawyers to get to the House in time or would be for their convenience. That is the reason which the right hon. Gentleman himself gave twice in discussion. Equally firm evidence on the other side was produced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the 48 Opposition, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Bowden). They saw no reason for it.
Evidence was also given, and is referred to in the Report, by one or two other people, including my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the Chairman of Ways and Means of that time, Sir Charles MacAndrew, as he then was. But that evidence was rather in the nature of seeing no serious objections than of advocating it in any way. The same was said, I believe, by the Leader of the Liberal Party.
We see no sufficient reason for this change, and this raises the kind of question that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House put to us when talking about what had to be balanced in the consideration of the procedure of the House. We have to get the best people. No doubt there are people who can be got if we make it easy enough for them. They may, from one point of view, be the best people, but we have to strike a balance between what are hypothetically or theoretically the best people and the need to get them to come and do their work here. We feel that this is a proposal which goes too far in the direction of concession. If it may succeed in getting a few more people, we feel that it would not appeal to one of the other factors which the Leader of the House put before us, namely, to popular imagination, that the House of Commons should alter its procedure for the purpose of giving additional advantage to lawyers and allowing them to come to the House at a rather more convenient time.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
It would be fair to emphasise also the point that the Select Committee recommended this change for the benefit not only of the lawyers, but of the host of people who come hundreds of miles to get here on Mondays at 3.30. It is not fair to make the point, with respect, by gibing at the London lawyers.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I trust that I am not gibing at the London lawyers. I did not mean to do so, but, normally, there is a point where one must say, "You really ought to be here". I agree that there is a strong case in relation to provincial Members, but I took the lawyers as an instance because they were twice 49 mentioned as an instance by the Leader of the House when he was giving evidence. I believe, also, that it was the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) who himself added, in the form of a question, that there were provincial Members also to be considered.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I take it that the hon. Members whom the hon. Member has in mind do not go to and fro every day. One would have to consider what the effect would be in relation to them, but I do not propose to do that now.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
When this unanimous recommendation was made, it was made with the approval of one lawyer who has given up practice to attend but, because he lives six miles away, does not even know that the Division will be taken. He does not receive notice, put down the day before, until after the Division is taken, and he may be serving on a Select Committee, or a Royal Commission, or dealing with other matters. This proposal was put forward rather as a matter for the general convenience of hon. Members. We appreciate that there were arguments for and against but, having balanced the arguments, it was a unanimous decision.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It was a unanimous decision in the sense that there was no decision. The paragraph in the Report was accepted without a Division and, as far as I can see, without comment.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
The hon. and learned Member surely will agree that each paragraph of the Report was agreed to by all Members present, at any rate to the extent that no Member wished to vote against it. Therefore, if the hon. and learned Member was present on that occasion he expressed his opinion by default.
§ Mr. Mitchison
At any rate, I am not too old to learn, and I have come to the conclusion that the decision we took was a mistaken one. If I have come to that conclusion I am not only entitled to, but bound to give it to the House and give my reasons for it.
Notice will be given on the Sessional Order Paper and it will rest entirely with the Government whether or not that notice is acted upon and the 50 Motion is made. The last time on an ordinary day by which the Government will have to make up their minds on the matter will be before the last two speakers get up, or thereabouts. That leaves the Government with the power of bringing on a Division, whether the business is contested or uncontested, later on in the evening without any warning whatever to hon. Members who will not know whether the Motion is to be made.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
In his Parliamentary experience, can my hon. and learned Friend remember any occasion whatever on which such a Motion has been defeated? If the answer is "No", is not this a very artificial debate that we are having?
§ Mr. Mitchison
If I am asked to remember, I confess I am unable to do so, but I have had the curiosity to look up HANSARD and I found a reference there to an occasion when, under a Labour Government, a Motion of this kind was defeated. If my hon. Friend asks me for a reference I cannot give it at the moment, but I will try to look it up afterwards if he so chooses.
This new proposal, of course, would have one advantage. If a member of the Government is on the way to going on talking too long and preventing the Question being put in time, thus causing the dropping of the Order off the Order Paper, as, indeed, happened to a member of the present Government not long ago, the Government will have the Motion on the Order Paper and will be able to have an extension of time at the last moment, but I can hardly believe that that is the serious object of this proposal.
If that is not the object, the proposal will leave the same uncertainty and it will leave it for a longer time. It will not be really for the convenience of anybody. The practice of voting on a Motion of this kind has decreased considerably lately and I doubt very much whether it makes much difference if it is taken at 3.30, but it would make an extraordinarily bad impression on popular imagination, as the Leader of the House calls it, if we proceeded to alter the time for the convenience of lawyers and other hon. Members who may be doing other business outside the House. We have to strike a balance in these 51 matters and in my opinion and that of my hon. and right hon. Friends the proposal on the Order Paper is on the wrong side of the balance and, therefore, we object to it.
I can deal with the other Amendments much more shortly. They are the Amendments which refer to drafting assistance. The one in my name, with some support, is a welcome to drafting assistance as proposed by the Select Committee, but only for Private Members' Bills. What the Select Committee put to the vote, and we had a very close vote on it, was whether drafting assistance should be provided not only in connection with Private Members' Bills, but also in connection with Government Bills, and the Committee accepted that proposal by eight votes to seven. I voted against it. I should have voted for the proposal which now stands in my name.
The reason why I voted against it was that it seemed to me that to provide drafting assistance for Amendments to Public Bills would put a very heavy burden on whoever was called upon to provide it. After all, drafting is a skilled job. Parliamentary draftsmen are not merely lawyers; they are lawyers with special experience. So I should have thought they would require from ten to twelve years, and access to a considerable volume of precedent information such as exists in the Parliamentary draftsman's office, before they could do their job properly. To provide that kind of assistance for all Amendments to Public Bills seems to me too much, at any rate in the first instance, and there is an Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields in that sense.
When we come to Private Members' Bills the position is rather different. Private Members' Bills are constantly brought before the House which have either been drafted for the private Member by a society having an interest in the matter, or as regards which the private Member has had to get skilled assistance in some form or another, sometimes—perhaps rarely—from the Government themselves and more often from other sources. I cannot think that this is right. We should try, and we should be able to manage, to provide drafting assistance 52 for Private Members' Bills if it is restricted to that. I would say that if this proves necessary and useful then one could consider its extension.
I know that my hon. Friends who sit for Scottish constituencies have for a long time drafted their own Amendments and, though there is one lawyer among them, almost always on their own, sometimes with his assistance, and they have put down on the Order Paper not a technical Amendment but the clear sense of what they intended should be put into the Bill. After all, that is about all we can expect in an Amendment to a Public Bill. Government Departments are uncommonly slow to accept any wording that is put to them. If they get the clear sense of it, it is accepted and taken away to be redrafted in a public Bill.
Next, I turn to Standing Order No. 9 and the recommendation on this matter is No. (xx) in the Summary of Recommendations, related partly to the Rulings of Mr. Speaker and partly to other matters. The Amendment on the Order Paper in my name relates only to Mr. Speaker's Rulings. The Select Committee, was much impressed by the words which Mr. Speaker Peel had used. Incidentally, I think that he was the second Speaker to have to deal with this rule. It showed, or appeared to show, a much broader practice in those days than has prevailed since then. The effect of successive Rulings to some of us, and we said so in the Report, seemed to be cumulatively restrictive, so that the Speaker's discretion in the matter had been whittled away, and the chance of getting an Adjournment on a matter of urgent public importance had become smaller and smaller. We felt, as a Committee, that this had gone too far and, therefore, without any dissentient, we were in favour of going back in the direction indicated by Mr. Speaker Peel's Rulings. We went on to make some other recommendations upon which there were divisions in the Select Committee and they form no part of the Amendment that I shall propose in this matter.
I turn from that to a similar matter, the question of blocking Private Bills. What happens at present is that an hon. Member has to be there to object, and if he is there to object that blocks the Bill. It is suggested that this should be capable of being done by either a notice 53 of Amendment or a deferment notice, on the Order Paper, and that the notice should be valid for only a week. This is to avoid the difficulty of the hon. Member who has put down the notice going away and being unable to withdraw it, as I understand happened when a practice of this kind was in force many years ago, and a blocking notice had got on to the Order Paper and nobody could get it off. One week seems enough for the purpose.
As I understand the Report, this was recommended as an alternative to the present method. I hope that if it is accepted as an alternative, it will become the prevalent method and that the present verbal objection may in due course disappear. It is inconvenient, not merely for hon. Members to have to come here every time, as the Select Committee mentioned, but also, and at least equally important, for the local authorities, who are principally concerned with Private Bills. This was also a unanimous recommendation of the Committee. It is No. (xii) in the Summary of Recommendations and paragraph 21 in the Report.
There is another Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) about Questions to the Prime Minister. It is not a matter for long discussion. The Committee pointed out that only part of the Prime Minister's Questions had been reached for a good many weeks before it considered the matter. I noticed today that we did not even reach the Kitchen Committee at Question No. 45, and would, presumably, not have reached the Prime Minister if he had happened to be there at Question No. 45 today. Today, we were deprived of some enlightenment about various kinds of sherry, but on another day of the week we might be deprived of Answers to vitally important Questions. It is not for me to stress the importance of Questions to the Prime Minister, but it is clear that the interest in them is greater than perhaps in any other proceedings at Question Time. So it seems advisable that we should do what we can to ensure that they are taken.
On 16th December, the right hon. Gentleman said he wanted to leave this over until two Questions instead of three had been tried out. I suggest that this 54 is putting matters in the wrong order. There really is some urgency about Questions to the Prime Minister and in view of the practice of taking Questions together when they relate to a similar subject, and since the number of hon. Members who put down three Questions is not large, the difference between two and three Questions a day is not likely to be sufficiently large to affect the need for getting the Prime Minister's Questions in, and getting them in at a fixed time, as, I should think, would be more convenient for everybody.
That leaves me with only one small matter. In Adjournment debates at present, no reference to legislation is permitted. No one would wish a detailed reference to legislation or to have Adjournment debates about legislation, but there is a rule mentioned in the Report which allows at your discretion, Mr. Speaker, an incidental reference to legislation in rather similar circumstances in Committee of Supply. We suggested, again unanimously, that this should be applied also to Adjournment debates. I hope that that small proposal, which seems to me very obvious and sensible, will commend itself to the House and Government.
I have tried to be as brief as possible, although I was interrupted a little and this took me a little longer. I have tried to speak entirely to the few Amendments on the Order Paper to which I have put my name. I understand that in the course of the main debate my hon. Friends will be able to speak to the Amendments which they have on the Order Paper, and that it is hoped, within reason and subject to hon. Members being allowed to speak who have not been called in the main debate, that the discussion of both the Government proposals and the Amendments on the Order Paper will take place in the course of the debate and that the Amendments will be voted on as simply and shortly as possible afterwards.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
Before I make some reply to the hon. 55 and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), I should like, as one of those who pressed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to give more time to private Members, to thank him for the proposal he has made to allocate four half-days on Mondays and Wednesdays to private Members during this Session.
Some of my hon. Friends felt that it would have been more reasonable had greater facilities been given for such debates in the course of Government business, but I dissent from that view. I feel that if more opportunity could be given to private Members to raise what I might call "hot" subjects, and moreover to do so on a day of the week when the House is likely to be very much better attended than on a Friday, it would not only be for the good of the House but would be of considerable assistance to private Members. It would enable them to raise subjects which hitherto they have been unable to raise and, in general, would raise the prestige of the back-bench Members. It would certainly help to get rid of the complaints which we have had in recent years that back-bench Members have been more or less a rubber stamp for Government decisions. I gather that this is only an experiment. I hope that hon. Members will take full advantage of it so that, if it is successful, we may even see an extension of it in later Sessions towards what used to be the practice before the war.
I thought that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering made a very laboured case in his opposition to the new arrangements in respect of Standing Order No. 1. Many of us have felt for a long time that this alteration should be made. Let me tell him at once that it was not suggested because of any particular love of the lawyers. In fact, it will often be found that the average hon. Member will look with the greatest suspicion on anything designed to help the lawyers.
It goes deeper than that. Many of us have felt for some time—and this has been particularly the case when there have been tight majorities and tight Whipping—that the House was tending to become the sort of place in which only a full-time politician or a journalist or a lawyer could give the necessary time to be here. I believe that the true con- 56 ception of Parliament is that as far as possible it should be a microcosm of the nation. What goes on here is not only what happens in the Chamber, as every hon. Member knows. To dwell for a moment on what happens in the Chamber, one has often found in past years that, no matter what subject was raised, some hon. Member was something of an expert on it. That was of great value to Parliament and to the House.
What happens here? We see the formation of a climate of opinion which may have a direct bearing on the course of events and the way the Government act in a given set of circumstances. That is created by what goes on in the Lobbies, conversations in the smoking room and so on. I would much rather that that climate of opinion were formed by a microcosm of the nation than by a set of professional politicians and some journalists and lawyers. That is the thought underlying the reform of Standing Order No. I which we have put forward.
It may be difficult to see how that will work, but if in only a small way we can make it possible for some hon. Members not to have to be here at 3.30 p.m., possibly on a wild goose chase—because often the Division is not challenged on the Standing Order—it will prevent some from having to be pulled back to the House, particularly on a Monday, quite unnecessarily. We feel that if we may have an experiment in easing this Standing Order in the way proposed, it will be some contribution to making it possible for hon. Members to give service to the House who otherwise could not do so. For the hon. and learned Gentleman to reduce the argument to a matter of a lawyer's benefit is not to do justice even to himself.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)
The hon. Member is making the case of the convenience of the average hon. Member. Will he deal with the argument that it is extremely convenient for the general Member to know by 3.30 p.m. what will happen later in the evening? It is very convenient for many hon. Members to come to the House at 3.30 and to leave immediately afterwards. It is also very convenient for any deliberative Chamber to know how long its deliberations on any topic will last. That is the reason for this Standing Order and why it has 57 been given the position of Standing Order No.1 The hon. Member cannot ignore all these arguments of convenience and pick on just one argument of convenience in particular circumstances.
§ Sir R. Grimston
The hon. Member has asked a specious question. He has been in the House for some time and he knows perfectly well that, if the Whips are efficient, the Division on the Motion to suspend Standing Order No. I will be won by the Government. When a suspension is sought in the future, he will know from the Order Paper, as well as he knows now, that the Motion will be passed at 10 p.m. just as it is at 3.30 p.m. The one exception which I remember was an enormous triumph for our party when, by one or two votes, we defeated the Socialist Government on the suspension Motion. I have been here a long time and in that time it has happened only once.
When the Motion appears on the Order Paper he will know perfectly well that the Standing Order will be suspended. If it is a question of his leaving after 3.30 p.m., he will do so just as he does now—according to whether he has to be here or whether he has a pair, for instance. It will make no difference at all in that respect. The only difference it will make will be in the direction which I have indicated; it will not be obligatory for hon. Members to be here in the middle of the day for day after day, when it subsequently transpires that that was not necessary.
I put a paper on proxy voting to the Select Committee. It has been dismissed in a short but courteous paragraph and has not been published in the Report, so only those whom I consulted and one or two of my friends know what was in it. I do not propose to burden the House with the proposal that I made, but it was directed to making a small experiment with the same object in view as the Amendment to Standing Order No. 1.
I now turn to Standing Order No. 9. I am sorry that the Government have not adopted the suggestion in paragraph 34 to which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering referred. Because of the mass of precedents it might be useful at times to get this. Most Governments do not like it, but that is perhaps an additional reason for making it a little easier to get. Mr. Speaker is very much bound by 58 precedents and I should like to quote the remark of Sir Fancis Bacon and say to Mr. Speaker:Set it down to thyself as well to create good precedents as to follow them.Quite often, after a Ministerial statement or a Question, Mr. Speaker is faced with having to decide, through this mass of precedents, whether he will give permission for the interruption of business to discuss the matter raised. Without any disrespect, I would say that on one or two occasions during the last Parliament we had the sort of scene when there was a long wrangle between hon. Members and Mr. Speaker while he was obviously consulting with the Clerk about what precedents could be brought in. On one occasion when Mr. Speaker had given his Ruling there was an argument whether it was right. That is derogatory to the House and derogatory to the office of Mr. Speaker. Once Mr. Speaker has, on consideration, given his Ruling we must accept it. If we disagree with it and think that it has been wrongly given, we must use another method of dealing with it and not get involved in a long wrangle with the Chair about whether the Ruling is to be accepted. That sort of thing is bad for Parliament.
The suggestion of the Select Committee is to allow Mr. Speaker in such a case to defer giving his Ruling—I presume for half an hour or an hour—so that he may have some time for reflection before giving it and thus avoid possibly a mistake because of the hastiness with which it has to be given. That would avoid a long wrangle.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
There was an added reason, that we thought that Mr. Speaker sometimes gave a Ruling which, on reflection and after hearing the arguments, he would rather not have given. None of us wants to see Mr. Speaker suffer any loss of face. I should have thought that that was the prime reason.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It boils down to a mechanical means of giving Mr. Speaker perhaps half an hour for reflection. That is a sensible suggestion. I should imagine that what would happen would be that the matter would be raised, Mr. Speaker would hear the points deployed, and then he could either give a Ruling off the cuff or say, "I shall consider this 59 matter for half an hour and I will give a Ruling at four o'clock, or quarter past four", or whatever it was.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is an interesting point. Are we to understand that if Mr. Speaker defers his decision for half an hour, or until the following day—which I understand was one of the recommendations—no points of order may be raised and no further wrangles will ensue? I understand the purpose of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is to avoid wrangles.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I am not surprised at the right hon. Gentleman making that intervention. That is not the idea. If Mr. Speaker heard the points deployed and then retired for half an hour before giving his Ruling, the House in general would support him when he said, "I have carefully considered the matter; this is my Ruling and the House must accept it." The right hon. Gentleman is an old enough Parliamentarian to know that that is probably what would happen.
I believe that this would be worth trying to relieve Mr. Speaker of the possibility which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned. I am sorry that this suggestion has been omitted from the recommendations.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I spoke to another matter which was, if I may put it that way, to allow Mr. Speaker to go back to Mr. Speaker Peel's Ruling. That is the first of the Select Committee's recommendations. There follow three about procedure, and then the suggestion to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I referred to that first point in my quotation from Sir Francis Bacon.
I do not wish to keep the House any longer. In conclusion, may I again thank my right hon. Friend for acceding to the request made by a number of hon. Members just before Christmas that private Members should be given a little more time of their own? I hope that the experiment will prove a success.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
May I thank the House for having given me the privilege of serving on the Select Committee on Procedure?
60 It is not my intention to follow that part of the speech by the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) about providing time for hon. Members who have been elected to this House to absent themselves. If I did my speech would become controversial and I do not want that, because I hope to persuade the House to accept some of the Amendments that I have tabled.
I am shocked that the Whips have been put on on this occasion. My own party is wrong in following the lead of the Government and making certain of the Amendments official. On an occasion such as this there ought to be a free vote because there is nothing political about this; it is a matter which concerns every hon. Member.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
The point of having the Whips on is to advise hon. Members like myself, and we take that advice.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I did not hear all that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Yates) said, but if he is going to accept only advice from the Whips I shall be very glad, because I hope that in that case I shall get his support.
We are supposed to be living under a democracy, but this is a dictatorship, albeit a benevolent one. It is a strange form of benevolent dictatorship which allows freedom of expression to its opponents but not to its supporters. I hope that the Leader of the House will have second thoughts about some of these Amendments and leave them to the good sense of the House. The Leader of the House gave an indication during the discussion on business on Thursday that possibly he would accept some of the Opposition Amendments, but he gave no such indication this afternoon. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is reserving the "plums" for later. I hope that is so.
In the Schedule which the Government have proposed they have not dealt with the main purpose of the Select Committee on Procedure. That was done to a minor extent by a short Order which we passed last week about additional time for private Members. What the 61 Committee had in mind is revealed by these quotations from the Report:… recommendations for meetings our main aim in removing as much detail as is practicable from the Floor of the House …It was the general view of our witnesses that the House should be relieved of the pressure of detailed work and that more time should be afforded for general debates …Nevertheless, if the House wishes seriously to provide more time for other purposes, bills, however urgent, must be committed to standing committees, and Members should realise that a demand to the contrary will do much to weaken the object which we have been urged to attain.This afternoon the Leader of the House made a brief reference to sending Bills to Standing Committees. I hope that means that he is proposing to support my Amendment to Standing Order No. 38. There was a general desire for more general debates. Although I cannot say that I am bursting with a number of speeches which I desire to make on a wide variety of subjects, I should like to see more time provided for discussion of different matters on the Floor of the House, but not to interfere in any way with the legislative programme of the Government.
I should like to see a Standing Order that all Reports of the Select Committee on Estimates and the Select Committee on Public Accounts and Reports of Royal Commissions should be debated in the House within three months of their presentation. We do not challenge the Executive sufficiently. The Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee do excellent work and produce excellent Reports, but what happens to them? The Government send a reply to the Estimates Committee and, generally speaking, that is an end of the matter. When I was a member of the Estimates Committee we were on one occasion dissatisfied with the reply which we received from a Government Department, and so we issued another Report in reply to the reply of the Department. But I think that all the Reports ought to be debated on the Floor of the House and I should like to see a Standing Order that they be debated within three months of their presentation.
§ Mr. Blackburn
We did discuss it. If my hon. Friend will read the Report, he will find that there are several references to Reports being discussed in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Blackburn
There is another matter regarding which I consider that the House of Commons is failing in its duty. We do not have a detailed examination of the Estimates. I moved an Amendment in the Estimates Committee to try to deal with that matter but it did not meet with general favour. However, I think it a matter which ought to be considered and provision made for a more detailed examination of the Estimates.
I wish to refer briefly to one or two of the things said this afternoon by the Leader of the House on minor matters. First, I wish to discuss the time allowed for a Count. The Government have agreed to increase this time from two minutes to four minutes. Do I understand that it needs only a statement from Mr. Speaker that the time has been increased from two minutes to four minutes for it to be so increased? Perhaps we might be told about that.
My second point refers to Oral Questions being reduced in number from three to two. On 16th December the Leader of the House said that Mr. Speaker would give effect to it. As yet, no effect has been given to that. Surely in such a case Mr. Speaker would expect to have some expression of opinion from the House. Personally, I am in favour of it.
The history of Oral Questions and the reduction of their number is rather strange. The number was reduced from eight to four on 24th February, 1919, when Mr. Speaker said:I would not like to make any alteration of the existing practice except with the general assent of the House.Two minutes later he said:I think perhaps I might try the suggestion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1919; Vol. 112, c. 1383.]In December when it was desired to reduce the number from four he said:I cannot possibly undertake to decide the matter. It must be a question for the decision of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1919; Vol. 122, c. 210.]63 By February, 1920, Mr. Speaker was saying:… I do not feel that I have sufficient authority to limit the number of hon. Members' questions without the assent of the House.There was then a short debate. One hon. Member wanted the number reduced from four to two and two hon. Members opposed that, and so Mr. Speaker said:I suggest that we compromise by making it three."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1920; Vol. 125, c. 1050–1.]That is the history of how the number of Oral Questions was reduced from eight to four and then from four to three. I hope that what I have said today will indicate the general approval of the House, and that the number of Oral Questions will be reduced from three to two.
I think it a weakness on the part of the Government to say that they will leave the matter of speeches by Privy Councillors to Mr. Speaker. Because of their knowledge and expertness, surely Privy Councillors would normally have an exceedingly good chance of being called to speak in any major debate. It was well known that Mr. Speaker Morrison, as was said by the Leader of the House, was never prepared to turn a "Nelson eye" to Privy Councillors. In fact he went out of his way to emphasise this problem in the hope that the House would take some action. I do not think that in such a matter the onus ought to be placed upon Mr. Speaker. It should be subject to the decision of the House.
On 16th December in the Report which he gave, the Leader of the House said that the Ballot for Adjournment Motions would be given effect to by Mr. Speaker if it were the general wish of the House. Since nothing has been done, how is he to know whether it is the general wish? The Leader of the House might have indicated whether he would accept the proposal we put forward for a timetable for Private Members' Bills.
I wish to refer to some of the points in the Schedule. The first I would call is an Amendment to Standing Order No. 57. I am wondering whether this was intentional. It states:The quorum of a standing committee shall be one third of the number of its members excluding the chairman. …64 I should like to know whether that was intentional. At present the Standing Committee quorum includes the Chairman, but it is here proposed to exclude him. I do not object to that. I consider that there is a more important matter relating to Standing Order No. 58 and its Amendment. The desire of the Select Committee on Procedure was that we should do away with the present policy of appointing a certain number of hon. Members for inclusion on a Standing Committee and then appoint the experts afterwards. It was felt that the method should be the other way round, that the experts should be appointed first and then, if necessary, other hon. Members could be added. I am not clear whether the Government agree that the number to be nominated by the Committee of Selection to serve on a Standing Committee shall be for the consideration of each Bill sent to the Committee.
I take it that only one Bill will be allocated to a Committee which is set up, but there is a serious matter in the second part, which says:… and shall have power to discharge members from time to time and appoint others in substitution for those discharged.If the Committee is set up for that one Bill alone, is it the intention that it shall be allowed to discharge Members from time to time?
I wonder if the Leader of the House has overlooked the Resolution which is passed each Session by the Committee of Selection, which is to this effect:After a Bill has been under consideration in a Standing Committee, no application for changes in the composition of that Committee in respect of that Bill will be entertained by this Committee, except where a Member is incapacitated from attendance by illness or where he has been appointed or ceases to be a Member of the Government or has changed his office for another.The latter provision was put in in 1956, because in 1955, when there were changes in the membership of the Government, the Government quite wrongly and against the ruling of the Sessional Order altered the composition of certain Committees. And so in 1956, the Committee of Selection gave retrospective approval to what had been done. The whole idea is that Committees shall be appointed specifically for a Bill, and if this is the case, I think it would be far better to have a new Standing Order or, at any 65 rate, the intention of the Sessional Order which is passed each year by the Committee of Selection.
