HC Deb 06 June 1961 vol 641 cc888-94

3.40 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

On a point of order. [Interruption.] I will wait a moment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Gentlemen please go out of the Chamber more quietly.

Mr. Griffiths

I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you do not propose to call the Amendment in my name, and in the names of several of my hon. Friends, to page 11, line 29, to leave out Clause 6. May I, with respect, ask if you would be good enough to reconsider your decision? I should be grateful if I could be allowed to submit to you why I think it important that the Amendment should be called and that the House should be given an opportunity of discussing it.

As you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, the Bill is a general licensing Bill applying to the whole of England and Wales, except for two of its provisions, embodied in Clause 6 and in the Second Schedule, which relate exclusively to Wales and Monmouthshire. The provision in Clause 6 repeals the Wales (Sunday Closing) Act, 1881, which was later incorporated and consolidated in the Licensing Act, 1953.

Through the Government's action in seeking to repeal that old Act in a general Measure applying to the whole of England and Wales, Members of Parliament for constituencies in Wales and Monmouthshire were denied the opportunity which the Standing Orders of the House give them of considering the matter in Committee themselves and of pronouncing upon it, which would have been the case if the Government had followed the course open to them of bringing forward a separate Bill dealing with the separate Welsh issue. Moreover, even with this Bill it would have been possible for the Clause and the Schedule concerned to be referred to a special Standing Committee if the Government had been willing to do so.

I was able to table a Motion which was strictly in order and by which the Government could have done this, but they refused it. They are, therefore, denying a right which Parliament obviously intended that we should have. If, therefore, you do not call the Amendment, Mr. Speaker, neither Welsh Members nor the House will have an opportunity of pronouncing on this Clause separately from the vote on Second Reading.

There is another reason why I suggest, with respect, that the Amendment should be called and the House should have an opportunity of discussing and pronouncing upon it by a separate vote on its own apart from other provisions in the Bill. There is a provision in the Clause, whereby when the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, plebiscites are to be held in certain areas in Wales within a certain time. One of the features of this provision is that the polls must be held on the same day in all the areas and, therefore, this becomes in effect, if not technically, a national referendum.

This is a very important constitutional precedent, as those Ministers who attended the Standing Committee will know. We did not have the advantage of the attendance of the Home Secretary or of the Minister for Welsh Affairs in a matter concerned with Wales, but in Committee we discussed this point at considerable length. Views were expressed on both sides of the Committee that this provision for polls differs from provisions made by the House for polls on other matters, for example, those on the Sunday opening of cinemas.

In the first place, these are polls confined exclusively to Wales and Monmouthshire whilst others are general throughout the country. Secondly, this is not a provision for one poll, but for an initial poll and for others at intervals of ten years. We are, therefore, making permanent provision for polls at intervals in Wales and Monmouthshire.

This is an important constitutional precedent. Views were expressed on both sides of the Committee that, having regard to the history of our constitution as a Parliament and the fact that what has happened in the past is likely to happen in the future, we having established this precedent, this device of a referendum, it will be invoked for other purposes. We should, therefore, be creating an important constitutional precedent for the whole country without the House having an opportunity of deciding whether it wants it incorporated in the Bill.

I hope that for these reasons and others, Mr. Speaker, you will reconsider your decision not to call the Amendment. I hope that you will consider, first, that it is in the interest of hon. Members for constituencies in Wales and Monmouthshire to call it, because otherwise they will be denied the opportunity of discussing collectively a matter concerning Wales alone. Secondly, the House will be denied the opportunity of deciding, quite apart from the merits or demerits of Sunday opening, whether it wants to establish a constitutional precedent of such an important charcter.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

I am not sure that we need to hear more about it, without discourtesy to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). The point really is this: naturally, I gave the most earnest consideration to all matters of selection on the Bill and not least to this one, because I knew that it was a matter of great interest and importance to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), to other right hon. Gentlemen, to much-respected hon. Members for the Principality, and to the rest of the House.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Llanelly for the way in which he has raised this, letting me have in advance what he was to say and, much before that, letting me know in advance of my making any selection whatsoever what the points were that he wished to urge in favour of the matter. I gave the most earnest consideration to them all. Naturally, if, in the circumstances, I could properly do so I would most eagerly make this selection, but I came to the conclusion that I ought not to do so, in accordance with tradition and practice. I must say that reconsideration would not cause me to change my mind about it, because I have carefully considered all these points.

