§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed, That those words be there inserted.
§ Mr. Heath
Now, if I may turn to the other points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, I think he said that there was really one particular one which worried him. He said that the chemists who were willing to sell these products were worried about the future of their incomes, and with this he mentioned particularly the quality of the services, the staff, the stock and hours of public service. Those were the items which were particularly involved.
I ask the Committee to note that my hon. Friend placed this on the basis of remuneration and the effect of remuneration on services, on staff, on stock and on hours of performance. He said that this was a public service—with which we all agree—and one of the greatest importance. He was not placing it on the basis of the other points which have been raised by other hon. Members about the safety and health of the public and how this is looked after.
I should like to deal, first, with the question of the safety and health of the public. This is covered by legislation at the moment, and I think it is important that we should realise how this operates. 379 First, there are restrictions on the sale of medicines in places other than chemists, and these consist, first, of the medicines in Part I of the Poisons List. These can be sold only in chemists.
Secondly, we come to the provisions of the Pharmacy and Medicines Act, 1941. This restricts the sale of certain substances recommended as a medicine—the phrase used in the Amendment put forward by my hon. Friend. This Act restricts them to pharmacists, but this is subject to complicated and very considerable exceptions, and, as my hon. Friend knows, there are a considerable number of exceptions which means that they can be sold outside all chemists.
Thus, one has the poisons group which can be sold only by pharmacists, and substances recommended as medicine, some of which can be sold only by pharmacists, and others which can be sold in a wide range of other shops. What hon. Members will have to decide in their minds is really whether this list is the right one. This is fundamental to the question of public safety and health.
What some hon. Members have been suggesting is that some of these items ought to be restricted. I do not propose to enter into the detail of that argument tonight. I think my hon. Friend will agree that the sale of some of these ought to be restricted. On the other hand, some of my hon. Friends will say that there are certain restrictions which they would not wish to see come about. They would not wish to see it so restricted that many normal things could not be sold in village shops or local stores.
At the moment, in the Board of Trade, we are receiving a considerable number of representations that baby food, which is at the moment severely limited in its outlets, ought to be sold more widely, for example, in food stores which have proper means of protecting and maintaining food. So there are two sides to this discussion, concerning those things which should be sold in chemists' shops and those which should be sold over a wider field.
Many pharmaceutical suppliers voluntarily limit the sale of their drugs to pharmacists because they believe that 380 they provide the necessary outlets. That position will remain. If they wish to restrict their sales to chemists, or only to a few chemists, that process can continue. The Bill does not affect the position. Some of the suppliers who limit their sales to pharmacists operate resale price maintenance agreements, and some do not.
Therefore, we already have a situation in which some suppliers limit their supplies voluntarily to chemists and do not operate resale price maintenance, and in which chemists themselves, if they wish to do so, can vary their prices. That is how the question of public health and safety is covered—partly by the poisons list, partly by restrictions on the sale of substances for medicinal substances, and partly by the voluntary action of suppliers who limit their sales to chemists because they think that that is the best way in which they can deal with the public. At the same time we have r.p.m.—sometimes inside the chemist's shop and sometimes outside.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The right hon. Gentleman has consulted his right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. They have given specific pledges with regard to certain substances, and everyone concerned in these matters knows that the law must be revised and consolidated, irrespective of the question of baby foods, which is of very little importance considering the other side of the question, which concerns the distribution of dangerous drugs. Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that because of the existence of pending consolidating legislation it is dangerous to deal with this matter at this stage?
§ Mr. Heath
I shall deal with the question of legislation shortly. I do not agree with the hon. Member. If prices were altered it would not affect the existing state of control. The state of control would remain exactly the same. It would not be affected by the question whether r.p.m. remained or went, because the items which can be sold only in chemists' shops remain the same, and those which can be sold outside remain the same. The price factor does not affect the matter. That is why I am so anxious to establish it clearly in the minds of hon. Members that there is this 381 difference between the health and safety aspect of the matter and the completely separate consideration of price.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Is not the argument that cuts in price margins could reduce the efficiency of the pharmacists and therefore create danger in the dispensing of these drugs?
§ Mr. Heath
That is a separate argument, which I shall come to in a moment. It does not affect the question of distribution, whether to chemists or to other shops. It affects chemists' incomes.
The Home Secretary yesterday told the House that he is preparing legislation and hopes to introduce it as soon as possible. The Pharmaceutical Society has made it clear that it does not consider the present restrictions to be sufficient, and the Government are now actively carrying out a review of the legislation. The Pharmaceutical Society is in a position to make representations about this review.
I suggest that the legislation which follows this review should deal with the question whether more drugs should be added to the list of those which can be sold only by chemists and, if so, which drugs they should be. This question covers a wide area, and I hope that the Committee will feel reassured now that the matter is under active discussion with the Pharmaceutical Society and that the Government will take action on it as soon as practicable.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
This is a very important matter. My point is that the legislation will concern named drugs about which there have been public complaints because of failure to restrict their distribution. If, under the provisions of this Bill, these or new drugs become cheaper, obviously more of them will be bought, and if that is so, it is a question of the Government trying by means of legislation to keep pace with the production of new and offensive drugs which are being wrongly used. The Minister seems to have lost the point by not saying that the Government cannot cope with the position regarding new drugs unless they are willing to control the new drugs as the Dunlop Committee recommended.
§ Mr. Heath
The question of keeping control over new drugs will face the 382 Government and the public whether or not there is resale price maintenance, It is a normal problem of which we have had experience in the last few years with the invention of many new drugs, and it is something quite separate from whether or not the price is maintained. The Government are discussing with the Pharmaceutical Society what should be the appropriate method of bringing the whole matter up to date, and I can give an assurance to the Committee that this is being dealt with.
The important matter of National Health Service dispensing has been raised, and I wish to deal with that. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove, when dealing last night with the position of small shopkeepers and moving his own Amendment, said that he believed that pharmacists ought to be paid more, and this view has been echoed by other hon. Members. In an admirably lucid and concise speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) dealt with the whole question of the remuneration of chemists. Perhaps I may explain the position. They are reimbursed in full for the cost of the ingredients and containers. Above this they receive an on-cost allowance calculated as a percentage on the cost of the ingredients and a dispensing fee for each prescription. These payments are intended to cover in full the proportion of labour and overhead expenses attributable to the National Health Service dispensing and, in addition, to yield a net profit.
Since 1961—I think that this is an important refinement—the on-cost allowance has been expressed as a sliding scale in order to take account of the fact that the expenses per prescription of a chemist who does only a little National Health Service dispensing are higher than those of a chemist who does a great deal of such dispensing. That was introduced in order to allow for the chemist who did a small amount of dispensing. The objective has always been to fix this remuneration, including an element of profit, at a level to give a fair return for the service involved without taking account of the profits from other parts of the business.
A number of hon. Members have expressed unhappiness, unease or anxiety, about the position that results 383 from this. I am told that a detailed inquiry has recently been carried out in order to identify more precisely than hitherto those expenses attributable to National Health Service dispensing; and if the balance between the turnover and the overheads changes it could be taken into account in the formula which I have described. I am also informed, and I hope that my hon. Friend will agree, that already a measure of agreement has been reached between the Ministry of Health and the representatives of the chemists about how the figures of expenses are to be treated and apportioned. There are still two difficult items to be settled and the discussions are continuing on these.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health hopes that the additional information which has now been obtained about expenses will provide a rational basis for reaching a form of agreement on remuneration. I hope that the Committee will feel that this new investigation and the discussions going on between the pharmacists and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will provide this rational basis for a form of agreement on remuneration. From what my hon. Friends have been saying, I believe that the whole Committee will welcome this agreement, if it can be reached, and if these two difficult items can be dealt with. I wanted to give the Committee the information for which I was asked by my hon. Friend about arrangements for dispensing. Action is being taken by the Minister in discussions with the pharmacists themselves.