In regard to the new Standing Order:No Motion or amendment shall required to be seconded before the question thereon is proposed from the Chairthe Committee on Procedure said "except on ceremonial occasions", but these words have been omitted. Do I take it that the wording means that on certain occasions, if Mr. Speaker wished, he could vary it? I suppose that he could on ceremonial occasions alter it and have a seconder.
I will not say very much about Standing Order No. 1, except that it seems to me that it contains a great many words for a very small thing, and it seems to me that a Government with a majority of a hundred do not need it. The important part is that which provides that Money Resolutions shall be exempt for three-quarters of an hour. If that were done, it would meet the case, because very often the Standing Order is suspended because of a Money Resolution.
With regard to Privilege, I do not think the Government have realised all we had in mind. It was that we hoped that if we gave a longer time, possibly a Member would have second thoughts about a matter and would not raise any question about it. It was not entirely for the convenience of Mr. Speaker.
Let me now deal briefly with the Amendment which I have down to Standing Order No. 8, in line 7, at the end, to insert:(3) Not more than twenty-one days' notice (excluding periods during which the House is adjourned for more than four days) shall be given for any oral question".What is happening now is that Members are putting down Questions for months ahead. They go to the top of the list, and it is often found that important and topical questions which arise nearer to the time are pushed further and further down the list. I think that is quite wrong. My own view is that 21 days is rather long, and I would have preferred 14 days, but as a compromise the Select Committee accepted 21 days, and I hope that the House will accept it as a minor recommendation which would be of advantage to the House.
§ Mr. Chapman
Does my hon. Friend realise that it is only for the reason which he has given that we put down Questions for answer a long time ahead? It is in order that the attention of the Executive shall be forced on to a problem in the interim, and it can find time to investigate it and go into the complaint made in the Question. By the time a reply is received, we shall then have an Answer that the grievance will have been remedied. This is a very important point, which we should not dismiss Lightly. I have on occasion, for example, asked Questions about post offices in my constituency where old-age pensioners were queueing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] No, I am just pointing out to my hon. Friend that I have put down Questions three months ahead asking on how many occasions there have been queues in the last three months, and I received the answer that the grievance had been remedied.
§ Mr. Blackburn
If my hon. Friend had put them down 21 days ahead, asking on how many occasions there were queues in the last three months, it would have been a different three months, and that is all. Concerning the Questions such as my hon. Friend referred to, I think if he will study the Order Paper, he will see that the majority of Questions are not of that type. One or two hon. Members do this repeatedly and get to the top of the list of Questions, and therefore I think that the House should accept this Amendment.
The next one is also about Standing Order No. 8, and whether these two Amendments are made to the Standing Order, I do not mind, so long as they are the practice of the House.
Turning to my Amendment about Questions to the Prime Minister, in line 7, at the end, to insert:(3) Questions to the Prime Minister, except by private notice, shall be limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays and shall be taken at a quarter past Three of the clock".on 16th December last, when the Leader of the House was rejecting that suggestion, he said that we had better see how we go with reducing Questions from three to two. If we had reduced the number of Questions from three to two, we should still have had 44 Questions before No. 45, and that does not help in the least. Question No. 45 has been the point at which the Prime Minister 67 answered since 1904. Prior to 1904 the Prime Minister came in at Question No. 50, and Mr. Balfour, as he then was, speaking on 27th June, 1904, said:I came to the conclusion that if my Questions came on at No. 50, I would always be safe.That may have been a little ambiguous. It might have meant that he was safe not to answer Questions, but I think it meant that he would be safe in answering then. He went on:But hon. Gentlemen have become more inquisitive since that arrangement was made, or the answers have been longer or more supplementary questions have been put"—It seems very up-to-date—and today we have only been fortunate enough to get to half of the starred Questions put to me. I will therefore request the Clerks at the Table to put my Questions a little earlier; at No. 45, which I hope will be safe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1904; Vol 136, c. 1266.]That has gone on since 1904, and hon. Members will be aware that in those days far more Questions were answered than at the present time. It is a reasonable request that hon. Members should have an opportunity from time to time of questioning the Prime Minister. If we want to vary it, or to bring the Prime Minister in at, say, Question No. 25 or No. 30 instead of at 3.15 p.m., it does not matter, but hon. Members should have the opportunity of questioning the Prime Minister. Very often, with the slowness of Questions at the present time, it is not possible.
The next Amendment I have is to Standing Order No. 12, in line 4, after "the", insert "appointment and". I repeat what I said earlier about hon. Members of this House being able to question the Executive and keep an eye on them. This would give an opportunity to a back-bench Member, who felt very strongly about a certain matter, to move that a Select Committee should be appointed by this House in order to consider it. An hon. Member would have to convince the House in a short speech, as under a Ten Minutes Rule Bill, in the same way as any hon. Member who wants to introduce a Private Bill has the opportunity of making a short speech and anyone opposing is also able to make a speech. Then there is a vote of the House. I think that an hon. Member should have the opportunity of being 68 able to move for the appointment of a Select Committee if he feels that there is a certain matter of importance which ought to be investigated. He would have to convince the House that he was correct in stating that it was a matter of importance.
The last Amendment to which I wish to refer refers to Standing Order No. 38 and proposes in paragraph (1), line 2, to leave out from "beginning" to "Consolidated". That means that it would be possible for the Finance Bill, or part of it, to be sent to Committee upstairs. It would not commit the House in any year to send either the whole or part of the Finance Bill upstairs. It would merely make it possible for the House to do so.
I think it would be an advantage if in any one year we could have such an experiment and see how it worked out. Therefore, I hope, from what the Leader of the House said earlier, that this is one Amendment which he will accept this evening. I want to emphasise that it does not commit the House to send the Finance Bill upstairs but only makes it possible to do so.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
I think it is technically possible to do so now, but I should like the hon. Member to develop his point.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Standing Order No. 38 reads:When a public bill (other than a bill for imposing taxes or a Consolidated Fund or an Appropriation Bill, or a bill for confirming a provisional order) has been read a second time, it shall stand committed to a standing committee unless the House otherwise order.Of course, I suppose it is always technically possible to suspend a Standing Order, but I think it would make the matter much clearer and much better if the Standing Order read:When a public bill (other than a Consolidated Fund or an Appropriation Bill, or a bill for confirming a provisional order) has been read a second time, it shall stand committed to a standing committee unless the House otherwise order.I hope that on that matter I shall have the support of the House. Of course, it means that I shall have to have the support of the Leader of the House, does it not?
In the same Standing Order I have again taken the recommendation of the 69 Select Committee that when a Motion is made to commit a Bill other than a Consolidated Fund or an Appropriation Bill to the Committee of the whole House, the Member concerned shall make a brief explanatory statement and one other hon. Member shall have the right to reply, after which Mr. Speaker, without permitting debate, shall put the Question thereon.
I think it important that when the Government want a Bill to be discussed on the Floor of the House they should give the House an explanation. If we are just going to carry on as we have been doing in the past, with a Whip standing by and moving that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House and no argument taking place, we are not going to be in a position to feel that we are finding that additional time for the general debate and for other matters which I have suggested. I do not think it is asking too much to say that, if on special occasions the Government want a Bill to be considered on the Floor of the House, they should explain to the House why they wish that to be done.
I am sorry that I have kept the House for so long, but it will save time when we come to the Amendments which I propose to move because I can then move them very briefly.
§ 5.15 p.m.
Sir Kenneth Pickthom (Carlton)
I hope that I may make for myself in advance the opposite excuse to the excuse made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn). He excused himself for what I should never have dared to suggest was excessive length by saying that it would enable him to be very brief when he came to move his Amendment. I am not going to move an Amendment at all, so it will not be possible for me to be brief later on; anyway, it will all be over in one piece.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, because he said much with which I agree and to which I hope to return soon, and which, I hope, will be of help to me, about the matter of Questions. What I want specially to talk about today is the matter of Questions, and, connected with them, what I think are topics really in- 70 dissolubly related, the question of disorderly supplementaries, the question of bogus points of orders, and the question of what are called "statements" with a capital "S".
Perhaps I may be permitted to begin with a word or two about the previous speeches we have heard today. On what my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, I would wish to say only one word of warning, and that is—I am sure I am not alone in this—that there are many of us who do not believe it is the right thing to appeal to the Chair's discretion to change the nature of one part of the day. Of course, parts of the day are bound to vary in value to Parliamentary speakers according to their habits about eating and drinking and according to the habits of the Press, and so on. We do not think it is the right thing that Mr. Speaker should be invited to change the nature of one part of the day from the Chair; to make a part of the day available for a different sort of speech from the other speeches seams to me to be slightly but considerably altering the nature of the House and more than slightly altering the relation between the Chair and the House.
I am sorry to see that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has left the Chamber. I am not blaming him, because he has been present a long time, poor fellow, and he can go now and I cannot. I am sorry that he has gone because I want to say a word or two about what he said, and, incidentally, I want to say that this is the nearest thing to a debate on the Constitution which is possible in the House. Indeed, procedure is all the Constitution the poor Briton has, now that any Government which command 51 per cent. of the House can at any moment do anything they like, with retrospective or prospective intention.
It is a curious paradox that on this occasion no Privy Councillor on the benches opposite, with one very honourable exception, I think, has thought it worth while—[HON. MEMBERS: "TWO Privy Councillors".] Two Privy Councillors—one very honourable and one most honourable—but that no other Privy Councillor on the benches opposite has thought it worth while to listen to any of the debate. At any rate, it seems so to me. I do not complain. It is 71 quite expectable and understandable, but I say it, to bring home to myself primarily—
§ Mr. Pannell
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there have been no fewer than four Privy Councillors on the Opposition Front Bench since the beginning of the debate? He should get his arithmetic right.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I dare say that there were four at the beginning of the debate, but I apologise if I gave an unfair impression: I was not intending to criticise but to make the point which I have just explained.
It really is the small change of political controversy for the hon. and learned Member for Kettering to talk about the Government accepting only half of the work of the Select Committee. There is a tendency growing up to talk as if it is a scandal if the Government do not accept the whole of a Report of a Committee or Commission. But the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded in the next paragraph of his speech to disagree with the Select Committee on one of the points on which it had not divided and also to disagree with himself on one of the points on which he had divided. That is the small change in politics.
If I may say so to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, if that can fairly be called the small change of politics, then to be shocked at Whips being put on in matters, in which he agreed with me—I hope—I flatter myself—of their being the nearest thing to a constitution that we have got, and to say that there is nothing political about that, then in that connection if the hon. and learned Member for Kettering was jingling at me the small change of politics, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde was turning out the pocket fluff of politics.
I am, however, grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about Questions. I am more than half inclined to agree with him, if this may endear me to him a little or induce him to listen to what I have to say with not unconquerable prejudices against it, about a detailed examination 72 of Estimates, and just about half with him on the subject of routine debates on at any rate the Reports of major Committees, and so on, on the Floor of the House.
I will now come to what I really came down to the House to speak about today. I do not propose to try to prove to the House that the misuse of Questions, the misuse of supplementary questions, the misuse of what are called statements, and of questions and supplementary questions on statements, and the misuse of bogus points of order are serious and have been growing and ought to be stopped from growing; because any Member of the House who has read with any attention the Report, and most particularly what I believe is, from your point of view, Mr. Speaker, part of the Report, the evidence, can doubt that all the propositions which I have just put were accepted as far as I can see without any doubt or disagreement by all members of the Committee and by all the witnesses before it. I do not really think there is any doubt about that. They all said these things over and over again.
I have a great deal with me which I have culled from the witnesses which could be used to prove this, but I will not bore the House, since I find that I have not been challenged upon that point. Therefore, these things are bad, have for long been getting worse, and have recently been getting worse even faster than before, and they ought to be stopped.
I thought that perhaps one ought to try to put down an Amendment, but it is very difficult to do that, although we are invited in the Motion to take note of the Report and to approve the Amendments to the practice, procedure and Standing Orders. Amendments to practice are almost by definition things which one cannot put down on paper. One can put down Amendments to procedure and Standing Orders but one cannot very easily put down Amendments to practice; and that Amendment is badly needed I feel sure.
I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could tell us later something that I have not been able to find out, when the practice started of giving right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench copies of a statement before the statement is made. And take another of the bits of the small change of politics 73 with which we are all familiar: there is simulated indignation—there is sometimes real indignation, but it is quite often simulated—about some statement which Her Majesty's Government, no matter which party it may be, has made or has allowed to become public without having first announced it in the House.
When I see that indignation being brought to the boil—if one has sufficient eminence it can be brought to the boil at a very low temperature—I often wonder why there is not more indignation about the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench being told most important things before the House is told. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can see good reasons for it but it is not a matter which so far as I know has ever been discussed. I think we ought to have it at the back of our minds, and it is relevant to what I have to say at this moment for the reason that a good many witnesses talked as though by having only two Questions instead of three we should get more Questions asked.
Of course we shall not. If hon. Gentlemen pause to think they will see that one is slightly likely to get fewer Questions asked because one is less likely to have the Minister saying, "I will, with permission, answer Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 3 together." One effective way in which one can have more Questions asked—it can be done to an infinitesimal extent—is by having shorter Questions; to a slight extent one can do it by having shorter Answers; and to a much greater extent one can do it by not having any supplementary questions, or—which is almost the same thing as not having any of the supplementary questions that we have at present—by not having any supplementary questions which are not obviously and wholly in order.
Perhaps the worst part of this abuse occurs upon statements, where there are only a certain few people who really are in a strong position for cross-examining. I presume that the rules about what is in order on supplementary questions apply to statements as much as they do to Questions of which notice has been given. It seems to me plainly that that must be so, but continually upon these we get a disorderly kind of debate, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields has described as a kind of embryonic debate. I thought he did 74 not get exactly the right adjective. I should prefer to call it an illegitimate, a noxious and an abortive debate. However, I think we are both on the same point in that regard and it is quite true.
I beg all hon. Members who have not read the whole of the evidence of the right hon. Member for South Shields to do it now and to see what he says about what he has felt sometimes about a Foreign Secretary put in the position, whether it is in reply to a Question or in answer to supplementary questions on a statement, of having to answer unpremeditated questions in language which will mean the same in American-English and English-English, and which can be translated without risk of misunderstanding or damage into every other language. I am not quoting the right hon. Gentleman exactly because it would bore the House if I tried to find the speech, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am being unfair.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
We all agree about it, then.
Another matter of very great interest indeed was the Questions about Cyprus. It appears that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who is, I hope, to address us—I have been buoyed up all afternoon in the hope—thinks that all the 160 Questions on Cyprus were out of order. He said that 160 Questions had been put down on Cyprus and the 160 speakers—there were, in fact, not 160 speakers; there were really at a guess about 16 speakers—were not after individual information but were all out to make an attack on Government policy; therefore, their Questions were out of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly. If the Questions were not 75 designed to seek information, and/or if the Questions contained imputations, innuendoes and I forget what, which on the other leg they did, they were out of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not want to turn any rusty knives in wounds, whether on the back or the front, treacherous or fair, but it is fair to remember the famous word "Never" which was in answer to a supplementary question. Whatever else may be said—and it is not the business of hon. Members opposite to have any particular sympathy with the person who said it—it was not only to him that harm was done, nor only to this side of the House, nor even only to our country.
I will very soon sit down. I remember my father telling me that I should often find myself playing cards with people I thought cheated and sometimes with people whom I knew cheated, but that I must never be such a fool as to play cards with people who did not think that it mattered whether one cheated or not. That is a very important rule. I ask those who are clever enough, or even not so clever, merely persistent enough to exploit bogus points of order and supplementary questions which are not questions and are not supplementary and which are therefore bogus points of order, in a sense, and those who misuse the statement procedure—mainly the last are the people on the Front Benches and I do not say that one party is any worse than the other when it happens to be on the wrong Front Bench—to consider whether freedom to sin is the only freedom worth having about these things.
All the members of the Select Committee, so far as I could understand by reading the Report, and all the witnesses to whom they put questions on these points—except that Mr. Speaker Morrison was inclined to think that the House could put it right and was a little inclined to be over-optimistic, incidentally, about himself having cut down the number of questions; although I have not done the statistics, I will make a heavy bet that the Governor-General of Australia was mistaken on that point—agreed, with some variation of emphasis, that it was the Speaker and the House—mainly the Speaker and partly the House, or mainly the House and partly the Speaker—who could put it right. It 76 would appear superior and would certainly be effective for me to suggest that it is also hon. Members. No doubt we are all sinners, if only we examine ourselves thoroughly enough.
I feel that this occasion ought not to go by without our trying to make this matter occupy a rather larger space in HANSARD than it might otherwise occupy. There will be great guilt on the Chair, and certainly upon the rest of us as a body, if we do not honestly study this matter very soon and find ways in which these things can be diminished. They have all sorts of bad effects. The cutting down of the number of Questions which can be asked is the one generally insisted on, and that is statistically provable.
Another not so easily provable and which I state as a matter of my general impression—and anyone who disagrees with me can say so afterwards—is that nowadays, week after week, judging from one's memory or looking through HANSARD, one will find that at least twice out of the four whole-time days, from the point of view of the public and the Press and the majority of people in the House who are not always in the Chamber, what happens is a disorderly debate on anything, everything and nothing from 2.30 to about 4 o'clock, and after that a few elderly gentlemen sit round muttering to each other about something which nobody will bother to report, except the poor devils who have to do it for the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not think that that is a fair impression, but that is the impression which many people have got over the last few years and which the Press has allowed to get further outside the House.
The thing has soon to be stopped. Sir Charles MacAndrew, if I may still call him that—and the House has never been more generally grateful to a man for his fairness of mind than it was for years to the former Sir Charles MacAndrew—characteristically used the exact words when he said:… it is intolerable; it is just cheatingIt is intolerable; it is just cheating.
If there be some Members who find it difficult to know, on supplementary questions, for instance, which are the most important part of the matter, what is in order and what is not, they can see a whole string of examples in Erskine May. They need not memorise the whole 77 lot. If they will remember that whatever they feel sure that the Table would not accept on the Paper is out of order in a supplementary, and that every time they say, "Is the right hon. Gentleman aware" of something or other, they are almost certainly out of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—almost certainly—if they remember those two rules—and if they like write five or six more—they can guess fairly well when they are cheating and when they are not. There are difficult border-line cases, but it is not generally difficult to know when one is cheating and when one is not.
One suggestion came from Mr. Herbert Morrison, and it was that the Speaker might make a statement of his intention to be restrictive about this. Several witnesses fairly said that this thing had been getting worse for a long time—rapidly worse for the last twenty years, but I will not stop to explain how, I think, that happened. For the Speaker to be expected to put it right again with one jerk would mean an enormous amount of collision and friction, but one suggestion from Mr. Herbert Morrison was that the Speaker might make some kind of statement about what possibly might be done and what his intentions were, and that he could fortify himself with some kind of general approval from the House as a whole.
I do not know whether that would be thought proper by the House or by Mr. Speaker, to whom I have not had the impertinence to suggest it, but who has no doubt read the Report, but some way or other must be found, or, alternatively, we should stop the hypocrisy in this matter and alter the Rule and say, "Get anything you like on the Paper and after say anything you like, whether it is concerned with it or not, for information or not for information". It is not good enough to go on with the rules as they are at present and in impudent breach of them after the amount of damage recognised by the Select Committee.
I had much else to say, but perhaps that is at least as much as I ought to have said, vague as it necessarily is, because this thing cannot be put right by saying," Omit line 5 and insert whatnot" I hope that the House in general does not think that I am speaking either officiously or without having thought that there may be some advantage in 78 considering these difficulties outside as well as in the Committee.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
If, as the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) has told us, this matter of procedure is related to the Constitution—and, undoubtedly, the Constitution is a matter of vital importance—I must say that hon. Members and right hon. Gentlemen do not appear to display a responsible interest in the subject. One would have thought that, if it were so vital and fundamental to the interests of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, we would have had a crowded attendance, but the fact is that, ever since I can recollect, very few hon. Members have concerned themselves unduly about procedure.
I came here thirty-eight years ago. There is only one other hon. Member on this side who was with me at that time, and that is my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver). Not even my old friend, Herbert Morrison, was here at that time. I had no need to trouble about procedure or, indeed, about the Standing Orders. It was a matter of trial and error, and I must say that I got through with a fair measure of success.
Nor did I have to wait until I was appointed a Privy Councillor. One hears hon. Members complaining—almost bellyaching about the difficulty of expressing themselves, but there was no difficulty in expressing oneself in the old days. If one cannot come forward in a first-class debate—as is, of course, the ambition of many hon. Members—on finance, foreign affairs, or, perhaps, defence, or when an urgent issue is before the House, there is ample opportunity to take part when legislation is passing through the House from time to time.
When younger hon. Members have asked me for guidance on how to get into a debate, I have always told them to take the opportunity, as we did in the old days—not going to Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or the Chairman of Ways and Means and asking to be put on the list. That was unknown then. We took our chance, and the House was usually crowded—and the House in Committee was also crowded. That is how we conducted our affairs. We never troubled much about procedural matters—and we got through.
79 Frankly, when I saw the recommendations submitted by the Leader of the House—presumably, by the Government, because we have been told that we are to have the Whips on on what is fundamentally a House of Commons matter—I felt like putting down an Amendment to propose that this whole subject should be considered six months' hence. So far, and I say it with great respect, we have had this afternoon something in the nature of a ramshackle debate. I think that it would have been better to have sent the whole matter to a Committee, and then to have discussed Amendments in a succinct and precise fashion—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I can read, strange as it may seem, and I am well aware that this is the Report of the Committee. I mean that we should now be discussing Amendment after Amendment in a definite manner. We would then know what we are talking about, and not spread ourselves all over the place.
With much that has been said I have been in whole-hearted agreement. The House will forgive me if I appear egotistical, but it is a long time ago since, by means of a Question, I suggested that all Governments—and I have been in four Labour Governments, so I have some experience of these matters—should devote more time to general debates. After all, what is this assembly for? The Leader of the House has said that we are essentially and fundamentally a legislative assembly, but we are also a sounding-board for the whole country and, indeed, for a very large part of the world.
The views expressed here in debates of a general character receive much attention from people everywhere, and are regarded as extremely important. On the other hand, as the Leader of the House said, when we are discussing a legislative point in Committee, meandering along with an attendance of about half a dozen, who takes any notice? But it has to be done. I agree.
The hon. Member for Carlton, who, too often, lectures us—he has been lecturing us ever since I remember him coming to the House, like the Oxford don he is—or coming from some place 80 like that—talked about the eccentricities in the House. What is he talking about—
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman said that we should inhibit hon. Members from asking Questions, and supplementary questions. He said that we talk too long, but what is this place for? What do we come here for? Our purpose here is to represent our constituents, to look after their interests, and to express our opinions, whatever they may be worth but, presumably, honest opinions based on our thinking and integrity. If we make mistakes, as we undoubtedly all do, if we indulge in the language of extravagance, or are exaggerated in our expressions—and, after all, we cannot all be dons and philosophers—we, as just ordinary, common people, must be accepted as such.
I am sorry that Mr. Speaker is not present. What I have to say, I should have liked to have said in his presence, but no doubt he will read what I say, which I now do with the greatest respect. We talk of the discretion vested in Mr. Speaker, but if there is one discretion vested in Mr. Speaker that he should use it is this: he should pull up hon.—and even right hon.—Gentlemen when their supplementary questions are too long. By the same reckoning, he should pull up right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench—and we had an example this afternoon—who take far too long in furnishing Answers to Questions on the Order Paper. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Mr. Speaker has the power to stop it, and it is not always stopped.
The greatest evil that could accrue to this assembly—this is the cradle of democracy; Parliamentary democracy is in great danger, and we have to be extremely careful—would be to interfere with freedom of expression. The more freedom of expression we have, the better it is. And the Opposition should be the last to seek to inhibit hon. Members from speaking, or asking Questions—even long ones. For what is the purpose of the Opposition? It is to prevent the Executive from going too far. That is our purpose.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) spoke 81 about the history of Questions. There is a volume on the subject, "Questions in the House". which, no doubt, many hon. Members have read. This history goes far back—back to the fifteenth or sixteenth century. There was a time when Questions were not permitted in the House and, when they eventually were permitted, there were certain difinite restrictions on putting them in that form. We have evolved from feudalism—with no disrespect to the past—into a condition of democracy, and the whole essence of democracy is that we must interrogate whenever necessary, no matter how important those who are interrogated may think they are. That is essential. I never complain when any of my hon. Friends ask questions. I only complain if their questions are a bit too long and if I have a Question on the Order Paper beyond the fifties which has to be deferred from week to week. After all, I regard my Question as important, as we all regard our Questions.
It is not the number of Questions that matters. It is the nature of the Questions that causes most of the trouble. I see some of my hon. Friends from Scotland present. It seems to me—and this applies to other hon. Members who represent the north-east of England, as I do, and other parts of the country—that many of the Questions are far too parochial in character. Why are they put on the Order Paper? I understand the reason. The Members are obsessed with the interests of their constituents.
Some time ago I was asked to write an article on Scottish politics and politicians. I suggested that every Friday Scottish Members on both sides of the House should repair to Edinburgh and interrogate the Scottish Ministers at St. Andrew's House or at any location that is regarded as suitable. Let them have a field day there instead of putting on the Order Paper Questions relating to the construction of a lamp post in Auchtermuchty, or some such place. It happens even with Welsh Questions. I do not pretend that I am guiltless in the matter. A request may come from a section of one's constituency about the need for a factory.
