HC Deb 28 May 1963 vol 678 cc1128-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Friday, do adjourn till Monday, 17th June.—[Mr. Iain Macleod.]

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I gave notice on Friday, Mr. Speaker, that I would raise a point of procedure arising out of this Adjournment Motion. On the other hand, I appreciate that we have before us three days of discussion of the Finance Bill and I have no desire to delay that. In the circumstances, I will do no more than state briefly the problem that arises.

The problem is that eight or nine Bills which received the unanimous assent of the House to their introduction, and three of which stand in my name, have been consistently objected to from the other side, usually by one or two hon. Members only on the benches opposite, who come for the purpose, every month in the case of my Bills since the beginning of the Session.

I introduced three Measures which received the unanimous assent of the House. All of them are virtually one-Clause Measures to deal with one small item of social reform. The first was designed to give disabled applicants for pensions the right to a rehearing on new evidence being obtained. I quoted in that connection a grave case, which I have now abandoned politically and am taking to the courts, so I can make no further comment upon that. The second Measure was intended to give a new definition to the definition of byssinosis, which affects my constituents, and the third was to correct an anomaly in the administration of unemployment benefit. Nobody criticised those Measures on their introduction.

Month after month, on Fridays, since then, however, the word "Object" has been called. I do not often pass compliments to the party opposite, but it is right and fair and generous to say that the Whips have recently had the greatest possible difficulty in obtaining any genuine Tory Member to object. On the last two occasions, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown), who was elected by Labour votes, was prevailed upon to say that he was now against these small social reforms. On the last occasion, we had the spectacle which, I think, has never happened before, of a Government Whip objecting from the Front Bench, because he was doubtful whether his last supporter, elected with Labour votes, could be relied upon to go through this again.

I have never disputed that it is fair to object to a Bill which has not had time for discussion. The only point I wish to make is that if the Government continue to deprive us of time for discussion of these matters, they should not ask us to adjourn for 15 days when the provision of a single day or two days would provide ample time for discussing a series of Measures, including the Bill introduced by my lion. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) the principles of which have been before the House for years and which has a great deal of support on the other side.

We have important business to do and I do not wish to delay it. I content myself with putting this objection on the record, bringing it to the attention of the Leader of the House and asking what steps he intends to take to prevent what is becoming a public scandal.

3.48 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I should like to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). It has always struck me as being a particularly difficult one to which to find an answer. Naturally, the hon. Member is concerned with the Bills—in this case, there are three of them—with which his name is associated and which, although they would have, no doubt, a wider impact, deal with a constituent or a case in which he has been interested for some time. That is understandable. There are, however, many other hon. Members, on both sides, who also have Private Members' Bills in which they are particularly interested. I calculate that this Session there have been 40 such Bills. 26 of which have been introduced from this side and 14 from hon. Members of Her Majesty's Opposition.

I should like to make one or two points and then come to the only solution which I can think of. First, a Ten Minutes Rule Bill, as we call it colloquially, is not a Bill at all. It is a Motion for leave to bring in a Bill. Naturally, the Bill has not been studied and, therefore, one judges on the impact that the presenter of the Bill makes to the House.

It cannot be assumed that because one listens in silence or without controversy to what is said—the hon. Member for Oldham, West will understand that I am not talking about his Bills, but about the general point confronting me as Leader of the House—and because leave is given to bring in a Bill, the House will necessarily be anxious to pursue that Bill in detail on Second Reading or subsequent stages.

The second point is that there are very many hon. Members who feel—and I think that this would be felt on both sides of the House—that where matters of considerable importance are involved, which is often true of Private Members' Bills, it is not right, necessarily anyway, that these Bills should be given a Second Reading on the nod unless there has been some examination by the House of the matters, in some cases of deep principle, which they choose to put before the House.

I just take that by way of introduction—that there are at least 40 Bills concerning both sides of the House. Perhaps I should add as well that objections do not by any means come only from the Government benches. There are a number of Bills, which hon. Members can find if they study the Public Bill list, which have been introduced by hon. Members on this side of the House and which have been at some stages, according to our system, objected to, usually at 4 o'clock on a Friday, by hon. Members of the Opposition. This is a problem which concerns us all as Members of the House of Commons, and it is not just one-sided.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

As one who is usually here on Fridays, may I assure the right hon. Gentleman, if he does not know it, that there is nothing like the same automatic shout of "Object" from this side of the House as there is from the Government side when the Bills come before us on Fridays?