I have dealt with a large number of the points raised during this very long debate. I should like therefore to come to the—
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
May I ask one question? In announcing this new inquiry and the attitude expected from the Minister of Health, has my right hon. Friend the agreement of the Treasury that it will not sit on it?
§ Mr. Chapman
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point about how Clause 5 of the Bill as it stands can be certain of securing that if the Court allows resale price maintenance on drugs, which many of us think a good thing, the Court can be satisfied that unduly high profit margins will not be retained?
§ Mr. Heath
I know that is an item which is worrying the hon. Member, but we cannot institute price control in these matters, which is what he has suggested. We can take account of the criteria set out in Clause 5, which we shall discuss later. The criteria are quite clear about the interests of the public as consumers and users. This is all set out in Clause 5.
Having dealt with the question of the area of health and safety, and financing of dispensing by chemists, I come to the final point we have to decide. As I said at the beginning of these remarks, we do not have to decide tonight whether or not r.p.m. goes. What we have to decide is whether we are to go against the structure of this Bill to make particular exemptions or to continue with it in its structure and put them before the Court and then the Court, with all the information, can decide. When the Bill was constructed it was deliberately constructed, in Clause 5, to allow the arguments put forward by the proponents of resale price maintenance to be stated exactly. Those are arguments to which hon. Members have drawn attention today.
I repeat them. First there is:the quality of the goods available for sale, or the varieties so available, would be substantially reduced…or the number of establishments in which the goods are sold by retail would be substantially reduced.…This covers many of the anxieties raised about the number of establishments which would continue. Next there is the provision:any necessary services actually provided in connection with or after the sale of the goods by retail would cease to be so provided.…These again are two of the particular items with which we have been dealing 385 today. This structure was drawn up to allow all the powerful arguments put in this debate to be put to the Court and weighed against the balance of the public interest.
Where it is thought that there are powerful arguments put forward—for example, many hon. Members said that they believed the arguments put forward for pharmaceutical goods were powerful, some say in a rather limited field but my hon. Friend says in a much wider field—surely the more powerful argument the stronger the case to go before the Court. It is the Court which should decide these matters. The judgment would be in the public interest. My hon. Friend said that he was anxious about what the outcome would be. It would be quite improper for me to make any suggestion about the outcome of a case which has still to go before the Court. He will appreciate that, and he will appreciate that it would be quite wrong for me to try to suggest particular items.
If my hon. Friend suggests that he is anxious that it might not succeed, it is really being suggested that the Court would decide that it was not in the public interest. Therefore, my right hon. Friend would like it laid down specifically by Parliament. I do not think my hon. Friend, if there was a danger that the Court would say that it was not in the public interest, would want it laid down by Parliament as a separate item. I know that is not the point of view he is trying to advance.
The other thing on which I agree with the hon. Member for Hillsborough is that the Court has flexibility. Once the item is dealt with here in the Bill, it is in the legislation until we get another change of legislation. On the other hand, by the provisions in the Bill there is flexibility for the Court, because either way it can be reviewed again under the criteria and in the public interest, and the Bill makes special provision for the cost of such cases.
Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the strength of the arguments is that all the cases should be placed before the Court and that the Court should judge on the criteria presented. I hope that my hon. Friend would not feel that these products ought to be taken out of the scope of the 386 Court or put above the Court, for the reason that I believe that the element of fairness to all products is of the utmost importance.
We have heard, quite rightly, great emphasis laid on the aspects of safety and the quality of service required. Other traders—for instance, in electrical goods, the servicing of electrical goods, in motor cars and such items—feel equally strongly that these aspects are of the utmost importance to their trades. They will have to go before the Court if they wish to do so. They are not being decided here tonight. They have not even been put forward.
Therefore, as an element of fairness, I hope that my hon. Friends will agree that we should allow each of these the same opportunity to go before the Court and for the matter to be decided by it and not be decided independently on such information as we have had today and be put into legislation as a permanent feature. How can we commend the Court to other trades and tell them, "It is here that you will receive a fair understanding of all the information put before it", if I have answered my hon. Friend, "But of course we will take this group of goods separately and put them in the Bill", because my hon. Friend has suggested that he is unhappy about putting them before the Court?
Therefore, in this very important item, bearing in mind the aspect of fairness to all, commending the Court and giving confidence to all others concerned about the Bill, I submit that we should not make exemptions to it, but should leave the matter to be dealt with under the procedure in Clause 5.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I must apologise to the Committee at the end of a long debate if I say a very few words about the kindness of my right hon. Friend in going into so moth detail. [Laughter.] It may be regarded with amusement by hon. Members opposite. I regarded it as particularly courteous on his part. I thought that the very least I could do was to make one or two comments, which I will now do extremely rapidly.
When I spoke on the last Amendment I was standing on the wrong foot, but this time I am operating in a field with which I am extremely familiar. I take the four paints that my right hon. Friend first made in criticism of the economic 387 case made on behalf of pharmacists. He said, first, that they had the sale of medicines in Part I of the Poisons List. He will, I know, accept it from me that those are a burden and not a profit and that the great majority of them are sold on prescription and are not subject to resale price maintenance. My right hon. Friend then referred to the provisions in the Pharmacy Act relating to substances recommended as a medicine. These are substances which can be sold freely and are controlled in the Pharmacy Act only for labelling purposes. He then said—and here I accept entirely his point—that there was voluntary limitation by manufacturers in many cases. He said that legislation was likely to be coming which would greatly assist in the economic difficulties that we have heard about. The trouble with legislation is that we do not know when it is coming and we do not know what the content of that legislation will be.
Then, when he dealt with the discussions on remuneration under the National Health Service, my right hon. Friend said—and I accept this—that the desire of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health was to ensure a fair return and a rational basis of calculation. But a rational basis of calculation can only operate in the light of experience, and that means that two or three years have got to pass before that experience can be worked into a rational basis of remuneration.
I recognise that my right hon. Friend has been extremely courteous and detailed in his reply, but the impression that it made on me was that he was saying that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. If that is so, it cannot explain away, with great respect to him, the intense feeling in the pharmaceutical world about this situation. If everything is for the best, and if the likelihood of being able to meet losses is obvious by the various means that he has suggested, I cannot explain, nor can any members of the Pharmaceutical Council, why there is this burning indignation about the situation at present.
§ Sir D. Glover
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, but he is the expert in the Committee on this pharmaceutical problem. I do not 388 think there is anybody on either side of the Committee who has not got a great deal of sympathy for the pharmacists. But if their case is so overwhelmingly strong, are they not almost certain to get what they require through the Restrictive Practices Court?
§ Sir H. Linstead
That, I admit immediately, is the strongest part of my right hon. Friend's argument. The only answer I can give to that is that neither he nor anyone else can clearly indicate how the Restrictive Practices Court is going to operate or on what principles its decisions are going to be based.