Here, I digress for a moment to say that there is far too much competition in the House for getting factories erected all over the place. The North-East may want a factory. So may the North-West. 82 Even today we had an example about hospitals. The Minister of Health had a field day this afternoon. His Answers were very long indeed. Some hon. Members were asking about hospitals in the North-East. Some were asking about them in the North-West and others referred to hospitals in the South.
That is why parochial Questions are put on the Order Paper—because Members are interested in their contituencies. I suggest that Scottish Members and even Welsh Members might go to Edinburgh and Cardiff and thrash out these matters every Friday. But for the remainder of the week let them take part in the first-class debates that take place in the House.
Now I come to the matter of debates. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had a bit of amusement at my expense the other day, and I certainly did not object. Let anything be said which will add to the gaiety of nations. The right hon. Gentleman has a peculiar sense of humour. Sometimes it is sardonic and sometimes a little morbid, but there is one thing that can be said of him. He always laughs at his own humour. Let hon. Members watch him. Hon. Members opposite cannot see him as well as we on these benches can. He so enjoys his samples of wit—or, at least, let us call it that.
The right hon. Gentleman was having some fun at my expense the other day when he said that I wanted to elevate myself to a "third channel". Let me be frank about it. I went to the right hon. Gentleman and I said to him—among several other things, but I will come to the other things in a moment—"I have got as much right to be consulted as anybody on the Opposition Front Bench about Government business, Government intentions and the business of the House. I should not have to wait until the last minute about it." That is the right of every Member here. I do not claim it for myself alone. I said to the right hon. Gentleman, "When you decide to have a discussion through the usual channels it means having a discussion with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but how do I get to know about it?" I have to go to a party meeting to find out, but sometimes I cannot find time. So I went and asked him for information. I wanted to know 83 what the right hon. Gentleman was going to do about this affair.
Now I come to the point that I regard as important. As I have said on many occasions, we ought to have first-class debates in the House, debates of a general character concerned with worldwide problems and domestic problems, as often as we possibly can. How is it to be done?—not in this wishy-washy fashion that was proposed a few weeks ago, of using some Monday for debates which would require notices of Motion and ballots. Hon. Members opposite are as concerned about this matter as I am—I was about to say "we," but I cannot speak for others on these benches; I speak only for myself.
Notices of Motion are put on the Order Paper. There are at present several notices of Motion to which hon. Members opposite have subscribed their names. On Thursday, during questions on business, hon. Members opposite ask the Leader of the House, "Can we have a debate on such and such a subject?" We do likewise. What is the answer? There is never any time for debates suggested by hon. Members opposite. What is the answer to us on these benches? "Ask the Opposition Front Bench about a Supply Day; go through the usual channels." It is not good enough. If this assembly is to be free, if hon. Members are to have complete freedom of expression and if they feel strongly, as all hon. Members do on certain topics, whether it be a matter of war, or peace, or a domestic or parochial problem, and they put on the Order Paper a notice of Motion, an opportunity should be made available for debates on those subjects.
I do not see how we could devote every day of the week to such debates, but we ought to revert to the old custom of having two debates on a Wednesday evening from half-past three to seven o'clock and from seven till 10 o'clock. In the old days we had such debates and they were very useful indeed. Hon. Members had an opportunity of expressing themselves on important topics. Much of our present legislation and our humane administration, and, also, Tory policy, which has undergone a great change in the past twenty-five years, is attributable to those debates 84 that we had on Wednesday evenings nearly every week.
Finally, on this question of Privy Councillors, I entirely agree that nobody should have a privilege beyond any other in this House. Incidentally, I notice that the right hon. Gentleman is paying no attention to me now. He does not think it matters. He prefers to go through the usual channels. He is not interested in this particular channel. Perhaps tomorrow he will read what I have been saying, when, of course, the debate will be over and it will not really matter. I cannot get his attention at all. He obviously does not like what I am saying. This is not the way to treat even an hon. Gentleman, much less a Privy Councillor.
I agree that all hon. Members should have the same rights and privileges in the House. How is it intended to deal with this matter? The right hon. Gentleman gave evidence before the Select Committee. I have a copy of the proceedings here, but I do not have to refer to it; I can keep these things in my head. He said that Privy Councillors must not speak too often. Of course, he was not thinking of Privy Councillors on his side of the House. I ask hon. Members to read the Report of the Select Committee. It is all there.
But when the right hon. Gentleman was asked by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) how he would apply it to the Opposition Front Bench, he said that that should be left to the discretion of Mr. Speaker. That is not the way to treat everybody alike. I am, of course, prepared to accept the discretion of Mr. Speaker. That is for Mr. Speaker to decide. It is a tradition of the House. If it is to be taken to mean that Privy Councillors on the back benches are to be inhibited, but Privy Councillors on the Opposition Front Bench are to be allowed to rise as often as they like, three or four times, perhaps, to ask supplementary questions, then I object.
I object to something else, to a new custom which has developed in the House which was never known years ago. I refer to the way in which some of my hon. Friends find themselves one minute on the back benches and the next minute projected to the Opposition Front Bench, like quick-change artistes. There they sit 85 on the Front Bench, when particular subjects are discussed, and a few minutes later I see them on the back benches, perhaps, asking a Question or making a speech. What right have they to talk about Privy Councillors asking a few questions?
The last person I could object to in this connection is my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who, this evening, sits on the Opposition Front Bench, and who is to speak for the Opposition later. No doubt, he will castigate me, as he castigates others. He has become quite a master at castigating people. I do not mind a bit; if one gives hard knocks, one must accept them. But my hon. Friend sits there, presumably, only by the selection of the Leader of the Opposition, and, after he has finished, he will go and sit in his usual place on the bench below the Gangway. One minute he is speaking or asking questions from that place, and the next minute he is speaking or asking, questions from the Front Bench. What sort of privilege is that?
I wish that somebody would answer the question. It is very difficult to receive satisfactory answers to questions in the House, and that is one of the reasons why a good deal of time is wasted. Hon. Members, according to our common form, get up and say, "Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I will raise the matter on the Adjournment" That takes a great deal of time. Incidentally, there is something else which takes up a lot of time—I beg hon. Members to stop it—namely, the practice of thanking the Minister for an Answer. If we were to count up the number of words used in thanking right hon. Gentlemen for the Answers they have given, just as a matter of courtesy, we should probably find that another half dozen Questions could be asked.
We hear talk about limiting what are called the privileges of Privy Councillors. If it is the expression of a wish to interfere with the so-called traditions of the House and prevent Privy Councillors on the back benches from expressing their opinions, I want to know whether it is to apply also to Privy Councillors on the Front Benches. Of course, I do not deny the obvious right of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, speaking for the Opposition, to state a case. Of course, they must do that, and it is 86 proper that they should. But there are times when three or four of them get up one after another on foreign affairs, for instance, to make pronouncements. We have half a dozen potential finance Ministers on our Front Bench, who get up one after the other with questions which concern the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have been wishing for some time to say these things, and I am saying them now.
Now, perhaps, I had better look at a note I put down. I want to say what I agree with. I agree with the proposal for two starred Questions instead of three. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde on his excellent speech, although I did not agree with everything he said, particularly with what he said about Privy Councillors. One of these days, he may be a Privy Councillor himself, and then he will catch it.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I think that what I said about Privy Councillors was that it was wrong to put the burden on Mr. Speaker. It should be a decision of the House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We cannot have it as a decision of the House. What would the decision be—that a Privy Councillor shall be allowed one Question a day or one supplementary a day, or he should be allowed to speak once a month? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I did not want to give the game away, but my hon. Friends fell for it.
The fact of the matter is that, since the General Election, I have spoken only once in the House. I spoke in the debate on the abolition of the Ministry of Supply and—hon. Members may believe me or not—when I was speaking, there was not one of my hon. Friends present on these benches and the only hon. Member present on the Front Bench was a Whip. I spoke to this great assembly with not a single Member present on this side, and that was the only time I had spoken since the General Election. However, the House need be under no illusion. I shall, I hope, make up for it later.
I agree, as I say, that there should be two starred Questions a day, and I hope that the nature of the Questions will undergo a transformation so that they will be more pointed. I agree, of course, that there ought to be more Questions 87 for Written Answer, provided we receive the Answers expeditiously. There ought to be more general debate, and I beg the Leader of the House to understand that the Motions on the Order Paper are not there merely for ornament. There is a purpose behind them. They may be put down to criticise the Government. What is wrong with that? It is good that the Government should be criticised. Motions may be put down by hon. Members opposite to elucidate the views of the Government on certain important topics.
I entirely agree—who could agree more than I?—that Questions to the Prime Minister should be brought forward a little. Time and again, I have put down Questions to the Prime Minister and deferred them from week to week or even from month to month in the hope that he would be here to reply.
On the question of Bills going upstairs, I have pleaded for a change for a long time, even that the Finance Bill should go upstairs to Committee, or, at any rate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked, that some parts of the Finance Bill should go upstairs. Sometimes—I say this with no disrespect to the legislation itself, some of which is of great importance—we have footling, meandering debates on bits of legislation which, if they were taken upstairs, would have better time and facilities available for them, with the result that the House itself could discuss matters of greater importance. Those are the matters with which I agree.
I am sorry if, in the course of my speech, I have offended anyone, but I have been very much offended in recent months because of criticism which has been made not so much about Privy Councillors in general, but about a Privy Councillor in particular. It so happens that, whenever mention is made of Privy Councillors, everyone looks at me. I am sorry if I have offended anyone. It was not my purpose to do so. I agree with much that the Government have done in this respect. I agree with a great deal more of what my hon. Friends have proposed, particularly with some of the propositions of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. I hope that, as a result of what we are doing, our business will be expedited, 88 there will be more harmony, and there will be more opportunity available for hon. and right hon. Members to express themselves in accordance with their views and their conscience.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
After that typically exuberant speech from the right hon. Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell), I hope that the House will remember what he said about the need for general debates. I speak as one who was honoured by the House in being made a Member of the Select Committee whose Report we are debating. The House will recall that the Select Committee was set up at a time when hon. Members were feeling that there was too much detailed legislation on the Floor of the House and not sufficient time for major debates upon the topics of the day.
Of course, I do not believe that the demand for more debates in the House is properly satisfied by the provision of extra time for debates on Motions to be moved by private Members and chosen by means of a ballot. I believe that the majority of hon. Members want more big debates in Parliament, full-dress affairs in the middle of the week, with Privy Councillors or Ministers in charge of Departments taking part, and with a full attendance. I do not believe that the demand for more debates will be satisfied by the procedure which my right hon. Friend has said will be adopted. I should very much prefer to see more full-day debates on a motion on the Order Paper taken in the middle of the week, the subject having been chosen by the Government after consultation through the usual channels and any other channels of communication.
This debate seems to have centred itself mainly on the subject of Questions. I think it a great pity that we have had such a scrappy debate by having to consider not only the two Parts of the Schedule which the Government have tabled for our consideration but all the Amendments to the Schedule, which cover an immensely wide range of procedural matters. I should have thought that it would have been very much better if we had been able to direct our remarks in short speeches to a particular subject, such as Questions, and then move on to consider something else.
89 I was not certain from the right hon. Gentleman's strictures on his hon. Friends, who were obsessed with the problems of their constituents and at the same time, apparently frustrated, whether he was in favour of a greater measure of self-control on the part of hon. Members, but it is quite obvious that we shall never have more Questions answered during Question Time merely by cutting down the number per Member from three to two. It would only enable more Members to ask more Questions in Question Time, and that is why we on the Select Committee made our recommendation. If more Questions are to be answered there must be a very much greater degree of self-control on the part of hon. Members, if I may say so as a comparative newcomer to this House.
It is not only a matter of not thanking the Minister, or a Member not saying that he proposes to raise a certain matter on the Adjournment, but of using Question Time either to get information or to make a sharp barbed attack on the Minister in charge and not devoting a supplementary question to what should be, judging by its matter, a debating speech. It is because hon. Members do not show any desire, except in the sense of making New Year's resolutions which one knows one will break the next day, to shorten Questions or supplementary questions, and because Ministers show no signs of wishing to make their Answers shorter, that I would strongly support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) that the Prime Minister's Questions should be brought forward.
Last Tuesday, only 41 Questions were answered. If the Prime Minister had been here, he would not have answered a single Question. Last Wednesday, 39 Questions were answered, and the Prime Minister's Questions would not have been reached. On Thursday, there were only three Questions to the Prime Minister, which were answered. Every Minister, except the Prime Minister, each week moves up a place in the list of Ministers who are to answer Questions from the Dispatch Box. Therefore, week after week, as the right hon. Gentleman said, Questions are postponed because the right hon. Member or hon. Member wishes to have the Prime Minister, or my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, 90 who occasionally answers for my right hon. Friend, answer his Question. I should have thought that under modern conditions, 3.15 or Question No. 40 would be an appropriate place for the Prime Minister to answer Questions. I would strongly urge my right hon. Friend to give way in this respect.
I now come to the proposal of 21 days' notice being given for Questions. I suggest that this would be of greater advantage to hon. Members than the present system. Although it is possible to argue that, by tabling a Question for answer in three months' time, a Member draws the attention of the Department to the subject, I think that the present system undoubtedly has the result, as the Report of the Select Committee states, of making certain that the early Questions down to any Minister on any day inevitably are not in the least bit topical, but have either been transferred from previous weeks because they were not reached or are Questions to which an hon. Member particularly wants an answer and therefore put the Question down at a date sufficiently far in advance to make certain the Minister will answer it. I should have thought that this experiment might well be carried out.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that he had changed his mind with regard to Standing Order No. 1. I have changed my mind on paragraph 20 of the Select Committee's Report, which refers to the possibility of granting Members a greater degree of help in the drawing up of legislation and of assistance in drafting Amendments to legislation. The hon. and learned Member said that he was not originally in favour of such assistance being given and I am on record as having voted for such assistance being given. But I should now like to join the hon. and learned Member in his compromise that we might, at any rate, begin by giving assistance to Members who are to promote Bills of their own and then, if this were successful, we could extend it to cover Amendments from the Opposition Front Bench or from back bench Members on Government legislation.
I do not think that the hon. and learned Member was fair in what he said about Standing Order No. 1. I should have thought that the Committee 91 had to bear in mind that the Government Chief Whip of the day very strongly favoured the alterations which it is proposed to make to Standing Order No. 1 and also bore witness to the general irritation which he said was present on this side of the House with regard to the suspension of Standing Order No. 1 at 3.30 in the afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who was then the Government Chief Whip, said at the bottom of column 187 of the minutes of evidence:Personally I would rather have the slight additional difficulty of checking one's flock"—that is, at 3.30—than the irritation it causes amongst them at the moment.It was, therefore, rather unfair of the hon. and learned Member to suggest that no general evidence had been submitted to the Committee about the general desire for the proposed change on Standing Order No. 1. We have at any rate the view of the Government Chief Whip that such a change is greatly desired. The hon. and learned Member went on to say—I am not certain of its acute relevance to anything that had gone before in the cross-examination—It is within the recollection of the House that Geoffrey Byng once counted Sir Andrew Duncan's attendances on divisions, and found the political question in which he was most constantly interested was whether the rule should be suspended. His opinion on this was unanimous, but was constantly the same.Hon. Members who have spoken to me have said that it is a great irritation to have to come here at 3.30 for a division which may not take place. It is known that the Motion will be moved if it is on the Order Paper at ten o'clock whereas before it was moved at 3.30. We know that the Motion will be moved, but hon. Members on this side do not know whether hon. Members opposite will vote against it. Therefore, surely the answer to, I think, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), who said that he would not know whether his evenings would be left free, is that he should ask his whips whether there will be a division.
I support those who have spoken in favour of the proposed alteration to Standing Order No. 9. I know that this is not one of the proposals which the Government have brought forward today, 92 but as we in the Select Committee looked at the way in which the interpretation of Standing Order No. 9 has developed over the centuries it seemed to us that we had reached a stage at which it was almost impossible to have an emergency debate under that Standing Order. It seemed to us obvious that the Government of the day would never wish to have an emergency debate under that Standing Order because no Government wish to have their business interrupted. Similarly, hon. Members, in general, do not like having the business changed. If they come here to speak on one subject they do not like to find another subject under debate.
Against that, we must realise that hon. Members must have a close contact with the general public. It is no use isolating ourselves in an ivory tower in order to deal with legislation set down some time ago to be debated on a given day. If something of vital, urgent, public importance has happened in the world, which hon. Members feel should be debated in the House and considered by the House, then it should be possible for that Motion to be considered.
In particular, as mentioned in paragraph 34 of the Select Committee's Report, we should no longer be hamstrung by being unable under Standing Order No. 9 to consider, for example, something which is not directly within the competence of a Minister in charge of a Department. I would remind the House, as the Report of the Select Committee reminded its readers, of what Mr. Speaker Peel said 12 years after Standing Order No. 9 came into existence. He said:What I think was contemplated was the occurrence of some sudden emergency in home or foreign affairs.That, I think, could be something in which a Minister has a direct responsibility, but equally it might be something like a clash between two nations in some part of the world, when this House might wish to find out from the Government what they were thinking and what action they were taking. If we go back to the days of Suez, I should have thought that a major border clash between Israel and her neighbours might well be considered a subject of urgent public importance in which this House has no direct responsibility, at the moment, although this country might ultimately be involved in 93 a way which would affect nearly every one of her citizens if events took an unhappy turn.
I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, to look again at paragraph 34 of the Report to see whether the Government cannot come some way to meet us in this respect. The Government will remember what was certainly in the minds of members of the Select Committee—that the people who form the Government today may tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, form the Opposition. We must therefore so frame our rules that the freedoms which we will want to claim when in opposition are not freedoms which we have denied ourselves when in power.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)
In a debate on a subject as complex as the procedure of the House it is tempting, as many hon. Members have found, to range over a great number of topics. I do not propose to do that but briefly to refer to two matters in which I am particularly interested.
Since I launched the House, as it were, upon a reconsideration of its procedure two years ago, I have had many discussions with hon. Members on various points and have had the opportunity to serve on the Select Committee. The only point upon which hon. Members have been unanimous is that speeches in the House ought to be much shorter, although it has usually transpired that they are referring to speeches other than their own. I am sure that I shall keep within that desire this evening because I wish to make only two points. The first is my regret that the Select Committee did not accept the advice which some of us gave to it that the House might begin an experiment with morning Sittings. The second is the vexed question of Privy Councillors.
When I moved two years ago that a Select Committee should be set up, I made the point that most of our procedural disputes in the House are linked with the question of time and the tremendous competition which exists from all sides of the House and all points of view for the time which is available for debate. I then said that the only solution was to consider using more time of the day and for the House to have a certain number of its sittings during 94 the mornings. The competition to which I have referred is not only among the matters which have been mentioned by the Leader of the House this afternoon—competition between legislation and general debate—but also among all sorts of subjects, for example, Scottish business, Welsh business, Questions, Royal Commission Reports which are not debated, the Reports of the Select Committee on Estimates which are not debated and, in particular, matters to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) have referred—matters of urgent topical interest on which hon. Members put down Motions on the Order Paper but on which the House never enters into a debate. Thursday after Thursday, when the business for the following week is announced, hon. Members urge that Motions which they have put on the Order Paper ought to be debated. It has been my experience since I have been a Member that those Motions are very rarely debated.
§ Mr. Tiley
I follow the point which the hon. Member is making, but it is fair to say that there is an opportunity on Fridays, with Private Members' Motions, for these interesting topics to be debated. Many hon. Members sign these Motions—I will not pursue whether we do so only for publicity or not—but when we do so none of us dreams of taking these subjects as Private Members' Motions on Fridays. It is not fair to ignore that point.
§ Mr. Oram
I agree that there is an opportunity, but it is all too rare. I am glad that one of the outcomes of this exercise has been that there are to be a few more such opportunities of putting forward for debate such topical subjects.
While we were taking evidence in the Select Committee, and during our discussions, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and myself played almost a little game between ourselves. Every problem which arose, and which was agreed to be very difficult, we put on a list as being one which could either be solved, or partly solved, if we had one or two morning sittings. For instance, there was the suggestion that there should be a Welsh Committee, the suggestion that minor Colonies very rarely had their affairs 95 debated in the House and the suggestion that some Royal Commission Reports were never debated. These points were raised in the Committee's discussions, and everyone agreed that it was very difficult to find time for these debates. I suggest that this is the sort of debate which could very well be held during an experimental Wednesday morning sitting, with possibly an extension to Tuesday or Monday morning after we had seen how the Wednesday experiment worked out.
The majority of the Select Committee turned this suggestion down, but I would make this further point, that the whole Committee brought forward as its main recommendation that we should save time in the Chamber by sending the Finance Bill upstairs to Committee and that we might hope by that means to provide a number of days when those general subjects could be debated. Since the Government are not accepting that recommendation, one of our main suggestions for finding time in the existing time table for general debates has been pushed aside, because the Government are not taking up that idea. It therefore seems to me to be all the more important that an Amendment put down on this question of morning sittings should be acceptable to the House.
I would urge the House to note what we have proposed about the nature of those morning sittings. We all recognise all the difficulties about senior Ministers in finding it convenient to be in the House. We recognise also that there is need for hon. Members who have outside interests, and that the morning is not, perhaps, the most convenient time for that type of Member to come along here; but we met that point, those of us who put forward the suggestion about morning sittings, when we described the sort of debate that should take place on Wednesday mornings. I refer to page xiv of the Select Committee's Report.
There would be private Member's debates, debates on Prayers which are for the purpose of getting explanations about Government intentions. The other point we make is that there would not be Divisions or Counts during those sittings.
An objection was raised that we are thereby making them into second-class 96 business. That may be so, but it would be second-class business of considerable significance, and we could and should get debates of the general kind on important topics which would relieve the frustration, which has been described, of Members.
I come to my last point about the Privy Councillors, since my name is attached to one of the Amendments dealing with this matter. I personally welcome the language which the Leader of the House used today on this topic. I agree with him that it is not desirable that such a subject should cause a Division of the House and that it would be better if we could get some other solution. However, I recall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) reminded the House, that your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, more than once hinted to the House that he would expect or at least would welcome an expression by the House on this point. He considered himself to be bound by precedent, by the practice of the House, and on several occasions, I recall, said that the only way in which he could be released from that obligation was by the passing of a Motion by this House.
That may not be absolutely the case, and I hope that the suggestion which the Leader of the House has put forward, that through consultations with yourself this matter can be properly settled, may be an alternative. I must say, however, that at this moment I am a little uneasy as to what is the proper way of proceeding.
We have had no statement from you, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure that there is an opportunity for it today, but I should like to know that the spirit of the words of the Leader of the House on this matter is your own I am not sure whether this is a convenient opportunity for you to give guidance to the House on this matter, but I very much hope that by one means or another the recommendation of the Select Committee on this point may be brought about. It was that there should be no privilege for Privy Councillors at Question Time, and secondly that the House recognises that in debates, since Privy Councillors have a special amount of experience, it would be natural for the House to want to take advantage of it, and that, therefore, there should be a disposition, so to speak, by Mr. Speaker to choose Privy 97 Councillors when they offer themselves for choice, but that that should not be automatic and not a binding rule of the House.
One hopes, as I say, that either by the acceptance of the Amendment in my name, or by some other less rigid formula, that degree of satisfaction may be afforded to the whole House.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give us your guidance now as to the course which the debate will take? There are many of us who have tabled, or wish to support, Amendments, but we do not want to speak twice if that is not necessary. I gathered earlier that we would have a general discussion. I have since been told unofficially that you will be calling Amendments separately, and that we shall, therefore, have separate discussions upon them. Would you tell us whether the general debate will continue till its natural conclusion, or whether it is to be artificially terminated at some time?
May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on an important Amendment which stands in my name, in line I after "1959", to insert:would welcome arrangements for the setting up of a colonial standing committee with composition, procedure and powers on the lines set forth in the penultimate paragraph of page 1 of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Select Committee, andIt was discussed for two and a half days in the Select Committee and was the subject of lengthy evidence. I have just been told it has not been selected because, I gather, it is not supported by the Opposition. This was one of the subjects, as my colleagues who were on the Select Committee will say, which was discussed for a long time, and which was defeated by eight votes to six. I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, although there may have been a misunderstanding, that it may hardly be possible to say that an Amendment considering a question of such importance, on which long testimony was given, on which there was a great deal of debate, and on which at that stage of the proceedings my political colleagues were unanimous, has not been selected for that reason. I am told 98 that there has been some thought since that I have altered my mind in my absence.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Further to my hon. Friend's point of order. If I may, Mr. Speaker, I would assure my hon. Friend that there has been no selection of any sort by the Opposition, that, so far as I know, no views whatever have been formed or expressed about this Amendment, and that when I was speaking earlier in the debate I said that I hoped that my hon. Friends would move their own Amendments, and that I left it at that.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that I can save time. I hope so, because we are short of it.
With regard to the second part of the hon. Member's point of order, the position is not quite as he stated it. I did not propose to select that Amendment of his, that being directed to a Colonial Standing Committee, but I did propose to select his later Amendment, at the end of the Government Motion, in line 102, to add,Select Committee on Colonial Affairs'That a Select Committee be appointed to examine and report on any matter relating to the Colonies referred to them by this House or brought to the notice of the Committee by the Secretary of State for the Colonies'".which relates in terms to a Select Committee in that context, and to invite the House, in discussing the hon. Member's second Amendment, to discuss the considerations which would apply to his first Amendment.
§ Mr. Hale
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker. That is what I have been told. But the point I would submit for your guidance is this, that the only question which was discussed by the Select Committee for two years was a Standing Committee. It did not consider the question of a Select Committee, which, after all, can be appointed only by the Government. It is not of much use having a Committee to criticise which can be appointed only on a Motion of the Government. In these circumstances, I 99 think that there has been a misunderstanding about this matter, because what is happening is that we are refusing to select for discussion the whole question which was discussed by the Select Committee for many months and are selecting for discussion a question which was never put to the Select Committee at all, and of which, so far as I know, no one at any time was ever in favour.