Mr. Macleod

The hon. Gentleman will, I dare say, have studied the exchange which took place last Friday, as I did, and I recommend him to read the list of Bills, many of which have not been able to obtain a Second Reading.

So we have the position that a number of Bills have been introduced by Motion to bring in a Bill but they have not been examined on Second Reading, and, as we all know, at this stage of the Session and from now onwards their only chance of obtaining further discussion would be to get a Second Reading on the nod. A number of hon. Members feel that it is not right that Second Readings on the nod should be given except in cases where there is no conceivable argument about the principle, or, indeed, perhaps the details of the Bill.

The practical suggestion that I think I can make to the hon. Member is as follows. I have, of course, given some attention to this problem before, because it has been raised in the House by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) as well as by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. We have a Select Committee on Procedure, and it might be appropriate, in due course, to ask that Committee if it would consider this point. I am bound to say that I can put that forward only entirely without commitment, because I think that it would be wrong to have a stream of Bills flowing through the House on the nod, as it were, on Second Reading at four o'clock on Friday, for we should certainly gum up all the channels, usual and otherwise, that we have at the later stages to deal with these Bills.

But I take note, not without sympathy, of the point which the hon. Member has put to me, and if there be a solution—which, frankly I doubt—I think that it is along the lines that I have suggested.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, would he tell the House whether he has carried out the consultations which he promised to have a few weeks ago about my Bill—Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955 (Amendment) Bill—and whether he is aware that this Bill is urgently required by local authorities throughout the country? Is he aware that I have a letter here from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), in which her town clerk informs her that the Bill is urgently required in Liverpool as is it in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Newcastle and throughout the whole country?

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

And Manchester.

Mr. Short

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my Bill has been objected to by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and many of his other hon. Friends week after week? Will he say whether he has carried out the consultations through the usual channels which he promised?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, Sir; I have. I think that I am right in saying that as we are on a Motion for the Adjournment it would probably be wrong for me to reply in detail now, but if any further reply is required from me on this and other points that hon. Members wish to raise, perhaps I could, by leave of the House, reply at the end of the discussion.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

Would not the right hon. Gentleman think it wrong to ask the House to go into Recess for two weeks until he has taken the opportunity of correcting a most misleading statement that he made at Leicester on 5th April, namely, I am confident of a Conservative victory at the next General Election just as I are sure that Leicester City will win the Cup, and I am a good tipster. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on that?

3.54 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

Without wishing to prolong this discussion, because there are other issues to be considered, I should like to turn briefly to a matter which, to hon. Members, is now becoming a major problem.

There are really two problems. There are hon. Members on both sides who would not wish to see legislation of importance and complexity pass on the nod. There are other issues with which hon. Members may disagree, so they object. The problem to which many of us take objection is concerned with a small number of back benchers from the other side of the House who arrive here on a Friday for no other reason than to object without any idea of what the Bill is to which they are objecting. To be perfectly fair to the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), many of us believe that he is the worst offender.

I would suggest that one way out of this would be to maintain the present procedure for objecting, but to have the hon. Member making the objection stand in his place and have his name recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT so that people could know what type of legislation was being deliberately obstructed by hon. Members who, at the moment, are able to hide behind their anonymity.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I have never disguised my dislike of legislation going through this House without proper consideration. I have without doubt objected on many occasions to Bills going through on the nod at four o'clock on Fridays, but that has not necessarily meant that I objected to the principle behind the Bill. In many cases I have subsequently extended the scope of the Bill or proposed extension of the scope of the Bill. It is quite wrong to say that I persistently object to every Bill that comes before us on Fridays. All hon. Members know that I regularly attend the House on Fridays, which is more than a great many hon. Members opposite can say, and I do it to ensure that proper legislation is passed through the House of Commons.

Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) takes immeasurable pride in coming to the House on Fridays. So do many of us. But the fact is that he has made it his special theme to object to any Bill which comes before us on Fridays.

