HC Deb 19 March 1964 vol 691 cc1604-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Thursday next, do adjourn till Tuesday 7th April.—[Mr. Selwyn Lloyd.]

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Gordon Walker.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick) rose——

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. The Motion appears on the Order Paper for the first time today, and we have had no opportunity of considering it previously. It may be that many hon. Members are not content with the Motion in its present form, but might be in favour of it in some other form. Would it be in order to submit manuscript Amendments?

Mr. Speaker

Yes. I would consider a manuscript Amendment if it is submitted.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House will say a word or two more about this important Motion. I am certainly among those who do not like it in its present form, not on the grounds which are usually given on these occasions—either that we should not go away so soon, or that we should come back earlier—but because I think that this Parliament should not come back at all. There should be a dissolution of the House and a General Election.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but, if that is the proposition, perhaps we might try a manuscript Amendment first.

Mr. S. Silverman

Mr. Speaker, that is precisely the Amendment which I intended to ask your leave to move, but, if my right hon. Friend prefers to do it, I will defer to him.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Has my hon. Friend got one ready?

Mr. Silverman


Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would bring it up to the Chair.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

I have now been handed other matter for my consideration. I would be much obliged if the hon. Gentleman and the House would allow me the indulgence to look at manuscript Amendments which are not quite in common form and which I have not seen before. I must look at them.

Sir P. Agnew

On a point of order. Is it not showing less than respect for the House that hon. Members should seek to take up your time, Mr. Speaker, by a private consideration of manuscript Amendments during which nothing whatsoever is being discussed in the House?

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Further to that point of order——

Mr. Speaker

No. I would rather answer the point of order. The House would not be detained if I were not so slow at looking at them. I am doing my best in the service of the House and I will not detain the House very long.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, you know that the manuscript Amendment which I asked leave to move was to leave out the last four words of the Motion so that it would read simply— That this House, at its rising on Thursday next, do adjourn. I understand that it is suggested that that may be out of order as being inconsistent with the previous Motion on the Order Paper, which the House has accepted.

I want to submit to you, with respect, that it is not inconsistent at all. The Motion which we have accepted is That this House do meet on Thursday next at Eleven o'clock, that no Questions be taken after Twelve o'clock, and that at Five o'clock Mr Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question. What I would like to move, if my Amendment to the Government's Motion were accepted, is That this House, at its rising on Thursday next, do adjourn. I cannot see that there is any inconsistency between those two Motions. Each says that the House should adjourn, whereas the Government's second Motion says that it should adjourn until a specified date. To move that it adjourn without specifying a date to come back can be no more inconsistent with the previous Motion than to move that we adjourn with a date to come back. Either both are inconsistent, or neither is inconsistent.

I submit that the better view, otherwise the House would stultify itself, is that neither is inconsistent and that it is perfectly competent, in spite of the Motion that we have just passed, or perhaps because of it, for the Government to move the Motion which they put on the Order Paper and for an Amendment to be moved to that Motion so as to delete the reference to the date of return.

Mr. Speaker

I regret that I was a little embarrassed by the riches around me, but I hope that we can now make progress. In answer to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), I do not propose in my discretion to accept his manuscript Amendment, for this reason. If he will look at the previous Question that we have just resolved, he will notice that it was resolved that, in effect, on Thursday I do adjourn the House without Question put. The hon. Gentleman's proposition would be merely repeating that which the House has already resolved should be done.

On the other hand, I have had submitted to me, I think by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), an alternative Amendment, to leave out "7th April" and to insert "31st March". That I am prepared to accept, if it be moved.

Mr. Gordon Walker

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, would I not be in order if I simply spoke against the Motion on the Order Paper and argued that the Government should withdraw it and introduce a different one? Would not that be in order? Do I need an Amendment to argue that? That was what I was setting out to argue when you, Mr. Speaker, interrupted me. I merely want to argue against the Motion in this form and ask the Government to bring in a different one.

Mr. S. Silverman

Further to that point of order. Before you rule upon it, Mr. Speaker, may I point out that the Amendment which you propose to accept is not a satisfactory alternative to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and I wish to do, because the Amendment which you propose to accept is designed to secure that the House does not adjourn at all. It would adjourn on one day and meet on the next and, presumably, continue its session. That is the exact opposite of what I want to do.

I want to adjourn on Thursday and not come back at all. It is difficult, therefore, to see why an Amendment to secure that the House should come back immediately can be a satisfactory alternative to an Amendment designed to secure that the House should not come back at all. There must be some inconsistency. If the one is in order, it is difficult to see why the other is not.

Mr. Speaker

I am indebted to the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). I think that I may have imposed my threats upon him too soon. Both he and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) can, with their usual eloquence and ingenuity, oppose the Government's Motion on the ground that, if it were adopted, it would result in us coming back.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

On a point of order. What becomes of the Amendment which I propose, which you regard as quite legitimate, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

It has not been moved yet. If and when it is, I will accept it and our arguments will be confined to the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.

Mr. Wigg

Mr. Speaker, in view of the difficulties in which the House finds itself today, would you be good enough to consider the situation which has arisen and perhaps make a statement to the House next week, taking into account that all this would have been avoided if the Government had not tried, by a slick trick, to put this on the Order Paper one day and have it moved the next day so as to avoid just this kind of debate? They have failed to do it, but, again, it is the House as a whole that suffers. Would you be good enough to give your consideration to the matter?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that that raises any point for me. I venture to suggest to the House that we have now got enough ammunition to smite the Motion or support it. Perhaps we had better proceed.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker, would you give your guidance on one point? I apprehend that Amendments have been submitted but that as yet no Amendment has been formally moved. To that extent there is, therefore, no Amendment before the House. Is it in order, at this stage, for other Amendments also to be considered?

Mr. Speaker

No Amendment is before the House. If it is desired to submit another alternative Amendment in manuscript, I shall have to look at it and see how they relate one to the other.

Mr. Thorpe

May I formally submit a manuscript Amendment to you, Sir?

[Manuscript Amendment handed in.]

Mr. Speaker

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's Amendment and if, or when, he wishes to move it, rule upon it. Meanwhile, let us proceed.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As there are now so many manuscript Amendments which you have received, would it be possible for you to tell us what those Amendments are so that we may make up our minds about them?

Mr. Speaker

They will be announced when they are moved. Hon. Members moving them, if they have the opportunity of so doing, will read them out and, subject to acoustic difficulties, the hon. hon. Gentleman will hear their terms then.

4.11 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Walker

We dislike the Amendment—this Motion. [Laughter.] It is very easy, by a slip of the tongue, to make hon. Members opposite laugh on these occasions. We dislike the Motion on the Order Paper because we do not like the date when we should come back. For about three years now, we have had a Government without authority. This has had nothing to do with the Profumo affair. For three years now, all the indices, the Gallup polls and by-elections have shown that we have a Government without majority support in the country and without any prospect of majority support.

This is very bad indeed for the country. It does the country harm in many ways. It is bad for public life now that we should, in the Prime Minister's words, do nothing but electioneering and electioneering. It means that decisions are put off. In fact, no decisions are made at all. Ministers have to decide—we had an example this afternoon—what words to use to try to manœuvre into a position of electoral advantage.

The way the Prime Minister now feverishly awaits the monthly figures of the balance of trade and, presumably, the quarterly figures of the balance of payments, does no good at all to the country's economy. We are, possibly in a not very strong position, and to have superimposed upon this prolonged doubt about when the Government are going and when they are to be replaced must have a bad effect upon the economic health of the nation.

It is not we who are talking the country into crisis, or whatever the Prime Minister says; it is the Government who are doing it, by prolonging uncertainty. Business does not like uncertainty. Bankers, international bankers, do not like uncertainty. It is the uncertainty imposed by the Government on the country, superimposed upon a somewhat difficult economic position, which is really doing the damage.

In this situation, the Chancellor cannot even make a proper Budget, at a time when it is extremely important that the economic policy of the country should be firmly laid down. He must be making two parallel Budgets, one on the assumption that the election is coming in a few weeks and the other on the assumption that it is coming in a few months. He cannot, therefore, make a Budget which is not affected by electoral calculations. He cannot make a Budget which looks at all far into the future.

Important appointments may be made, or not made, for the wrong reasons. There is a danger of the Government suddenly rushing appointments of im- portance because they want to get them in before an election in which they will lose office and they hope in that way to prolong their influence for some period into the future. It is a well-known habit of Conservatives to think that they have a divine right to rule and if, by some misfortune, they get defeated at the polls they try to provide other ways by which they can protect their policies while out of office.

We have had a recent example or, at least, many rumours about it, in the director-generalship of the B.B.C. There may be the opposite process, with appointments not made which ought to be made because there is a General Election coming fairly soon—no one knows when—and because it is felt that they are appointments which should be made by a Government having a hope of future power before them.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

My right hon. Friend need not strain after further examples. We have had the announcement that the right hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Vosper) would be the new Chairman of the National Assistance Board, taking office at a date which might be after a General Election, and this in spite of the fact that the party on this side of the House has said that it would have to do something about the structure of the Board. This is another of the "jobs for the boys".

Mr. Gordon Walker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is another very good example of what I have in mind.

If appointments are made for party and political reasons before the election, the Labour Party cannot be held to be committed to such appointments if it becomes the governing party. I wish to make this perfectly clear. At this time, if there is an election round the corner which is postponed by the Government for party reasons, there should be consultation between the parties if sensitive and difficult appointments have to be made. If this is not done, we cannot hold ourselves to be committed necessarily to appointments made in that way.

There are other temptations on the Government to dress up important policies in a deceptive way. We have just had an example of this over the so-called independent nuclear deterrent. We have been told by someone no less than the First Lord of the Admiralty that the Government intended all the time to give it up. All we know is that the date will be on the other side of the General Election. The only issue now—hitherto, the Prime Minister has attempted to make it into an enormous issue of policy—is not whether it should be done, but when. It is not right to have great decisions and great issues of policy dressed up in that way for electoral purposes.

In some ways, it is worse that we have a Government without authority in world affairs. Some tremendously important matters, like the Kennedy Round, will have to be tackled by this country, and a Government whom no one abroad, at least, expects to last very long cannot speak for and represent this country or act with vigour and certainty. There is a mass of issues—anyone who goes abroad discovers this—which are being put off by other countries pending the election here, the attitude towards the multilateral force, the question of Britain's relations with the European Economic Community, the question of international liquidity, and so on. All these things, which should not be put off, are being put off. It is in the interests of both the world and this country that they should be quickly decided.