§ Mr. Speaker
The selection of one of the Amendments was for the purpose of meeting the general wish of the House, but I would not think it right to select both of them, because they are so near together. Although it is not usual to give reasons on these occasions, I would explain that whereas the first Amendment is predicatory in form, the second was peremptory in form. That seemed to be sufficient ground for the distinction to be properly made, in the context of the Chair's authority. The wish of the House is what matters, and we could reverse the process and select the hon. Member's first Amendment and permit the discussion of the second one with it.
§ Mr. Speaker
That was the second part of the hon. Member's point of order. The first part was about the form of the debate. The general discussion will be, to adopt the hon. Gentleman's words, "artificially concluded" at the moment when I call the first specific Amendment and in that matter I wish only to meet the wish of hon. Members of the House. At the moment, I would rather not express a view about it because, obviously, it must depend on how we get on. How much time remains for the discussion of specific Amendments, although we are exempted from the Standing Order, will in some degree, I suppose, depend on how quickly we can get on with the general discussion now in progress.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I want to make only one point. I think that the House will agree, in view of the 100 nature of that point, that it would be singularly becoming of me if I made it briefly, because my point is to commend the virtue of the brief speech and to advocate, in particular, the recommendation of the Select Committee, on page xvi, paragraph 27:That an hour be set aside, at the discretion of the Chair, for brief speeches on the occasion of major debates;"—I emphasise the words "major debates". It says that during this hour a Count should not be permissible—although I think that there would be a certain virtue in still having counts at that time—and that hon. Members should not intervene during such speeches; although I should like to add the rider that it would be a point of courtesy that hon. Members should not at such times make up speeches, however brief, which are calculated to provoke interventions.
The recommendation further states:That five minutes be regarded as the limit for a brief speech on these occasions;I here interpolate my view that the value of a five-minute speech is nugatory as compared with that of the ten-minute speech, which, I think, is more than twice as useful.
And the recommendation further states:That the Speaker or Chairman make an announcement at the beginning of the debate when they propose to put this practice into operation".I agree with the recommendation of the Select Committee that this cannot be best done by formal order or formal amendment of procedure. I think it is something which should be left to the common sense and good will of the House as a whole and of hon. Members individually.
I think that the procedure which would probably commend itself to hon. Members would be that they should write to you, Mr. Speaker, in anticipation of a debate, notifying their intention that if they chanced to catch your eye it would be only a brief contribution that they would make. Then you, Mr. Speaker, would know how many hon. Members would wish to avail themselves of this procedure on a particular occasion, and whether on that day there was a demand for the ten-minute hour.
It may be argued that ten minutes is too short a time to make it worth while 101 for an hon. Member to have the Floor. As I have said, I think that that argument might apply to five-minute speeches, but I do not think that ten minutes is an impossibly short time. Any hon. Member who has disciplined himself to move for leave to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule knows how much can be put into a ten minutes' speech. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have the Adjournment know that fifteen minutes allows us to say all we want to say, if we have taken trouble to prepare our speeches beforehand. So I think that the time limit should not be an impossible obstacle to hon. Members.
This recommendation, if adopted, would have the special value that it would improve debate in major debates. In the first place, it would encourage attendance in the Chamber. I think hon. Members recognise that if one sees at the outset of the debate that one is unlikely to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, one is tempted to feel that one would be better occupied in attending to other duties outside the Chamber. One knows one will be able to read the contributions of all hon. Members to the debate more quickly and possibly more profitably in HANSARD later. I suggest, too, that this rule would encourage shorter speeches generally, because I think that hon. Members in their hearts will realise that when they become accustomed to not being called because other hon. Members are in the habit of making such very long speeches, then, when they do get called, they feel tempted to take their pound of flesh. And, again, I think that the rule would improve debate by virtue of the fact that it would enable the House to hear a greater variety of views.
I submit that anything that improves the quality of debate is of the utmost importance to the House. This House is a debating chamber—after all, it is because it is a debating chamber that it has this peculiar shape, size and construction that we have seen fit to preserve for ourselves for over 500 years. It is not a forum for making speeches; it is a debating chamber. So far as this recommendation of the Select Committee tends to keep the House as a debating chamber, I think that it will be of real value in maintaining our Parliamentary tradition. I therefore hope that 102 my right hon. Friend will join with the hon. Gentleman opposite who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition and urge this recommendation of the Select Committee upon your very sympathetic consideration, Mr. Speaker.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
I join the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) in asking the House to give very serious consideration to the recommendation that there should be a one hour period not of five-minute speeches, but of ten-minute speeches. This would give the Parliamentary proletariat a little more opportunity of getting in on some debates and might even make the proceedings a little livelier.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North has put his case so well that I should like to speak to the Amendment in the name of myself and some of my hon. Friends concerning the provision of drafting assistance. I want to make the rest of my plea for ten-minute speeches by example rather than by eloquence.
I support the Amendment because when I first came to the House there were two things which struck me very forcibly. The first was a very deep and serious feeling of real despair at the sight of a Conservative Government at close quarters in action, and the second arose when I was faced within a few days with the lob of drafting a Private Member's Bill. I was invited to partake in the Ballot, and I allowed my name to go forward. When I arrived one morning, and was congratulated by six different people separately, I realised that something had happened and I then discovered that I had drawn a place in the Ballot for Private Member's Bills.
I gave this a great deal of thought and decided to try to introduce the Offices Bill to implement the findings of the Gowers Committee in 1949. Having led a decent, innocent life, without any legal training at all, I then went to the office upstairs to ask what assistance I would get in the way of drafting. I was told, "None at all". Here in the Mother of Parliaments, I proceeded to sit in the Library until late at night, with no legal experience whatsoever, which is perhaps one of the reasons why many people have been able to understand what the Bill was all about, and attempted to 103 draft a very sketchy piece of Parliamentary legislation. This is an extraordinary way of introducing legislation, which in this case was designed to affect between 5 million and 6 million people.
The Bill was drafted by me, and right up to the time when you rose on the morning of the debate, Mr. Speaker, I was terrified that you would get up and make your opening remarks in the direction that this was not a Bill at all. What I should have done in those circumstances I am still not really sure. By process of good Socialist planning we were able to obtain a Second Reading, but still, after all this time, no lawyer has looked at a piece of legislation, discussed by the House, and which is likely to affect between 5 million and 6 million citizens. I do not think that any person can conceive that this is a right, proper or sensible way of dealing with things. If the public outside knew—as I certainly did not know—the way in which legislation is prepared on these occasions, they would be rightly horrified and more convinced than ever that they do not get their money's worth.
If provision is to be made by the House for private Members to introduce legislation, it is only common sense that the House should take every step within its power to ensure that it is good legislation. There is no sense at all in permitting the introduction of legislation and withholding from the private Member the means of introducing reasonable and legally watertight legislation. I would suggest that in this age of sputniks and space travel amateur legislation is as outdated and outmoded as the hansom cab.
The best argument in favour of drafting assistance for all things—Amendments and Bills—is this debate, because when the Clerk of the House realised what was likely to happen to Standing Orders if hon. Members were let loose on them the word was passed round that we would have official assistance in drafting Amendments to the Orders.
This is a non-party issue and I hope that the House will give real consideration to it. I hope that this suggestion will be applied to matters other than Bills, for it is necessary in a democracy for all hon. Members to be able to meet the Executive on equal terms.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Sir William Robson Brown (Esher)
I take your warning about time very much to heart, Mr. Speaker. This is a debate of the whole House. There is no question of party background to it, and that is why I can so strongly endorse the speech of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh). The points which he made about assistance on Private Members' Bills apply equally to both sides of the House. Obviously, back-bench Members on this side will support him. I presume that the Government listen to their back benchers and, therefore, eventually the hon. Member will get what he wants.
I entirely agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and the hon. Member for Greenwich about time being allocated in debate for ten-minute speeches. I believe that such an arrangement would reinforce, refresh and strengthen debates. I see no reason why we could not allocate in great and certainly in vital debates one and a half hours or an hour, say from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., for ten-minute speeches. The arrangement would be known beforehand and the House would be full. People would come in the hope that they could take part and to hear short, pithy, telling speeches. We have had two long-drawn-out affairs today which made no contribution to the debate. It might be that if this suggested arrangement were made younger Members could show the older Members how to behave.
I hope that as a result of the debate the Government will think again about an arrangement for ten-minute speeches. I have two points to make and I must travel quickly myself if I am to make them within the ten minutes that I have allocated myself. The first is that, instead of having private Members' time allocated in sandwich fashion between Mondays and Wednesdays, Monday should be the day. It would be greatly convenient to hon. Members. It would be well-known and recognised as private Members' day for private Members' business.
My second suggestion is a startling, but, I hope, acceptable one, once people think about it. It is that we should have registered pairs for each hon. Member twice a month. It would give trade 105 union members a chance to attend to trade union business, and it would do no harm to hon. Members on this side of the House to attend to their business as well. One of the handicaps in the House today is that there are not enough men who can afford time from trade union and other affairs to be also Members of the House of Commons. Democracy is only as strong as the representatives it sends to Parliament. Democracy is a mockery if one only says, "One man, one vote." It must be "One man, one vote, sending the best men and women to the House."
It is our duty, in this second half of the twentieth century, not to allow tradition to stand in the way and to accept modifications, not for the easement or the convenience of hon. Members but so that they can live a sensible life, can have some home life, can do something outside Parliament, and, at the same time, serve Parliament as well.
These are factors which we should consider. I recommend such a modest qualification as this. An arrangement should be made whereby each of us on two days of the month, instead of having to do that horrible business of pairing, can tell Government officials beforehand that we do not propose to be present, but that we wish to support whatever it is we want to support, and tell the officials what our votes will be on that day. Such an arrangement would give hon. Members a freedom of action which they have never had before, and that would be well worth while.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
A great many people in the course of the debate have been changing their minds. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) seems to have changed his mind to the extent that he is repudiating the second Amendment in his name which I had hoped to support. I felt that the suggestion that there should be five-minute or ten-minute speeches during a specified time in a debate was a good one, but I am beginning to change my mind because, unlike earlier speakers, I think that it might very well damage debate and not assist it. If we are to have a lively debate it must take shape as it goes along and people must answer each other as points in the debate are made.
106 The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) said people could prepare and compress their speeches before coming to the House, and that is what I am afraid people would do. They would then come in at a certain hour in the evening, not having listened to the debate, and speak about constituency points or the particular bees buzzing in their own bonnets.
§ Mr. Iremonger
What particularly exercised my mind was that the opportunity should be given not for that kind of speech but for more hon. Members to intervene in debates of major importance.
§ Mr. Grimond
I appreciate and share the hon. Member's good intention, but whether that would happen is much more doubtful. I am afraid that, for instance, before a debate on foreign affairs an hon. Member might say to himself, I want to make one point and I do not care whether by that time the debate has taken an unforeseen course. If by six o'clock the debate is on the Middle East and I want to make a point on the Seychelles at seven o'clock, I shall make it."
One point which is apt to be overlooked in this debate is that the House has not only to do a good job, but must be seen by the public to do a good job. I am doubtful whether the present proposals for reform go nearly far enough. I do not blame the Committee for this, because obviously its terms of reference were limited, but, as one hon. Gentleman opposite said, it is extremely important that matters which appear of moment to the public should be debated in this House, and debated freely and debated when they are "hot" news. We are too complacent about this House.
Further, the traditional rôle of the House of Commons, and one of its most important rôles today, is to maintain criticism of the Executive. I do not necessarily mean that it is always hostile criticism but we should keep the Executive under continual pressure. The scope of the Executive is growing all the time, and we are falling down on the job because as Members of Parliament we are not qualified to do it, and we have not got the necessary machinery behind us to do it.
I regret that we are not to have the experiment of one Committee of the type 107 suggested by the hon. Member for Oldham, West in his Amendment in order to keep us in touch with colonial affairs. If we tried that system we might find that it could be usefully extended to the consideration of Government expenditure and to supervision of the nationalised industries. Further on the subject of Government expenditure, I wholly share the views of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) that we must debate the Reports of the Select Committees and also of the Royal Commissions, and I hope his point will be noted by the Government.
I am afraid that in the new situation in which we require many more weapons in the hands of back benchers to enable them to criticise the Government, backed by its powerful machine of the Civil Service, I do not entirely share the view that a valuable part will be played in this House by enthusiastic amateurs. By that I mean people who are really engaged in making a living at the Bar or elsewhere. I know that there is an occasional debate when it is desirable to have here people who can speak from great experience of other walks of life but the business of the House as a whole must be carried on by people who can give the bulk of their time to it.
So to alter our rules in order that people can do other jobs and come here occasionally is not the most important point we have to consider. It is more important that the people who can come here should make better use of the time they spend here. It has been suggested that one thing private Members want is more time to speak in general debates. It has also been suggested that they want things so arranged that they have more time out of the Chamber. I suggest that there is a certain contradiction in the views put forward by back benchers on these matters. I suspect that it would be helpful to know how many Members ballot for Motions and how many are frustrated in every debate. I believe there are quite a lot who are, but I want to emphasise that we cannot have it both ways. If we want the House to do a better job in supervising the Estimates, in considering the nationalised industries, and in considering the Colonies which are never discussed, it will mean more work, not less, and a lot of it 108 must be rather detailed, boring work without much public appeal.
As to the great public occasions when the House as a whole debates these matters, could we not make much more use of the Motions put on the Order Paper, sometimes signed by many Members but seldom debated? I understand that in the last century a common way of raising matters in the House was to put down Resolutions which were debated, and as a result of these debates there would be legislation or other action would be taken. This would give a useful opportunity to private Members to make their point of view known and to get action taken on it by the Government.
Turning to the proposals before the House and the Amendments, I am in favour of the proposal that if the rule is to be suspended it should be done at 10 o'clock at night. I cannot see the advantage of bringing people here at 3.30. My only proviso is that I hope this will not make the Government more prone to put down Motions for suspending the rule. The mere fact that people will not object so much when this is done might encourage the Government to say, "We might want to suspend the rule tonight. We will put down our Motion, although we may not move it, and no harm will be done". In my opinion, the House of Commons should normally be able to finish its business by 11 o'clock at night. I do not believe that late sittings or all-night sittings are useful, and I believe that the public are amazed to hear sometimes that we have sat throughout the night.
Then there is the small point about giving notice of the business to be taken. I welcome the fact that we now know the business for an extra Monday ahead, but I ask the Government to extend that still further, if possible. This may not always be convenient, and must be subject to alteration, but people outside the House think us slightly insane when we say that we cannot tell them whether we can do something the week after next because nobody has the slightest idea what the House of Commons will be doing.
I much regret that the suggestion of special Committees was rejected in the Select Committee and will not be tried as an experiment. I understand that we must not derogate from the ultimate 109 responsibility of the Minister, but there was no intention of doing that. The intention was that a group of people interested in a subject could keep continual tabs on it. From my short experience in the House it seems to me that when a subject comes up here it raises immense excitement and then is forgotten, since no one maintains day-to-day examination of what is happening after the excitement has died down.
I do not mind particularly whether we are allowed to have two Questions or three, and I agree that Questions to the Prime Minister should be put forward. Here I have a slight misgiving, that all this tends to increase the preeminence of the Prime Minister. The fact is that a lot of Questions about defence and foreign policy should naturally go to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence, whereas they are now tending to be put to the Prime Minister, who is establishing a new position even within the Cabinet. I noticed that before the war this custom of addressing seven or eight Questions to the Prime Minister seldom, if ever, arose, and it was uncommon to have more than two Questions put to him.
As to Standing Order No. 9, many of the most useful debates I have listened to here have arisen under that Order. Unlike some hon. Members, I believe that some of the most useful work in this House is done when it is slightly out of order. One of the great blessings of Parliament is that it can get slightly out of order, thanks to Mr. Speaker's tolerant mind, and much useful discussion takes place on the borderline of order. I would welcome an adjustment of the rule that we cannot discuss legislation on the Adjournment. This is a comparatively new rule, dating from about 1899, and it is not really a Magna Carta principle of British life.
Lastly, one word on the difficult subject of Privy Councillors. Although I say it to my shame, I do not groan under Privy Councillors as much as most people here. On the contrary, I believe that if a poll were taken we would find that, taken as a group, they are no more boring than non-Privy Councillors. Furthermore, I am in favour of having debates. What kills debate in this House is not the presence of Privy Councillors 110 but the old rule that it is Buggins's turn now, and if Buggins wants to talk about something different from what went before, he gets up and does so.
For example, on occasions when we are debating economic policy, the right person to call after the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft). Sometimes there are real differences in the House, and those are the differences we want brought out in debate even if they internally divide parties. Therefore, whilst I am in favour of some relaxation of the rule that Privy Councillors should always be called, that is distracting us from what we really want to achieve, namely, that when the House is debating important subjects it should be able to call upon people who know something about the subject under discussion, and some of those, oddly enough, will from time to time be Privy Councillors.
Subject to those remarks, I think that these minor reforms may be useful, but they will not make the House of Commons entirely satisfactory either in its own eyes or in the eyes of the public.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
This evening I find myself called rather earlier than is my usual good fortune, Sir, and I am particularly fortunate to be called after the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I find myself in some agreement with his doubts as to whether it would be a good thing to introduce the practice of an hour or an hour and a half of ten-minute speeches. I think that it was Mr. Gladstone who, when asked how long it took him to prepare a speech, replied, "If I am to talk for two hours, I can prepare the speech in a quarter of an hour; if for thirty minutes, then it takes an hour or two; but if I am to speak for ten minutes, then it takes all day." It is true that if we had an hour of ten-minute speeches, we might hear some very good and well prepared ten-minute speeches, but after the first few times, those speeches would only come if Members knew that they were to be called.
One of the things which kills debate is the fact that Members do not know if they are to be called. After coming many times with a carefully prepared speech in the pocket, and going away with a rather thinner trouser seat than 111 when one came, and still with the speech in the pocket, a Member tends to skimp his homework; his speeches are not so carefully prepared so that often he has only a vague idea of the outline of his speech. The result is that speeches are longer, because one of the most difficult things about making a speech is knowing when to sit down.
If a Member has not prepared the speech carefully, he cannot get to his conclusion and the speech goes on from climax to climax and eventually, after three or four climaxes, he finds some way to sit down. I suggest that the Leader of the House examine the method used in another place where noble Lords are able to tell if they are to take part in the debate, and even roughly at what time. I realise that might mean that the House might be filled only with those people who were to make speeches, one or two Members after the speaker on his feet, but at the moment one often finds that the only people in the Chamber are those who think that they might be called, and they might number only a dozen or so.
I do not think that we should have thin attendances any more than we do already. We had an example quoted in this debate by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who pointed out that while he was making his speech, to which one would have thought that everyone would wish to listen, there were only two people on his benches, although, no doubt, there were very full benches on this side of the House. We should examine the possibility of being able to tell hon. Members whether they will be called or not. That would encourage all of us to prepare our speeches much more carefully and make better contributions than has hitherto been the case.
I want now to turn to one or two things which I find particularly interesting. The first is the question of proxy voting. I was interested to hear the reference made to that by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown), who suggested that we should have two proxy votes per month, which could be selected and which could enable hon. Members to make definite appointments for at least two days in the month, knowing that they would be able 112 to keep them. There is a lot to be said for that idea and I hope that it will be pursued. Alternatively, there is the suggestion, supported by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, that the business of the House should be known further ahead than is now the case, so that one would know the business two or three weeks ahead. Members would not then so often have the terrible difficulty of telling people that they did not know whether or not an appointment could be made for the next week, and would not know until business was announced on Thursday.
Returning to the subject of time limits for speeches; instead of having an hour or an hour and a half of, say, ten-minute speeches, we might consider having a time limit on speeches for a whole debate. In this debate we have had eleven speeches since just after 3.30 p.m., an average of a little less than 20 minutes per speaker, excluding the Front Bench speakers who have opened and who will close.
I should have thought that it would be possible to have a debate in which speeches were limited to, say, 15 minutes. That would enable 20 or 22 back benchers to get in and there would be no hardship in being limited to 15 minutes in a complete debate. That would be better than breaking up the flow of debate by artificially imposing a period of short, sharp speeches. Once hon. Members knew that they had reasonable time in which to make their speeches, I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker would rarely be called upon to intervene because of people over-running their time. He might have to do so if we applied the same limit to Front Bench speakers, probably on several occasions, but with ordinary back benchers he would not have to do so very often. I hope that the Leader of the House will think about that.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has raised the interesting subject of the timing of Questions to the Prime Minister. I suggest that instead of fixing the hour at which the Prime Minister's Questions should be taken, their number should be brought forward. The hon. Member spoke of the late Mr. Balfour's compromise of bringing the Prime Minister's Questions from No. 50 to No. 45. I 113 suggest that if they were brought forward from No. 45 to No. 40, there would be very few occasions when they were not reached. That suggestion might be acceptable to the Leader of the House.
I want finally to deal with one of the problems which affect back benchers more than anything else. Can we not study further ways and means by which back benchers can be enabled to make substantial and constructive contributions to the work of the House? One of the main problems of most back benchers is the fact that after afternoon Committees have finished and they have dealt with one or two little jobs in the House which they may have, it is difficult for them to fill in their time in the House effectively, because this is not an easy place in which to work. The former Mr. Herbert Morrison, now Lord Morrison, pointed out that this is a very disquieting and unrestful place in which to work and a place in which it is difficult to concentrate. Many of us often feel a sense of frustration about our ability to make a larger contribution to the work of the House as a whole.
Should there not be possibilities for back benchers to work in more Select Committees and commissions of one kind or another? To show the lines on which my mind is working, there is one suggestion that I have to make. There is a Select Committee dealing with the work of the nationalised industries. It is a very important and responsible Committee undertaking arduous work. It has to examine the accounts of the various nationalised industries. The accounts of any one nationalised industry would take a great deal of examining by one Committee. I suggest, therefore, as a start, that such a Committee could be divided into two parts, one Select Committee to deal with transport, for example, and another to deal with fuel and power. Thus there would at once be another Committee on which some hon. Members would feel that they could make a useful contribution. There may be other Committees of that kind. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has suggested a Select Committee or Standing Committee for colonial affairs. I should not like to comment on that, but if the idea is accepted it would give some hon. Members an opportunity to make a more useful contribution to the work of the House.
114 If we were able to give back benchers more useful and interesting work, we should have a more contented House, and, what may appeal to the Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition, we would have a House which was not getting up to mischief. Nothing is more conducive to plotting and arranging little operations, against either the Opposition or the Government—or even against one's own side—than having a lot of time on one's hands and feeling frustrated, irritated and embittered. Members get into the Smoking Room or the Tea Room, have a chat with colleagues and out of that come little operations to embarrass the Chief Whip or the Leader of the Opposition. The more we are kept occupied, the less likely that is to happen, and if no other argument will convince the Leader of the House, perhaps that will.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I enjoyed the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), when he suggested that the reorganisation of the House on more of a municipal basis would keep Members out of mischief. I did not know how he spent his time, but when I read the Parliamentary correspondents in the Sunday Press forecasting trouble I shall know that not enough constituents have written to the hon. Member and that he has had too much time on his hands.
This is a debate about the detail of our procedure, but I hope that we shall not forget that we are discussing the working and rôle and survival of Parliament itself, because the House is a machine which converts energy by talk into political action. If people ever fail to look to Parliament to solve their grievances and to give them their just demands, Parliament will become irrelevant and the Parliamentary system will perish.
When one looks at the world today, one can see that the idea of government by consent and discussion is very much out of favour. In between having people fire at him in Havana. Mr. Mikoyan has been reported to have said that 1,000 million of the world's population now live in Communist societies which do not believe in government by consent. When one looks at the free world, at General de Gaulle in France, where Parliament 115 has now shrivelled into less than a rubber stamp, at Spain, at Portugal and South Africa, one realises that the whole idea of involving everybody in government is declining and not strengthening.
What we are discussing today is the essential nature of our system of Government, and the importance of procedure is exactly that, that Parliament and Parliamentary government is nothing more or less than the procedure for settling disputes in our community. It is vital that this procedure and this machinery should work.
My own feeling is that we are moving into a new period of government, even in this country. The struggle of the back bencher against the Executive is a struggle that in one sense has already been lost. The idea that one could somehow govern the country by Parliament and that we ought to get back to this seems to me absolute rubbish. I do not believe that the House could ever be a Government of the United Kingdom and I believe that all the proposals for more votes and less party discipline, in so far as they are intended to take us to a municipal idea of government, are absolutely meaningless.
I want strong government in this country because I believe that in the world today a strong government is necessary if a society is to do justice to its future. The argument in politics is not between Left and Right, between Government and Opposition, but between today and tomorrow. People want today what the interest of the community is centred on tomorrow. Unless the Government are strong enough we will never be able to put forward the interests of tomorrow against the demands of today. I want a strong Government in this country, but it must be a Government that is constantly supervised, a Government that is capable of being removed.
I look now, and I think other hon. Members do, too, at this problem to see how one can combine strong government with an effective Parliament. I think that many hon. Members have changed their minds. I know I have, because I feel that the work of legislation, to which the Leader of the House referred, is now less important in the House than it used to be. I remember on one occasion 116 hearing an hon. Member getting up and saying, rather pathetically, "Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker", and he was ruled out because there was not time to continue. The time for voting had come, and we were voting £50 million. He said afterwards, "We have just voted £50 million without a discussion". We are all used to that. It does not matter if the £50 million is something that we think ought to be spent in a better way.
What we have to do in this place is to do what has to be done expeditiously to give the Government their business and to have time to check those parts of their policy which seem to require close examination. This is not an argument about whether one discusses details or has general debates, because very often general debates are about detailed questions. When we have a general debate it very often arises on a small point which the House suddenly feels requires close examination.