The final point is that owing to the procedure of this House it is not possible to take a vote on Amendment No. 17—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, it is."] If I may finish my sentence, I was about to say that it is not possible to take a vote on Amendment No. 17 at this moment. It can only be taken when the Committee has discussed Amendments 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16. In other words, there will be a long gap—nobody except those who wish to speak know how long that gap will be—
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
On a point of order, Sir William. The hon. Gentleman has made a point here, but surely we have been here all day, the Chamber is full, and hon. Members are seized of the arguments. We have had the discussion on all these Amendments. Surely it would be for the convenience of the Committee not to take the discussions on the other matters but to take the votes on the Amendments which we have just discussed.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I have nearly finished. What I think it is necessary for me to do before the Question is put on Amendment No. 17 is to take advantage of this gap to consult some of my hon. Friends who have put their names to this Amendment, and then we shall decide what action we shall take when the Question is put. But I am bound to say to the Committee that at the moment my personal feeling is that this is an Amendment upon which a Division should take place.
§ Amendment negatived.389
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Jay
I beg to move, in page 2, line 20, at the end to insert:(3) Where a supplier enters into an agreement with a dealer whereby he purports to retain ownership in goods up to the date of delivery to a consumer and his normal practice at the date of the agreement or previously thereto is or has been to supply similar classes of goods to a dealer or dealers for sale, it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that the object of the agreement is to circumvent the provisions of this section and the agreement shall be void.I very much regret the necessity to move this Amendment at this stage before we come to a decision on Amendment No. 17—the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead). This is due to a procedure which we did not welcome but which in the circumstances now we have to accept, but I shall be very brief, because the Committee wishes to come to a decision soon on Amendment No. 17.
The purpose of my Amendment is to remove from the Bill a possible loophole which would enable the suppliers to evade its provisions by retaining legal ownership of their goods till the goods pass into the hands of the final consumer. This is not, I think, an imaginary danger. As the right hon. Gentleman will probably know, during the controversy over Purchase Tax losses on retailers' stocks certain trades did arrange, in order to avoid losses as a result of Purchase Tax reductions, that the goods concerned should remain in the ownership of the manufacturers till the final sale to the retailer took place. It has emerged from the debate today that some of the most important reductions in prices which might follow the abolition of resale price maintenance would be in trades like those in electrical goods and motor cars. I should have thought that it would not be very difficult for the motor car manufacturers, for instance, so to arrange things that the cars remained in the ownership of the manufacturers till the final sale to the consumer. If that were done, of course the whole of this Bill would be evaded: there would be no resale at all, and the Bill would not bite.
I think it would be rather a curious conclusion to the elaborate discussions we have had and to the complicated procedures of this Bill if some of the main trades concerned were able to evade the 390 whole of its provisions by this rather simple device. The Amendment appeared to us to be the simplest common-sense method of preventing this from happening. We should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks this would be effective. If he does not think this would be effective we should like to know if he has an alternative, and failing that, how he thinks this loophole in the Bill can be filled up.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
This seems to me to be an extremely bad Amendment. I say that because I am opposed to the Bill anyway. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that it is no good his subsequently refusing to accept responsibility for the Bill if he endeavours to make an Amendment of this nature which in fact renders the Bill in many ways much more effective than it would otherwise be.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has raised an interesting point, and has brought to our notice what he believes to be a means of circumventing the operation of the Bill. He says that the retailer would become merely an agent of the supplier and the supplier would remain free to fix the retail prices because the goods would actually be sold to the customer on behalf of the supplier, and not sold to the retailer and resold by him to the customer.
Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that no one is more concerned than I to prevent the Bill, when it becomes law, from being circumvented. The implementation of what the right hon. Gentleman suggests, however, would in a very large number of cases mean the complete reorganisation of the distributive system. With some goods this would be particularly difficult to do and, indeed, would not be worth while doing. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman has suggested a particular type of article—perhaps the larger and more valuable articles—in regard to which it might be possible to rearrange the distributive system in the way he suggests.
I should first like to clear up the question of the agency agreement, which has been raised by my hon. Friend the 391 Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) who, I know, has a particular interest in it. The Amendment deals with one type of agency agreement. Strictly speaking, an agency agreement is one under which a supplier appoints someone to sell goods on his behalf, and that is the type with which the Amendment seeks to deal. The supplier remains the legal owner, and the dealer does not buy the goods at all.
Very often we loosely term an agency agreement something that does not involve an agency in the legal sense in which the right hon. Gentleman uses that word in his Amendment. In this sort of agreement the supplier sells the goods to the dealer, so that they cease to be the property of the supplier. I think the arrangement is more properly known as a franchise agreement, in which the right to sell the goods is given to a particular dealer and is of value to him. This in many respects particularly affects the small shopkeeper. What the Amendment deals with is not the franchise agreement, but the legal agency arrangement.
What the right hon. Gentleman has said is of importance. On the other hand, it will be difficult to get an Amendment so drafted as really to deal with the point of evasion. The right hon. Gentleman's wording would mean that immediately a supplier changed his means of distribution he would have to justify it, and it could affect existing and perfectly genuine agency agreements. We have no desire to affect the perfectly genuine existing agency agreement, and we do not want to prevent genuine agreements being entered into in future. What we do want is to deal with those that may be a means of circumventing the Measure, and thereby evading the resale price maintenance provisions.
I believe that the wording of the Amendment goes too far; it would deal with genuine agreements now existing and those that might be created. I would, therefore, like to look at the matter between now and the Bill's next stage to see whether it is possible to draft wording that would prevent circumvention but would, at the same time, not touch genuine existing arrangements and those that might be created. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman's hon. 392 Friends the Members for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) will permit him to withdraw the Amendment. I will undertake to see whether we can do something on our side.
§ Sir D. Glover
As there is a good deal of doubt on the subject, would my right hon. Friend bring in a Clause making it quite clear that the agency arrangement, the franchise agreement, and so on, of which we have talked for some time, are not affected by the Bill? The trouble is that when the Bill as now drafted is read by many retailers they get no reassurance that their present system of distribution will be allowed to continue. By the wording of the Bill, the Restrictive Practices Court will have to deal with this problem, and its terms of reference would be much more closely defined if complete freedom in regard to dealer arrangements, franchising and manufacturers restricting their product to one outlet or perhaps two outlets in a town, were clearly written into the Bill and not left to be dealt with by the Restrictive Practices Court.
§ Mr. Heath
I hope that I have made the position about the franchise and the agencies plain in the statement which I have just made. I will consider what my hon. Friend has said at the same time as I am considering the point raised by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. I could not give my hon. Friend a clear undertaking on exactly what we shall put down by way of definition but I will consider it when we are drafting on the point already raised.
§ Mr. M. Foot
The Minister made an appeal to me whether I would be willing to permit the withdrawal of the Amendment. I cannot answer for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) but I can answer for myself. I think that the Minister certainly deserves the prize for his persuasive effort on the last Amendment and therefore I am very happy to fall in with his request.
At the beginning of the discussions I made some strictures on the way in which the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with the Bill and I still think that the way in which we are dealing with the Amendments is absolutely cockeyed. 393 We should have had a vote on Amendment No. 17 and the Minister could have helped us out of this situation at the beginning, but nobody could possibly quarrel with the extreme courtesy with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the whole of the last debate and therefore as a prize for good conduct I am prepared on this occasion to withdraw my name from the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I beg to move Amendment in page 2, line 25, to leave out from the beginning to "a" in line 26 and to insert:Subject to the provisions of subsection 1(c) of this section it shall be lawful for".