The Government's cowardice is damaging the country. I shall sum the matter up in these words: We have all been kept on tenterhooks about whether there would be a general election … and about when we should be about whether there would be a General Election … and about when we should be graciously told. … At the very moment when we should all be driving full steam ahead, we all had to wait until the Cabinet could agree among themselves what would pay their party best. … Whenever it comes, we are ready for the election. On party grounds alone we can certainly afford to wait. But on national grounds, a very grave practical question arises. Can Britain, in the pass to which she has been led, or has been brought, afford to spend three, four or five months manœuvring about party tactics and electioneering, with a Parliament which is not only dead but decomposing …? It would be in the public interest that Ministers should make up their minds and announce to the public at least the month in which they intend to appeal to the country; that would be in the public interest, but I have just put in a plea for that. If they do not do so, it is inevitable that all our affairs, especially our trade, will be hampered every week and every day by the unrest of an impending election, at which so much is at stake, and which may pounce out upon us at some moment tactically selected by them. That was said by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) in October, 1949. It exactly sums up the truth, our position and the patriotic position of the country.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

When the Leader of the House was dealing earlier, with the business for next week, I asked him whether the Motion on the Order Paper relating to the proposed Adjournment of the House for the Easter Recess was to be dealt with during next week's business or this afternoon. I intimated that, whether it was dealt with next week or this afternoon. I intended to move an Amendment.

I do not know whether hon. Members heard what I said, but I made it as clear as it was possible to do. Of course, I was unaware of what Mr. Speaker was likely to do about an Amendment. I did not know whether he would allow an Amendment to be moved without producing a manuscript Amendment. If I had understood that Mr. Speaker wanted a manuscript Amendment, I should have written it out immediately and presented it to him. I have now done that.

My Amendment is quite specific. It is to leave out "7th April" and to insert "31st March".

Naturally, in debates of this kind, I have to defer to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) that I was unaware that it was the intention of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to oppose the Motion. Certainly, I was not aware that they intended to oppose the Motion in definite and specific terms, which I have ventured to do. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend has suggested that when we adjourn next Thursday the House should not return. That is not my view of what should be agreed by the House, and I shall give my reasons.

Justification for my Amendment is contained in the claims which hon. Members have made this afternoon for chances to debate Motions which appear on the Order Paper. May I give a few examples. The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) demanded, not for the first time, that we should debate the urgent and important subject of repeated crimes of violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) followed that up by asking, as he has done repeatedly, for a debate on the question of compensation for those who have suffered from crimes of violence. These are very important topics. In view of the frequency of acts of violence which are reported every day in our newspapers, surely these topics are worthy of debate.

But, of course, there are other subjects which should be debated, apart from those which are represented in early day Motions on the Order Paper. This afternoon we had an extraordinary phenomenon. The Minister of Labour told us that it was the Government's intention to set up a committee of inquiry into the trade unions. That announcement met with some questioning and a measure of criticism.

Mr. C. Pannell

Not enough.

Mr. Shinwell

I describe it in blunt terms: it was blatant electioneering. There was nothing academic about it, and there was no urgency for it.

There have been suggestions in the Tory newspapers, some reputable and some hardly so reputable—I must be careful of my language, even in spite of privilege—about the need to teach the trade unions a lesson. That is, of course, the purpose of the Government's proposal. It is not related to any academic exercise. It is closely related to the desire of hon. Members opposite—not all of them, but many of them—to try to demonstrate to the electors that the Government are after the trade unions.

In reply to questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), it was stated that nothing would happen until after the General Election. Indeed, no effort has been made, so far as is known, to acquaint the trade union leaders, or the employers or their organisations with the Government's intention. It is all in the air; but it is obvious what the intention was.

If this is regarded by the Government as a matter of supreme or urgent importance, we should have the oppor- tunity to debate it before the Recess. I make that suggestion because there will be very little time after the Easter Recess for debates of this kind. If the Government succeed in pushing the Resale Prices Bill through Committee and its subsequent stages, we shall then have the Budget and the Finance Bill—if the Government intend to push that through the House. There will be little time to discuss these other matters.

There are even more subjects which should be discussed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick referred to the remarkable statement made, I think, in another place, by Earl Jellicoe. That statement, which has not been corrected—at any rate, in a satisfactory fashion—has created some bewilderment and confusion, not only in the minds of my hon. Friends but in the minds of hon. Members opposite and of the people. We should know as soon as possible what the Government's position is, in view of Earl Jellicoe's statement about their intentions regarding the future of what is described as the independent nuclear deterrent; and there should be a debate.

There is the question of Cyprus. I hold very strong views on this matter. I shall express some of them at once, but, obviously [...] do not seek to debate the matter at length now. I am not at all satisfied about the United Nations' attitude. I do not know whether the United Nations is dragging its feet wilfully, or whether this dragging of feet is imposed on it by the reluctance of its members to provide the force necessary to promote peace in Cyprus.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the HANSARD reference to the remarks of Earl Jellicoe to which he takes exception?

Mr. Shinwell

I must not, in the presence of Mr. Speaker, refer to Press announcements, because they are not the subject of debate in this House; but I do not have the copy of HANSARD before me and we cannot debate the subject this afternoon. I merely refer to it. If it is incorrect, the Government will, no doubt, in this House, in the course of debate, or in reply to questions, take the opportunity of refuting or explaining the statement that has been made. That is quite sufficient. No doubt, my hon. Friends who will follow me will have more information than I possess and will be able to deal with the subject more adequately.

I return to the subject of Cyprus. I understand that a contingent of 7,000 troops is to be formed by the United Nations and that half of them are to come from the United Kingdom. I am not at all happy about this. What worries me considerably is that they are to be under United Nations control. I am not at all sure that that is satisfactory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite agree with me. That being so, I hope that they will support me in trying to prevent the Government forcing the Motion through the House this afternoon, for the reasons that I will now advance.

When I asked the Leader of the House about business for next week, I said that my purpose in seeking to move an Amendment was to facilitate Government business. What is the position? Three days of next week are to be devoted to the Committee stage of the Resale Prices Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he will not get 150 Amendments through next week—of course he will not, no matter what manœuvring takes place on the other side and whatever attempt is made to placate certain interests.

Mr. Wigg

My right hon. Friend was asked to give the reference to the House of Lords debate. It is in column 720 of the House of Lords HANSARD of 17th March.

Mr. Shinwell

I do not propose to debate it this afternoon. I would not be in order in doing so. If, however, it would be in order, no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will take advantage of the opportunity. I leave him in the hands of Mr. Deputy-Speaker. For my part, I do not want to debate the statement at length. I have referred to it as a reason why there should be a debate on the subject. It is a matter of considerable importance.

For those reasons, my view is that we ought not to adjourn for longer than I suggest, namely, over the weekend at Easter. The weather is bad and, no doubt, right hon. and hon. Members would find it far more satisfactory to remain at home over the weekend instead of going off to Spain or the Channel Islands, or, it may be, a resort on the South Coast, or going hunting, fishing or shooting or other sports with which they are familiar.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that earlier this afternoon, the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), one of his colleagues, said that there would not be many Members in the House on Thursday? Assuming, therefore, that the hon. Lady knew that not many of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends would be present on Thursday, what is the point of suggesting that we should be here for a longer period?

Mr. Shinwell

As long as the hon. Member and myself are in the House, and nobody attempts to call a Count, we can conduct a debate on, shall I say—I want to be fair—equal terms. Often one has to speak in the House lo empty benches. Indeed, that is a subject that is worth debate. To digress for a moment, I recall that when I came to the House, way back 42 years ago, we had lively, dynamic debates, when hon. Members spoke with passion consistent with the urgency of the problems of the period. The benches were full.

Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)

How long does the right hon. Gentleman think that the debate between himself and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. K. Lewis) would last if there were no Press present to report what they were saying?

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) knows that sometimes I am allergic to him. I forgive him and I shall tell him why. There is no hon. Member of this House who is more concerned with publicity than the hon. Member for Louth. I do not say that offensively. I have had all the publicity I want. Sometimes, I have had the kind of publicity that I would rather not have. One must, however, take the rough with the smooth.

As for the idea that I am concerned about the Press Gallery or the Press at large, the hon. Member is quite mistaken. I say what I want to say I sometimes say it imperfectly, but I do my best. I am not very much concerned with what the Press says and, frankly, sometimes I am not very much concerned about what the public think. Sometimes, one has to speak as one feels, and that is what I am doing this afternoon.

I do not want to detain the House. As I say, I want to facilitate Government business—[Laughter.] Let me explain that, because there seems to be doubt and suspicion about it in the minds of hon. Members. If we meet during the whole of Easter, the Government can occupy part—I hope not all—of the time in Committee on the Resale Prices Bill. That Would facilitate Government business, because it might be difficult to deal with it after then, unless the House meets in the Committee stage throughout the night. If I may use an old expression which was used by Samuel Goldwyn on one occasion, if there are to be all-night sittings "include me out".

To go through the night is not the way to conduct business. We ought to be rational and modern in our concepts of how House of Commons business should be conducted. I am quite willing to come here at ten o'clock in the morning and go on debating until dinner time rather than go through the night trying to debate when hon. Members are half asleep. Some of them—I do not specify on which bench—are always asleep. Let us conduct business in a rational fashion.

One reason why I want the Amendment to be accepted is because I am anxious to know the date of the General Election. Why are we kept in the dark? Why this mystery? What is in the Prime Minister's mind, if there is anything in his mind? Does he never confide in the Leader of the House? If it is customary for a Prime Minister to confide in the Leader of the House—or, for example, the Patronage Secretary—does he know? Does he profess ignorance about the date of the next election? Is there anybody on the Government side who knows? Is there anybody in the Press or among the public who knows? Does anybody at all know? Does only the Prime Minister know? [HON. MEMBERS: "He does not know, either."] Why this concealment?

I have got to make my arrangements. [Laughter.] Hon. Members should not regard that remark as flippant or frivolous. I have less cause to make my arrangements than many hon. Members opposite. As we sometimes say in my constituency, we do not count our votes; we weigh them. With a 28,000 majority—and it will be more this time—I need not worry like hon. Members who have marginal seats. If they want to make their arrangements, they have to discuss electioneering tactics with their election agents and their friends in the various constituencies with which they are associated.

We ough[...] to know about this. Why must we go away during Easter? The weather looks like being bad——

Sir C. Osborne

Be cheerful.

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. Member does not need a holiday. He does not deserve it, either, although he is one of the few men who can afford it. However, I do not want to go into that, or to be personal.

I appeal to the Leader of the House to give this matter consideration. I know that he has been working very hard. know that he has had imposed on him the honourable task of leading this House, and I say sincerely that I think that, on the whole, he has done it very well. Everyone thought that he would be a complete failure. I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman better than most. I did not think that he would be a failure. We have to be very careful when we pronounce judgment in advance—it is far better to wait and see. He has done very well.

I know that he has been working very hard and we congratulate him on his ability to carry the House with him, as he has done on several occasions. I hope that on this occasion he will consider the views expressed on this side of the House and which I hope will be expressed on the other side. I hope that the hon. Member for Louth will come to my aid; I am willing to appoint him as my aide-de-camp right away.