Mr. Dudley Williams


Mr. Speaker

Order. No doubt hon. Members can argue that we ought not to go into Recess because we ought to discuss a Bill, but we cannot have a debate on our procedure.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

You will no doubt recollect, Mr. Speaker, that I raised this issue on Friday last, and that led to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) putting forward this matter. In discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) I put to him the view that we do not object to hon. Members on either side of the House rising in their places and objecting to the principle of a Bill or any other matter, but what we do object to is the fact that hon. Members come here to object to Bills and are obviously not anxious to have it known that they are objecting because some of these Bills are of great import. They slide in and then slide out and hope that no one will have noticed. [Interruption.] You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that I could not do that if I wanted to.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to interrupt this gliding process, but whether hon. Members glide in or no, and whether or no they shout "Object" when seated, concealed or standing up, I do not follow the bearing on the question of whether we adjourn until Monday, 17th June.

Mr. Lewis

I am continuing the debate which has taken place, Sir. Every hon. Member who has spoken so far has put the same or similar points. I suggest that we should not adjourn for this long period unless the Leader of the House assures us that the Select Committee on Procedure will discuss the various matters which have been raised, including whether or not an amendment of Standing Orders is necessary so that objecting hon. Members have to stand up.

We should also be assured that if hon. Members, by arrangement with the Government through the usual channels, have the opportunity of taking part in Ballots for Private Members' Bills, they will at least be guaranteed that Ministers of the Crown and the Whips will not object to those Bills. We want an assurance, before we adjourn, that the very limited rights of back benchers will be maintained. Already, back benchers do not get very many rights in this place, and if their Bills are to be objected to by the Whips and by Ministers I suggest that this makes a farce of our procedure of balloting.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also see that the Select Committee looks into this matter in such a way that it can be laid down that no Minister, or anyone acting on behalf of the Government, shall take part in objections to these Bills? Certainly, if a back bencher objects, he should at least stand in his place and have his name recorded.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I will, by leave of the House, reply briefly to the points raised by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) is quite right. I made a prophecy that Leicester would win the Cup. This was some time before the final. I was speaking in Manchester last Saturday and I did fairly well there.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) raised a point of detail. I have looked into that and, indeed, have read through the discussions that have taken place—in which he has played a leading part—since the Act of 1955. I came to the conclusion that it would be wrong to select this one Private Member's Bill from the total of 40 in this Session. I recognise, of course, that there is considerable interest in that Bill, which many people wish to see on the Statute Book. But that applies, as he will be fair enough to recognise, to many of the other Bills in which hon. Members are interested.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

Did the right hon. Gentleman look at this matter in relation to the difficulties that have arisen where old people have had to move out of an area in which they were allowed free passes on the buses into areas where they could not have them? Most of them are being moved out of their old neighbourhoods because of overcrowding or other reasons. The old people who have been put in this position are very annoyed about the loss of their passes.

Mr. Macleod

I did look into this matter. It is true that wherever one draws a line in matters of travel concessions there are bound to be cases which are thought to be hard and which fall just the wrong side of whatever definition one chooses to make.

As the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) has said, all hon. Members have raised the same or similar points. I would like to reinforce something I said earlier. The hon. Gentleman said that private Members' rights were being denied to them because they were being denied a Second Reading of their Bills on the nod at four o'clock on Friday afternoons. But he must follow the logic of that argument through. If Second Readings were given on the nod on Fridays, then the rights of all other hon. Members who would have wished to make speeches, and perhaps criticise the principles involved, would thereby be taken away from them.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is not as simple a point as perhaps may appear at first sight. But if there is to be any change in procedure, the Select Committee on Procedure is the right body to look at it. I undertake that we will have discussions through the usual channels to see whether it is appropriate to refer this matter.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if the matter is to be referred to the Select Committee, it is very desirable that what is referred is rather closely defined? If we simply discuss how private Members may get through their Bills more easily, this would lay open the whole of Parliamentary procedure. If we are to discuss initially the question, raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), whether the House should adjourn for 10 days or a fortnight at Whit-sun, this, again, is a very large matter.

On the other hand, we could simply discuss whether private Members should have their names reported when they should "Object". It is better to have the thing put in a definite form before the Committee.

Mr. Macleod

The right hon. Gentleman is, like myself, a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, and I agree very much with what he has said. This is a more complicated problem than appears, and we would have to try to define very clearly the road we wish to travel, if we want to embark on the journey at all. In this sort of solution lies the only possibility of an answer, if there is one, to this problem.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

The right hon. Gentleman seems very much concerned with the rights of back benchers. So are we all—I mean those of us on the back benches. Has it occurred to him that the Whitsun break, which is intended to enable hon. Members to escape from the House for a while, should apply only to members of the Government and the Opposition Front Bench? This would leave back benchers free to deal with all the Bills which we have had no time to tackle. That would be a simple solution.