§ The Chairman
It will be possible to discuss also Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, in line 27, leave out "from notifying" and insert "to notify"; and line 28, leave out "publishing" and insert "to publish".
§ Mr. Irvine
The Amendment raises a small point but we think one of importance. The Bill as drawn provides that it is unlawful to notify to dealers a price stated or calculated to be understood as a minimum price, but subsection (4) provides that it is lawful to recommend a price as appropriate for resale. This to our minds creates an obvious difficulty of some importance in considering the operation of the Bill, because in our view a price calculated to be understood as a minimum price may seem to be or to have the character of being a recommended price and vice-versa. In other words, there is quite a possibility in our view, as the Bill is drafted, of an overlap between the recommended price on the one hand and the price stated or calculated to be understood as the minimum price on the other.
The intention, and I think the effect, of our Amendment is to make clear beyond doubt that if in a particular case there is a recommended price, perhaps expressed to be a recommended price, it is not for that reason lawful to notify it to the dealer if it is on the evidence a price calculated to be understood as a 394 recommended price. We think it better to be explicit in the matter. We think the existing wording to be of the kind of wording which has led to difficulties in the Restrictive Practices Court when it has recently considered the effect of information agreements.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Edward du Cann)
Again, we are grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) for the care with which, obviously, he has looked at the Clause. As he said, this is an important point.
The purpose of the first Amendment is to make clear that Clause 1(4), in permitting suppliers to recommend prices, does not override Clause 1 (1,c), which makes it unlawful to publish or notify a pricecalculated to be understood asa minimum price. I agree that this is a point which needs examining with some care. If there were that result, it would be disastrous to the effect of the whole Clause.
I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Committee that both since we saw the Amendment on the Notice Paper and before then we have looked into the matter with care. I have taken particular advice on it. I am advised that Clause 1(4) cannot be construed to produce the effect which the hon. and learned Gentleman envisaged. Subsection (4) has been inserted only to make it abundantly clear that the Clause does not affect recommended prices. Any price stated as or calculated to be understood as a minimum price is not a recommended price, and Clause 1(4), therefore has no bearing on it.
If I thought that there was the slightest shred of doubt about it, I should be willing at once to recommend the Committee to accept the Amendment. I am entirely satisfied that there is no such doubt. I hope that, with that explanation, the hon. and learned Gentleman will be reassured and will be willing to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. W. Clark
I beg to move, in page 2, line 29, at the end to add:(5) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to goods where the retail price is less than sixpence.395 We have been told throughout our debates both on Second Reading and in Committee that it is essential for this country to be competitive if we are to maintain our position abroad, and so forth. My reason for putting down the Amendment is that I cannot think that the country's economy depends on goods which cost 6d. or less. It may be that the Minister will say in reply that this is a device to get another exemption. I fully agree; it is a device, and in this instance I feel that there is some hope of sympathy for the exemption which I seek to secure since it was not embraced by Amendment No. 7, under which, presumably, all the other exemptions were linked together.
I am concerned particularly about the newsagency business. It would be disastrous if there were cut prices in newspapers. In view of the time, I shall not develop the argument in detail. Many other hon. Members have made it already. To my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot), who said earlier that newsagents are worried about sale or return, I can only reply, with respect, that this Bill has nothing whatever to do with the sale or return of newspapers. What newsagents are worried about is whether they will be able to continue to maintain their prices on newspapers, without anybody cutting prices.
There could be an argument that acceptance of the Amendment would lead to a reduction of prices. There is one Sunday newspaper which sells at 7d., and it may be that the proprietors of that newspaper would reduce the price in order to avoid the implications of the Bill.
I do not want to elaborate the point. I hope that I have shown that this, though a small matter, could be important, it might reduce prices, and it would help the newspaper industry—in which I have no interest whatever save as a reader of the papers. I hope that, as this exemption has been taken out of the context of all other exemptions, the Minister will give a sympathetic reply.
§ Mr. du Cann
I have made common cause with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. W. Clark) on many occasions, particularly during Finance Bill periods. I only regret that 396 tonight I shall part company from him, and part company clearly and directly, but, I hope he and the Committee may think, for good reason.
The Amendment is, to quote my hon. Friend's words, a device to obtain exemption. Perhaps, therefore, it is appropriate first to examine its purpose. It would permit suppliers to make and enforce at law conditions relating to minimum resale prices of goods by selling by retail at less than 6d., or, to put into better words my hon. Friend's crude language about a device, suppliers would be free to impose prices of less than 6d. I do not doubt that the intention is to remove such goods entirely from the scope of the Bill.
There is, first, a technical objection. In itself, the Amendment would not have that effect, since under Clause 2 it would remain unlawful for suppliers of these goods to enforce their resale prices by withholding supplies. It may be that my hon. Friend intended to put down a later Amendment, but this Amendment of itself would not achieve what my hon. Friend sets out to achieve.
Be that as it may, there are two main reasons for objecting to the Amendment which I will shortly rehearse. The first is the practical objection. The Amendment would cover daily newspapers, obviously the cheaper lines of confectionery and, perhaps, other goods, but it would not apply consistently to these classes of goods. It would, for example, remain unlawful to make minimum price conditions on the more expensive Sunday newspapers. My hon. Friend suggested that prices might come down. I am not so sure. If they did not, it hardly seems right that the dailies should be all right, so to speak, that is to say, their price would be protected, whereas that of the Sunday newspapers would not.
In the case of goods sold by quantity—for example, sweets—a supplier could, under the Amendment, prescribe a price for, say, 2 oz. of sweets but not for 4 oz. Retailers would be free to sell the large quantity more cheaply than the smaller. To paraphrase, therefore, one could say that gobstoppers are out but that expensive chocolates for film stars are in. That cannot be what my hon. Friend intended.
In general, any goods with a recommended price of 6d. might be sold for 397 less than goods with a prescribed price of 5d. Again, I am sure that that is not what my hon. Friend truly intended. To develop his point still further, one is forced to the conclusion that the Amendment would lend itself in many cases to evasion. One can imagine cigarettes being sold separately, and all the rest.
The second objection, which is one of principle, is, however, the more important of the two. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expressed so clearly during his excellent speech on the series of Amendments which we debated for nearly the whole of today, the Government are of opinion that it would be wrong to exempt any goods from the whole or part of the Bill. We believe, as we have said clearly, that the right course is to treat all trades alike under the exemption procedures in Clause 5. That being so, I hope that my hon. Friend, whose views I ordinarily respect, will agree that he is, possibly, pulling my leg, or that of the Committee, with the Amendment and that he will see fit to withdraw it.
§ Sir D. Glover
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Minister has said. In trading, as Mr. Woolworth found 60 or 70 years ago, it is easier to make a large profit on things under 6d. than on things costing £100. Everybody who has had experience knows that, when one is dealing with substantial sums, people are very anxious and careful in investigating prices but that, if one is dealing with something of small monetary value, they will buy and sell without consideration of that aspect. The Amendment would mean that many items that could be sold for even half the price they are now sold at under r.p.m. could be maintained at the present price. It is a thoroughly bad Amendment. I do not know whether my hon. Friend intends to press it but if he does, then, for the first time on this Bill, I shall go into the Lobby with enthusiasm.