I leave the right hon. and learned Gentleman with this consideration. We rise on Thursday, we have Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday—four days. What more do we want? If hon. Members want to know how to enjoy themselves in four days, I shall give them my recipe for enjoyment; and, by the way, it leads to good health and, if I may say so—I must touch wood—to longevity. I will give them all the prescriptions they want. If it is enough for me, it ought to be enough for everybody else.

My hon. Friends believe in short speeches. That is another topic which we ought to be debating. There is quite a collection of hon. Members now who have joined together for the purpose of promoting the short speeches idea—five minutes. Of course, some of them never speak at all. They take their pensions and leave it at that. But why the five-minute speech? Why limit the time of speeches? Some of them want to get at Privy Councillors and prevent them from speaking. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]. I said that quite deliberately in order to draw that response, because I want to say this: if one consults the pages of HANSARD one discovers that hon. Members, some of whom have come into the House within the last few years, speak at greater length than any Privy Councillor in the House. I am quite willing to challenge that—and even have a bet that what I say is accurate. I must take advantage of this opporunity of taking part in a debate of this kind.

I repeat my appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Take four days—that is quite enough. The public will not complain. The Press will not complain. It will be very glad to listen to us—it will not report us, but that does not matter. We could debate various topics, including all the topics contained in the early day Motions on the Order Paper. I could think of many other topics—such as the world situation, the economic situation, and unemployment. We could illuminate each other's minds. Four days are enough.

Therefore, I put forward my Amendment in the hope that I shall receive adequate support from both sides of the House, and it will be accepted. I beg to move to leave out "7th April" and to insert "31st March".

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

The Minister of Labour came to the House this afternoon to make the most nebulous announcement that I have ever heard. What he said, without consulting either the British Employers' Confederation or Trades Union Congress was that after the next election the Conservative Government, if returned, would institute an inquiry into trade unions and the law.

What was the object of that? There was no consultation at all. This is typical of the way in which the Government treat the organised trade union movement. Why was it done? Presumably, in the unlikely event of the Government being re-elected, we should have such an inquiry in response to the demands from the Tory benches. If, for the fourth successive time, this country elects a Conservative Government, the trade union movement will deserve an inquiry. Speaking only last night, I said that there was no doubt at all that if the Conservatives were returned the trade union movement had better look out. No one could fail to notice the activity on the benches opposite following the recent House of Lords decision. The law has been as the law is since 1906, but we have had a decision in the House of Lords.

I do not know what the decision means. I can only say that when I consulted my lawyer friends they did not seem to be agreed on the subject, either. When I consulted a pundit in the trade union movement, he said, "I do not know what it means, except that the best lawyers tell me that it means something pretty awful". But it is as nebulous as it could be. Nobody knows the state of the law.

Mr. K. Lewis

Does not that by itself justify an inquiry?

Mr. Pannell

What is the hon. Member's experience of the trade union movement? Has he ever been on strike?

Mr. Lewis

Since the hon. Gentleman challenges me on that, may I say that I have considerable experience in the trade union movement. My father was for many years a member of a union and he is an old-age pensioner of his union now. For many years I was in charge of labour relations in a very large shipyard, dealing with a very large number of unions. I do not put that to my credit, but as the hon. Member has asked me, I have told him.

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Member cannot hide behind his father. His father holds a ticket, so he presumes to be able to talk here for him.

Mr. Lewis

What about my second point?

Mr. Pannell

Presumably the hon. Member represented the employers. I do not recognise the authority of the Members on the benches opposite—who have they who is in the trade union movement? [An HON. MEMBER; "One."] They have one, and he is Assistant Postmaster-General, a member of the E.T.U. when it was at the nadir of its fortunes. When did the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) ever rise to challenge what was happening in his own union? He was completely silent, completely craven. He is the hon. Member who is trotted out by the Conservative Party to show that it has a trade unionist in the House.

The hon. Member for Totnes has just arrived, behind the Bar. But I never let him interrupt me, because I do not think that he knows anything about anything. We have all known that from the time he came into the House. Where are the trade unionists on the Conservative side of the House?

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)


Mr. Pannell

I thought that the hon. Member belonged to the Bookmakers' Protection Association.

Sir S. McAdden

If the hon. Member does not want to take my interjection seriously, and to know whether I am a trade unionist, at least he need not descend to the depths of being insulting about it.

Mr. Pannell

That is all right. Look at the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), reading a document about the South of England and lounging in his place. He had better get his mind on to the North of England—or is he looking for a seat after the next General Election? He is bound to lose his own. He is living on borrowed time.

Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)

I am hoping to take part later in a debate on unemployment in the North-East, and we should like to get on with it.

Mr. Pannell

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Member to read that document in the House?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

It is generally taken that hon. Members are at liberty to read what will be relevant in their speeches, if they are looking forward to making speeches.

Mr. Pannell

But the hon. Member intends to make a speech about the North-East, and he is reading a document about the South.

Mr. P. Williams

On a point of order. Before the hon. Member interrupted me I was reading a passage in the document which is a reference to the North and Northumbria.

Mr. Pannell

Under the strict rules of order hon. Members may read documents which are relevant to the debate before the [...]ouse. The document which the hon. Member is reading is not relevant to the debate now before the House. I think that the hon. Member is out of order. The document is relevant to a debate which will take place later. I hope that I have the support of the Chair in this contention.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is the common practice, when a debate is expected to take place in the near future, for hon. Members to engage themselves in reading their notes and preparing for the debate in which they hope to take part. I took it that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) was doing no more than that. But I appreciate that the matter could be ruled on more strictly, and perhaps it would be better if the hon. Member were to leave the document which he is reading.

Mr. P. Williams

On a point of order, It may well be that if I pursue this document far enough the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will provoke me to take something out of it in order to take part in the debate.

Mr. S. Silverman

Further to that point of order. If the nature of the document which the hon. Member is reading is an indication that he does not propose to trouble us in the matters with which the House is presently concerned, ought we not to welcome that and to give him every encouragement?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that that is a point of order.

Mr. Pannell

In his statement this afternoon perhaps the Minister of Labour had in mind the almost certainty that the Labour Party would be returned at the next election. The idea of announcing this inquiry is to lay down a source of embarrassment for an incoming Labour Government. We have had a quite worthless statement this afternoon. It was far too hypothetical. Nothing depends upon its acceptance or non-acceptance. It is simply a kite flown to please the non-unionists and antitrade unionists of the 1922 Committee. As such, it will be noted up and down the country. Hon. Members opposite are never so foolish as when they talk about the trade union movement, because they understand nothing about it. The Labour Party was largely founded by the trade unions to defend themselves against the grandfathers of hon. Members opposite.

It therefore seems to me that the statement which we had this afternoon was the most useless statement which I can remember during the last 14 years. It meant nothing.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but we are not debating that statement. We are debating whether the words "7th April" should stand part of the Question.

Mr. Pannell

There are plenty of precedents for this. There was a famous speech in the House which Mr. Joseph Chamberlain started at 5 p.m., and at 7.40 p.m., he said, "Having explored a few prefatory remarks‖." I had not been speaking for that length of time before coming to my argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington referred to it more than in passing, and I should not like to think that there was a discrimination against back bench Members in favour of Privy Councillors.

This statement was made this afternoon, and it is one of the reasons why, when we rise, we should rise for good and should have an election before we come back, so that this matter can be put completely beyond peradventure and we shall not have statements in the House based upon hypothetical considerations which are never likely to arise.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) made a point which Mr. Speaker did not rule out of order—that we must guard against premature appointments by the Government to ensure that their friends are well looked after in their hour of defeat. These are considerations before the House. It seems to me that it would be far better when we rise for us to rise for good and for the dissolution to be pronounced, giving an opportunity for the election of a Parliament which represents the country.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but we are debating a specific Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). It is that the words "31st March" take the place of the words "7th April". Questions of dissolution and General Elections can be debated on the main Question, but not on this Amendment.

Mr. Pannell

I am sorry about that. I misunderstood the position. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick moved a Motion, and that we had before the House the main Question, on which he was allowed to address the House for a considerable time.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was speaking on the main Question. But since then an Amendment has been moved by the right hon. Member for Easington Shinwell) and we are now debating the Amendment before we come back to the main Question.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Are we not debating the Question, That the words "7th April" stand part of the Question? I understood that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) was addressing himself to that subject. He did not like those words standing part of the Question.

Mr. S. Silverman

Further to that point of order. May I have your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? It is true that the immediate Question on the Amendment which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) moved is to leave out the last four words of the Government motion as they stand on the Order Paper. He gave his reasons for moving that. He wants to remove those words in order to replace them by other words.

Many of us may be in favour of the first leg of his Amendment, as it were, and not in favour of the second. In other words, one may be in favour of leaving out "7th April" so as to insert words other than those which my right hon. Friend wants to insert. For example, I should like to put in "10th November, 1964", which would meet the purpose which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) has in mind.

If the words "7th April" stand part of the Question, and if my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington loses his Amendment, there will be no place for any further Amendment. I understand that. But my right hon. Friend may win. If the words "7th April" are left out of the Question, it does not follow that the House will agree to put in "31st March". It would then be open to give notice of a further Amendment to put in another date. It therefore surely cannot be wrong in debating the Question whether "7th April" stand part of the Question to give reasons which may be different reasons from those given by my right hon. Friend. Surely one has to consider not merely what my right hon. Friend moved, but the reasons which he gave for moving it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. As I understand the Amendment, in the event of the words "7th April" not being agreed to by the House, it would be incumbent on the Chair to put the Question, "That the words '31st March' be there inserted." So our debate is restricted to a choice between those dates on this Amendment.

Mr. Silverman

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, I submit that that cannot be right. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) were to succeed in leaving out the words, "7th April" it would be incumbent upon the Chair to put the words that he proposes in place of them. But my recollection is that that part of the Amendment would then have to be put without debate, unless some further Amendment had been accepted. Therefore, if we are to say that the 31st March is not the date on which we should return, we have to say it now because there will be no other opportunity.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Mr. Charles Pannell. Further to the Amendment.

Mr. C. Pannell

With very great respect, I can hardly blame the Chair for getting us in a tangle, but the action of the Chair has rather led to this situation, because Mr. Speaker allowed debate to open on the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), in which my right hon. Friend said that he did not want Parliament to come back at all. I want to indicate my agreement with that view. I believe that it was Mr. Speaker who called my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington in the first place. I do not think that he called him to closure the debate, but was merely giving the well-known precedence to Privy Councillors.