I can never understand why Leaders of the House, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman, always seem to embark on disertations which lead to complicated situations. I believe in a simple approach. After all, that follows from the repeated assertion that back benchers have rights. The fact is that they have no rights at all. When, for example, a back bencher rises in his place, he has to search for Mr. Speaker's eye, but that never applies to speakers on the Front Benches.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Nor to the right hon. Gentleman as a Privy Councillor.

Mr. Shinwell

In saying that, I am by no means being disrespectful to Mr. Speaker or even to the occupants of both Front Benches, but when all is said and done, referring this matter to the Select Committee on Procedure is a lot of nonsense. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that. He said that he did not believe that it would be a solution.

I first came to this House forty-one years ago, and I recall many matters being referred to the Select Committee on Procedure in recent years—yet our procedure today is precisely the same as it was forty-one years ago. There has been no change. There is an old French proverb concerning such a situation, but I cannot pronounce it accurately, so I will leave it to other hon. Members. The fact is that the Government should give time for these matters—and that includes not only Bills, but innumerable Motions on the Order Paper. They relate to vital matters of national and international concern, and deserve as much respect as some of the Bills presented from time to time by hon. Members, though I have no objection to these Bills.

It seems to me that the Government have either to find time to enable some of these Motions or Bills to be presented—

Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

You never gave any time.

Mr. Shinwell

If it were left to me, I would give everybody time. I am all for dispensing justice. Anyone who wants time can have it, any amount of it, and in the right places—the right institutions. But we are not discussing that and the hon. Member must not provoke me.

So what are the alternatives? Either we send this to the Select Committee on Procedure and nothing useful will be done and nothing fruitful will result, or the Government must find time. We have debated this matter often. We now have once a month, I think, an opportunity of discussing Private Members' Motions and Private Members' Bills. On Fridays, we can discuss these Bills. They seldom really come to anything, however desirable the contents of these Bills are.

For example, the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), in which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) is very much interested, is a Bill of vital importance of a domestic character concerning human relationships and human needs. But we cannot get it through.

The Government should find time. They could if they wanted to, but, in fact, they do not agree with the contents of these Bills. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman, who is an honest man, get up and say quite definitely that the Government dislike these Bills and, therefore, no time will be provided for debating them and getting them through the House?

As I have said, there is a simple solution. Let the Government go away. We can do without them for a week or a fortnight. The Leader of the House may be required, but apart from him the rest could go. One or two could be selected from the Opposition Front Bench; even one would do. I will not suggest who it should be, but back benchers could come in if they like, particularly those who have been appearing to argue against the Adjournment of the House for the next couple of weeks. They could come in every day if they liked, even Saturdays and Sundays if they wished. They can also have me here if they want me.

Hon. Members may think that I am dealing with this in a spirit of levity—not at all. I have heard these sort of debates over and over again. On the eve of every Adjournment we have this type of debate. Back benchers complain that they have no time to present their ideas to the House and if they do present them they are not adequately debated and nothing of consequence happens. I do not care whether we say it, or the other side say it, or which respective Government or successive Governments do it. They have done it ever since I can remember and they will go on doing it for many years to come. Unless the back benchers rise in their wrath the Government will fail to act. If hon. Members will support me in the Lobby, I will vote against the Adjournment.

Mr. A. Lewis

Mr. Speaker. You will recollect that when I spoke a moment or two ago you stopped me, for what reason at that time I do not know because hon. Members who spoke before and after me did so in almost identical terms. None of them mentioned why the House should not adjourn—

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman rising to a point of order, or what is he doing? I cannot call him again on this question.

Mr. Lewis

I want to know, Mr. Speaker, why I and all those who have been taking part in this debate were pulled up, and why I was alleged to have wandered from the Motion when I was, in fact, the only one to refer to the Motion.

Mr. Speaker

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not have been pulled up had not the hon. Gentleman arrived at the Chair and I therefore had to ask him to let me listen to the right hon. Gentleman. This is not a hardship special to the hon. Gentleman. I did not follow why the question of someone rising to object or sitting down to object had much bearing on how long we went away for the Recess.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Friday, do adjourn until Monday, 17th June.