§ Mr. W. Clark
I would not desire to part company like that from my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). I was seized of the argument put by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier, when this Amendment should really have arisen, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.398
§ Mr. Hirst
I beg to move, in page 2, line 29, at end to add:(5) For the purposes of section 1(1)(c) a price published on or in relation to any goods shall in the absence of any wording to the contrary be deemed to be a recommended price.This is not a very substantial point. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State advises me that it is not necessary, then I shall be satisfied. The Bill would make it unlawful to lay down, print or in any way convey a minimum price but there is, I am advised, the possibility of some difficulty in carrying this out in instances where it is perfectly proper to recommend a price, which is not in any way a minimum price but where it will help if a price is recommended.
In these instances, if a price is not recommended, people will not know how much they are recommended to charge. In many cases there is already no r.p.m. A commercial traveller is often asked what the price should be. Guidance is given and this becomes the recommended price. But if the retailer wants to cut that price, then that is his business, since no r.p.m. is involved, only a recommendation.
There is, however, some question that it might be unlawful under the Bill as it stands to print a price on goods as a recommendation even if it is in no way intended to be a maintained price. The point is simple and I need not labour it further.
§ Mr. du Cann
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) is as modest as the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) when he says that this is a small point. It is nevertheless important. He asks whether people will be able to mark their goods and in what circumstances. I make no complaint that he has been good enough to draw the matter to our attention.
The object of the Amendment, as he explained, is simply to make it clear that suppliers will still be able to mark their goods by marking, for example, "Price 6d." or whatever it may be, on the container. Such a price marked on the goods in this way would not of itself be calculated, under the Bill, to be understood as the minimum resale price but would be understood to be a recommended price and the marking would, therefore, not be prohibited.
399 Perhaps I can put it in another way, even clearer. There is no reason why a price should not be printed on goods. It will be understood to be the recommended price unless the contrary is made clear either on the goods or in some other way—as, for example, in the case of a price list.
I give a complete assurance that the Amendment is unnecessary. People will still be able to mark their goods in the way my hon. Friend supposes and that is entirely right. I hope that he will therefore withdraw the Amendment.
§ he said, this is a small point but is important. His assurance will be very well received. It is very acceptable. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: In page 2, line 29, at end add:
(5) This section shall not apply to any drug, or any substance recommended as medicine, or any medical or surgical appliance.—[Sir H. Linstead.]
§ Question put, That those words be there added:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 203, Noes 204.403
|Division No. 53.||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||McBride, N.|
|Ainsley, William||Forman, J. C.||McCann, John|
|Albu, Austen||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||MacColl, James|
|Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)||Galpern, Sir Myer||McInnes, James|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Gammans, Lady||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Barlow, Sir John||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Crmrthn)||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)|
|Barnett, Guy||Ginsburg, David||MacPherson, Malcolm|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MagInnis, John E.|
|Beaney, Alan||Gourlay, Harry||Manuel, Archie|
|Bence, Cyril||Greenwood, Anthony||Mapp, Charles|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Grey, Charles||Marsh, Richard|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Millan, Bruce|
|Blackburn, F.||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Milne, Edward|
|Blyton, William||Hannan, William||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S.W.)||Harper, Joseph||Monslow, Walter|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hayman, F. H.||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Bradley, Tom||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hiley, Joseph||Neal, Harold|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hilton, A. V.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Holman, Percy||O'Malley, B. K.|
|Callaghan, James||Hooson, H. E.||Oram, A. E.|
|Carmichael, Neil||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Cliffe, Michael||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Owen, Will|
|Cole, Norman||Howie, W.||Padley, W. E.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hoy, James H.||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Paget, R. T.|
|Cordle, John||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Parker, John|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, s.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Crosland, Anthony||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Peart, Frederick|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pentland, Norman|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jennings, J. C.||Price, J. T. (westhoughton)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Probert, Arthur|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Dempsey, James||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Diamond, John||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Dodds, Norman||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Doig, Peter||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Driberg, Tom||Kenyon, Clifford||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Lawson, George||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Evans, Albert||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Ross, William|
|Fell, Anthony||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Silkin, John|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Finch, Harold||Laughlin, Charles||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Fitch, Alan||Lubbock, Eric||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Foley, Maurice||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Small, William|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)||Willey, Frederick|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Thornton, Ernest||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Steele, Thomas||Tomney, Frank||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Wainwright, Edwin||winterbottom, R. E.|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Wall, Patrick||Wise, A. R.|
|Stones, William||Ward, Dame Irene||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Watkins, Tudor||Woof, Robert|
|Swingler, Stephen||Weitzman, David||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Symonds, J. B.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||White, Mrs. Eirene||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Teeling, Sir William||Whitlock, William||Mr. Hirst and Sir Hugh Linstead.|
|Thomas, forwerth[...] (Rhondda, W.)||Wigg, George|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Gibson-Watt, David||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Allason, James||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Morrison, John|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Glover, Sir Douglas||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Barber, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Goodhart, Philip||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Barter, John||Gower, Raymond||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Batsford, Brian||Grant-Ferris, R.||Partridge, E.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Green, Alan||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Biffen, John||Gresham Cooke, R.||Peel, John|
|Bingham, R. M.||Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Percival, Ian|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Peyton, John|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Bossom, Hon. Clive||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Box, Donald||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hay, John||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Braine, Bernard||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Brewis, John||Hendry, Forbes||Ramsden, Rt. Hon. James|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Peter|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hocking, Philip N.||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin||Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)|
|Bryan, Paul||Hoiland, Philip||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Buck, Antony||Hopkins, Alan||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hornby, R. P.||Ridsdale Julian|
|Campbell, Gordon||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Hughes-Young, Michael||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Iremonger, T. L.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Roots, William|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||James, David||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Cooke, Robert||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan|
|Cooper, A. E.||Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Sharples, Richard|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Shaw, M.|
|Coulson, Michael||Kershaw, Anthony||Shepherd, William|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Kirk, Peter||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Crowder, F. P.||Kitson, Timothy||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Curran, Charles||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Speir[...], Rupert|
|Dance, James||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Lilley, F. J. P.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Litchfield, Capt. John||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Doughty, Charles||Longbottom, Charles||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Longden, Gilbert||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|du Cann, Edward||Loveys, Walter H.||Thompson, Sir Ricthard (Croydon, S.)|
|Duncan, Sir James||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter|
|Eden, Sir John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||MacArthur, Ian||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Elliott, R. W. (Newe'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McLaren, Martin||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Emery, Peter||McLean, Nell (Inverness)||Turner, Colln|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Madden, Martin||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Farr, John||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maudling Rt. Hon. Reginald||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mawby, Ray||Walder, David|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn-Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Walker, Peter|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Mills, Stratton||Webster, David|
|Freeth, Denzil||Miscampbell, Norman||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Montgomery, Fergus||Whitelaw, William|
|Williams, Dudley (Exeter)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)||Woodhouse, C. M.||Mr. Chichester-Clark and|
|Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick||Worsley, Marcus||Mr. J. E. B. Hill.|
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I beg to move,That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.It must be apparent, not least to the Minister, that at this point the Committee has a total disregard for the Bill which the Minister is trying to foist upon it. The Government have a nominal majority of considerably over a hundred—my right hon. Friend the Chief Opposition Whip reminds me that there are seven by-elections pending and that the majority is therefore a hundred—but on a Bill of considerable importance to the nation they have carried their view on an important Amendment by a majority of only one. It is therefore clear that the Government are not in command, not only of the Committee but even of their own side of it. Surely in such a situation such a point of view should not be enforced upon the country by that derisory majority, that accidental majority, of one.