My inclination would be to give much more power to the Government of the day to get their legislation through and so give us more time to discuss the things that currently seem to us to be important. Of course, we can always get rid of the Government of the day. We do not have to find occasions to remove the Government. If the House of Commons ever wants to get rid of the Government it can be done within a short time.
My inclination would be to come back more to the proposals made by the learned Clerk, in his Memorandum which came to the Committee, and which, I think, on reflection, did not receive the attention they should have done. He boldly put forward a plan which recognised the right of the Government to legislate more expeditiously and limited the powers of the House in legislation, intending thus to recognise the fact that the Civil Service was best qualified to provide the details of the legislation and that the House ought to hold itself in reserve for the moment when it felt it necessary to act on behalf of the public.
This procedure has evolved slowly. We cannot do everything at once, but if we could give up this futile battle between back benchers and Government Front Benchers we should be free to do 117 what is much more important, which is to find the time to discuss the things that we think are relevant from day to day. That is why I support the Opposition group of Amendments on the Order Paper tonight.
The second Opposition Amendment relates to Standing Order No. 9. Nobody could accuse me of sour grapes. I have succeeded in invoking Standing Order No. 9 once, but I have failed to do so on many occasions. If 40 hon. Members rise to support it, it gives them an opportunity suddenly to pounce on situations which arise unexpectedly and to demand an immediate debate. The Committee considered this at great length. It went over precedents. It considered the restrictive character of successive Rulings by Mr. Speaker which have led to the virtual shrinking of Standing Order No. 9 until it has become rarer than winning a Premium Bond prize. The Committee said that we ought to go back to Mr. Speaker Peel's Ruling that it was to deal with a sudden emergency. That is very important if Parliament is to do its job.
Another of our Amendments proposes morning sittings. We have often discussed this at great length. We did not succeed in converting hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to our view, but I would like to recapitulate the case for morning sittings. In some ways the House is handicapped by its power. We are a sovereign body and we can do what we like. Because we are so powerful we are very often inhibited because the Government are terrified that if that power is allowed to get out of control their own authority will be threatened. If we can somehow isolate the power from the debate and have more debates in which hon. Members from both sides can speak freely without appearing to threaten the basis of strength on which the Government rests, the House could perform a useful function.
The case for morning sittings is exactly this, that meeting in the morning, free from the fear of a Division, the House could turn its mind to the formulation of public opinion on current matters, some general, some specific, some of them constituency points, and some of them questions of wide principle and importance. If we could break through this pattern we could contribute more to 118 the formulation of opinion in the country.
A third Opposition proposal is for a Colonial Standing Committee. I had anxieties and doubts about the Colonial Standing Committee when it was proposed by my hon. Friend. I felt that it would be better if these debates took place in the morning, and that they should take place under Standing Order No. 9 if there were sudden emergencies. Having been defeated in the Select Committee on the morning sittings, I came down in support of my hon. Friend, as I do again tonight, because I feel that what we want are more opportunities for free discussions and debates, particularly on those things which are so difficult to grasp, and so important, such as colonial affairs.
I do not support the Leader of the Liberal Party in his suggestion that this could be extended to defence and foreign affairs. We are a body of amateurs and that is what we ought to be. We do not want little vested interests all gathering together to be called when there is a full debate in the House, but in the Colonies there is a special case, and that is why I support my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am in favour of a Committee, but I do not think that I suggested one for defence and foreign affairs.
I must have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. We do not want a municipal mind in the House of Commons, because that is not our function. We want a general forum to discuss what seems important.
Another Amendment deals with drafting. That is on the borderline of another subject altogether—the facilities and amenities of the House.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend must not misunderstand me. I meant that this carries us half-way to next week's debate and, in that sense, is on the borderline of procedure, facilities, and amenities.
119 If we are to sustain the idea of being the Government of a country in this sense we must be free to be an effective legislative body and an effective backbench group. We cannot have this without technical assistance. After all, if an Amendment which I move is enacted by the House it is just as much the law of the land as a Bill drafted personally by the Attorney-General. It is no use saying that a back-bench Member's Amendment cannot or should not be based on skilled legal advice. If we are to do our job, we must be given the assistance which we require. I believe that by strengthening Parliament in its rôle as a legislative body which checks the Executive we shall find our way forward to the next stage in the development of a Parliamentary system of government.
I hope that the debate on procedure which has been begun today will be taken a stage further when the facilities and amenities of Parliament are discussed next week.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) that the procedure of the House ought to be more expeditious. One way in which that could be achieved would be by this House, and Parliament as a whole, debating general principles and not spending so much time on the minutiae of legislation. That is why I am sorry to see that the recommendations contained in this Report have not been taken far enough. The Leader of the House has told us that only 12 recommendations have been put forward out of the 37 in the Report.
For the last few weeks I have been trying to think what is wrong with Parliament. Today, we have had a great deal of talk about attracting the best people to Parliament. Obviously, the 100 per cent. dedicated politician is among the "best people", but there are certain others who are not being attracted and among them I would include the front-line industrialist and the secretary of the front-line trade union. They are not attracted as they were before the war—people like Sir Alfred Mond, for example—because they will not and cannot stand the intolerable conditions in which we work day after day, with late-night sittings, and so on. So I think that we 120 should examine our procedure and revise it in such a way as to allow the House to discuss more general principals and to release a certain number from the detailed minutiae of Parliament.
Two or three suggestions have been thrown up in the debate and have been given a considerable measure of support. I endorse the suggestion that so far as possible we should debate Private Members' Bills on Mondays so that industrialists in the North of England can spend Monday there and come to Parliament—as happened before the war—for three days of serious business. I like the idea of allowing a proxy vote to each hon. Member, say, twice a month, so that he could register it with the Clerks. I have been in this House for only five years, but practically every vote taken during that time has been for or against the Government. One could register one's vote on that issue many days in advance of a debate.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Yes, as my hon. Friend says, why come here at all sometimes?
A proxy vote which one could register with the Clerks would allow one to make appointments two or three weeks ahead instead of having to wait—
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
It would also enable an hon. Member not to attend at all, but to conduct his business by postcard.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am suggesting that a proxy vote be provided only about twice a month.
To make our debates more expeditious I am strongly in favour of the idea of having one or two hours when speeches would be limited to periods of ten minutes. I was once present at a debate in the Congress of the United States and during that afternoon I heard about 50 members make speeches lasting five minutes each. It was very impressive to hear people from all over that vast Continent putting their point of view on a great issue. We do not hear that in this House because people make speeches lasting 25 minutes and we hear less than 1 per cent. of the hon. Members in any debate.
121 I think that in 1960, after six hundred years of democracy, Parliament should be able to afford some drafting assistance in respect of Private Members' Bills. I have twice been involved in the preparation of a Private Member's Bill. One I brought forward under the Ten Minutes Rule. It was quite a simple Measure, but it proved expensive to draft. I could not do it myself and it cost nearly £50. I am now helping my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) to draft a Bill about motor-cycles and mopeds. It is most complicated. We require a good deal of outside assistance and it will prove quite a costly venture for a private Member. I think that some assistance should be provided in such circumstances.
I hope we shall have a further debate on procedure and think about reforms so that people representing all types in the nation may be encouraged to become Members of this House and discuss general principles here and not be bogged down by considerations of time-wasting detail as is now so often the case.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
For some time now we have had ten-minute speeches. You have made no declaration from the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and no hour has been fixed. We have moved into this period of short speeches because an example was set by an hon. Member opposite. I think that is probably the best way in which short speeches should be made. I am not in favour of a proposal to set aside an hour, or any other fixed period, during which only short speeches should be made. I have heard such a proposal referred to as the "children's hour", which kills it straight away.
Nor do I think it necessarily good for the House that there should be a succession of short speeches, when an occasional longer speech might be appropriate to the circumstances or the stage of a debate. Speeches of varying length should be mixed, but there is nothing to prevent any hon. Member from informing you, Mr. Speaker, that if he is invited to take part in a debate, he will speak for only a short time, and your discretion could be used having regard to all the circumstances.
122 We are now discussing the question of participation—the desire of hon. Members for more participation in the work of the House, greater freedom and scope for self-expression, for representing the point of view of those who sent us here, and our own point of view on matters of national concern. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. South-East (Mr. Benn) has not conveyed the impression—I am sure it was not his intention—that legislation is tiresome and boring and that a Government should be allowed to have it quickly because the House wishes to debate bigger questions of national and world importance which for the time being may be occupying the headlines and minds of the people. There is a great deal in legislation and the grievances of many people can be dealt with only by legislation. I think it important that the House should bear in mind its rôle as a legislative assembly.
I would also remind hon. Members that some Bills which might have been sent to a Standing Committee were debated on the Floor of the House during their Committee stage in response to the demands of many hon. Members and with the assent of the whole House. That occurred recently with the Local Employment Bill, and it will occur from time to time. Public interest in particular Measures will be so great and so widespread that it will be the desire of the House to conduct the Committee stage on the Floor of this Chamber.
Much has been said in this debate about the Finance Bill. Bearing in mind the number of hon. Members who take part in the debates on the Finance Bill I think that a proposal to send it to a Standing Committee for its Committee stage would lead to many inconveniences and disappointments. After all, the Finance Act is a taxing Act, and if we go to the root of Parliament, it is "No taxation without representation".
Although new times require new methods, I think that fundamentally the Finance Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation with which the House has to deal. We should be very loath to bundle it upstairs to a Committee and let the experts have a go at it, while the House gets on with more general debates. Very many interests are concerned with the Finance Bill, and 123 we should be careful not to award a subsidiary or secondary place to it in Parliamentary business.
I want to make once more a suggestion that I have made on previous occasions. I think it would be a great advantage to have a Taxes Management Act, which would deal with administration and which could be separate from the Finance Bill, Amendments to which could be dealt with at a season of the year when the Finance Bill is not pressing so much on the time of the House.
The second suggestion, which I have also made previously and which I repeat now, is that we should have a full Explanatory Memorandum to the Finance Bill. Why is it that the Finance Bill is the only Bill to which there is no Explanatory Memorandum? I see no reason at all why the Government should not let hon. Members have a succinct and simple explanation of the purposes of the Clauses of the Finance Bill so that, before the Second Reading, we could know a good deal of what is in it. When the learned Solicitor-General, then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, dealt with these matters, he said that it had been considered, but that it was found not to be practicable, and he then proceeded to give in a Second Reading speech exactly the sort of Memorandum that it would have suited the House to have had. Therefore, I hope that these suggestions will be borne in mind.
I wish to endorse the plea that we should have longer notice of the business of the House. I am sure that that would be possible. It is absolutely ridiculous that we cannot make social or other appointments with any certainty that we can keep them, and I think that people wonder what we are doing when we do not have a somewhat longer agenda going further into the future than is the case at present.
I hope also that we can have the question of drafting assistance gone into much more thoroughly, not only for drafting Bills but for drafting Amendments to Bills. I wonder whether the public outside realise the slender resources upon which back benchers have to rely for the drafting of their Amendments to Bills. How many of us have suffered the slight humiliation of a 124 Minister telling us that our Amendment did not do what we set out to do? On one occasion, I think a Minister thought that he had trumped our trick by saying that it did the opposite of what we thought it did. In these conditions, we surely need the assistance of those qualified to advise us on the form of Amendments to Bills.
I wish to refer also to one very small point dealt with in an Amendment in my name on the recommital of Bills. It is to Standing Order No. 79, in line 5, at the end, to add:'Provided that this Standing Order shall not apply on consideration of any bill reported from a committee in respect of any new clause or amendment varying the incidence of rates or imposing a charge upon the rates or in respect of any new clause or amendment which varies or imposes a charge upon the people or upon the revenue, provided that such charge or variation of charge is within the terms of a resolution authorising expenditure in connection with a bill agreed to by the House in respect of that bill'".This matter is dealt with in paragraph 11 of the Report of the Select Committee. I think the recommittal procedure is a needless complication, and to the back bencher it is an unnecessary hindrance to achieving his purpose. The Amendment in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends proposes to remove the need for the recommittal procedure where the Amendment is still within the original Money Resolution. I hope that is not an unreasonable condition. It would get rid of a complication which we frequently have difficulty in explaining to some of our hon. Friends when they come to us with Amendments to Bills and which we ourselves find extremely confusing.
In reply to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), I would say that there is much bigger scope for satisfying, constructive and useful work in this House than people outside realise, but it does mean hard work. One jolly well has to do one's homework, and it is necessary to devote a great deal of time in order to master a particular subject or to form a judgment on a particular situation which it would be of interest and value for the House to hear. I fear that sometimes hon. Members wish to be given more scope for participation without adequate preparation for the responsibilities which they seek to have. I hope that is not an unjustified comment on this delicate subject.
125 I have been here ten years, and I have never found a want of something to do when working in this House. There is an abundance of work of varying kinds which hon. Members can do if they decide on their sphere of interest and work hard at it. I hope that does not sound too smug, but it is my own experience, and I think that other hon. Members have found it, too. Certainly, there are hon. Members present here today who have done an enormous amount of constructive and thoughtful work in the course of their time in this House.
I hope that, on the points to which I referred a moment ago, the Leader of the House will not regard antiquity as standing in the way of a very modest reform.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I agree with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). Of course, there is plenty of work to do in this House if an hon. Member has sufficient time and devotes his attention to it, and it is for that reason that most of us, or many of us, have read this Report and have taken a certain amount of interest in the debate today. I have been here for four and a half hours, and I hope that I am wiser as a result of the speeches which I have heard.
I was particularly interested in the question of the Finance Bill. Let us examine it a little more carefully. It is said that we cannot or should not take it away from the Floor of the House, because it would be derogatory to do so. When hon. Members bring a constituent to the Public Gallery, and tell him that the business is the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, he might find one hon. Member wondering whether he has just missed his night train, while another expert on the other side is dealing with a minute point concerning the taxation of horse hair or violin bogs. The argument might go on between both sides of the House. When the constituent comes out and asks, "What is it all about?" and is told "That was the Committee stage of the Finance Bill", he will say, "Good gracious".
I cannot see why the Committee stage of the Finance Bill cannot be taken in a Committee upstairs. I know that the argument against it is that every hon. Member should be allowed to take part 126 in the Committee stage, but what is there to stop the Chairman of the Committee allowing an hon. Member to speak in the Committee and to give his advice on certain subjects? He need not vote. It seems to me that there might be some way of working this properly which would enable hon. Members to free themselves from some of the more burdensome legislation. Without it, we are not likely to get the balance of which the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) spoke, and it is that sort of balance for which the majority of hon. Members are looking today.
I should like to comment on the suggestion that private Members should be given some assistance in drafting Private Members' Bills. I have a Private Member's Bill and I am certain that it will cost a lot of money to have it put in proper order. It is possible that someone else will be prepared to pay for that, because the Bill will help the farming community and perhaps the N.F.U. would like to meet the cost, but I do not like to ask the N.F.U. whether they are prepared to pay for my Private Member's Bill because I have no Parliamentary draftsmen to help me. Surely in 1960 we ought to be allowed some help in drafting Private Members' Bills and at least some of the Amendments which we wish to put on the Order Paper.
Finally, I want to deal with Standing Order No. 9. I had some first-rate experience of its operation last year when I put Mr. Speaker in a very awkward position, through no fault of my own and only because of the procedure of the House. May I give an example to show the House that Standing Order No. 9 is one on which we must persuade the Government to think again?
It was twelve o'clock when a report came in from a reputable news source—fully confirmed information—that while Her Majesty's ambassadors were in conference in Athens about Cyprus and while conferences were going on in Turkey, the Army commander had decided to open military operations, at a time when a truce was in force in the island. I had only a very short time to act, and I inquired at the Table what I should do if I wished to put down a Private Notice Question. I was told that it was too late to do that. I then asked what was the next immediate remedy for a back-bench Member to seek in 127 order to stop this military operation taking place, and I was told that the only thing I could do was to move the suspension of the House under Standing Order No. 9. I spoke to the Clerk of the Table but I did not have time to see Mr. Speaker before I resumed my place and tried to move a Motion under that Standing Order.
Mr. Speaker was in a very difficult position. He did not know whether the report was correct. Because of Standing Order No. 9 he was debarred from telling me at that time, "If the hon. Member would be good enough to wait, I prefer to give my decision in one hour's time or two hours' time". Is it not fantastic that Mr. Speaker is bound to give his judgment and Ruling at once under Standing Order No. 9? How can he be seized of all the complications of a sudden emergency which arises, which might be in Kuwait or might be about someone serving a prison sentence? Surely the House should see that Standing Orders are framed in such a way as to give Mr. Speaker time to consult not only the Government but also outside advice.
I am sorry that the Whips have been put on for this debate. May I refer to the sentence on page 3 of the Report which reads as follows:While party loyalties and beliefs may obviously divide us on many matters, we are of one mind in our determination to make our recommendations such as will uphold the dignity and prestige of the House of Commons.If I am called upon to exercise my judgment upon the issue, I shall do so in that spirit.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) for that concluding quotation, which I had for the moment forgotten and which seems to me extremely relevant to the debate.
I entirely agree with him in his comments on Standing Order No. 9. Indeed, it is remarkable that throughout the debate there has appeared to be almost unanimity on Standing Order No. 9. It represents a cherished right and possibly a vital constitutional right. It lays down the procedure by which the House can become seized of an urgent and decisive 128 problem at short notice. Everyone who has considered this question knows the difficulties. We have never been able to put questions about it. The very procedure which demands that Mr. Speaker must give a Ruling offhand and without careful consideration inevitably means that we lose this cherished right, because although every time he rules in favour of the Motion it does not widen the precedents, every time he rules in a narrowing sense, it cuts them down. These precedents are quoted again and again.
I well remember instances which confirm what the hon. Member for The Wrekin has said. We recall situations in which an hon. Member has had to pull a pencil out of his pocket and scribble on a sheet of notepaper the appropriate words of Standing Order No. 9, without having the book of the Standing Orders handy. Six or seven versions have to be produced before it is accepted as complying with that Standing Order. We had a Motion under Standing Order No. 9 with respect to the Kabaka of Buganda, when we were not ashamed to say that we were not quite sure which was Buganda or what was the conscience of the Kabaka at that moment, but it was an important matter and we wished to raise it. It was the correct use of the occasion, but there is little chance of consideration of these matters. In the same way hon. Members sometimes have had to rush in with silly questions about Privilege, which in my view do harm to the dignity of the House, merely because they are compelled to take a decision on the instant in order to avoid being out of time. That seems to me a very foolish and arbitrary exercise of the rules.
We have had a very interesting demonstration of the use of short speeches, which underlines a recommendation made by the Select Committee. For about an hour hon. Members have been making short speeches, and we have certainly not suffered from it. I would point out to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), who is no longer in the Chamber, that all that the Committee suggested on this point—I do not think any of us were passionately in favour of the suggestion—was simply, "It is a very interesting suggestion. Why not try it? "It seems to me that that is the method by which we might always 129 deal with the reform of the procedure of the House. Let us give it a chance and see whether it works.
The Committee heard a lot of evidence. One of its difficulties was that of time and the fact that the menace of a General Election hung over our heads. We had to cut out some matters because a General Election would have rendered the Committee not only functus officio but also virtually incapable of being resuscitated. The terms of reference, on the whole, were rather narrow. One of my Motions came very near the bounds of order and it finally appears, I think, by the courtesy of the Chairman and after some doubt. It had not much to do with procedure.
I feel that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was a little unjust to the Committee when he dealt with our method of considering Standing Order No. 1. The suggestion that the House should be able to vote later in the day on the suspension of this Standing Order was made for a number of fairly specific reasons. The main reason was not that we wanted to make things easy for prosperous lawyers. Indeed, we proposed morning sittings, which is the last thing that a prosperous lawyer would like. We said that it was silly to bring people here for nothing and constantly to have them here to be ready to go through the Lobby on a vote which was unlikely to take place, on a vote which was invariably carried by the Government when it did take place and on a vote which could conveniently be passed at another time.
When my hon. and learned Friend says that this was a technically unanimous recommendation because we had hardly considered it, I must remind him that we had a very long deliberative procedure in which to start with we took straw votes on each paragraph to find out whether there was any dissension. This recommendation was not merely carried unanimously by the usual procedure but was submitted in these preliminary stages for consideration and was found to be without opposition.
While I admit that my absence from the Committee meeting at which the decision was taken deprives me of the right of criticism—I should have been there and was riot, but I was somewhere else—I suggest that it would be extremely unfortunate 130 if the Whips were to be applied in a Division in which we have decided to vote against the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee of the House on a matter affecting procedure. Incidentally, referring to my absence, I recall the Member of the Irish House of Commons who said that a Member is not like a bird he cannot be in two places at once. Quite apart from whether it is wise for the Whips to be applied at this stage at all, it would be singularly unfortunate if they were to be applied against a unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
There is no proposal for any Whips on this side of the House to be applied for a vote against my hon. Friend's Amendment. There is no suggestion of putting on the Whips at all on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Hale
No, we are talking about the Standing Order relating to the suspension of business at 3.30, and I understood my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering to say that that was an official Amendment to which the Whips would be applied. However, I am glad if I am wrong, and I can confidently say that—
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that there was not to be a Whip—
§ Mr. Pannell
I am afraid that I misunderstood the speech. As I understand it, from this side we are to vote with the Whips on in regard to that Amendment.
§ Mr. Hale
Then my hon. Friend has misunderstood me, because I shall not vote in accordance with the Whips, and I shall see those who put such a view in hell before I vote against an Amendment directed to a proposal I proposed, and for which I worked for some two years. If I am to be told to go into the Lobby to vote against an opinion I have held so long and have voted on, and if my hon. Friend makes that statement, I will reply—and I did put it courteously before—that I would have to consider my position in an organisation that asked that of me.
131 Mr. Speaker was courteous enough to indicate to me that he hoped to call my Amendment. I do not propose now to refer to that, but I do want to refer to one or two general matters which should more properly be dealt with in this debate. The service to hon. Members is deplorable, the procedure of the House is, in many ways, deplorable, and the procedure for this debate, with a general debate covering a variety of subjects, is regrettable.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) did complete justice to our difficulty that some of our proposals were necessarily also one with another. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds. West (Mr. C. Pannell) was a particular protagonist of the proposal for morning sittings—an extremely important proposal that might have had a revolutionary effect on the procedure of this House.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) says that there is always something to do here—well, nobody complains that there is not enough work to do. The complaint is that there is too much to do, and many of us complain that there is too much waste of time. There is no place in which we can work, or sit down. There is nowhere to interview constituents. Half our time is wasted on repetitive procedures of no useful purpose to anybody.
If I were to bring a distinguished American to this House now, I would have to tell him that the whole place looks appalling but that, seen by Manet from the Thames on a foggy morning, it could look quite attractive. If I were asked to say to whom it belonged and what was its function. I would have to tell him that it was functionally extensively used as a dormitory: that it was impossible to work in the Library while the House was sitting, because hon. Members opposite are imploring one every five minutes to pair with them, and that it was quite impossible to work here when the House was not sitting because the floor was always up. The whole place has been turned into a vast restaurant in the hope of avoiding a small loss, incurred primarily in the Press department, which was constantly criticised in the Press.
132 Our method of communicating with Ministers on any subject is that Mrs. Jones, say, of Oldham thinks that she is 5s. short in her pension and writes to the Labour agent in Oldham. The Labour agent writes to me, and I write to the Minister. The Minister writes to me to tell me that he is the wrong Minister but that he has passed on my letter to the right one. The right Minister writes to Blackpool, Blackpool writes to the Minister, and one is told eventually either that one's constituent has been told or that one will receive a further letter from the Minister.
That goes on day after day—and this in the days of teleprinters when we could have an organisation for answering individual questions in that way. Labour Members of the Select Committee voted unanimously for such an organisation by which one could have a teleprinter service direct to a Ministry and wait for the reply from it. If I wished to put a little money on a horse race—perhaps the one sin that I do not commit—I could get a reply from the bookmaker within five minutes, but, as things now stand, any question involves me in writing at least two letters to the constituent concerned as well as writing to the Minister.
In some way, but without any organisation, we have to try to draft Amendments, we have to try to draft Bills, and we have to try to get out a mass of other matters, such as sending out circulars individually when trying to organise little meetings. In my respectful view, these are things that matter. I hope that they will be considered, and that we shall be told that it can be done. We are not responsible for many officers of the House.
The other day we tried to organise, for one of the most distinguished men to occupy the Chair, a public function which, I am happy to say, was one that went very successfully, but in order to do so we had to consult someone who occupies a hereditary position in this building, which means that his grandfather did or failed to do something in the reign of the Stuarts—or, much more likely, that his great grandmother did something.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) raised the extremely tricky point of the Speaker being on his feet 133 when one wants to raise a point of order. There was also a dissertation by the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) who said that we must always obey the rules. That was what I was taught at my mother's knee, but at school they extolled Nelson and the blind eye, and the lad at Rugby who picked up the ball and ran, and had a statue erected in his honour, as a consequence. As a result, one's instinctive respect for rules became dissipated as time went on.
However, this Committee provided me with the first chance I had ever had to make rules for anybody, or even pretend to do so, and it gave me a lot of pleasure—
§ Mr. Hale
I think that we are even more reconciled.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) actually incurred the censure of the House for being on his feet with Mr. Speaker. If Mr. Speaker is wrong, and is on his feet, there is nothing one can do unless the Question has been put but, on the Question being put, one can put on someone's hat and put a point of order, seated. Except for that, which is provided for that precise purpose, there is no way of challenge.