Mr. G. Thomas

Further to that point of order. With every respect to you, Mr. Speaker, would it influence your judgment on this matter if you were to realise that there are hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies who have had no opportunity, since we were not selected to serve on the Standing Committee, of arguing the merits of one of the biggest issues affecting the Welsh people in the post-war years? As the great majority of Welsh Members have not been able to argue this question at all, would you give further consideration to allowing us the opportunity, which, on Third Reading, as you know, is quite inadequate, since we would have only to vote against the whole of the Measure rather than against this part, of discussing it now?

Mr. Speaker

I considered that matter, of course. It is part of the problem which I had to consider. I had to weigh up these matters and reach my conclusion. I must ask the House to accept it, because it would be a deplorable precedent to argue about these matters. I hope, therefore, that I shall be acquitted of discourtesy if I decline to argue about this further.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

Without any intention of arguing in the manner you have suggested, Mr. Speaker, may I put a point in support of the submission made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas)? My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West said, rightly, that only seven Welsh Members were chosen to serve on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, out of a total of 46. Consequently, only a fraction of the total membership from the Principality had the opportunity of considering the Bill even in Committee. Further, the Chair in Committee ruled against discussion of the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".

Today, therefore, we are in the position of not having been able collectively to discuss this Clause, which is prescriptively related to Wales and to nowhere else. On Second Reading, for obvious reasons, the debate itself was part and parcel of a debate on a general Bill. Consequently, because of our having been deprived of an opportunity of collectively discussing this matter in Standing Committee, and the fact that we are now being faced with a possibility that we cannot argue collectively even at this late stage, I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, with great respect, to reconsider your decision.

Mr. Speaker

I appreciate the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman wrote to me all these arguments in a letter of 1st June before ever I embarked upon the process of selection, so all the matters he has been urging on me were in my mind from the very beginning. It was despite that that I came to the conclusion that I must act in this way.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I, and I am sure the whole House are obliged for the consideration that you have given to this matter and, of course, we accept your decision, Mr. Speaker, and thank you for that consideration. It only illustrates the fact that by the action of the Government, not yours, the Welsh Members of Parliament have been denied the opportunity which the Constitution provides for them.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman would be getting out of order if, on this point, he were to express his distaste of the conduct of the Government.

Mr. Griffiths

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether, during our proceedings today, there will be an opportunity for a separate debate on whether this Clause shall or shall not stand part of the Bill?

Mr. Speaker

No, because the rules of the House do not permit such a question. I hope that I may call the right hon. Gentleman in respect of the Amendment to page 11, line 35.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydfil)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one who was not selected to serve on the Standing Committee, may I put this view, with every respect? Have you in any way considered what an affront this decision of the Chair will be to the overwhelming proportion of the people of Wales, what reaction we can expect from them to the decision?

Mr. Speaker

No, I am not concerned with the reaction of other people; I am concerned to do my duty, as I conceive it rightly to be, towards this House in the performance of selection. That, rightly or wrongly, I have done.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

With every respect, Mr. Speaker, may I make one or two suggestions to you for your consideration? This is not an ordinary Clause in an ordinary Licensing Bill. It is not just like Clause 5 or Clause 7. It is not merely dealing with licences. This is a Clause dealing with a nation, with its habits and customs, which has a separate philosophy, a separate language, a separate heritage, and which is entitled to separate consideration and always has been. That being so, there is no precedent that applies to a case like this.

In my long experience of the House, I do not remember a Clause of this kind being put into the middle of a general Bill. It deals with the position of a whole nation, whereas this Licensing Bill merely deals with licensing matters. I would have thought that we were entitled to separate consideration of this Clause.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises, of course, a point that I have had in mind, from what seemed to be its right bearing on the process of selection, which is a very different matter from criticising the Government in the sense of complaining of their not putting it in a separate Bill or referring it to a Welsh Committee. This is rather different from my point of view, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will acquit me of any want of courtesy in this matter. I have discharged my duty. It is not usual to debate these matters and I think that we have reached a time when we ought to get on.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

On a rather different point of order, Mr. Speaker, could the selected Amendments on this important question be published in the Lobbies?

Mr. Speaker

I have found it impracticable to attempt to do that. The method that I have adopted for the general convenience is to pass out to the Whips the selection made as soon as it is available. I have to trouble hon. Members to be good enough to ask their Whips, if they have any, so that they can find out what has been selected. That was done yesterday. Of the starred Amendments, three are to be called and one will be discussed with other Amendments.