In such a situation it must clearly be the proper thing for the Government to take time to consider their future course of conduct. They must consider whether they should persist in trying to force the Bill through against such an obvious feeling, whether they should rely on the accident of one Division or another, one giving them a majority of one, another perhaps refusing them a majority by one. I submit that they are not in a position to conduct the Bill until they have cleared up their differences with their colleagues on their own side of the Committee.
In modern times there cannot have been a Bill which was urged upon the nation in such ringing terms as this—a Bill to which the Treasury Bench, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State attach such importance, for they have said that it is essential to the nation that the Bill be passed. The Government have pinned their faith, their reputation and their standing to the Bill which has been so ignominiously rejected by almost half the Committee.
When hon. Members opposite consider that less than one-third of the Committee voted for the Government's point of view on the Measure, I submit to you 404 Sir Robert, and, through you, to the Government, that the obvious step for them to take now is to agree that we should report Progress; that they should consider their position during the night and, I should have thought, take this Bill away—and, more than that, take themselves away, since quite clearly they no longer have any authority at all.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Sir D. Glover
On the Motion to report Progress the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has made very disparaging remarks about the Government. In the recent Division I went into the Lobby with the Government, but I believe that what happened in that Division was a triumph for the House of Commons, and the Government need not be ashamed of what took place. For years the great cry in the nation has been that the House of Commons did not use its influence. Here we have had a crystal-clear decision, with everybody having made up his mind after having listened to the debate. Despite what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I believe that the status of the House of Commons and of the Tory Party will go up in the country.
It ill becomes the right hon. Gentleman, in a changing Britain, to say what he has said. He seems to be very confident that before long he, too, will be defeated in the Committee stage of a Bill. The risk of that happening, however, is a very small one, as far as the nation is concerned.
What we have done tonight has done the House of Commons a great deal of good. We are discussing a controversial Bill which, on balance, is for the good of the nation, and I think that we should make further progress before the Motion is accepted.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has unfortunately not had the opportunity of being with us during our discussions for the whole of the day. Therefore, he cannot have known the importance of the discussion which has taken place, nor the immense interest which many hon. Members on both sides of the 405 Committee have taken in the point at issue. All that the right hon. Gentleman has done is to start playing party politics at this late hour. The fact is that after a long and interesting debate the Committee has reached a decision on a very important point, and that decision ought to be respected. It is a decision which reflects the views expressed and it has settled a very important point. We have, therefore, made progress in the debate during the day.
There have been other occasions on the Committee stage of Bills—important ones too—on which Amendments have been rejected by narrow majorities and Government Amendments have been passed by narrow majorities. I remember when my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was Prime Minister and we had a majority of three my right hon. Friend then said to me, "In fact in the House of Commons one is enough". One has settled this Amendment tonight. I suggest that the course for the Committee now is to continue to make further progress.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The Committee ought not to part with this Motion without noting a rather extraordinary situation.
Here we have a Bill, important as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said, which was dissented from from the first by a large number of right hon. and hon. Members opposite. They put down dozens of Amendments—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State stood up to them and made speeches which quite clearly were making no concession of any kind and they ran away. Now what has happened? The right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]—
Order. I hope that the Committee will at least allow the Chair to hear what the hon. Member is saying.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman made the most persuasive and convincing speech he has made so far in the course of the Committee proceedings. He almost persuaded me. It was a powerful speech. It was delivered courteously, persuasively and, from his point of view, I should have thought 406 it was a completely devastating and convincing speech. What has happened as a result of this great persuasive and convincing speech? The rebels, who would not stand up to points which were of great importance, rejected the right hon. Gentleman when from their point of view he was probably right, having submitted to him when from their point of view he was obviously wrong.
The result is that the Government are left in a humiliating situation. We knew that they did not represent the country. We knew that their mandate and author ty were exhausted, but we did not know until tonight how low their authority had sunk with their own members and the Conservative Party. The right hon. Gentleman does not command any loyalty or support behind him. If he can make a speech of the character he made on a comparatively minor Amendment and carry the Committee with him by a majority of one vote in more than 400, he must recognise that the Government's authority on the benches behind him has sunk to a lower ebb than I can remember any occasion of precedent.
It is not now a question of reporting Progress and asking leave to sit again; it is a question of reporting no Progress and not sitting again at all. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the only decent thing for himself and his Government and party to do is to pack up and give the electorate the opportunity of electing a Government in which they have confidence, which will have authority and will be really able to govern.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
It is very difficult to speak with wisdom at a moment like this. I believe that this Bill is dead. I draw the attention of the Treasury Bench particularly to the fact that many of us who tonight wanted to vote for this Amendment have abstained out of loyalty to the Government. Many on these benches have actually voted with the Government out of a loyalty even greater than ours. But this Bill is dead, and if the Front Bench will not recognise that, they will go on to defeat by their own Members and by the Opposition.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
I think that both sides of the Committee will have been fascinated by what has 407 happened within the last few moments—indeed, not only fascinated by it, but rather worried by the Gaullist obstinacy of the right hon. Gentleman who refuses point blank to recognise that he is pushing through a highly controversial Measure which does not have the support of either side of the Committee or, indeed, of both sides of the Committee together.
Both sides of the Committee have to recognise that a number of hon. Members opposite who voted with the Opposition on this occasion did so because their motives were beyond reproach. I think one has to say this. Hon. Members on either side do not vote against their party on a major issue of this type unless they feel very strongly indeed about it. I think that both sides of the Committee can feel some security in the fact that there are hon. Members opposite who are prepared to stand by views which they have enunciated in their constituencies and in this House, and which they hold very strongly.
But the point which has emerged—and it was obvious to all who took part in the Division—is, as the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) has said, that had it not been for the instinctive party loyalties of some hon. Members opposite, the Amendment would have been supported overwhelmingly.
In those circumstances, I submit that it is quite wrong and undemocratic that any Minister should take what is obviously purely a theoretical majority and proceed to argue this point. I hope that the Committee will not give the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity to pursue this any further.
§ Mr. G. Brown
May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his position? Without overdoing it, it must be clear to him that, as things stand at the moment, he lacks the necessary support to drive this Bill through. The remark that "one is enough" may be a debating point, but it is not the basis on which we do our business in a democratic country. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Chamberlain had a majority far larger than that, but it was not enough for him to be able to 408 go on. To try to push this Bill through with an abstention on his own side far larger even than happened in the debate which brought down the Chamberlain Government surely robs him of any claim tonight to have authority for anything that he does.
The right hon. Gentleman will lose nothing; his own stature will grow, and the opportunities in his party for reconsideration and for regroupment will be greater if he recognises what has happened. With a majority of the size that he started with behind him, to have got down to a nominal majority of one is, in effect, a defeat, and a defeat on this Bill is, in effect, a vote of censure. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] A Government defeated on a Bill of this importance, even in Committee—with a majority of that size behind it—has, in fact, forfeited the support of the majority of the Committee.
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to force this issue to a Division but, in fact, to do what will cost him, and his Government, nothing at all—that is, to accept the Motion. Let us finish at this stage tonight and consider the situation thereafter—[Interruption.]—Very well, if hon. Members opposite want him to refuse our request, then the Motion must be divided upon. We must take the other Amendments awaiting consideration, but the Minister must then understand that the atmosphere, faced as he will be with a Government which has nothing approaching a majority, must be very different from what it was before.