I came across an extremely interesting historical example in the "Annual Register for 1839". It appears that the Speaker of the Arkansas Legislative Chamber pulled out a bowie knife from underneath the Speaker's Chair and, with one mortal stroke, pinned a recalcitrant Opposition member to the floor. There were not wanting people who thought that that was showing some partiality, but the coroner's jury did return, very properly, a verdict of excusable homicide. However, the real point was that, throughout the transaction, the Speaker was on his feet, so that it was impossible for anybody to make it public. I do not say that that could happen again—as we lawyers say, mutatis mutandis—but the general principle could be applied.
134 Seriously speaking, however, there must be a little consideration of points of order. I know that I have a guilty past in this respect—and I should not be surprised if, in some respects, I had a guilty future—but most of us, considering the matter fairly and quietly would recognise the bogus point of order to be a nuisance. It is also a temptation. It may well be that some consideration by the. Chair of that question would be consideration by precisely the body that should consider it, and from which the House would willingly take guidance.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I think that this debate has worked out rather better than we expected when it began because of the voluntary timetable which many Members have imposed on themselves. I know that when one is on the back bench one usually complains of the Front Benches, the general complaint being that when a Front Bencher says "Lastly" he does last, that when he says "In conclusion" he seldom concludes, and that after 50 minutes he says that he has stated the matter in a nutshell. I hope to resume my seat in 20 minutes.
The history of this matter is rather interesting. My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) moved the Motion from which the Select Committee was set up on 31st January, 1958. The Report was ordered to be printed on 19th February last year. It is true that we had an interim debate in July, but it is now almost two years before we have come to consider the matter on which we resolved two years ago. As a matter of fact, looking at what the Government propose to do in response to the Select Committee Report, one is tempted to recall the words of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) when he referred to Earl Baldwin as being resolved only to be irresolute.
Personally, I hope that the Government, having had this debate, will consider setting up a small Committee to keep the Standing Orders on procedure under review. When I consider the amount of time that other hon. Members and I spent on the Select Committee, it seems to me that we have laboured at great length to produce very little. I cannot be satisfied with the result at all. I should like to know whether we can have a smaller piece of machinery to get 135 us through this sort of business. Many other bodies besides ourselves have standing order or procedural committees to deal with such matters immediately, and I think that an annual review would be much more satisfactory. It would commend itself to people outside the House if there were a body which, from time to time, could consider any matter arising from our procedure which might outrage natural justice or act to the disadvantage of the House.
If I were asked on which of the Amendments I was most keen, I would undoubtedly select the Amendment which seeks to provide drafting assistance to Members. I know something of the labours that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) put into his Offices Bill when he was fortunate in the Ballot. Although he was characteristically modest about it this afternoon, and made a humorous speech about it, there is no doubt that it laid upon a new Member the sort of labours that he should never have been called upon to undertake. I do not wish to mention names of hon. Members opposite without obtaining their permission, but there have been such Members who, privately, have made the same complaint to me—not only that they have had no assistance in drafting a Bill, but that it has occasioned them a great deal of expense.
It is a fact that if someone who was successful in the Private Members' Ballot were to approach the Leader of the House and say, "Have you a nice little Bill tucked away in a pigeon-hole that you want disposed of on the Floor of the House", he would be given such a Bill with all the necessary drafting assistance. There are always a lot of innocuous Bills knocking around in Government Departments which can be given to the indolent Member, or the Member who wants a quick way out. But the Member who wants a rather tough Bill, such as the Offices Bill, or even the Bill which the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) introduced last Friday, receives no such assistance.
A point of principle is involved. I hope that the Leader of the House will appreciate that by providing drafting assistance to private Members one recognises the fact that the Legislature must be armed against the Executive. In 136 effect, the Legislature has a part to play as well as the Executive. When a private Member is fortunate in the Ballot, and introduces a Bill, he is carrying out the function as a Member of Parliament. I hope that the Leader of the House will reconsider this matter and will accept my assurance that there is a great deal of deep feeling on both sides of the House.
Reference has been made to Questions and supplementary questions. The old hands will always say that things are not what they were. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker Morrison, on page 152 of the Select Committee's Report, in reply to a question that I put, had the best thing to say on this point. He said:… I have been a Privy Councillor on the Front Opposition Benches, too, for five years, and my recollection of the custom was that you did not intervene in a private Member's Question …He was speaking about the intrusion of Privy Councillors on supplementary questions.It was his own 'hare' and he ought to hunt it himself. The only occasion on which you did intervene was if he had got a disagreeable or bullying sort of answer from a Minister who was trading on his greater experience and he tried to sort of brush the young lad off—then you would probably intervene, and that was all good for party morale and so on. But normally, unless it was a point of great importance, you did not intervene; and the same is true, too, in the case of particular Members 'muscling in' on ordinary Parliamentary Questions of other Members. It is the man's own 'hare'; he finds it, so let him hunt it. I think that the proper rule is certainly the old rule.The general idea seems to be that the modern practice of asking supplementary questions is not a matter of right, that it is a matter of indulgence on the part of the Speaker if he feels that a Member has not been fairly dealt with by the Minister. But nobody can complain about the Opposition in this.
The practice of Ministers in giving long replies both to original Questions and to supplementary questions needs looking at carefully. At the height of the war the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Woodford, when confronted with an Answer from a civil servant, commented, "This is a thing up with which I am not prepared to put". There should be someone to vet these Parliamentary answers and reduce them to words of one syllable or, at least; not longer than three sentences.
137 I must say this on the question of Privy Councillors. Mr. Speaker Morrison generally agreed with the recommendation that Privy Councillors should have no special rights. Privy Councillors should have equality with other Members on supplementary questions, but the Speaker should not necessarily be bound to give them automatic rights. This is not a Standing Order; it is a precedent which goes back a long time. But Mr. Speaker Morrison made this point—and it is particularly appropriate that I should mention it now—that a new Speaker should be armed with the firm opinion of the House. I hope that the firm opinion of the House is going out today that we shall, of course, pay attention to the great experience of Members who are Privy Councillors but that one should remember that back benchers sometimes have a greater right.
In the Privilege debate on the London Electricity Board I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) was the only back bencher to speak from this side of the House. I do not believe that all Privy Councillors necessarily make bad contributions, but when one has a string of them one appreciates that there is something to be said for the exasperation that is expressed.
One of the unanimous opinions of the Select Committee was the advisability of the five-minute speeches. On this point, I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is not feeling sufficiently well to be here this evening. To be fair to the Select Committee—speak here in no partisan sense—the idea was that, if Mr. Speaker was faced with applications from 100 Members to speak in a debate, he could indicate at the beginning of the debate that he had 100 applications and that he proposed, for an hour, between, shall be say, 7 and 8 o'clock or half-past 7 and half-past 8, to call for short speeches.
I can quote the example of someone who commands great respect in this matter, the former right hon. Member for Southwark, our friend George Isaacs. He thought that this was a wonderful idea. He was not a talkative man, but he very often thought that he had one point to make out of the fund of his experience. I say nothing about hon. 138 Members bringing carefully prepared essays here to read, but I think that there could well be an hour set aside in a general debate in which hon. Members with something to contribute in a few minutes could make the points they had in mind.
Coming now to the general falling off in the level of debate, there is something which I would put at once into Standing Orders. There is the garrulous bore who gets up in the House, clutching his notes, and says, "I am sorry that I cannot follow the hon. Member in his interesting speech", and then goes on to make an entirely separate long speech. That is not debating at all. I would bring him down forthwith with a bump. I would have him ruled out of order on the ground that he is not following the argument and that we do not want prepared essays read here. We might then achieve a better level of debate.
The Government really ought to give way on the subject of Questions to the Prime Minister: otherwise, they will leave themselves open to a charge which may not be valid, but for which, in the eyes of the Opposition, there will be plenty of justification. The idea was that the Prime Minister would answer Questions at a quarter past 3 on two days a week, on the understanding that he would be completely excused from answering on any other day. I should have thought that that was respectful to the Prime Minister himself. He would know that he would be coming to the House for Questions on certain days and that his services would be intelligently used. I do not believe that the suggestion about two Questions instead of three will alter matters very much because, in effect, there will still be the build-up to Question No. 45. His Questions will not be brought forward to No. 30 or No. 35, and nothing really will be achieved at all.
One idea in having two Questions instead of three, with which I agree, was directed to a practice which has grown up of having three inter-linked Questions turning on rolling supplementaries to catch the Minister out all ways. In my view, that is an abuse of our procedure, and we should consider whether hon. Members should be allowed to have more than one Question dealing with the same subject on the same day. 139 However, I make no particular point about that now.
If the Government are not prepared to give way about the Prime Minister's Questions, they will leave themselves open to the suspicion, however wrong it may be, that they want to reserve for themselves the power to filibuster and keep the Prime Minister off awkward Questions. I should not like to believe that, because I do not think that the Prime Minister is that sort of man. I hope that the Government will think again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said from this Box that, although we accept the extension of private Members' time until the end of July, we shall, of course, want to ask for more and we look upon that proposal merely as an interim proposal pending a final settlement.
One cannot say much more about Standing Order No. 9 after the quite outstanding speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). However, I should like to take up the point which was made by the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston), that we can make the operation of Standing Order No. 9 a great deal easier for Mr. Speaker by giving him more time. It is the job of the Opposition to have their way if they can, and, consequently, the fire of the Opposition is often turned on Mr. Speaker if his Rulings seem to be against their wishes.
I have felt, therefore, in this matter, as on the almost analogous matter of Privilege, that the greatest amount of time should be given to Mr. Speaker. One remembers occasions when Mr. Speaker Morrison gave a Ruling which, under pressure, he felt doubtful about. I do not like to see great and dignified functionaries forced from their original decisions, yet I should not support them in perversity. However, out of respect for their office, in the full glare of publicity from the galleries, with the Press present, we should act with the greatest possible consideration towards Mr. Speaker himself. Therefore, under Standing Order No. 9, we should give him as much time as we possibly can and we ought to go back to the Rulings of Mr. Speaker Peel. The hon. Member 140 for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) made that point.
Sometimes Governments, when they think that they are at the height of their greatest power, are at their very weakest. In a Parliamentary democracy—this is the beauty of it—one never knows how the political pendulum will move, and nobody need be so arrogant as to believe that he will occupy a place on the Government benches for the rest of his natural life. We must, therefore, be concerned to safeguard Parliament and the Legislature against the arrogance of the Executive. That is what we are here for.
Out of all the good speeches we have heard, the one I did not hear in full was that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I felt the need for refreshment, and, as he got up to say that he had never cared very much about procedure. I left, only to return at the point when he was wondering why I was on the Front Bench at all. All I can say to my right hon. Friend is that I am on the Front Bench at the invitation of my party through the Leader of the Opposition. Consequently, I shall speak from this place with, I hope, the moderation and candour which characterises all my utterances.
My right hon. Friend, who, of course, has a prescriptive right always to take his seat on the Front Bench, has decided to sit on the back benches and there to exercise his right to speak with due responsibility. He can come on to the Front Bench at any time he likes. He can take part with all of us in the exercise of our collective responsibility and, of course, he will bring to it the experience and wisdom which he has gained from membership of our party for over fifty years. My right hon. Friend has decided that the time has come for him to sit upon the back benches, and he is quite entitled to do that.
I take hardly nothing which my right hon. Friend said about me, but I should like to put him right on a matter of history. Historically, the Front Bench belongs to the Leader of the Opposition. The power to invite anyone to occupy a position on the Front Bench belongs to him alone. The Tory Party, for instance, invited F. E. Smith to the Front Bench immediately he made his maiden 141 speech because he attacked the other side so well. The right to make the invitation, as I say, belongs to the Leader of the Opposition.
My title to be here at all is that, as I think I have said on previous occasions, I am the only Member on this side now in the House who has been a member of both the Select Committee on Accommodation and the Select Committee on Procedure. I very much enjoyed all the time we spent in those Select Committees, and it probably falls to me to express appreciation and thanks to the Leader of the House on behalf of all who served upon them.
I have never underrated this subject. I believe that the machinery of Government is important. How we order our affairs is important. Procedure, as the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) said in a speech with which I mostly disagreed, is really the very Constitution in action. So it has always been. I can finish best by quoting the words of Pym, in 1628:Those Commonwealths have been most durable and perpetual which have often reformed and recomposed themselves, for by this means they repair the breaches and counterwork the ordinary and natural effects of time.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
With the permission of the House, perhaps I might answer the debate. I feel that we should all thank the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), because we know of his great interest in Parliament, its working and, what is more important, its daily life. We have paid attention to everything that he has said. I will attempt to answer some of the points made by him and those made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. This is quite an exercise of ingenuity owing to the intense amount of detail, and I will, to the best of my ability, answer details in a short time.
What has been most impressive in the debate is this. The debate might have been rather a mess, but, in fact, it has been carried on with considerable expedition. I say to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that we still have time to consider points on the Amendments which he and other hon. Members may wish to put. On the other 142 hand, many points on the Amendments have been already put. In so far as I can reply on the Amendments, it would be sensible for me to do so and thereby save Parliamentary time. In so far as my reply is unsatisfactory, we shall still have an opportunity of hearing the debate on the Amendments. We shall thereby combine the best of two methods.
The first feature of the debate has been the short speeches. Many of them have been only five minutes in length. This leads me to say in relation to the vexed question of the hour of five-minute speeches, to which one hon. Member referred as "the children's hour", that this will not be brought about by ordinance, decree, order, or Standing Order. It is much more likely to come about by arrangement between the two sides of the House through the usual channels or in other ways, but I do not see any easy solution today because in the light of the criticism made, I do not think that we can adopt the recommendation of the Select Committee exactly as it stands. However, let us pursue the idea because if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) suggested, we could arrange to do it without coercion, which is what my hon. Friend objects to, then I think that we should have made a distinct advance in Parliamentary procedure.
So that my speech should be as agreeable as possible, I should like to refer to one or two matters which we are able to accept. First, I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering with regard to legislation and the Adjournment. His Amendment reads:That notwithstanding the practice of the House which prohibits in debates on the Adjournment any reference to grievances requiring legislative remedy, Mr. Speaker may permit such incidental reference to legislative action as he may consider relevant to any matter of administration then under debate when enforcement of the prohibition would, in his opinion, unduly restrict the discussion of such matter.We should be willing to accept the spirit and, so far as I am informed, the drafting of that Amendment. Not only do we accept this conclusion of the Select Committee but it also enables me Ito say that drafting, when entrusted to the hon. and learned Member, is usually correct, and hon. Members who are short of 143 drafting assistance should turn to the hon. and learned Member, from whom they will get cheap and accessible advice. Here is one matter arising out of the Select Committee's Report which we are ready to accept.
I now turn to paragraph 23 of the Report, "Unopposed Private Business". There is an Amendment on the Order Paper relating to this matter. The Report reads:We agree with the opinion of the Chairman of Ways and Means that the individual Member should retain the right to object to a private bill at the time of unopposed private business. But it appears to be somewhat of an imposition to oblige a Member to attend on successive occasions in order to register his objection on second and third readings.The Committee goes on to refer to a less burdensome method.
Whilst I cannot absolutely accept what is on the Order Paper, I accept the principle of the Amendment and that conclusion of the Select Committee. The only reservation that I make on paragraph 23 is that I think it would be reasonable that private Members should start by objecting in person and that the latter stages should be pursued on paper. I think that that would fit into the general spirit of what is wanted. Subject to examining the drafting, I should be glad to accept that Amendment as well. Those are two quite considerable alterations in our procedure which I am glad immediately to recognise.
I now come to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, West and mentioned also by other speakers in the debate on the subject of the Prime Minister's Questions. The Select Committee recommended that Questions to the Prime Minister should start at 3.15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Despite his peripatetic activities, I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend and I have also listened to the views expressed in the debate. My right hon. Friend is anxious to do what he can to meet the wishes of the House in this matter. He has, however, observed the views which have been expressed on the subject by some hon. Members—not in this debate, because he has not had a chance of hearing them, but previously—who are afraid of having less time to question other Ministers.
144 I propose, therefore, with my right hon. Friend's agreement, that instead of the Select Committee's recommendation, we should try a rather different experiment, namely, that on Tuesdays and Thursdays Questions to the Prime Minister should begin at No. 40 instead of No. 45. We think that in practice this would have much the same effect as the Select Committee's recommendation. It might seem less of a break with the old tradition and it can be fitted more easily into the existing procedures of the House. It will also, we hope, give less cause for complaint by those who say that their main target in Questions is not the Prime Minister.
I suggest, further, that we put this into force immediately to run on an experimental basis until Easter. We could then review the position and see what is best for the future. It would not, of course, preclude Questions being put down on other days, but then it might be the case that I would be asked to answer them and that would be a great disappointment to the House. Therefore, this is a concentration on Tuesdays and Thursdays as requested. I think it will mean that the Prime Minister is more easily reached and I suggest that we make an experiment of this until Easter.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I think that would be a satisfactory arrangement to my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to undertake to raise the matter again at about Easter?
§ Mr. Butler
I said that we will have an experimental period. That means that we could have conversations if it were found not to be working well. I have, with the acuity which should be a characteristic of the Leader of the House, observed that my argument about reducing the number of Questions by Members from three to two will not make a great physical difference and I have spotted in the course of this debate that that suggestion did not go very well. Therefore, in answer to that, I hope that this adjustment in my right hon. Friend's Questions will make some slight difference to the situation.
I think that the reduction of Questions from three to two, which I mentioned in my opening speech, will make a small difference, but that is a matter of opinion. 145 Even if it does not, this new adjustment will mean that twice a week the Prime Minister should be available for reasonable questioning, of which, I am sure, he will take full advantage.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Is not one of the great difficulties now—it was not so in the old days—that too many supplementary questions are asked? If there are a lot of supplementary questions, it is quite immaterial whether the Prime Minister starts at Question No. 40 or No. 45. At least, it does not make very much difference, because very often even No. 40 is not reached.
§ Mr. Butler
I have, however, noticed that it is much easier to reach No. 40 than No. 45. That is the comfortable basis on which we must rest, accompanied by the disposition of Mr. Speaker to attempt to control supplementary questions to the best of his ability.
I come now to another major issue which the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) may wish to raise—and nothing will prevent discussion on this occasion. The right hon. Member, I believe, wishes to raise the question of a possible Welsh Grand Committee. I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, who has a special interest in caring for the affairs of Wales, and he 1-as told me that he considers this to be a good idea.
We do not have the details worked out. I have read the evidence given before the Select Committee, which suggested that such a Committee should meat on six mornings a year. I suggest that we might invite the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to enter into consultation with the Government and with my right hon. Friend and myself, with any deputation that the right hon. Gentleman may care to bring, when we right be able to work out something on these lines. But obviously there are certain limitations; namely, that I think that this would mean that the day for Wales on the Floor of the House might be avoided. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]That seems to be unpopular with the Welsh Members, but it was suggested at the time that this would be an alternative procedure.
146 Secondly, there is the question of what shall be the powers of this Committee, namely, whether it should pass resolutions, or what it shall do. I should like to reserve absolutely the position of this Committee, including the question whether it should have, as I think would be necessary, the addition of other Members to it—not necessarily Welsh Members; questions of that sort. If hon. and right hon. Members interested in this matter would be prepared to discuss it on that basis, with the reservations that I make, we could enter into a discussion, and see how far we can get.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman how much obliged we all are to him? If the principle is accepted there will be no need to move the Amendment standing on the Paper, but I warn the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot make any concession over the time we have got already, unless there is a very substantial compensation. We would indeed welcome a thorough discussion of the details he has suggested.
§ Mr. Butler
Certainly. I have consulted my right hon. Friend very carefully, and he is in favour of this idea. I must make a reservation about the powers and sittings, about the question of the compensation, whether there should be a Welsh day or not, according to our discussions. I do not prejudge any of these issues but must reserve the position of the Government in relation to them, as long as I accept the general view that a forum for consideration of Welsh problems would be an advantage to the House.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will the right hon. Gentleman in these consultations attempt to get the Committee operating this Session so that we may have adequate time to deal with the Welsh Report?
§ Mr. Butler
That is also a matter which I would reserve for discussion, not in a negative manner but simply because of the physical difficulties.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that this not another Machiavellian device for dealing with recalcitrant back benchers on his side of the House?
§ Mr. Butler
There is such a large growth of Welsh Members of Parliament 147 on the Conservative side that we have had to consider their special interests in reaching this conclusion. In passing, I would say to the hon. Member that I did telegraph to the Prime Minister his previous supplementary question, which caused my right hon. Friend great pleasure.
I should like to take up further the question by the hon. Member for Leeds, West in relation to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. The hon. Member for Oldham, West reserves his position in regard to his Amendment which he has down on the Paper, so I shall not deal with that now, but I should just like to say that part of the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West related to the difficulties of accommodation and to the problem of Members of Parliament in communicating with Ministers.
On that I should like to say that I have told the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who is, I believe, interested in accommodation matters on behalf of the Opposition, that we shall quite likely in the not-too-distant future have a debate on accommodation. I would only suggest that in this debate we do not bring out the two issues. That does not mean that I underestimate the problems of accommodation and the difficulties in which hon. Members work, but I hope that the hon. Member will keep for the future the question of accommodation in the further strictures he may make in that sphere.
I now come to the speech of the hon. and learned Member the Member for Kettering. He referred in particular to Standing Order No. 1, which is the new idea that we should break at the period of interruption, namely, 10 o'clock, or soon after according to the circumstances of a variety of different debates. There has been a certain amount of discussion in the debate today as to whether my evidence before the Select Committee referred to the fact that we were making this concession for lawyers. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) said that he thought this concession should be provided also for those who come from long distances and find it difficult on occasion to be present, say, on a Monday.
148 I should like to say quite frankly that while I have been warned by the Leader of the Opposition that this is a matter with which the Opposition does not agree, I believe the hon. and learned Member's original decision, to vote with those who were in favour of the suggestion, was correct. I believe that his latter-day confession is not correct. I believe that this is a thoroughly commonsense solution, and I do not believe that it will be misunderstood by any section of public opinion. The only argument that I have heard used in this debate in favour of our existing practice is that more notice is given. As these Motions have in latter years become partly mechanical, it seems a pity that mechanical business cannot be taken at a time when human beings are naturally present to perform it. That is the basis of the suggestion which we are making about the alteration of Standing Order No. 1.
I come to the more difficult point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West, three hon. Members on this side of the House and various other hon. Members That is the question of drafting assistance. This is a matter of very great difficulty and I must confess that we were not able to reach a solution on it before this debate was launched. The suggestion here is that an officer of the House should perform the duties of drafting.
I have had a certain amount to do with the drafting of a variety of Bills and one thing which I have learned from the Parliamentary counsel who perform the drafting for the Government is that drafting is not a matter that can be canalised or reside in one single human being because of the immense variety of experience involved, the variety of law involved and the many difficult and divergent views necessary in relation to drafting. I have not been able to find acceptance by the authorities of the House of the idea or possibility that one officer, or more than one officer, can readily be available for the drafting assistance which hon. Members want.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West said that that would arm the Legislature against the Executive. Indeed, American precedents have been quoted—and were quoted before the Select Committee— 149 but I do not think that we can run our affairs like this. I would go further and say that I know of practically no case, when the merits of an Amendment were clear, and the Government have accepted the principle, where the drafting has not been a secondary matter and it has been possible to conduct it under the auspices of the Government themselves. I do not believe that the House is suffering from the disadvantage at present—I say at present—of not being able to discover any method of providing drafting assistance for hon. Members.
§ Mr. Mitchison
There are two Amendments on the Order Paper on this matter. The first in my name—one which, if I understand the Standing Orders rightly, will, if rejected, preclude discussion of the other—makes no reference to an officer of the House at all and no reference to the Amendment of public Bills in general. I explained in what I said earlier my reasons for that. It seems to me that some arrangements within the very limited field of Private Members' Bills are really a different matter from the much larger question of possible assistance in relation to Amendments of ordinary Public Bills. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel able to reconsider that more limited aspect of the matter.
§ Mr. Butler
That is a very useful intervention, because it excludes the field which is the more difficult of the two. I said when I was speaking that I had not yet been able to reach a conclusion on this matter, despite the fact that we had tried to do so before this debate. All I can say in answer to this debate is that I would not be able to accept the Amendment on the Paper. In relation to Private Bills I will look at the matter, but. I cannot give any undertaking that we shall be successful. By isolating that particular aspect it makes it easier for me to look into the matter.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was not in the House when an hon. Member opposite indicated that the cost to a private Member of drafting a Bill might be as much as £50. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that places a great burden on those of us who are not blessed with private means and who might be successful in the Ballot?
§ Mr. Butler
It is useful that the problem has been isolated to the extent that it has, because it is easier to look at it in the context of a Private Bill rather than in the more general context of an officer of the House being available. I must make clear that I cannot accept the Amendments themselves. If hon. Members wish to keep in touch with me, I must say that, very difficult though it is to satisfy them on the Private Bill aspect, it is easier than on the other.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I tried to make the distinction clear the first time I spoke and I have repeated it now. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to go a little further and undertake that he will do his best to provide assistance in the drafting of Private Members' Bills? I am asking for no more than that. It has been requested from both sides of the House and I should much prefer a promise of that kind to forcing a Division on a matter which commends itself, I should have thought, to the majority of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Butler
I have been aware of the speeches made on this side of the House as well as on the other, since I have a full note of all the points made and of the hon. Members who made them, but I am afraid that I could not go further tonight without raising false hopes. Certainly I could not accept the Amendment relating to an officer of the House and I could not accept the other as it is drafted. The most I can undertake is to continue to pursue this matter, since the position of private Members in relation to their Bills is difficult. I think, therefore, that we had better leave that matter as it stands.
Now I come to the rather major part of our discussion and that is on Standing Order No. 9. Here we have, in paragraph 34, a very circumstantial and important Report from the Select Committee on Procedure. We have had references in the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West and others to Mr. Speaker Peel, who said:What I think was contemplated was the occurrence of some sudden emergency either in home or foreign affairs …I have examined this matter in great detail and I think I can best apply my remarks to the three subsections of that paragraph, the first of which deals with Motions which at present are out of order if they anticipate other Motions.