Mr. Shinwell

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is mistaken. His prejudice against Privy Councillors is a sort of King Charles's head with him. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was in the House at the time. If he was, he will know that Mr. Speaker accepted a manuscript Amendment from me. This was the first manuscript Amendment to be presented to Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Pannell

I am not pursuing this. No prejudice is involved. I am merely tracing the course of the debate. Several right hon. and hon. Members were on their feet and it would certainly not have been in Mr. Speaker's mind to use any stratagem at all which would have closured the main Question. As I understand it now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you have accepted finally the submission of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I wonder whether I might clear up any possible misunderstanding. We are now having a debate on the manuscript Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). When that Question has been decided—and, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) pointed out, it is decided in two portions—the House will come back to the original Question, when all the points that the hon. Member for Leeds, West, wishes to make would be in order.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This would only be so on the hypothetical assumption, which, I think, it would be a little optimistic to make, that the House would agree to take these words out of the Motion. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) should be defeated on a Division, so that the words "7th April" continue to stand part, the Question would then be decided and there would be _nothing further to discuss except whether we accept it or do not accept it.

Of course, if my right hon. Friend should succeed and these words came out, then there would be a gap in the Motion which the House would no doubt be given an opportunity of filling either with his words or with some other words. If we are not content to leave these words out to substitute "31st March" and we do not give our reasons for that now we shall never have an opportunity to do so.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that perhaps it would be as well to see how we get on dealing with the Amendment that the House is now considering. The House will bear in mind that the original Question must be put subsequently when further possibilities for debate will arise.

Mr. C. Pannell

If that is your Ruling then, of course, I accept it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I regret the misunderstanding. I am sure that we all do.

I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington that the House should only have four days Recess at Easter because I feel that the House has been dying on its feet for a long time. Yesterday, there was an important debate on housing and the night before we had another important debate, on house building. On that occasion only one speech, that of the Minister, was made from the benches opposite. All the rest were made by right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House. Very few hon. Members opposite even came to listen to that debate. I do not know where they were.

Again, the number of occupants of the benches opposite during the housing debate yesterday was a reflection either of physical incapacity or of lack of integrity or on the capacity of hon. Members opposite to apply themselves to their duties. If it is suggested that people in that sort of state only need four days' break at Easter I must dissent.

Right hon. and hon. Members opposite need a very much longer holiday. In all the circumstances, the other course proposed—that this Parliament should end altogether, so that a new House can be elected—would be far better. We should have younger men, perhaps full of energy—[An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Member for Easington"]—I do not correlate youth with years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington is one of the liveliest Members in the House. He is present today, he makes speeches, and is conspicuous by his regular attendance. I am speaking of all those hon. Members opposite who are earning their livings in other places and do not make this House the first priority.

For three days next week we are to have debates which can be summed up by Omar Khayyam: And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before The Tavern shouted—"Open then the Door! You know how little while we have to stay, And, once departed, may return no more. That is what will happen to hon. Members opposite after the next election and it is the best thing that can happen. Four days rest at Easter would not be enough for those tired men.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

Perhaps I could assist the House by intervening at this point to deal, first, with the "one weekend" Amendment with a view to our returning to the main Question.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

I wish to speak on the Amendment.

Mr. Lloyd

Then I will try again later.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

I wish strongly to support the Amendment. On the Order Paper there is a Motion in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends relating to the deplorable act of the Minister of Transport in relation to British Railways. The Motion deplores the refusal of the Minister of Transport to allow British Railways to tender for the manufacture of wagons and containers for private rail users which has thus prevented free competition between the public and private sectors of the railway manufacturing industry.

Mr. Robert Cookerose——

Mr. Allen

I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has just come in.

Mr. Cooke rose——

Hon. Members


Mr. Allen

I have waited patiently for an opportunity to speak. This is an important subject. I have only just begun and I want to continue without interruption for a little while.

As I was saying, the Minister's action has prevented free competition between the public and private sectors of the railway manufacturing industry. It is well known that I represent one of the most important railway workshops in the country but I speak not only for Crewe in wanting this matter debated on Tuesday, 31st March, which could well be arranged if we did not adjourn for as long as the Government wish.

Without the knowledge of those whom I represent, or those who represent them in the trade unions, we read in the Press one day of an obtuse political decision made by the Minister of Transport. He decided that the railway workshops, paid for with taxpayers' money, should not be allowed to carry out contracts which they had won for the construction of railway wagons for B.P. and Shell-Mex. The contract for the construction of these wagons would have earned the workshop £16 million, yet they were prevented from carrying out the work.

The railway workshops at Shildon in the face of competition from 13 private enterprise firms, won a contract for the construction of cement carriers. That contract has also been cancelled by the Minister of Transport—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Member. He is well within order in mentioning problems which would justify him wishing the House to sit on different days, but I think that it is getting outside order to go into the details of those problems.

Mr. Allen

I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I cannot make my protest unless I am allowed to give the basic facts on which I desire the House to come back on 31st March. It is no use my saying that I want to come back to debate what the Minister of Transport said. I must give the reason why it is urgent that we should discuss the matter, and it is urgent because the Minister of Transport has taken away from the railway workshops, for which we in this House are responsible, massive contracts which were won against competition from private enterprise, and prevented them from earning money which would reduce the burden on the taxpayer who is called on to contribute to British Railways' deficits.

That money could be earned by our own nationalised workshops by carrying out contracts which have been won in the face of fierce competition from private enterprise. I want a decision of this House on the matter. This is an example of Conservative doctrinaire politics ru[...]riot. I am speaking for Crewe, for Shildon, for Swindon, and for 20 or 30 railway workshops, some of which have been shut down, and many of which have declared workers redundant. Unless the Minister's decision is reversed, many more workers in railway workshops will be declared redundant. I feel very intensely about this matter.

It was bad enough to debar the railway workshops from general competition with private, enterprise, but if they are not to be allowed to make the goods which run on their own railway lines, if they are not to be allowed to make the goods which they can make much cheaper than 13 private enterprise firms can, the time has come for them to be sold and for the Act to be torn up.

I believe that the Minister of Transport should be brought to the House to answer for his arbitrary decision for which, in my judgment, there is no justification or basis. We are taunted in this House and in the country with the alleged failure of the nationalised industries. I am giving an example of how a nationalised industry, in the face of competition from 13 private enterprise firms, has won large contracts. The profits from those contracts could ease the burden on the taxpayer.

If this is not a question which ought to be decided very quickly, I know not one, because if the Minister's decision is not altered and if the railway workshops are deprived of those contracts, the works will be thrown out of gear. They are ready to carry out these contracts, and I want the Minister to justify his decision, and the sooner he does it the better. Tuesday, 31st March will suit me and those in this House who represent railway towns.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has moved that the words "7th April" be deleted. That is the Question which the House is now considering. I am enthusiastically in support of that proposition. I, too, do not want those words to remain in the Motion.

My right hon. Friend gave his reasons. He thought that that date meant that the House of Commons would be adjourned for too long. I am in support of his proposition, for the opposite reason. The proposed Adjournment of the House is too short. It is too short for the reason which my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) gave at the commencement of the discussion. The Adjournment proposed is too short because it does not extend until the electorate has had the opportunity of considering the whole record of the Government and deciding whether it wishes to continue to be governed by the present Government, or whether it wishes to change it for another.

The reasons that my right hon. Friend gave for not being content with the words "7th April" were that the Government were now governing without authority, that they are not able to deal adequately, or in a way which really represents the interests of this country or its wishes, with any of the questions which they have to consider. If we were to come back on Tuesday, 7th April, we would, indeed, be faced with discussing all those questions which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington stated. We would have to discuss questions about nuclear weapons. We would have to discuss the important question, about which there is considerable doubt, of international relations. We would have to discuss how to deal with the rapidly worsening economic situation, however it may he camouflaged or covered up by plausible but false interpretations of monthly statistics.

I do not want the House of Commons to discuss any of those questions, because it is not competent to deal with them. It has, in Cromwell's words, been sitting here too long for any good it has been doing, and, therefore, it ought not to sit any longer. If the Government were in the middle of their constitutional period of office, that would be a different question, but they are not. They are at the tail end of it, and everybody knows that but for inadvertent circumstances which had little if anything to do with public affairs, there would indeed have been a General Election last October.

But we have outlived all that and the Government hang on from day to day. I do not say that they are living on borrowed time, because constitutionally they are entitled to go on until some time at the end of October, or maybe a few days beyond that, but this right is a purely constitutional one. It is not a moral right. The Leader of the House and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury are the only Members of the Government at present in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is the only opponent who has fought me more than once in my constituency. He came back for a second dose.

He is the only one who did. That is all that can be said in his favour, so far as I know. Whom does he think that the Government represents? What moral authority does he think he has to deal with any of the questions which my hon. and right hon. Friends rightly say urgently require to he dealt with? No doubt they do urgently require attention, but they need the attention of a Government with a moral and constitutional authority to deal with them, knowing that they have a mandate from the people. That, the Government know they have not got. They are not postponing the date of the General Election because they think there are some useful tasks they can perform in the meantime.

What satisfaction does my hon. and learned Friend think that he would get if, on 31st March, or perhaps 1st April, the Government were to deal with the questions that he has raised? He would make an eloquent speech—a powerful and convincing speech, just as he made today, if I may say so without being impertinent. But what would he get in return? He would receive a perfunctory reply from the Front Bench; the Government would put the Whips on, and if there were a Division all the sheep would follow into the Lobby, and my hon. and learned Friend would be voted down. He would have had his discussion, but nothing else.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

I have no doubt that behind me would be the Member for one of the big railway works, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade.

Mr. Silverman

If my hon. and learned Friend really thinks that, I can only express my astonishment. He knows that the hon. Gentleman would not go into the Division Lobby contrary to the wishes and directions of the Government.

Mr. Shinwell

I am surprised at my hon. Friend, who is an excellent Parliamentarian. If what he is suggesting is true, there is no use in having debates at all. There is no use in the Opposition's raising a debate, because they know what the answer will be. I would point out that the duty of an Opposition is not only to oppose but to present their case. My hon. Friend has done that so often in the House that I am surprised that he now takes the other view.

Mr. Silverman

Of course the duty of on Opposition is to oppose, and we do oppose. But my hon. and learned Friend was not appealing to a Member of the Opposition; he was appealing to a Member of the Government and was expressing the optimistic and, I think, insincere opinion that a Member of the Government would regard it as his duty to oppose. Of course he would not.

My point is that I do not want these questions any longer to be dominated and controlled and directed by a Government who have lost all moral authority to govern. Let us postpone our return for a little while. It may not be for very long. If we carry the Amendment and the words are removed the Government will be compelled to announce the date of the General Election and get on with it, because we would not have a "phoney" Parliament—a Parliament without authority; a Parliament that has exhausted its functions and which is in no position to decide anything in the name of the people. The Government would have to give the people an opportunity of electing an Administration which had such authority.

I know that with all these Motions it is customary to have a little fun now and again by asking for earlier recalls that we de not really want. But the Motions art moved because they give us an opportunity to call attention to matters which urgently need attention. This, however, is not a Motion of that kind. This Motion is intended to challenge the whole right of the Government to carry on pretending to be a Government in a Parliament that is pretending to be a Parliament—and pretending not very successfully. The Government's delay in calling a General Election is bringing the whole system of democracy into contempt.