The right hon. Gentleman is no longer governing. He is now merely existing, and that fact will change the whole atmosphere in this Committee. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he and I have both been here for a long time, and that he has spent a considerable period in the office of Patronage Secretary. He must, therefore, know what the result of a vote of this kind must be in terms of Parliamentary procedure and I ask him to accept the Motion which I have presented. If he refuses to do so, then there is nothing left but for the Committee to divide.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I hope that the Minister will not accept the Motion. I was one of those people who voted 409 against the Government, but I voted for the Amendment because I believe in Parliamentary democracy and in the Amendment. I rise now because I want to say one thing and it is this. I am very sorry that my right hon. Friend did not ask the Opposition to examine their own record in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has just said that he and my right hon. Friend had been in the House for a long time; but neither have been here so long as I have, and I watched this afternoon's operation with very great interest I listened to all hon. Members of the Opposition who spoke, getting up and supporting the chemists when they had not the guts to come into the Lobby against the Bill on Second Reading.
I know from my own part of the world that they like hon. Members to support their own views, and I naturally understand that, but I must say that, as I listened to the appeal of the Opposition tonight, I knew exactly what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was going to say. He was going to cash in. Hon. Members opposite are a discredit to Parliamentary democracy.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I spent a lot of time in this Chamber during the closing stages of this debate, and I can say that the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) was not in her place—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Where was she?"]—I do not know, but the fact remains that, wherever she was, this is now a constitutional position of some importance—[Interruption]—I thought I heard hon. Members opposite say "Rubbish." They may say "Rubbish" but I would point out that, in addition to those hon. Members who voted with us in our Lobby, there was a considerable number of abstentions among hon. Members of the party opposite. There were abstentions by people, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Hollingworth), who have played a very prominent rôle, particularly in local politics, in arguing against this Bill.
It so happens that on general principle I support the Bill, but here was a specific matter of considerable importance for the pharmaceutical industry. We had a great argument about this and we heard a passionate speech by the Secretary of State, a speech which lasted almost an hour—50 minutes 410 exactly, I am told—trying to convince his hon. Friends that this was a subject of tremendous importance involving a matter of high principle. The question of high principle was whether this sort of matter should be referred to the Restrictive Practices Court, by a legalistic approach, with all the evidence put to the Court and a legal decision reached, or whether, as some of us believe passionately, it should be, as the whole question of medicines and drugs should be, a matter for executive decision [Interruption.] I think the Committee can now be said to have gone the whole hog.
The point I was making is that the Secretary of State himself portrayed the Amendment in terms of fundamental principle, whether the pharmaceutical industry ought to go to the Court for legal decision, or whether, as the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) thought, and some of us thought, it was a question for the executive to decide on political grounds. There has in fact been far too ready an insistence on putting matters of such principle to the judiciary because that is a convenient way for the Government to avoid taking decisions. Since the Secretary of State himself portrayed the Amendment as one of fundamental importance, the view and decision of this Committee upon it obviously are of fundamental importance.
The decision of many of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends has been to reject the legalistic approach and to say that the Committee of the House should take an executive decision of a political character. The decision having been taken by only one vote, there having been many abstentions on the other side of the Committee, clearly this was a crushing defeat for the Government, and ought to be so recognised by them, at least to the extent of accepting this Motion, and, in the opinion of many of us, by the further logical action entailed, by going to the country upon the whole question of this Bill, because if this Bill is a cardinal point in the Government's economic policy, there can be no confidence in the major part of the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Peter Emery
Having sat through all of yesterday's and all of today's debate I think the Amendment and the 411 decision on it should be brought into proper perspective. The concept that this was a crushing defeat for the whole of the Bill is complete poppycock, and the sooner the other side of the Committee realises that the better for the progress of the Bill.
Secondly, it ill behoves some hon. Members opposite to have been giving lectures about the democratic principle involved, because although we have had one or two very strong speeches supporting the Bill I saw not one of those who made them in the Lobby opposing the Amendment. None of them had the guts to do that—
§ Mr. Hale
On a point of order, Sir Robert—[Interruption.] Is it not a point of order respectfully to call the attention of the Chair to a libel on an hon. Member by an accusation of falsehood made quite without regard to the subject under the Motion? On a second point of order, may I ask whether we should not have the assistance of the Leader of the House, who was present for the Division but who, because of his known antipathy to the Bill, appears not to have been informed of the result?
That does not raise a point of order for the Chair, neither is it a matter for the Chair whether or no the Leader of the House is present.
§ Mr. Emery
If the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) makes an accusation against me—[Interruption.]—perhaps hon. Members opposite will have the good manners to allow me to answer, when I rather hope that the hon. Member will be willing to withdraw the accusation. I spent part of the 412 afternoon with him at a television studio—[Interruption.]—Will hon. Members opposite wait a minute? The hon. Member will find that this debate started at 4.50. I drove him back, so he knows this. We came into New Palace Yard just after 4.45. So I hope that he will have the good manners to withdraw his accusation.
Order. I should like to know to whom the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) gave way.
§ Mr. Marsh
I am sorry, Sir Robert—I was not sure that I had any constitutional right to give way to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe).
The only point I would make—[HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] Defeat has made hon. Members opposite very noisy. I travelled here with the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery), and both of us arrived in the House, not having been present throughout the whole of the debate. I am not making any accusation against the hon. Member for Reading other than to say that his statement that he had been here throughout the debate was, as I know, or can gather, untrue. The hon. Member may well have—[Interruption.]—they really are a noisy lot. The hon. Member may well have reached—[Interruption.] I am trying very hard, Sir Robert, not to waste the time of the Committee, but hon. Members opposite will keep interrupting.
The only point I should like to make, and on which I keep getting interrupted, is of no particular importance except that the hon. Member for Reading made it and with great courtesy invited me to comment on it. Neither of us was here throughout the earlier part of the debate. Whilst this is purely a point in passing, I am saying that I was primarily concerned with a period less concerned with the Amendment, and a debate which took 413 place prior to the debate on an Amendment which we voted on and which resulted in the Government getting an extraordinary result—
Order. The hon. Member is not in possession of the Floor. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) has the Floor and he gave way to the hon. Member when the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) was being asked to apologise. It is an abuse of our procedure to seek to make a speech by way of interruption.
§ Mr. Emery
If the hon. Member for Greenwich has not the good manners to apologise to me we must accept his attitude. Let us realise in the perspective of the whole of this matter that this vote, which is treated as of great importance by many of my hon. Friends, is a matter of one point—[HON. MEMBERS: "One vote."]—in a Committee debate on the whole of a very important and major Bill. The whole concept on the other side of the Committee is that hon. Members opposite think that this casts doubt upon the support of my hon. Friends for the Government. This is why I think that it is important that we should not report Progress. I hope that we can have a decision on this very quickly and I think that the Committee will find from that Division the sort of support that the whole of these benches will give to the Government on this matter.
If the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was correct in his assumptions and if my hon. Friends felt as he would like it interpreted, my hon. Friends would take his view and would not wish to proceed with the Bill, in the same way as perhaps they would take the view of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) who interjected earlier, but I believe that all my hon. Friends wish to get on with the Bill, and the sooner we do so the better for the whole Committee.
The more I listen to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) the more I realise what a great opportunist she appears to be. She cashes in on every possible occasion. As one who sat through most of yesterday's debate and the whole of today's I have heard almost all the arguments. The only point that I wish to 414 make is that most of the decisions which have been taken on the important Amendments which we have discussed had been taken already in a place other than this Chamber.
It is not rubbish. The Secretary of State has been doing his best to persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends to support him on this and other Amendments, but the result of the vote has shown that he has not been as successful as he had hoped.