151 On that, I am afraid we must stand on the present rule, because I do not see how if a Motion is already on the Order Paper dealing with a subject and is about to be taken the question of urgency can arise.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Surely the right hon. Gentleman can envisage circumstances in which some hon. Member might have put a matter on the Order Paper concerned with foreign affairs in a highly speculative sort of way and yet something might happen which affects U.N.O. or N.A.T.O. or something of that kind in which merely to argue that some isolated Private Member's Motion should debar the House from discussing the whole subject seems highly ridiculous. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to remember how much on one foot the Foreign Office was caught on matters in Cuba.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth
My right hon. Friend spoke about a Motion which was "about to be taken". What exactly does "about to be taken" entail? If a Motion is to be a Motion of urgent public importance under Standing Order No. 9, surely the point is that it should be discussed that day or on the morrow at the latest. A Motion on the Order Paper that might be moved the week after next is hardly relevant.
§ Mr. Butler
I cannot deprive Mr. Speaker of the authority in this matter, but what I had in mind was that if arrangements have already been made for a debate, the matter can scarcely be regarded as urgent. That is what I would say to my hon. Friend. In answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West, I am just coming to the question of foreign affairs.
The second question arises on paragraph 34 (ii) which states that questions of—… public importance ought to be left to the House for a decision under the rule which requires not less than forty Members to rise in their places in support of a Motion.In this I must accept the evidence of the then Mr. Herbert Morrison before the Select Committee. He took the view that, broadly speaking, the Speaker's judgments on Standing Order No. 9 are right, and I should not like to substitute a physical rising of forty Members for the judgment of a Speaker upon a matter 152 of public importance. Therefore, I could not accept that Amendment on behalf of the Government.
The third point raised by the hon. Gentleman relates to foreign affairs. Here quite a large issue of principle is involved and I ask him to refer to Mr. Speaker Peel's dictum:What I think was contemplated was the occurrence of some sudden emergency either in home or foreign affairs.What I must adhere to, in the interests of Mr. Speaker as well as the traditions of the House, is that some Government responsibility must be involved. Otherwise, I do not see how the affairs of State can run.
The hon. Gentleman has raised precisely the difficult case in his intervention, namely, that if there is some ruction, row, or continental or international distress, which perhaps arises under the aegis of the United Nations or is not covered by U.N., Mr. Speaker might give a Ruling that Standing Order No. 9 could be invoked by hon. Members. But I must adhere in the tradition of Parliament to the ancient principle that some degree of public responsibility must be involved; otherwise, I do not see how Mr. Speaker can have any leg to stand on. Whilst I think that there may be cases where indirectly the British interest is involved in the world, and where it might be possible so to interpret it in the interests of Parliament, I must adhere to the old tradition.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the point at the end of paragraph 34 (iii) of the Report—"possible Government action in foreign affairs"—and particularly to consider the difficulties of raising under present procedure a Motion under Standing Order No. 9 if the Ruritanian fleet suddenly, without notice, bombarded Lowestoft?
§ Mr. Butler
I prefer the term "Government responsibility" to the words "possible Government action". If we preserve for Mr. Speaker a discretion in relation to the exercise of Government responsibility, I shall be happy to leave the matter to his care, and if the Ruritanian fleet is in such an excellent condition, I hope that Mr. Speaker is thoroughly awake this evening.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am sorry to interrupt again, but do we gather, then, that contingent responsibility would be included? After all, the Government cannot be directly responsible if, without notice and without warning, the Ruritanian fleet bombards Lowestoft.
§ Mr. Butler
In the nuclear age I think we must presume that the Ruritanian fleet is armed with the latest weapons. Even if it is not, I cannot help feeling that a sense of Government responsibility would be aroused by an untoward occasion of this character. In that case, Mr. Speaker would undoubtedly feel that the Government were involved, and I must leave it to Mr. Speaker to judge that an instance or a degree of Government responsibility must be involved.
Now I come to the end of that page, to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) in relation to Mr. Speaker's Ruling being possibly delayed. This was raised in a rather striking manner only recently when a Ruling was deferred for a whole weekend. I say frankly that I think this is too long. I understand the circumstances of that case and I am not speaking in a critical sense, but I think there should not be a long delay.
I would be ready to discuss with Mr. Speaker the possibility of him delaying his Ruling if he is not certain that the matter comes under Standing Order No. 9. I then think that we could accept the recommendation of the Select Committee that business should be interrupted for him to give his decision. That means that I think that the decision should be given the same day and that means that I think that the decision should be given in an hour or two. We could still then take the business at seven o'clock and still get our debate without delaying the House for another day.
That means that I am interpreting this finding of the Select Committee as meaning that I think that a decision should be given, speaking colloquially, after tea time, say, so as to give an opportunity to carry on with the business urgently that day and not have to take it on another day, unless there were quite exceptional circumstances which would make Mr. Speaker's Ruling impossible in that regard.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
We understand that the Leader of the House is not prepared to go back to Peel, and we must agree to differ on that. Would he add something on the other point I made, on the purely courtesy point, about a Member approaching Mr. Speaker in the morning about the action he proposed to take in the afternoon?
§ Mr. Butler
I am afraid that I could not interfere with that and I must leave the access of hon. Members to Mr. Speaker a private matter between hon. Members and Mr. Speaker. No words of mine must be said to inhibit such an approach, or any relations between hon. Members and Mr. Speaker.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering raised several other matters, but I have dealt with reference to legislation on the Adjournment Motion and with hon. Members' objections to Private Bills. I now have to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn).
Many difficult and detailed points arise from that speech and I will take them as carefully as I can. I am sure that I am speaking for the House when I compliment the hon. Member on his detailed knowledge of procedure and the knowledge with which he put his case. If I take his points quickly, that does not mean that I am not paying attention to them. The first was in relation to a Count and the raising of the time for a Count from two to four minutes. According to my advice, that is a matter for Mr. Speaker, and that is the answer to the hon. Member.
I do not think that we should accept the hon. Member's Amendment about Privy Councillors. That must be a matter for Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether that answer to the hon. Member satisfies the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), but I listened to his very witty and agreeable speech on this subject and I hope that Mr. Speaker will keep Privy Councillors in order on both the Front Benches to the extent that he keeps Privy Councillors on the back benches in order. I do not think that there should be any class war—there should be equality and equity—except that between the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, which was so typical and agreeable a feature of his speech today.
155 The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said that the new Standing Order on the size of Committees excluded Chairmen. That reading is correct and that is done on purpose. The hon. Member referred to seconders of Motions, a matter which arises in the recommendations of the Select Committee. I would say that his interpretation is correct and we propose to abolish the necessity for seconders, except on ceremonial occasions.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I raised a rather important point about Standing Order No. 58 and whether the Leader of the House had overlooked the Sessional Order which is passed each year by the Committee of Selection about changing the membership of Committees.
§ Mr. Butler
That is the one point upon which, even after consulting my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, I was not quite clear. If I can discuss that with the hon. Member afterwards, I shall be grateful. I was not clear what the application of the hon. Member's criticism was, but I will talk to him about it later.
§ Mr. Butler
We hope to pass it tonight. The only means of debating it would be to have an Amendment on the Order Paper and I am not in a position to do that tonight, so I think that we have to pass the Motion as it stands.
I then come to the hon. Member's question about 21 days' notice for Questions. We have discussed this with the Table. Evidently there are considerable difficulties in carrying it into effect for Questions sent by post and in relation to the desires of hon. Members to put Questions on the Order Paper. I am not against the Amendment with respect to Standing Order No. 8, in line 7, at the end to insert:(3) Not more than twenty-one days' notice (excluding periods during which the House is adjourned for more than four days) shall be given for any oral question.I cannot, however, concede that tonight. If we are to concede that, it must be put on the Order Paper and—I see the hon. Gentleman's point in moving the Amendment—I would be glad if he 156 would assist me in any discussions that we have.
I have dealt with the Prime Minister's Questions.
The hon. Member also raised the question whether a Select Committee should be appointed by a private Member. Under the Ten Minute Rule it is possible for an hon. Member to be nominated to a Select Committee by a private Member moving the proposal in the House, but I do not think that at present we can accept that a Select Committee should be appointed by a private Member.
The hon. Member then raised an important point on Standing Order No. 38, Committal of Bills. He wished his Amendment to be taken so that the Finance Bill could be taken upstairs. I am informed that if we wish to take the Finance Bill upstairs we can put on the Paper a Sessional Order amending this Standing Order, or an Order amending this Standing Order, and I would not exclude the possibility of taking part of the Finance Bill upstairs. In the evidence which I gave to the Select Committee I drew attention to this possibility, and by not accepting the hon. Member's Amendment we are not precluding such action, but we would prefer to deal with it ab initio rather than amend the Standing Order in the manner suggested by the hon. Member.
Finally, the hon. Member came to a point about hoping that, on Ten Minute Rule analogy, hon. Members would be able to expect an answer on moving to commit a Bill to a Committee of the whole House. The object of the Amendment is to try to ensure that Bills go upstairs to Committee and are not kept downstairs, according to the spirit of the Select Committee's recommendation. We think the hon. Member's suggestion is rather too cumbrous but we accept the principle that in general, in normal circumstances, we wish Bills to go upstairs rather than be kept on the Floor of the House.
Those represent many of the details which have been raised by the hon. Member and by other hon. Members during the debate. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has a particular qualification in talking about finance matters and I have dealt with most of the questions he asked. He does not like 157 the Finance Bill going upstairs and thinks that it ought to have an Explanatory Memorandum like all other Bills. In the event of it not being sent upstairs, or at any rate part of it, we had better look at his alternative suggestions. He made a suggestion that a charge when reintroduced should not necessarily he decided by a Committee of the whole House, but should be taken on Report.
This is a challenge to one of our oldest Standing Orders, that of 1707, and it has always been taken for granted in this House that a charge on public funds is decided in a Committee of the whole House. While the hon. Member's suggestion is not so revolutionary as all that—taking it on Report within the limits of the Financial Resolution to which he referred is no great revolution—I would prefer to stick to the principle that the Committee of the Commons should decide the extra charges to be imposed on Her Majesty's subjects.
I do not think that there are many other details. The Leader of the Liberal Party made several suggestions. He referred to the Prime Minister's Questions, which I have dealt with, and to Privy Councillors, with which I have also dealt. Other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have made a series of very useful observations.
In conclusion. I hope that we may now take the Amendments fairly steadily and without spending too much time on them. Today has been an example of a general debate in which hon. Members have raised a great many intricate questions. I hope that I have been able to answer some of them in the spirit in which they have been raised.
I think it is impossible to explain to the outside world what our procedure really means and what it does. No new hon. Member can possibly understand how these are the rules which preserve our liberties and give voice to all minority interests. Without them we could not conduct a free and democratic Parliament. To do away with them or submerge them in the glare of publicity would be no service to democracy. The work we do is often boring. The legislative side is detailed. But, as was said earlier by an hon. Member—and the 158 hon. Member for Oldham, West supported it in his speech—when the House of Commons wants to have a big issue debated, there is nothing in procedure, there is nothing in the Government, and there is very little in the Chair which can stop it.
That has always been the case. When we want a big debate, we have it. When there is a big issue, within a few hours we are able to discuss it. So long as our procedure is detailed to preserve liberty, and flexible to encourage discussion of the major issues and the part we play as representing our constituents in national decisions, this House will have the vitality which will be a model to the world.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will tell us how he proposes to deal with the matters he has reserved, if I may so put it? Some, I think, will involve Motions on the Order Paper. Will they be put on the Order Paper and brought up for discussion at some later stage when agreement, or a measure of agreement, has been reached?
§ Mr. Butler
On the whole, considering the complexity of the recommendations and size of this Report, we have had a remarkable degree of agreement. On the few matters that I have reserved, I think the fair way to handle them is to consider them by discussion and, if there are to be any further Amendments, to place them on the Order Paper.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I beg to move, in line 2, after "1959", to insert:would welcome arrangements to provide skilled assistance to private Members in drafting their own Bills and".I wish only to say that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be willing to go some way to meet us. But he left, at any rate in my mind, uncertainty as to how far and how soon, so I have no alternative but to move the Amendment.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 203.161
|Division No. 36.]||AYES||[9.13 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Holt, Arthur||Redhead, E. C.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Houghton, Douglas||Robens, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hunter, A. E.||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Benn, Hn. A. Wedgwood (Brist'l, S. E.)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Ross, William|
|Blackburn, F.||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Reyle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Boardman, H.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leios, S. W.)||Janner, Barnett||Short, Edward|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Jeger, George||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Bowles, Frank||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Boyden, James||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Kelley, Richard||Small, William|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Kenyon, Clifford||Snow, Julian|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||King, Dr. Horace||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Chapman, Donald||Lawson, George||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Chetwynd, George||Loughlin, Charles||Steele, Thomas|
|Collick, Percy||McCann, John||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||MacColl, James||Stones, William|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Darling, George||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Symonds, J. B.|
|Deer, George||Marsh, Richard||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|de Freltas, Geoffrey||Mendelson, J. J.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Millan, Bruce||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Dodds, Norman||Mitchison, G. R.||Thornton, Ernest|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Moody, A. S.||Tomney, Frank|
|Driberg, Tom||Moyle, Arthur||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Mulley, Frederick||Wade, Donald|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Oliver, G. H.||Warbey, William|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Owen, Will||Weitzman, David|
|Evans, Albert||Padley, W. E.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Foot, Dingle||Parker, John (Dagenham)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Parkin, B. T. (Paddington, N.)||Whitlock, William|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd||Paton, John||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Ginsburg, David||Pavitt, Laurence||Willey, Frederick|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Grey, Charles||Peart, Frederick||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Grimond, J.||Prentice, R. E.||Woof, Robert|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Probert, Arthur||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hilton, A. V.||Randall, Harry||Mr. Cronin and Mr. Howell.|
|Holman, Percy||Rankin, John|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Chataway, Christopher||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Aitken, W. T.||Chichester-Clark, R.||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Allason, James||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Gammans, Lady|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Gardner, Edward|
|Arbuthnot, John||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Gibson-Watt, David|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Cleaver, Leonard||Glover, Sir Douglas|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Cole, Norman||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)|
|Balniel, Lord||Collard, Richard||Goodhew, Victor|
|Barber, Anthony||Cooper, A. E.||Gower, Raymond|
|Barlow, Sir John||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Barter, John||Cordle, John||Green, Alan|
|Batsford, Brian||Corfield, F. V.||Grimston, Sir Robert|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Costain, A. P.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col, R. G.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Coulson, J. M.||Gurden, Harold|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)|
|Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Critchley, Julian||Harrison, Brian (Malden)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Cunningham, Knox||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Curran, Charles||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Deedes, W. F.||Hay, John|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bossom, Clive||Doughty, Charles||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Drayson, G. B.||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.|
|Box, Donald||Eden, John||Hiley, Joseph|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Elliott, R. W.||Holland, Philip|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Emery, Peter||Hopkins, Alan|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hornby, R. P.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Farr, John||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Finlay, Graeme||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Mathew, Robert (Heniton)||Simon, Sir Jocelyn|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Smithers, Peter|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Mills, Stratton||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Hurd, Sir Anthony||Montgomery, Fergus||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morrison, John||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Neave, Airey||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|James, David||Noble, Michael||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Nugent, Sir Richard||Talbot, John E.|
|Jennings, J. C.||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Temple, John M.|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Page, Graham||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Kirk, Peter||Peel, John||Turner, Colin|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Leavey, J. A.||Pilkington, Capt. Richard||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Leburn, Gilmour||Pitman, I. J.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Pitt, Miss Edith||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Powell, J. Enoch||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Lindsay, Martin||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wall, Patrick|
|Linstead, Sir Hugh||Price, H. A. (Lewisham. W.)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Longbottom, Charles||Prior, J. M. L.||Watts, James|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Webster, David|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ramsden, James||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|McLaren, Martin||Rawlinson, Peter||Whitelaw, William|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Rees, Hugh||Wise, Alfred|
|McMaster, Stanley||Renton, David||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Maddan, Martin||Ridsdale, Julian||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. W.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Woollam, John|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Roots, William|
|Marlowe, Anthony||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Marshall, Douglas||Scott-Hopkins, James||Mr. J. E. B. Hill and Mr. Sharples.|
|Marten, Neil||Seymour, Leslie|
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I beg to move, in line 2, after "1959", to insert:is of the opinion that in future Mr. Speaker should interpret Standing Order No. 9 in the manner recommended in paragraph 34 thereof and".The Leader of the House was willing to meet a point of procedure concerning Mr. Speaker being able to delay his decision, but that is not in the Amendment. Although the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be going very near the mark when the Ruritanian fleet was shelling Lowestoft, he did not concede the recommendation of the Select Committee.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I wish to make two very brief points about the Amendment. I was surprised that the Leader of the House did not accept it. A point is involved in the Amendment which one observes from inside the House, from outside the House as a member of the public, and, in particular, when one is concerned with teaching in political institutions. That is, that if the House is able to take up very quickly and sometimes dramatically some event 162 which has occurred, it adds to the strength of the House, which helps in the relationship between the House and the electorate. Anything which goes in that direction ought to be encouraged.
Secondly, when this Standing Order was first introduced it was much wider than it is today. It is clear that Speakers in those days and prominent Members of the House felt that there was involved a development of the time-honoured right to raise matters which were of particular urgency. It is quite possible, without going as far as the Amendment seeks, to go further than the Leader of the House has gone today. This is not the time to make a long speech, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that we expect something better than we have heard today.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Chapman
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he is willing to do on this Amendment? I think that he appreciates the problem that has arisen over a number of years now as a result of the increasingly restrictive Rulings by the Chair. Would he be good enough to say that he is quite willing to talk with Mr. Speaker about possible ways in which the more restrictive Rulings under the Standing Order 163 can be relaxed, by Mr. Speaker breaking, to some extent, some of the bad precedents of more recent years'? If he were willing to go so far, it would help a great deal.
I sympathise with the Leader of the House when he said that he must reserve the point that Government responsibility must be involved. That is quite right. He is also right, I think, on the point about 40 Members deciding instead of Mr. Speaker. The fact remains that stupid things still surround Standing Order No. 9. For example, if, at 3.30 p.m. we are to proceed to a debate on the Adjournment, nothing can be raised under that Standing Order; or if we proceed to a debate on the Consolidated Fund, it would be out of order, and impossible, to raise anything under the Standing Order. There are various restrictions on raising matters of urgent public importance.
If the right hon. Gentleman would agree to talk with Mr. Speaker, and to make a further statement about ways in which some of the annoying parts of Standing Order No. 9 could, quite easily, be cleared up, some of us would feel more satisfied.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
I have examined Volume 23 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 1894, when Mr. Speaker Peel gave his Ruling. The only omission in Speaker Peel's statement was in respect of public responsibility, to which I referred in my speech. I think, Mr. Speaker, that it would be better if you could read the statement I made. I should certainly be ready to discuss this with Mr. Speaker, because, within reason, we do not want to restrict a matter that is both urgent and of public importance. But I do not think that I should go back on all the reservations I have made in my earlier statement.
§ Mr. Mitchison
By leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, may I say that what was troubling us were the words:… within the scope of possible government action…I understand the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), I sympathise. If the Leader of the House will undertake, as he has, to discuss the matter with you, 164 Mr. Speaker, and to see whether anything can be done to relax the restrictions that successive Rulings have put on the operation of Standing Order No. 9, that will satisfy us. Accordingly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Ede
I understand that the Amendment, in line 2, after "1959"to insert:would welcome the appointment by Mr. Speaker of an officer of this House to assist unofficial Members with the drafting of public bills and of amendments thereto andfalls, because the first Amendment was lost. In any event, after that expression by the House, I do not propose to move it.
Amendment proposed: In line 2, after "1959", insert:
is of the opinion that Mr. Speaker should give effect to the recommendations relating to Privy Councillors' rights set out in paragraph 29 thereof and".—[Mr. Blackburn]
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I should like a further assurance from the Leader of the House that the reference to Privy Councillors is not confined to back-bench Privy Councillors, but includes Privy Councillors sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, and that in the event of the present Government coming to their proper termination before long, which is the desire of everybody on this side of the House as well as a vast number of people in the country, the same rule shall apply to them when they are sitting on this side.
If I may have that assurance that this reference to Privy Councillors should not 12e peculiar to back-bench Privy Councillors, but that there should be complete equality all round, I shall not oppose the Government's proposal.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
As I was not particularly desirous of making this an Amendment to the Standing Order, but wished to reserve it for your discretion, Mr. Speaker, it would ill befit me to interpret your discretion, but when you were absent from the Chair I did say to 165 the right hon. Gentleman—and this remains my opinion—that it would be wrong if there were any differentiation between right hon. Gentlemen especially on the other side of the House. A natural privilege attaches to any right hon. Gentleman who may have to move a Government Order or take part in Government business.
I feel sure that we would not wish to treat in any lowly fashion any right hon. Gentleman sitting on the back benches who is already a Privy Councillor. If there is to be a vote on this matter, may I suggest that the vote should take place between the two sides of the House and that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) should act as a teller against his own Front Bench?
§ Amendment negatived.
Amendment proposed: In line 2, after "1959", insert:
agrees with sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 24 thereof and is of the opinion that arrangements should be made for morning sittings of the House to be held for the discussion of the private Members' business referred to in that sub-paragraph and".—[Mr. Benn.]
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hale
I beg to move, in line 2, after "1959", to insert:would welcome arrangements for the setting up of a colonial standing committee with composition, procedure and powers on the lines set forth in the penultimate paragraph of page 1 of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Select Committee, and".I appreciate that the House is anxious to come to a decision. On the other hand, we expressly left this Amendment out of our general discussion as a matter which must be discussed separately and which is sufficiently important to merit an explanation, particularly in view of the fact that the proposal seems to have been grossly misunderstood.
The right hon. Gentleman compared it to some procedure that existed in the United States of America, or in France—not the most felicitous observation that he made in the course of his opening speech, because the colonial empire of the United States has some fairly obvious differences from ours in extent, nature, and so on, and the French colonial empire, which is giving most trouble, is part of metropolitan France. I would have thought that this is a matter which the United Kingdom Parliament must 166 consider without having the advice of General de Gaulle, or Dr. Adenauer, as we do on most of our issues.
I shall telescope this into a single sentence. If the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) for morning sittings had been accepted, that probably would have provided sufficient time and my Amendment could have been regarded as alternative, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-West (Mr. Benn) suggested, as, indeed, would have been the case if some other of our proposals for giving more time had been accepted.
The basic and vital problem in colonial affairs has always been that we have discussed them too late. Time after time, states of emergency have been declared in Colonial Territories during the last few years in circumstances in which the House has never been advised of the situation, knew nothing about it, and had no opportunity to discuss it.
If one refers to our colonial debates during the last fifty years, one will find that there have been the problems of Setsenato, Lobengula, Dr. Jameson—problems arising almost spontaneously.
The subjects of anxiety move from place to place. We had the subject of Bechuanaland raised not on the question of the Kalahari Desert, cattle ranching, or drought, but because the chieftain of the Bamangwato married a white lady in London, a lady who showed herself, in very difficult circumstances, very much a lady, and who emerges historically as the one person who gained a higher reputation as a result of it all.
§ Mr. Hale
My right hon. Friend wants to go into the Lobby with me, but the difficulty is that there are two or three hundred hon. Members who do not want to go into the Lobby with me and I want to persuade them. I shall take two or three minutes to explain the point.
I want a Standing Committee. The arguments which have been put against it were not very sound. I do not want to use provocative language. I have done it once already and I apologise to 167 my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West for expressing a strongly held view, which I still hold, in terms which might have been, perhaps, more felicitously or more courteously put.
I will give one example of the sort of situation which arises. We have discussed Kenya time after time in the House because an emergency had arisen. Had we discussed it before the emergency arose, matters might have been very different. Had there been a Standing Committee constantly apprised of these problems and able to obtain information—I do not say that it would make decisions, because we do not suggest that it do that, except to refer urgent matters for consideration to the House—we might have avoided problems in British Guiana, in Honduras and, certainly, in Kenya. We should have had a little more understanding of what was happening.
The problems remain. I am bound to say, as an old Liberal—or as a young Liberal of Jong standing—that I have always put the view that we should seek to have inter-racial co-operation in the Colonies as far as we can. We should try to ensure that the white people have their opportunities of rendering real service to the Colonies. I did not mind when the Hopkinsons were looking at me from the right and saying that I was a dirty Socialist, but I find it difficult now when the Macmillans and the Macleods look at me from the other side and say I am a dirty Tory. The burden has shifted.
A single, specific example is furnished by the case of Peter Koinange. This does seem to be important and relevant. Peter Koinange, the son of a Christian chief, was sent to America and given just about the best education which could be provided by any expenditure of money. He was educated at three first-class universities. When he returned to Africa, he and Albert Schweitzer were two of the best educated men in Africa. When he returned to Africa, as everyone witnesses, he was determined to devote himself to teaching and providing education for the Africans. He was told that he could have a job as an assistant teacher, at a rate for the African which was about 30 or 40 per cent. less than the rate for the Asian which, in its turn, was about 30 or 40 per cent. less than the rate for the European. Those were 168 the circumstances in which we were seeking African co-operation.
Peter Koinange started the independent schools. We are told, and many people sincerely believe, that they were places—
§ Mr. Hale
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) should be a good judge of what is mischievous. It is almost congenital in the family.
He sought to help. It may be that he did lose some of his Christianity. It is very difficult to teach Christianity in those circumstances.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is what the hon. Member is saying in order in a discussion on this Amendment?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was so unfortunate as not to hear half of one of the hon. Member's sentences. I hope that his recital is leading to a point in connection with the Amendment. If it is not, I will intervene.