What are we doing here? What debates are serious? Who attends them? Even now, when we are discussing the very basis of Government authority, how many Members are in the House? Not a single speech has yet been made from the Government side in support of the Motion. Nobody has risen. That is no reflection on the Chair. The Chair cannot call Members alternately from both sides if Members from only one side seek to catch his eye. Nobody believes that the Government are entitled to govern. Nobody believes that if they submit themselves to a General Election they will come back with a right to govern. They know that many of them will not come back. If they are in favour of carrying on in that hypocritical and humbugging way it is only because they want to hang on to their seats in Parliament for as long as they can, to postpone the evil day and to hope, like Micawber, that something will turn up.

Nothing will turn up. The longer the election is postponed the worse it will be for the Government, for the Conservative Party, and certainly for the country. Let hon. Members opposite not deceive themselves. The General Election will result in a Labour landslide—and they know it. The country is thoroughly tired of the Conservative Party. They have seen them for too long—for 12 years too long—and they know it, and the Conservative Party knows it, and the Government know it. Why should they go on pretending that we can all go away for a few days and come back after the Easter Recess just as if we were really a Parliament, and they were really a Government?

It is nonsense, and I hope that we will have the courage to say so and not continue this empty farce of coming here day after day, having Order Papers and Questions, sometimes with votes and sometimes not with votes; sometimes with opposition and sometimes with no opposition; sometimes with proposals from the Government and sometimes without; sometimes with Government proposals supported by the hon. Members behind them, and sometimes with Government proposals opposed by the hon. Members behind them. How long are we to carry on this fashion?

Let us make an end of it. Let us decide now that we will rise next Thursday and that we will not come back until the electorate has had an opportunity of passing judgment on what we have been up to since 1959.

Mr. Thorpe

On a point of order. Can you give the House a little guidance, Sir William? I appreciate that we are discussing the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), but once that has been voted upon one way or another, will it be in order for us to have a debate on the substantive Motion amended or un-amended, as the case may be?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is correct. The original Question is open to debate.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I rise to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). Both he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) were here when I first came to the House. I am sure that they share my view that if we are interested in preserving our democratic ways, and maintaining respect for the institution of Parliament, we should be deeply concerned at the fact that everyone's mind is now on the election, and that our further attendance at the House of Commons becomes a reflection upon us rather than a credit to us. I should have thought that the Leader of the House would be deeply concerned at this, because he is responsible to the whole House. I share his view. I think that the Government have lost their moral authority.

The Prime Minister speaks in the country as the leader of the Conservative Party and not as Prime Minister. I do not object to that. But it means that we have reached a stage when we have not a Government and Opposition but two parties preparing for a General Election. From the standpoint of Parliament and the country that is bad. I share the view of my hon. Friends that we ought to rise next week and not come back until the electorate have had an opportunity to elect a new Parliament.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman will remember—I do not know whether he heard the manuscript Amendment—that the House is debating the Question, to leave out 7th April and insert 31st March.

Mr. Griffiths

I was coming to that. If we are to come back, I was proposing to give reasons why the Amendment should be supported.

I am sorry that I was unable to be present in the Chamber at the end of Question Time. I had another point which I wished to put, and it is also a reason why we should come back. I understand that a remarkable statement was made by the Minister of Labour, and I hope that I may be able to say a word about it, and about why it is a reason that we should come back.

I am an old trade unionist and trade union leader, and I want to say a word to the Leader of the House and to the Prime Minister. I have never heard anything like this before. I understand that something is to be done about trade unions after the election, that there is to be an inquiry. Why was such a statement made now? I wish to know from the Leader of the House whether this matter was discussed in all its implications. It is a bit of electioneering.

This is not a question of discussing a big problem about industrial relations. It is to provide an opportunity for the Conservative Party to talk about this matter and to delude the electorate that it represents the main issue and that other things are not important. One more reason why I think that we ought to come back after the Easter Recess is the party opposite has become completely irresponsible. It was a very irresponsible act by the Minister of Labour on behalf of the Government, to announce that there will be an inquiry of this kind without consulting either of the organisations representing the two sides of industry.

We are at the beginning of a great new scientific and technological revolution. Enormous problems will have to be solved in every industry in the future resulting from these changes. During the next five, ten or fifteen years the relationship between trade unions and employers, between industry and the Government and between the Government and the T.U.C. will be vital, whatever Government are in power.

When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the House was responsible for setting up N.E.D.C., and the present and future Chancellors of the Exchequer will be asking the Trades Union Congress and employers to join in an attempt to work out an incomes policy. Is this the way to treat organisations upon whose actions so much of the future welfare of our country depends? For that reason alone I believe that we should return. We are often charged by hon. Members opposite with being irresponsible, but this is the most irresponsible thing that I have experienced in the sphere of industrial relations since I came to this House. I recall the time when the Tory Government, which were then in office, were attacking the trade unions, and the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, stopped them.

Although, fortunately, the party opposite will not be in office after the next election, I am sure that they will regret that they have introduced this matter, for purely partisan purposes and in order to raise false issues at the election, at a time when industrial relations are better than they have been. My trade union life was lived during the 1920s. I could say a great deal about that time and how the employers used the power which they then had. I should like to pay tribute to my colleagues in the trade union movement who now have more power that they have possessed for many years and who have used it in a more responsible fashion than did the employers when they possessed power. I could speak with experience of how the employers used their power to persecute and victimise people and attack the trade unions.

Members of the trade union organisation have acted in a statesmanlike manner. They have exhibited great restraint and responsibility in the use of the power which they possess. This, in my view, is a reason why the present Parliament should continue after the Easter Recess, and so I support my right hon. Friend's Amendment. We ought to discuss this matter at the earliest opportunity so that Parliament may rescue our country from the irresponsible actions of a Government who have thrown this big question into the election arena for partisan purposes. I support the Amendment.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I should like to endorse the statements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who paid a tribute to he Leader of the House. I have often come into conflict with Leaders of the House during the last twelve yews and, like other hon. Members, I have formed my views. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is about the best Leader of the House that we have had. I remember when he was Minister of Defence—he was a very good Minister of Defence—he bravely introduced a differential and took constructive steps which had a profound effect on the manpower structure of the Armed Forces. I am glad to pay that tribute to him. I think that he has done extremely well during the last few months and has done his best to guide the House. His task has been made a little easier because, in watching the performance of one Minister, one compares it with other Ministers.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been a great success, but one must sympathise with hon. Gentlemen opposite on having been landed with the present Prime Minister. I am one who always admired the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). One observed his commanding presence and his capacity to dominate the House and lead his party. Then one remembers that last week during the discussion on the Resale Prices Bill, when one of his colleagues was under great pressure and the party opposite split in all directions, the Prime Minister was electioneering. I think that is a correct judgment of this man.

Mr. S. Silverman

What would he be doing if he were here?

Mr. Wigg

I am not saying what he might have done had he been here. I am pointing out that the right hon. Gentleman was not here. Members of the party opposite pride themselves on standing by their friends if they are in a hole, and the fact that the Prime Minister was missing when his colleagues, as he knew, were under pressure, seems to be to sum up this man. It is true, as has been said, that the right hon. Gentleman represents nobody but himself. He has gone swanning off to Nigeria, and for all practical purposes he is a private citizen. He carries no authority whatever. He has not even got the guts to have a few by-elections. He is shivering in his shoes and making speeches. What makes me angry about him is that he reverses the process which I have tried to encourage during the whole time I have been in this House. That is to elevate the subject of defence above party. Deliberately, in the first speech he made in this House, he did exactly the opposite.

Only this week we had another example. If ever there were an example why the House should meet on 31st March it is in the speeches of the Prime Minister on the one hand and the First Lord of the Admiralty on the other. These do not make sense. The Prime Minister deliberately goes out of his way to carry major questions on defence to the hustings on grounds which are quite incorrect—I use the word "improper". Lord Jellicoe is following the Prime Minister's example. In another place he said of my hon. Friends that they would make a bonfire of our bombers; or chop up our Polaris submarines in two, as Mr. Wilson and Mr. Healey have suggested … I appeal to the Leader of the House as an ex-Minister of Defence. Is there any hon. Member opposite who will support those words and say that my right hon. Friends——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member will be aware of the restricted Question that is before the House on the Amendment.

Mr. Wigg

I am conscious of that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not want to bore my hon. Friends, but I say that we ought to come back on 31st March in order that the Prime Minister can be brought to account for statements of this kind. They are made right, left and centre and the Tory Press yells them from the house-tops.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

What about the Navy?

Mr. Wigg

What I am concerned about is the First Lord of the Admiralty. He made the statement in another place, and it is absolutely untrue. He said it because he is a perfectly honourable, straightforward man and was repeating what the Prime Minister believes. As I have said in previous debates, the charge against the Prime Minister—and it is a devastating one—is that he really believes what he says. This man of a mean intelligence says this so often that he has convinced himself that these statements are true.

Therefore we get Ministers of the Crown in another place making statements of that kind and hon. Members opposite have not even the grace to apologise and deny them.

The quotation I have made is printed in the Press, but when my noble Friends asked the First Lord of the Admiralty his authority for saying that he said: I will gladly withdraw."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 17th March, 1964; Vol. 256, c. 720–1.] He made the statement and then withdrew it. The statement is printed in the Press, but the withdrawal is not. It is propagated from John o' Groats to Land's End that my hon. Friends have said that they would make a bonfire of the bombers and chop Polaris submarines in two. Let us assume that one could make a bonfire of the bombers, how is it possible to chop Polaris submarines in two when we have not got them, and will not have them until 1968?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I cannot see how whether or not we meet on 7th April or 31st March can affect the chopping in two of a Polaris submarine.

Mr. Wigg

I entirely agree with the Chair. The fact of whether we meet on 7th April or 31st March—or, as I suggest in this context, more appropriately on All Fool's Day—would not make the slightest difference to whether we made a bonfire of the bombers or chopped Polaris submarines in two, because they do not exist.

I support the Amendment because on 31st March the House ought to meet to call the Prime Minister to account. The foolish statements which are being made, the propaganda which is being carried on and the tendentious statements made every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth show that he has lowered the tone of British politics in the six months he has been Prime Minister more than at any time since 1931.

Mr. S. Silverman

I follow the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) quite clearly that the First Lord of the Admiralty and Prime Minister ought to be called to account. The difference between us is that whereas he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington want the Prime Minister and his Friends called to account in a so-called House of Commons on 31st March, I prefer that he should be called for account in the country it a General Election. Then we should not be troubled with them again.

Mr. Wigg

I do not see that my hon. Friend's wishes or wants in the matter exclude mire. The difference in our political philosophy is that he is always concerned about the far horizons. I am concerned with here and now. This House is being asked to adjourn next Thursday until 7th April. I am willing to have a General Election tomorrow. In the meantime, I support the Amendment to come back on 31st March in order that the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Prime Minister should give an account to the House of Commons of how an utterly dishonest, untrue statement such as that can be made on the authority of the Minister of Defence.

Mr. S. Silverman

I am fearful that if the Government have their way the General Election will be on a far horizon getting farther and farther off. I want to get those horizons nearer; then we can deal with them practically.

Mr. Wigg

I fail to see, if we take account of the Representation of the People Act, how the horizons can go further away. The election will be on 14th May, 28th May, 4th June, or 11th June.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. Again I must call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that we are discussing only whether we should come back from the Easter Recess on 7th April or 31st March. Nothing more is at present under discussion.

Mr. Wigg

I apologise to the House. I have been led astray by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman. I share his view that this House of Commons is now dead. I thought it died last autumn——

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

Who has done the most talking?

Mr. Wigg

Certainly, but with the most effect. I shall continue doing more talking with a little more effect.

We have been told that at the election —and this has guided the Prime Minister—defence issues shall be taken to the electorate. The charge was made that we wantonly wanted to throw away our nuclear deter rent. Statement after statement has been made by the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence that under no circumstances whatever would they abrogate or weaken our nuclear deterrent, but what did the First Lord of the Admiralty say?: I do not wish now to claim that it would necessarily be right for this country to wish to retain this option for all time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 17th March, 1964; Vol. 256. c, 720.] Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. Either the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence are making statements which they know to be untrue, or the First Lord of the Admiralty is making a statement which he knows to be untrue.

The facts are quite clear. The First Lord of the Admiralty is an honest, honourable man. The statement he made about making a bonfire of the bombers and chopping up submarines which we have not got is part of the propaganda line of the Prime Minister. The First Lord also said in another place that in fact we have not got a deterrent and even if we had a vestige of a deterrent the time is fast approaching when we would have to give it up. The Prime Minister is saying exactly the opposite. I do not want to dwell on this subject for too long but——

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will the hon. Gentleman read the rest of the relevant part of the First Lord's speech?

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Member has been listening to me speaking for some time. If he wants to he can read the whole of the speech to hon. Members. I have merely been pointing out that the First Lord renounced what the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence had said. The latter two Members of the Government have said time and again that, in all circumstances, we must retain the deterrent because it would be misleading to the country to suggest that if we got rid of it we could still have influence in the world. Time and again the Prime Minister has said that, but now, in another place, the First Lord told the country that in future we can get rid of the deterrent. Not only that, the First Lord went on to describe what the deterrent consists of and then he charged my hon. and right hon. Friends with wanting to chop the Polaris in two—and apparently the poor dear man does not know that we do not have the Polaris, even though he is the First Lord of the Admiralty.

What is the fundamental reason why I want the House to meet on 31st March? I believe that if we are going to have a defence policy at all it must be a sound one and the country must find the means and money to support it. More important, the electorate expects the House of Commons to be able to account for every shilling that is spent and to ensure that the country is getting value for money. Hardly a day goes by when we do not have a scandal of one sort or another.

Yesterday, for example, we had the Air Force Appropriation Accounts. I do not know how many hon. Members studied them, but they will find on page IV an account of how 660,000 gallons of diesel oil were stolen in four years when the whole matter was under consideration. That is only a fleabite—around a million gallons of diesel oil—but it is no reason why right hon. Gentlemen opposite should make speeches designed especially for the hustings.

This brings me to the Ferranti affair. This is one of the most serious cases with which the House of Commons has been faced. Here, in a vital sector of defence, evidence is established to show that, from some cause or other, very considerable sums have been made by a firm, the affairs of which are now being investigated post-haste by the Government, the Laing Committee and, according to the Rulings of the Chair, we are permitted to know that the Accounting Officer of the Ministry of Aviation has appeared before the Public Accounts Committee. We know that Mr. Ferranti, the chairman, has also appeared before that Committee.

Millions of pounds are involved in this affair and I believe that the investigations will show that not only the Bloodhound contract is involved. I believe that there are others. I want an investigation into, for example, the modernisation of H.M.S. "Eagle", although for the moment the reason I want the House to meet on 31st March is because I want the Government to tell hon. Members when the Laing Committee will meet and when the Public Accounts Committee will report because this House—and I am referring to every hon. Member of it —should demand from the Government an account of what happened in the Bloodhound affair. Unless all hon. Members seek this information before going away for the Easter holidays they will not be discharging their duty. If there is one thing the House of Commons must do it is to call the Government to account on the expenditure of public money, particularly in matters of defence.

It is for these reasons that I have made the remarks I have about the Leader of the House. He is a great Parliamentarian. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the courage to stand by his views, even though it meant his political career suffering. He was trying to see that the financial affairs of the country were handled on a proper basis, a basis which commended itself to him. Surely, as Leader of the House of Commons, as a man and as an hon. Member who, when on the back benches, paid a great deal of attention to these matters, he must realise that the Ferranti affair is a matter of the greatest seriousness. This is not a question of financial probity. I am not and have not made any allegations, but if contracts are placed and if it is stated by the Public Accounts Committee that very considerable sums of money, ranging up to 60 per cent. of the total, may have been made out of the account for a weapon which is vital to the security of this country then, as Leader of the House, and as a private hon. Member—the same as any other private hon. Member—the right hon. Gentleman should consider it his duty to see that the House is kept informed.

I am willing to resume my seat and say no more on one condition; that the Leader of the House gives an assurance that the Laing Report will be laid before the House at the earliest possible opportunity and that, when laid, he will give an undertaking that he will find time to debate the matter before the General Election. I emphasise the word "before" in that context because this is of vital importance to us all.

5.56 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

I rise to oppose the Adjournment of the House unless the House receives two assurances from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Before the hon. Gentleman goes too far in that direction, he will be aware that we are now debating a manuscript Amendment and that to oppose the Adjournment of the House would not be in order because we have two alternative dates, but the Motion is not being opposed.

Mr. Mendelson

I am glad of your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was going on to say that while being opposed to the Adjournment I would be prepared to vote for the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) if the Leader of the House fails to give two assurances which we must demand of him.

Both of the issues I wish to raise are matters of capital importance. The first concerns the Ferranti affair, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has referred. On several occasions wt have pressed the Minister of Aviation to report on the progress that is being made with the various investigations taking place into this affair. Many hon. Members have concentrated their questioning of the Minister on this subject. They have asked the Government for a firm declaration that the full report of the Laing Committee will be presented to Parliament before the House is dissolved for the General Election or for assurances that it will be possible, if the Public Accounts Committee is not ready with its full report, to present a preliminary, partial or intermediate report before the House is dissolved.

The essential point involved in this business concerns an opportunity for the House to debate the outcome of the investigations into the Ferranti case while it is still in existence as a House of Commons. It is possible—and this is why I began my remarks the way I did—that unless we have an assurance, the Government may take the House into Recess for Easter and then, after the Easter Recess, when the House returns hon. Members may be presented with the dissolution of Parliament, the Prime Minister having advised Her Majesty.

It would then be quite impossible for the House of Commons, so soon after the Easter Recess, to insist on receiving either a complete or an intermediate report on the Ferranti affair. It would also be quite impossible for the House of Commons to debate the affair without having either of these reports. On every occasion we have put the matter to the Minister of Aviation we have had an evasive and negative reply. We have never once had the slightest assurance—although he has been pressed specifically on this point again and again—either that a report would be received before the General Election or that a debate based upon a report would take place before the General Election.

This matter is being discussed in many parts of the country. Without my having mentioned the Ferranti case at all, my view has been sought at various meetings by members of the audience. I have been in no position to give any point of view, because we have agreed that these inquiries and investigations ought to take place first. It is quite clear that in the period leading up to the General Election that question will be put to me and to many other hon. Members. The House should be in possession of the answer, in the interests of everyone concerned and, not least, in the interests of good government, which must be seen to be good government.

Many matters are involved that might lead to long-term proposals about the relations between the supply Departments of the Government and the big combines and industry generally. This is a test case of first-class importance, and we cannot pronounce upon it until we have seen some of the reports. We must have a debate before the General Election, so I urge the Leader of the House to take this opportunity to give us the assurance we seek.

Another cause of my speaking now is the announcement made today by the Minister of Labour of the proposed inquiry into the position and rights of the trade unions. Ninety per cent. of the working population in my constituency are members of the trade union movement, and a debate such as this is very much the occasion to have in mind the interests and aspirations of our constituents. I must speak in their name and on their behalf.

This announcement has not come as a surprise to a good many people who have followed the discussions that have been going on behind the scenes on the opposite side of the House. For a long time agitation has been directed against the position and status of the trade union movement. Although it is not expressed by the Minister of Labour, and I do not charge him with harbouring it—there is a keen desire on the benches opposite and in certain employers' organisations to go back on the historic achievements of trade union legislation before 1914, and on other occasions——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. In case this should lead to an enlarging of the debate. I would point out that we are now debating an Amendment to substitute one date for another, and no more. The purpose of the Amendment is to substitute 31st March for 7th April.

Mr. Mendelson

Most certainly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and in supporting this Amendment. I would say that all the ambiguity in today's announcement must be cleared up forthwith if we are to agree to any Adjournment, either a limited one or a longer one. Unless the right hon. Gentleman gives us the assurance I seek, the earliest opportunity for such a debate will be 31st March.

I repeat that there are a number of hon. Members opposite, and there are those in certain employers' organisations, though not all, who want to go back on the historic achievements for which the trade unions have fought for many years. Great pressure has been put on the Minister of Labour and on the Cabinet to set up a Royal Commission, here and now, in order to change trade union law. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. K. Lewis) who is, I understand, deputy chairman of an important Conservative back-bench committee dealing with trade union and social affairs, asked the Minister of Labour whether the Government would be prepared to proceed with this suggested inquiry into the position and rights of trade unions even if the Trades Union Congress and the trade union movement refused to co-operate in such an inquiry. Instead of a categorical negative reply, we had an evasive answer from the Minister of Labour.

All the right hon. Gentleman said was that he hoped that there would be agreement. That is useless. After such an unusual announcement we need a categorical assurance at an early stage that this inquiry is only intended by the Government if it receives the full cooperation of all the bodies particularly involved. If he cannot give that assurance then trade unionists will have grave doubts about what the Government are planning. I do not charge the Minister of Labour with the intention to go ahead without agreement, but there are many people who want to put the clock back and put the trade unions once again into a strait jacket.

These announcements are normally made after the terms of reference have been agreed, and after all the necessary consultation has taken place. If, in the opinion of the Minister, an hon. Member puts down a Question too soon, the Minister is most punctilious in pointing out that he is not in a position to make any announcement about an inquiry as he is still consulting the organisations concerned. In contrast with that procedure, the right hon. Gentleman has not told the House this afternoon that he has had any consultations with any body concerned—he just rushes in with this announcement. Obviously, his action has been taken in response to work done behind the scenes, and in order to cash in on whatever anti-trade union votes there may be here and there in the constituencies.