§ Mr. Hale
Yes, Mr. Speaker. My reply would be to quote the Amendment, but it would take a long time to quote the whole of it which gives the reasoning on which the proposition is based. I am happy to leave myself in the hands of the House.
These were important matters and they were never discussed. None of us knew about these things. After we came back, the Mau Mau emergency had started and this House learnt for the first time about differential wages, the exploitation of the peasant, and so on. Had we had that information quietly before a Standing Committee of the House, had this House, with its deep concern, I believe on both sides, for injustice and a deep desire to remedy injustice, known of these things, we could have made recommendations which I think all Europeans in Kenya wish had been made at the time. I believe that most of them would willingly confess that opportunities were missed.
I want to see co-operation. I would like to see Michael Blundell succeed. I do not want to see a black Africa or a black dictatorship taking the place of a white oligarchy, as has happened all too 169 often. That is why I thought that a Standing Committee, afforded all information and able to get genuine and relevant facts and able to discuss the very real problem of Swaziland, Bechuanaland and Basutoland and their relationship to Africa which has not been discussed for years, would be useful. That is why some of us support the proposition.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
As I put my name as a seconder to a later Amendment which has not been called, may I briefly endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has said? I support my hon. Friend's proposal for two reasons. I do not think that I should have supported it if it had been put forward many years ago, because in those days one could, strictly speaking, speak of a Colonial Empire. That has largely gone and will continue to go until it will disappear in the years ahead. That being so, it seems to me that a Standing Committee of the kind suggested in the Amendment would be most suitable to consider all the remnants of the old Colonial Empire which still exist.
Secondly, I believe that, whatever may be the reason, there has been some sign of a convergence of similar convictions on both sides of the House regarding the Colonies. I am certain that a number ofs hon. Members on both sides are now prepared to consider the whole question of the Colonies more objectively and sympathetically and with a desire to see ultimately self-government prevail in the remaining Colonies.
In those circumstances, I would have thought, despite what some of my hon. Friends believe to the contrary, that it is an excellent idea to cover the whole position of colonialism in a Standing Committee so that we can work towards a common and final assessment of this matter. For those reasons and many others which I could mention, I wish to support the Amendment.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is quite right. This matter was reserved from the general debate. I think that it remains the only issue so reserved on which I did not touch in my concluding speech. The condition is a double one. 170 First, we have the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham, West and then he is supported in another Amendment by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) on the subject of a possible Select Committee. The suggestion by the hon. Member for Oldham, West is for a Standing Committee.
The reason that I was bold enough to mention comparison with the American and French practice was not in relation to the connection with colonial policy, on which the ready wit of the hon. Member for Oldham, West so quickly fastened, but was because the Select Committee, on page xxv of its Report, in paragraph 47, uses the expression that this would be "a radical constitutional innovation"; and so it would. Paragraph 47 goes on to give the reasons, which are:Notwithstanding that the order of reference might be drawn in general terms … there is little doubt that the activities of such a committee would ultimately be aimed at controlling rather than criticising the policy and actions of the department concerned.The Select Committee goes on to say:In so doing, it would be usurping a function which the House itself has never attempted to exercise. Although the House has always maintained the right to criticise the executive and in the last resort to withdraw its confidence, it has always been careful not to arrogate to itself any of the executive power.It is precisely for that reason that up to date, in the development of the history of the Imperial Parliament, we have never adopted a device of this sort. On each side of the House, we have our own specialised committees. As Members of Parliament, we take a particular interest in them. We are well informed in our own ways by obtaining our own information, but we have never attempted upstairs to usurp the functions of the Executive or to set up a committee of this constitutional significance.
It may be wrong, it may be right, but I believe that this House has as much power in expressing its view on the Colonies, especially under the revised procedure that we are now adopting, and it has as much power to express its opinion to influence policy on the Colonies, as if it had a committee upstairs. If the House took this sort of committee upstairs, even though it were called a Standing Committee, I am sure that acceptance of the Amendment would mean that there would be one of the first instances of a clash between the 171 Executive and the Legislature, which hitherto we have managed to avoid.
The Legislature has the absolute right to rid itself of the Executive by a vote of confidence and by replacing Ministers by other Ministers, but we in Britain have always accepted that once a man is a member of the executive Government, and once the executive Government is established, it is their duty to carry out the Administration. I feel certain that a mixture of these two ideas, although it is animated, obviously, by a warm heart, though insufficient advice, such as the hon. Member for Oldham, West is endowed with, would not be a constitutional innovation of any value at the present time. Therefore, while appreciating the sincerity of the two hon. Members who have put this proposal forward, I regret that I am unable to accept it.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Is the right hon. Gentleman quite right about this being the first instance? Was there not an India Committee mentioned, I think, in the evidence before the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. I was myself somewhat involved in the affairs of India, but it was not on all fours with this issue. It is mentioned in the proceedings of the Select Committee and the Select Committee considered it, but it was after considering it that the Select Committee come to the conclusion that this would be "a radical constitutional innovation". That deals with that argument.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 89, Noes 220.173
|Division No. 37.]||AYES||[9.49 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Rankin, John|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Janner, Barnett||Roberts, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bowles, Frank||Kelley, Richard||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Boyden, James||Kenyon, Clifford||Ross, William|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||King, Dr. Horace||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Chetwynd, George||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Cliffe, Michael||Loughlin, Charles||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||McCann, John||Small, William|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||MacColl, James||Snow, Julian|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Deer, George||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Delargy, Hugh||Marsh, Richard||Steele, Thomas|
|Dodds, Norman||Mendelson, J. J.||Stones, William|
|Driberg, Tom||Mitchison, G. R.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Moody, A. S.||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Evans, Albert||Oliver, G. H.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd||Oram, A. E.||Wade, Donald|
|Ginsberg, David||Padley, W. E.||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Weitzman, David|
|Grimond, J.||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Parkin, B. T. (Paddington, N.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Paton, John||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Pavitt, Laurence||Woof, Robert|
|Hilton, A. V.||Peart, Frederick||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Holt, Arthur||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Probert, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hunter, A. E.||Proctor, W. T.||Mr. George Thomas and Mr. Benn.|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. W. H.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.)||Browne, Percy (Torrington)|
|Allason, James||Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Butcher, Sir Herbert|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Berkeley, Humphry||Carr, Compton (Barons Court)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Biggs-Davison, John||Chataway, Christopher|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Balniel, Lord||Bishop, F. P.||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)|
|Barber, Anthony||Black, Sir Cyril||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Bossom, Clive||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)|
|Barter, John||Bourne-Arton, A.||Cleaver, Leonard|
|Batsford, Brian||Box, Donald||Cole, Norman|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Boyle, Sir Edward||Collard, Richard|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Brains, Bernard||Cooper, A. E.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Curdle, John||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Costain, A. P.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Coulson, J. M.||Hurd, Sir Anthony||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Iremonger, T. L.||Ramsden, James|
|Critchley, Julian||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Cunningham, Knox||James, David||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Curran, Charles||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Rees, Hugh|
|Dance, James||Jennings, J. C.||Renton, David|
|Deedes, W. F.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Doughty, Charles||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Eden, John||Kershaw, Anthony||Roots, William|
|Elliott, R. W.||Kirk, Peter||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Emery, Peter||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Langford-Holt, J.||Seymour, Leslie|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Leavey, J. A.||Sharples, Richard|
|Farr, John||Leburn, Gilmour||Simon, Sir Jocelyn|
|Fell, Anthony||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Smithers, Peter|
|Finlay, Graeme||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Lindsay, Martin||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Foot, Dingle||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Litchfield, Capt. John||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Freeth, Denzil||Longbottom, Charles||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Gammans, Lady||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Gardner, Edward||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||McLaren, Martin||Talbot, John E.|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Tapsell, Peter|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Temple, John M.|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H. (Dorset, N.)||McMaster, Stanley||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Maddan, Martin||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maitland, Cdr. J. W.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Gower, Raymond||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Green, Alan||Marlowe, Anthony||Turner, Colin|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Marten, Neil||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Grimston, Sir Robert||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John|
|Gurden, Harold||Mavdon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mills, Stratton||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Montgomery, Fergus||Wall, Patrick|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Morrison, John||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Watts, James|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Neave, Alrey||Webster, David|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Noble, Michael||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Nugent, Sir Richard||Whitelaw, William|
|Hay, John||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Wise, Alfred|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Page, Graham||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Hiley, Joseph||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Woollam, John|
|Holland, Philip||Peel, John||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Percival, Ian|
|Hornby, R. P.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Mr. Edward Wakefield|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Pilkington, Capt. Richard||Mr. J. E. B. Hill.|
|Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Pitman, I. J.|
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Regarding the right hon. Gentleman's modified acceptance as satisfactory, I do not move my Amendment, in line 2, after "approves", to insert:the recommendations set out in paragraph 23 of the Report and".
§ Mr. Blackburn
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's decision that he will discuss this with me, I do not move the 174 Amendment, in line 6, at the end to insert:"Standing Order No. 8Line 7, at end insert—'(3) Not more than twenty-one days' notice (excluding periods during which the House is adjourned for more than four days) shall be given for any oral question'.It may save time if I also say that, in view of his proposal to take the Prime Minister's Questions as from Question No. 40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I shall not move my next Amendment, in line 6, at the end to insert: 175Standing Order No. 8Line 7, at end insert—'(3) Questions to the Prime Minister, except by private notice, shall be limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays and shall be taken at a quarter past Three of the clock'.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
I beg to move, in line 6, at the end to insert:Standing Order No. 8Line 8, leave out from '(3)' to 'except' in line 9, and insert When one hour has elapsed after Mr. Speaker has called the Member whose question is No. 1 on the Order Paper, no further questions shall be taken'.Line 32, leave out 'half-past three of the clock' and insert 'the end of the hour for questions'.Line 37, leave out 'half-past three of the clock' and insert 'the end of the hour for questions'.I will speak quite briefly. I did not think it right to seek to catch your eye in the general debate Mr. Speaker, with an Amendment of such limited significance—limited, modest and simple, but I venture to suggest to the Leader of the House, so self-evidently sensible and desirable that it seems inconceivable that it would be unacceptable to anyone as reasonable as the right hon. Gentleman has shown himself this evening.
The purpose of this Amendment—the second and third parts of which are consequential—is quite simply to make Question Tillie last one hour, which many people outside this House think that it does, but which, in fact, it never does. As hon. Members know, it starts after Prayers which last three or four minutes, after Private Business, sometimes after Petitions; in fact, after other business which may take up to a quarter of an hour.
This is seriously shortening Question Time on occasions, and always shortening it by several minutes in any case. It may be said that it is only a matter of three or four minutes, but I do not think that only three or four minutes would seem very unimportant to an hon. Member who had a Question in which he was very much interested at say No. 40 or No. 45 on the Paper. When he watched the hands of the clock go round and saw that it was coming up to 3.30, I am sure that any such hon. Member would wish that Question Time could last even three or four minutes longer. I think that the Leader of the House 176 has recognised this tonight by his suggestion that we should experiment by moving the Prime Minister's first Question back to No. 40. My Amendment would have roughly the same effect as that in respect of the Prime Minister's Questions and if it is accepted it will tend to strengthen the effect of what the right hon. Gentleman has already done in that regard.
I have discussed this modest proposal with several hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have found very little disagreement with it. Most of those with whom I discussed it thought it was not very important but that there was no harm in it. One hon. Member thought it might be cutting into the time of debate and therefore was perhaps undesirable, but I cannot help feeding that most hon. Members would prefer to have four or five more minutes of Question Time and four or five fewer minutes of the general debate, which after all lasts a good many hours by comparison; and those minutes could easily be recovered if one or two right hon. Gentlemen who opened the debate were to be good enough to shorten their perorations or exordia even by a minute or two. I hope, therefore, that this simple and slight Amendment, which would be quite useful to the generality of hon. Members, will be accepted by the Leader of the House.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
I have, of course, examined this proposal, which is a simple one, with sympathy. It simply extends the hour of Questions and by leaving out the time we wait gives a complete hour for Questions. We wait for Prayers and Private Business and other things.
Firstly, this matter has not been examined by the Select Committee and it is not one of its findings. Secondly, we have various devices now to improve our Question hour. We have speedier Written Questions, fewer Oral Questions a day will be allowed to each Member, and Mr. Speaker has undertaken to check as far as he can the length and number of supplementary questions.
I think, therefore, that we should get through our Question hour with any luck a little more speedily than we have 177 up to now. In view of all this and the fact that, although this is a perfectly reasonable idea, it has not been considered by the Select Committee, we had better wait a further occasion before we adopt a device of this sort and see how our present improvements work out. I hope that the hon. Member will understand that it is not without sympathy that I look at the point, but I do not think that at present I can concede it.
§ Mr. Driberg
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Easter in connection with another matter. He said that we would see how the experiment with the Prime Minister's Questions goes until about Easter. Will he be good enough to look again at this matter at about the same date, by which time he will have seen how all the changes he has mentioned are working out?
§ Mr. Butler
Certainly, I will undertake that up to Easter I will keep this in the forefront of my mind.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)
The right hon. Gentleman agrees that this is a reasonable suggestion, and everybody in the House, I think, agrees that it is a reasonable suggestion—so we are now going to turn it down. Would the right hon. Gentleman consider beginning Prayers at twenty-five minutes past Two o'clock, which would almost always give us a full hour for Questions thereafter?
§ Mr. Butler
That is an idea which I will put side by side with the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg).
§ Mr. Driberg
Since it is so generally agreed that this is a reasonable suggestion, I have great pleasure in asking the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ Mr. Blackburn
I do not propose to move my Amendment in line 6, at the end to insert:"Standing Order No. 12Line 4, after 'the', insert 'appointment and'".It is important that if a back bencher feels strongly that a Select Committee should be set up to consider a certain 178 matter, he should have the opportunity of saying so, but in view of what the Home Secretary has said, I will not waste the time of the House and I shall have to proceed by education.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I beg to move, in line 20, at the end to insert:"Standing Order No. 30Line 7, at end add—'(2) For the purpose of proceedings upon an unofficial Member's bill or motion, paragraph (1) of this Standing Order shall apply with the substitution of "forty" for "one hundred" as the number of Members voting in the majority in support of the motion'".This question has not been discussed in the general debate. Much has been said about the need to give private Members more time and to make more use of their time in the House. I suggest that it is not much use giving private Members more time if we waste a great deal of the time given to them. At present, on Fridays, when Private Members' Bills are moved, it can happen that a small group of Members in the House can, by adopting this method, completely defeat what is the desire of a large number of Members to get a certain piece of legislation on to the Statute Book.
It is agreed that many times non-controversial legislation of a useful kind comes forward from back-bench Members, but controversial legislation may cut across party lines in the House, and that, also, is useful. In fact the only way it can come forward is by the use of private Members' time. However, it would be a pity if all such attempts were frustrated by a small group of hon. Members obstructing a rule and preventing the House from reaching a decision by preventing the Closure being moved.
Therefore, this Amendment suggests that in future the Closure should be carried when private Members' business is before the House by 40 instead of 100 Members voting. I suggest that this is reasonable on a Friday when we have private Members' time. Normally, it is easy, when there is Government business, for the Closure to be moved, since Governments with their Whips can always get the necessary 100 Members here and move the Closure. Private Members have not got the Whips behind them and they find it difficult to mobilise in that way.
179 I would point out that when the present rules were framed the position with regard to private business was very different from the present. Until the middle of the 'thirties the position was that on Fridays non-controversial Bills were brought forward, but the main Bills brought forward by private Members on Friday were party propaganda Bills. If a Conservative Government were in office and a Labour Member happened to win a place in the Ballot, he would bring forward a Bill in favour of the nationalisation of the mines, to which his party attached great importance. If a Liberal Member won a place in the Ballot he would bring forward a Bill for proportional representation. If a Conservative Member won a place in the Ballot he would bring forward a Bill for tariff reform, or whatever his party happened to be interested in at the time. There was a full-dress debate with Whips on, and the Closure could be moved. There was a big turn-out on Fridays and a big party fight.
We have moved on from that largely because of the initiative of Mr. Baldwin, when he was Conservative Prime Minister. He came to the House one Friday to oppose a Bill on trade union business which was proposed by some of his own party Members. He took the view that on an important matter of party policy the Government of the day ought to bring forward a Bill, and that back-bench Members should bring in Bills of a non-controversial nature or ones that cut across party lines. That lead was largely followed by his own supporters and has since been taken up on this side of the House.
Since that date, there have been many useful Private Members'Bills—A. P. Herbert's Bill on divorce reform, Ellen Wilkinson's Bill on hire-purchase reform, a reform of the law of libel, adoption Bills, obscene publications Bills, and others of that kind. There are others in this Session which, we hope, will become law. As the House has developed a new use for Fridays, and since useful legislation has resulted from the efforts made by private Members, I suggest that we should now go a stage further in this modern development and change the custom of the House and alter the number of hon. 180 Members required to vote in the majority in support of the Closure. This is quite different for Private Members' Bills as compared with Government business and we should recognise that in the rules of the House and make this alteration.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has made some observations about the valuable part which can be played by the introduction and passage of Private Members' Bills. He spoke of Bills which have made very important alterations to the law. I have no doubt that in future other Private Members' Bills will be introduced and will reach the Statute Book, but that is not an argument in favour of altering the Standing Order about the quorum for a Closure.
This proposal was considered by the Select Committee, which in paragraph 16 of its Report said:We have considered a proposal that the numbers required for quorum and closure might be reduced for private Members' Fridays, so as to obviate the possibility of obstruction on such a day. In our opinion, however, there can be no justification for special relaxation of the safeguards which apply to all public legislation, in the interests of private Members.That rejected the hon. Member's proposal, and the reasoning on which that decision was founded seems unimpeachable. For those reasons, we cannot accept the hon. Member's proposals.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Since the Leader of the House is in full agreement with the object which I have in mind in this Amendment, in line 20, at the end to insert:Standing Order No. 38Paragraph (1), line 2, leave out from beginning to 'Consolidated'.I will not move it. I hope to persuade him to move a similar Amendment later.
Since he accepts the second part of the Amendment in principle, I will not move that, either.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I was referring, Mr. Speaker, to the second part of the Amendment in my name, in line 38, at the end to add:'(5) When a motion is made to commit a Bill (other than a Consolidated Fund or Appropriation Bill) to a committee of the whole House, the Member proposing shall give a brief explanatory statement and one Member shall have the right of reply, after which Mr. Speaker without permitting any further debate shall put the question thereon'
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Houghton
I beg to move, in line 37, at the end to insert:"Standing Order No. 79Line 5, at end add—'Provided that this Standing Order shall not apply on consideration of any bill reported from a committee in respect of any new clause or amendment varying the incidence of rates or imposing a charge upon the rates or in respect of any new clause or amendment which varies or imposes a charge upon the people or upon the revenue, provided that such charge or variation of charge is within the terms of a resolution authorising expenditure in connection with a bill agreed to by the House in respect of that bill'".The Leader of the House has made two references to this Amendment, both of them unfavourable. On both occasions he reminded us that the present rule on recommittal went back to 1707. We read about that in the Report of the Select Committee. This being a complicated matter, I take refuge in referring hon. Members to paragraph 11 of the Select Committee's Report, but you will notice, Mr. Speaker, that the rule about recommittal goes back to the time when Mr. Speaker was a partisan of the Crown, a state of affairs, which, happily, has long since ceased to exist.
It says that the tradition surviving has led to confusion and complication. Paragraph 11 of the Report says:Few Members fully comprehend the necessity for recommittal; and the reasons for holding that an Amendment may impose a charge are occasionally somewhat subtle.The Amendment confines the removal of the recommittal requirement to those cases where the charge, or the variation of the charge, is within the terms of the original Financial Resolution. That seems to be an adequate safeguard to the traditional control of expenditure and the reserved right of the House, in Committee, to impose a charge.
182 I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, with his very agreeable and flexible approach to this matter, will reconsider it. I agree that it is a minor matter, but it is an impediment to private Members exercising their rights to move Amendments through their frequently not being fully aware of the need for a recommittal Motion.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) moved the Amendment with commendable brevity, and I will try to reply with equal brevity.
The hon. Member will not be surprised if I say that we cannot accept the proposal. The recommittal serves a useful purpose as it draws to the attention of the Committee the fact that further expenditure of public money is involved. I think that the hon. Member's proposal might be fruitful of considerable points of order on the question whether the financial charge imposed was, or was not, within the terms of the Money Resolution. That might involve the expenditure of a considerable amount of time on occasions, and at present I think that we ought to adhere to the practice which started in 1707 and has not worked too badly since then.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
§ Mr. Mitchison
I thank the Leader of the House for his acceptance in principle of the Amendment. I assure him that the drafting of it was done by more skilled hands than mine. In those circumstances, I do not move the Amendment, in line 40, at the end to insert:Insert new Standing Order (Debate on Adjournment of the House).'That notwithstanding the practice of the House which prohibits in debates on the Adjournment any reference to grievances requiring legislative remedy, Mr. Speaker may permit such incidental reference to legislative action as he may consider relevant to any matter of administration then under debate when enforcement of the prohibition would, in his opinion, unduly restrict the discussion of such matter'.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
In view of the undertaking given by the Leader of the House, I do not propose to move the Amendment in line 40, at the end to insert:Insert new Standing Order (Welsh Grand Committee)
- '(1) There shall be a committee to be known as the Welsh Grand Committee for the consideration of specified matters relating exclusively to Wales and Monmouthshire referred to them; and for this purpose Standing Order No. 61A (Matters relating exclusively to Scotland) shall be applied to matters relating exclusively to Wales.
- (2) The Welsh Grand Committee shall consist of all Members sitting for constituencies in Wales and Monmouthshire, together with not less than ten nor more than fifteen other
§ Members to be nominated in respect of the business by the Committee of Selection, who shall have regard in such nomination to the approximation of the balance of parties in the committee to that in the whole House, and shall have power from time to time to discharge the Members so nominated by them and to appoint others in substitution for those discharged'".
§ This has been well argued.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 126.185
|Division No. 38.]||AYES||[10.19 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Farr, John||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Fell, Anthony||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Allason, James||Finlay, Graeme||Lindsay, Martin|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Litchfield, Capt. John|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Freeth, Denzil||Longbottom, Charles|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gammans, Lady||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby|
|Balniel, Lord||Gardner, Edward||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Barber, Anthony||Glover, Sir Douglas||McLaren, Martin|
|Barlow, Sir John||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia|
|Barter, John||Glyn, Col. Richard H. (Dorset, N.)||McMaster, Stanley|
|Batsford, Brian||Goodhart, Philip||Maddan, Martin|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Goodhew, Victor||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Gower, Raymond||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Green, Alan||Marlowe, Anthony|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Gresham Cooke, R.||Marten, Neil|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Grimond, J.||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Grimston, Sir Robert||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mills, Stratton|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Bossom, Clive||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Morrison, John|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mott-Radolyffe, Sir Charles|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Neave, Airey|
|Box, Donald||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Noble, Michael|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hay, John||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Braine, Bernard||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Page, Graham|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hiley, Joseph||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Peel, John|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Holland, Philip||Percival, Ian|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Holt, Arthur||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Hornby, R. P.||Pilkington, Capt. Richard|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Pitman, I. J.|
|Cole, Norman||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Collard, Richard||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Pott, Percivall|
|Cooper, A. E.||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cordle, John||Hughes-Young, Michael||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Costain, A. P.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ramsden, James|
|Coulson, J. M.||Iremonger, T. L.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||James, David||Rees, Hugh|
|Critchley, Julian||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Renton, David|
|Cunningham, Knox||Jennings, J. C.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Curran, Charles||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Dance, James||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Kerans, Cdr, J. S.||Roots, William|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Doughty, Charles||Kershaw, Anthony||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Drayson, G. B.||Kirk, Peter||Seymour, Leslie|
|Eden, John||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Simon, Sir Jocelyn|
|Elliott, R. W.||Langford-Holt, J.||Smithers, Peter|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Leavey, J. A.||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Leburn, Gilmour||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Turner, Colin||Wells, John (Maindstone)|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Whitelaw, William|
|Storey, Sir Samuel||Vane, W. M. F.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Studholme, Sir Henry||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John||Wise, Alfred|
|Sumner, Donald (Orpington)||Vickers, Miss Joan||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Talbot, John E.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Tapsell, Peter||Wade, Donald||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Temple, John M.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Woollam, John|
|Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Wall, Patrick||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||Watts, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)||Webster, David||Mr. Sharples and Mr. Gibson-Watt|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hunter, A. E.||Robens, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Benn, Hn. A. Wedgwood (Brist'l, S. E.)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Boardman, H.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Ross, William|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.)||Janner, Barnett||Short, Edward|
|Bowles, Frank||Jeger, George||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Boyden, James||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Small, William|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Kelley, Richard||Snow, Julian|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||King, Dr. Horace||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Chetwynd, George||Lawson, George||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Cliffs, Michael||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Loughlin, Charles||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||McCann, John||Stones, William|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||MacColl, James||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Delargy, Hugh||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Dodds, Norman||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Marsh, Richard||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Driberg, Tom||Mendelson, J. J.||Thornton, Ernest|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Millan, Bruce||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Moyle, Arthur||Warbey, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||Mulley, Frederick||Weitzman, David|
|Foot, Dingle||Oliver, G. H.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Oram, A. E.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugn||Owen, Will||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Whitlock, William|
|Ginsburg, David||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Pavitt, Laurence||Willey, Fredèrick|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Peart, Frederick||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Grey, Charles||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Prentice, R. E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Woof, Robert|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colns Valley)||Probert, Arthur||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Hayman, F. H.||Proctor, W. T.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Holman, Percy||Randall, Harry||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Houghton, Douglas||Rankin, John||Mr. Cronin and Mr. Howell.|
§ Main Question put and agreed to.