We must demand from the Leader of the House a categorical assurance on behalf of the Government that the evasive reply of the Minister of Labour does not represent the position of the Government, and that they will not proceed with this matter unless, after the fullest consultation, they receive the co-operation and agreement of all the bodies most directly concerned, particularly the trade union movement.

6.9 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

There are two points to be dealt with, and at this stage I am probably only in order in dealing with the first one. Half of the hon. Members opposite want to come back on 31st March and the other half do not want to come back at all. The Motion I have moved is in the usual form for the Easter Adjournment. It provides 11 clear days, which has been the precedent every year since the war, except on one occasion in 1952 when only 10 days were allowed.

The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was kind enough to pay me some compliments, for which I thank him most sincerely. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) also said some nice things about me. He is, of course, a man of strong likes and dislikes, and any pleasure that his remarks about me gave to me was taken away by what he said about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The hon. Member is a man who thinks carefully about these things and I believe that one day he will regret the terms in which he referred to my right hon. Friend.

Anyway, both were kind to me in their references to the way in which I lead the House. I believe that it is my duty as Leader of the House, having regard to the welfare of all hon. Members, to say that we should have a longer period over Easter than the Easter weekend and the Bank Holiday. I do not think that anyone here seriously disputes that proposition, and that is the only part of the argument that I wish to deal with at present. I agree that there are important problems to be dealt with, like those raised by the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) and the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson)

All the hon. Members who have spoken mentioned important topics. The hon. Member for Penistone mentioned, in particular, the statement made earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I do not see how anyone who reads that statement can fail to see that there have been important consultations about this matter. I have hon. Members to study it and come to their own conclusions.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that there has been agreement between the people concerned to set up an inquiry?

Mr. Lloyd

No, I did not say that at all. I said that it was clear from my right hon. Fiend's statement that there have been informal discussions about the whole matter.

Mr. J. Griffiths

What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by "informal"? In a matter of this kind, before an announcement is made by the Government, there are surely formal, and not informal, inquiries and discussions about the terms of the statement.

Mr. Lloyd

I have a high regard for the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he has read the statement. Not by the slightest stretch of the imagination, or the furthest flight of party bitterness and recrimination, could this be regarded as an attack on the trade union movement. I agree that these are matters for discussion. I shall do my best, after the brief Recess to recruit our energies, to fit in as many of these topics as possible within the framework of the Parliamentary programme. I ask the House, in its own interest, and in the interest of individual Members, to accept the proposition that 11 days are better than four days for the Easter Recess.

Mr. S. Silverman

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify what he said about the statement by the Minister of Labour? He was at great pains to say that if we read that statement carefully we would recognise that there had been conversations with the T.U.C. and with the employers. Is the inference, therefore, that the statement has been made after those conversations and in the full knowledge that neither body agreed with what the Government propose to do?

Mr. Lloyd

I will try to clear up what the hon. Member has put to me. The whole point of my right hon. Friend's statement was that formal consultations ought not to take place before the election, but it was perfectly clear from the end of the first paragraph of his statement that informal discussions have been taking place for some time about the questions raised, for example by the case of Rookes v. Barnard and its repercussions. I have no more to add.

Mr. Gordon Walker

What informal discussions can there have been? Does this mean discussions between the General Council of the T.U.C., the Minister and employers? Do these discussions mean that people met over a drink, or something of that kind? What does the expression "informal" mean? Were there, in fact, discussions, or were there not? We need to know this.

Mr. Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman may question me and say that he needs to know, but I will not add, on this Amendment, more than I have already said. I did not bring in this subject. I was questiond on the matter and I thought that what I had to say would be of some help to the House.

Mr. J. Griffiths

This is very important. We do not want to be under any misapprehension. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman, from his experience, remember a precedent whereby, in a matter of this great importance, the Government say that they have decided to set up an inquiry and all they add is that there have been informal discussions? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that it is believed in the country that there have been some hole-and-corner discussions? Does he not think that in fairness to the T.U.C. and its General Secretary he owes it to them and to the country to say with whom there have been informal discussions?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can possibly believe that. I never said that anybody agreed beforehand, but many times, when dealing with public policy, one has informal discussions. I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, when he was a member of the Labour Cabinet, had informal discussions. If everything came out without informal discussions things would be very much more complex.

Mr. Mendelson

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether agreement had been reached on the announcement that was to be made today? Flow does he explain the unusual course taken by the Government when, normally, Governments wait until there is an agreement about an announcement before the announcement is made? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has completely failed to explain this, which is the gravamen of the whole argument.

Mr. Lloyd

I entirely disagree with the hon. Member and I ask him to study the statement.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)

In supporting the Amendment I can only imagine that the remarks which we have just heard from the Leader of the House confirm our suspicions and the need to support the Amendment. The House is dissatisfied with the statement which was made by the Minister of Labour. I was appalled when I listened to it. It seemed to me to be a piece of cold, deliberate, calculated electioneering. It seemed to me that hon. Members opposite, who for years have been clamouring for action to curb the British trade union movement, were at long last receiving some support and being appeased by the Government.

We are bound to accept this view, because there seemed to be no reason whatsoever for a statement of this importance to be made so near to a General Election. Why is it necessary for the Minister of Labour to make a statement of this magnitude without any terms of reference and without any suggestion of the scope of the inquiry? Why was it necessary to make it just now? It may well be that we shall be in the throes of a General Election in the next months or so. Surely this was the very last occasion on which a statement of this character should have been made. The statement was made to rally those frightened people in our community who are scared of organised labour, and to lodge in their minds new suspicions about the danger of trade unionism and thereby rally them to the support of the Conservative Party.

The Minister of Labour did not inform the House what the inquiries are to be. We do not know whether they are to be into the finances of the trade unions, into the law as it affects the trade unions or into the structure of the trade unions. No information whatever was given. We were told just a few months before a General Election that the Government had decided to set up an inquiry into the trade union movement —not an inquiry into the trade union movement and monopoly operations in industry.

There are many things that the people would like to inquire into. I would like to know, for example, whether it is not an abuse of our democratic practices when the steel industry can declare that it proposes to spend £1 million trying to influence a General Election—£1 million on lying propaganda to keep this Government of vested interest in power.

Is it not time that we had an inquiry into such ramifications which are undermining. our democratic practices and interfering with the election system, where industries were able in the 1959 General Election to spend £1,400,000, where private monopolies were able to spend campaigning against Labour more money than the sum total that all candidates standing for election were legally entitled to spend during their campaign? If there are to be inquiries, it is time that we had inquiries into the operations of private industry interfering with our democratic practices.

I am appalled that so near to a General Election a Minister of the Crown, the Minister responsible for labour relations, should lodge in the minds of millions of trade unionists the suspicion that the Government intend to curb their right to defend themselves; because this is the suspicion which many millions of trade unionists will have in their minds and will be discussing tomorrow in the factories.

Our trade union movement is the most responsible trade union movement in the world. Last year, only half an hour per worker was lost by industrial disputes. Ours was the best record in the Western world. Japan lost seven times more hours from industrial disputes than we did. America lost eleven times more. One hundred times more hours are lost in industry through industrial accidents and sickness than are lost through industrial disputes. Yet every time vile pick up the Order Paper we read a Motion, tabled by hon. Members opposite, which is calculated to denigrate and undermine the whole functioning of our trade union movement.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Would it be helpful to the hon. Member to read the Motion to which he is speaking, or rather, the Amendment thereto to which he is speaking?

Mr. Edwards

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I was merely suggesting that the House should meet on 31st March so that we can discuss the statement which was made today by the Minister of Labour

I have made my point to try to justify my contention that a statement of this magnitude, involving about 10 million organised industrial workers and their wives, should be discussed at the earliest possible moment, not after the General Election, but before, so that the people will know clearly what are the intentions of the Government.

For these basic reasons, which, I think, are important to our British democracy, I hope that my hon. Friends will support the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Main Question again proposed.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I would like to speak to the main Question, which, I think, will afford the House a somewhat wider opportunity to range than when discussing the restricted Amendment, which was designed merely to change one date to another. At the end I shall seek your leave, Mr. Speaker—I respectfully ask you not to rule at this stage—to move another Amendment the effect of which would be that we should adjourn until the dissolution of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I save the hon. Gentleman's time? I considered his agreeably ingenious Amendment, but I came to the conclusion that, if the first one were defeated, it would necessarily fall, in the sense that we have retained Tuesday, 7th April, in the original Motion. I confess that I would not think it right, in these circumstances, to accept a second Amendment.

Mr. Thorpe

If you please, Mr. Speaker.

Then may I address myself to the main Question and say that I hope that hon. Members will vote against it, on the basis that no date would be convenient to come back, because the time has been reached when the House should adjourn for good? My reason for saying that is that there comes a time in the life of every Government of any party when they have reached the point of no return. If one thing has become very plain from talking to hon. Members opposite, it is that the Government and their members have got an incurable death wish. If one really wants to get a reaction from the Government, one says to one of their members, "I think that you will get back at the next election". The automatic response is, "You do not really think so, do you? You hearten me. You are the first person I have heard say that for months".

The first point is that there is a genuine death wish on the part of the Government who have, after all, been in power for nearly 14 years. Their death wish and the whole election fever which has overtaken the party opposite have made it quite impossible to have any intelligent discussion and debate upon the great issues of the day. This is another reason why I oppose the Motion.

When the Prime Minister took office one of the first speeches he made was to the effect that he hoped that defence would be taken out of party politics or would be above party politics. Within a few weeks the Prime Minister had discovered that the hydrogen bomb and the fear which that bomb could strike one way or the other into the hearts of the people of this country was an extremely good election weapon. The Prime Minister has been going round hugging the nuclear bomb to his breast as if it was it was his best election hope. He has now become a unilateralist. The Prime Minister is a unilateralist—a unilateral nuclear bomber. That is the only logical inference to draw from a Prime Minister who sets such very high store upon Britain's possession of the bomb.

So that this argument can be underlined, we have had at this pre-election stage a White Paper in which the Government justify the retention of this independent deterrent, so-called, in 19 lines in three paragraphs. What they are really saying—I indicate this to show that in this election crisis logic has gone out through the back door—is that they foresee a situation in which our American allies will leave Europe and, therefore, there will be no European Power capable of inflicting nuclear retaliation. Therefore, in order, in this state of election fever, to make this argument stand up, what they have to maintain is that our American allies will tear up all their obligations under N.A.T.O. and retreat from the Continent of Europe.

On the other hand, this is the ally from whom we are receiving the delivery systems which make our independent deterrent possible. So reliable is this ally, according to the other side of the argument, that we can call the deterrent independent because we know that we will have an inexhaustible supply of these weapons from our reliable American allies. So, even on the basis of their own logic, it is quite impossible to have an intelligent debate on nuclear weapons.

A noble Lord made a slip in another place. I am charitable and call it a slip. Perhaps the noble Lord meant it.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I am assured that the First Lord of the Admiralty read it from his brief perfectly solemnly. It was all there. It was not a slip.

Mr. Thorpe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I accept that it is more likely that the First Lord would have read from a carefully prepared brief than that he should have extemporised on his own behalf. But what Freudian insight it gave into the argument that in no circumstances could Britain be without her independent nuclear deterrent. We now see the chink in the argument and we have some indication of what policy would be bound to follow after the election. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that, in 18 months, there will be no political party in this country seriously advocating the retention of the independent nuclear deterrent—none at all. This sort of thing is one of the great tragedies of the election fever period.

The Government are split. The Tory Party is supposed to be the great modernising party. This is why it elected the present Prime Minister, to be the spearhead of modernisation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is the most modern leader that the Conservative Party could find. But, when asked to tidy up resale price maintenance as part of the modernisation of Britain, the Government party are seen to be hopelessly split. Goodness knows what would have happened if the Government had seriously tackled monopolies. There would have been over 500 Amendments on the Notice Paper and the unfortunate Secretary of State for Industry and Trade would have been under even greater attack. One cannot conduct a serious discussion on this aspect of policy, because the Government are hopelessly split.

There is more to it than that. Take unemployment. This Government, it is true, have had certain achievements. They have achieved a higher rate of unemployment than any other Government in the preceding 25 years. [AN. HON. MEMBER: "It is not true."] I rely on the comparative figures put out by the United Nations, showing the unemployment in this country from before the war up to the present. All we have had are two public works programmes in the North-East and Scotland. In my constituency, there is nearly 6 per cent. unemployment. We are very pleased to have the Minister visit us on Monday, but this is all we have had—a Ministerial visit after 14 years. The problem will not be solved until we have a Government with determination, not a death wish.

We need a Government with confidence and authority to negotiate in regard to Europe. The present Government were belatedly converted to the idea of going into Europe. Unfortunately, it was too late. Now, the initiative must be taken, not only on the economic front but politically, also—I say this without any equivocation—and only a Government with authority can take it.

There is the need to rethink our whole policy for agriculture. It is no good having an election Price Review and trying to recoup the errors of past years, thinking that that in itself will solve the problems of agriculture.

All these artificial arguments are going on at present. There is the artificial argument about defence, there is the split in the Government ranks at any attempt to modernise Britain, there is the failure to tackle unemployment in any effective and drastic way, there is the fact that we have a Prime Minister who, though a very nice man, in economics gives the impression of being an affable amateur. There is also the fact that the party opposite has been in power for nearly 14 years and that the time has come for it to go. Already, 25 per cent. of the ranks opposite are knights, baronets or dames, which is some indication of the length of time that the Tories have been in power.

I suggest, therefore, that the Motion should be opposed on the basis that we should not vote for a return of Parliament in its present form, but that we should adjourn so that the electorate may have the right to give its verdict on the record of the Government and serve them with notice to quit.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I wish to raise another point which indicates that the Government, on this occasion, have taken a somewhat unusual course. If the Leader of the House will look up the records, he will find that, for a long time back—at least as far back as I can remember—the Motion for the Adjournment for the Recess has always been taken in the week on which the House did in fact adjourn.

The Motion for the Adjournment last Christmas was taken on 17th December and the House adjourned on 20th December for the Christmas Recess. The Motion for the Adjournment for the Summer Recess was taken on Tuesday, 30th July, and the House rose on Thursday, 2nd August. The Motion for the Adjournment for last Whitsun Recess was taken on Tuesday, 28th May, and the House rose for the Recess on 31st May.

I will not go any further back. I think that I have quoted enough precedent to show that it is the almost invariable practice to take the Motion for the Adjournment on the Tuesday of the week in which the House rises.

This prompts me to ask the question: why have the Government, on this occasion, put down the Motion for discussion during the week before the week when the House is due to rise and not, as in accordance with precedent they should have done, next Tuesday? I know that the Government are in some difficulty with their own supporters about the Resale Prices Bill, which is to be taken in Committee on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week. It looks suspiciously as though, on account of that Bill, the Government, or the Leader of the House, did not follow the usual precedent and put down this Motion for debate next Tuesday.

I should be glad if the Leader of the House would explain why, for the first time that I can remember, he has departed from what looks like an established precedent in the matter.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

To take up the point just made by the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), I wonder whether, in any of the precedents he found, there is a precedent for the Easter Recess. In fact, we are proposing to rise on a Thursday, whereas in the other cases, of course, we rose on a Friday. I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House in this case that we should have this matter out of the way today.

Mr. Lipton

Perhaps I should have quoted the precedent for the last Easter Adjournment. The Motion was moved on Tuesday, 9th April and the House rose for the Recess on Thursday, 11th April.

Mr. Lloyd

I think that the Government's intentions were known. I did not know that there was any objection to this proposal. In these matters, as is known, I am the servant of the House, and I thought that it would be convenient to get this business out of the way this week.

Mr. S. Silverman

Convenient to whom?

Mr. Lloyd

Convenient to all hon. Members on both sides.

I have listened carefully to all the speeches which have been made, the effect of which has been that this Parliament should sit no more. There has been a good deal of personal and political abuse from the benches opposite. Words have not been minced. But I propose to reply with studied moderation. It seems to me that the Opposition want to curtail the deliberations of this Parliament because they have collectively, throughout. cut such a poor figure and shown themselves to be so irresponsible.

Their jumpiness today and their extraordinary reaction to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour this afternoon—these are the sorts of reasons why they want to get rid of this Parliament. They have gone through a process over the months of painstakingly papering over the cracks in their own party on questions of neutralism, nuclear defence, nationalisation, and all the rest. and they are just beginning to wonder whether this precarious facade of unity will last much longer.

Even in approaching simple matters like this, hon. Members opposite are completely split. Half of them say that we should come back on 31st March and the other half say that we should not come back at all. There has been a shortening in their tempers and anxiety about whether they can still preserve what is, I think, a precarious façade. They have attempted to distort what was said by the First Lord of the Admiralty. He said in the House of Lords very much what was said this House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence at column 460 of the OFFICIAL REPORT on 26th February. I will not go into the details of the two statements, but if anyone compares what my two right hon. Friends have said he will see that it was the same thing.

If it is not just a question of hon. Members opposite being worried about their own façade, can it be that they have been shaken by last month's export and production figures? They heard with glee the bad balance of payments figures. They thought that this was a great chance to say how badly things have been managed in order to gain some political advantage. This month we have the biggest export figures and the highest production figures ever.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that month by month we must have the biggest export figures ever unless we are to get into very grave difficulties? This is not something to boast of. Each month the figures must go up if we are to sustain economic growth. It is not something to boast of in itself.

Mr. Lloyd

I agree that it is necessary for our figures to go up month by month. That is exactly what will not happen if the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends get into power. I utterly repudiate the allegation——

Mr. S. Silverman rose——

Mr. Lloyd

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman——

Mr. Silverman

I shall not take long. This is relevant to the point that the right hon. and learned Member is making. Is he inviting the House to say that, if in a single month we spend £68 million more than we earn, that is a sign of bounding prosperity?

Mr. Lloyd

I was talking about the export figures, as the hon. Member knows quite well. He knows equally well that it was the suggested falling off in exports which the Opposition thought would give them a good political point.

I utterly repudiate the allegation of lack of authority. It is the Opposition, such of their members as are here—and I have to look at the Opposition a great deal—who are tired, worn and jumpy. We were elected with an increased majority in October, 1959, for five years, and we intend to rule with that authority.

The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said something about majorities. I suppose that he wanted to be put out of his misery. I understand his personal anxiety. In 1951, he had a majority of 9,727. In 1959, he had a majority of 3,544. At that rate of progress, he will be out next time.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be good enough to tell the House by how much the size of my electorate has dropped, otherwise he cannot validly make the point that he has made? He is a very fair man. His fairness has been praised today. No doubt, he has informed himself of the fall in the size of my total electorate.

Mr. Lloyd

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety. He has obviously made these minute calculations. If I have misrepresented the situation or prophesied too easy a doom for him, I apologise; I am very sorry. But he is on the way down, and I like him very much—that is a matter for great regret. We shall choose our time having regard to the convenience of the electors and the national interest, and when we go to the country we shall win.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I hope that I will be in order in what I am about to say, but I am not quite sure.

We have heard a very strong speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) against the Government's attitude and their intention to inquire into the trade union movement. Their intention is to prepare a case and to get it over in time to help them at the General Election. The implication is that there is some dangerous element in the trade union movement which must, of necessity, draw our attention to that organisation. Only history can prove whether there is a very dangerous element in the trade union movement. It is wise from the Tories' point of view to bring this matter to the attention of the public in such a way that it will carry some weight in the trade union movement.

On Monday, I asked, in a Question, by how much the wages of the workers had improved between 1938 and 1962. I received a reasonable reply. I wanted to have it on record as a financial indication of how the wages of the workers had progressed. To that extent, it would prove how dangerous the trade union movement had become in 26 years and how much the purchasing power of the workers had improved after a great war and after tremendous struggle in times of shortage of material. Great efforts were made in this period, not only by trade unionists but by everybody.

It was admitted that in 1938 the average wage was 69s.——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I regret having to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but would he be so kind as to relate his observations to the Question before the House?

Mr. McKay

I thought that, since other speakers had been allowed to range widely, I should have an opportunity to debate this matter. I could not see any other way to deal with it than by comparing the state of the trade union movement in 1938 with its state in 1962. I will not develop the point too much. I will give the figures as quickly as I can in order to give a bird's eye view of the situation.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)

On a point of order. Could the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) be deceived by the fact that the clocks have stopped?

Mr. Speaker

No, I do not think so. I think that he was making a speech. The rest of the House will have noted the fact.

Mr. McKay

I often get into this trouble, Sir. It is a familiar occurrence when I speak. Somehow, I have difficulty in keeping on a straight line.

The reply to my Question indicated that the cost of living index rose from 100 to 310. When comparing the average wages of workers, I find that the single man had increased his purchasing power by 28 per cent. and the married man by about 30 per cent. in 26 years when the cost of living had risen by a figure of 210.

Whatever the Tory Party may attempt to do in creating a problem and placing it before the country, there is something in the trade union movement, under its special constitution and freedom, which must be investigated to see what we can do to keep it more steady. To me, this is just another instance of the introduction of politics regardless of its aftereffects.

The country's history shows that the trade union movement has not been extravagant in its demands. That it has not been successful in obtaining improved purchasing power of more than, say, 30 per cent. over a period of 26 years is an indication, not of extravagant demands, but of moderation, intelligence and a sense of responsibility by the great trade union movement, which should be supported wholeheartedly.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Thursday next, do adjourn till Tuesday 7th April.