It should not be forgotten that Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Under-Secretaries of State and Parliamentary Private Secretaries have a special loyalty to the Government, and, had it not been for the way they rallied round, the Government might well have not succeeded even in the poor way they did. These people made it possible for the Government to have their one-vote victory.
The right hon. Gentleman did his very best to persuade the Committee that the Amendment to exclude drugs and medicines from the effect of the Bill should not be accepted. He failed to do so, and he should now accept the Motion which my right hon. Friend has moved.
§ Mr. Hirst
There may be a perfectly good case for arguing at some stage that the Chairman should report Progress and ask leave to sit again, but I feel that the Committee is entitled to know what progress it proposes to make. Quite frankly, I think that it would be quite unreasonable, in spite of the Motion which has been moved, that the Government should not have the Motion, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill." However, I wish to say a few words now, Sir Robert, following a point of order which I raised last night and which was very ably and kindly answered by the Chairman of Ways and Means earlier today. It is a point of substance which both sides of the Committee recognise as such.
If we take progress beyond Clause 1, we enter a field in which quite a number of Amendments might be affected by the material Amendments made yesterday. After all that has been said, and in the general atmosphere of the Committee, I trust that it will be thought 415 constructive on my part if I say that I am most willing to support the Government if they wish to make progress on the Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," but I should feel that they were lacking in the usual tact and sympathy towards their own back benchers if they went to the extent of proceeding beyond that point.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) has referred to the point of order on which the Chairman of Ways and Means ruled earlier today. Some of us were very cerned lest, if we were to make progress with the Bill, we should be discussing manuscript Amendments. No doubt, Sir Robert, you are familiar with, and will follow, the Ruling which has been given, despite protests from many hon. Members. In argument against that Ruling, it was pointed out that many hon. Members did not fully appreciate all the consequences of what we did yesterday, and, moreover, it would be highly inconvenient to discuss Amendments in manuscript form.
If we are to make progress, I assume that we shall at some stage have to consider manuscript Amendments.
If our procedure had been different, the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) might have been in a better position to rally more of his hon. Friends to support him on the Amendment which we have just disposed of. In his short speech after the Secretary of State had replied, the hon. Gentleman made, if I may say, a very gallant effort. Indeed, I did not expect him to stand so formidably by his own Amendment. Some of my hon. Friends had added their names to it with the specific intention of ensuring that the hon. Gentleman did not withdraw it.
That Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Putney was not just a subject for argument or political manoeuvre. It touched the safety of the nation. Many of the hon. Members who voted for it say the point that, with the Government's intended but inadequate legislation governing drugs, it would be a menace not to incorporate the Amendment in the Bill. This is the point of the charge against the Secretary of State. In his reply to the 416 Committee—and to me in particular—the right hon. Gentleman behaved with the utmost courtesy, and I do not deny that he made a good case, albeit a fundamentally bad one from my point of view. But this reinforces the argument that the time has now come to report Progress. It is time now to take stock of why the Government barely succeeded in defeating the Amendment. It is time to take stock and find out which hon. Members abstained, which hon. Members supported the Amendment and which hon. Members ought, perhaps, to have been informed that it would come up at that time.
When we discussed the group of Amendments, many hon. Members made objection, not only today, but yesterday—and I was among them—because we thought it wrong that that Amendment should be taken with the others of the group. It is interesting that every one of these Amendments, except No. 27, which has not yet been reached, has been withdrawn or not voted upon and that that one Amendment has been the only one on which we have had a vote.
The significance of that cannot be lost upon the Committee, because it was the only time that the Committee, with all the arguments to and fro, has been faced with the choice of voting on the Bill. The Minister is being unfair in insisting that the Committee must go with the Bill at this stage. He has suffered a moral defeat, and he should concede this.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
What the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) has said about the Government suffering a mortal defeat—[HON. MEMBERS: "A moral defeat."] Whether it was a mortal or a moral defeat, it is equally nonsensical.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am reminded of what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), who said that it was difficult to speak wisely at this hour. The hon. Member for Greenock and I were in the same Lobby just now but, unlike the hon. Member, I supported the Government on Second Reading. Unlike the hon. Member, I am anxious that this 417 Committee should get back—I say this with respect—to the job that we are supposed to do as a Committee, and that is to make progress with the Bill.
I do not see why there should be such great excitement and alarm and exaggerated references to 1940. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) compared this situation with 1940. Had it been so serious, why was not he here? If it was a great political crisis, if it was a question of the whole nation, the country and the Government being at stake, why was not he here? Why was not the Leader of the Opposition here? [Interruption.] Why is not the Leader of the House here? Why should he be here? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
Unlike the right hon. Member for Belper and other hon. Members who have spoken from the Opposition side, I do not take the view that this is such a catastrophic event in the history of the Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
This is an important Bill and one to which we should give serious attention. It is our duty in the Committee—
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
—to do our best to improve it. When hon. Members, on either side, stand by the convictions which they have expressed by lending their names to an Amendment, this should not be considered extraordinary. It is what they are sent here to do.
Therefore, I dissent from what has been said by hon. Members opposite. The Committee should support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has shown the Committee great courtesy throughout these proceedings.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
We should carry on as long as seems appropriate in the circumstances. We should make progress and we should all do our best according to our own convictions to improve the Bill so far as we can.
§ 12 m.
§ Mr. M. Foot
I cannot quite understand what course the Secretary of State is recommending to the Committee. I am not sure what proposal he is making. The right hon. Gentleman failed to respond to the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), which was put in terms which made it as easy as possible for the right hon. Gentleman. It was not made in any offensive manner to him. It was made in exactly the manner in which such Motions have been moved on previous occasions when Governments have suffered at any rate big surprises in the Division Lobby.
All the right hon. Gentleman had to do was either to respond to that appeal directly or to say that in any case he was proposing to report Progress himself and would be glad to accept the Motion. If he had taken either of those courses he would now be in a very much better situation. I do not know whether he would have gone straight to bed. He will have a few things to talk over with his right hon. and hon. Friends. He would at any rate be able to consult the Leader of the House even when we are not allowed, apparently, to do so.
If the right hon. Gentleman had only accepted the Motion he would have been able to consult his right hon. Friends on the consequences of the vote and on what measures they propose to take to deal with it. No doubt he would have been able to start the consultations with the Leader of the House and with the Prime Minister which he will have to have anyhow, for is he suggesting that he will not have to consult them on the consequences of the vote?
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that he made a mistake. The question is how best he can extricate himself. I do not want to make things more difficult for him. If we persist in the erroneous course he has recommended by refusing the Motion, what is to happen? The House Committee will be up all night. It will be a very rowdy affair—everybody knows that. Does he think that the best way to deal with the situation?
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that any Opposition in the history of the British Parliament, confronted with a 419 situation such as this, would permit a Government to go ahead with their Measure and do nothing about it? He answered my right hon. Friend too quickly. He should have taken time to think.
If the right hon. Gentleman had only looked along the Treasury Bench and seen the faces of the other Ministers, in particular that of the Patronage Secretary, he might have learned some wisdom merely from a first glance. It is no good hon. Members opposite—I do not know what communications are passing along the Front Bench opposite. If the Leader of the House has something to say then he should move along and say it.
Those of us sitting on this side could see exactly what was felt on the Treasury Bench when Ministers heard the result of the Division. Nothing was more eloquent than the face of the Patronage Secretary. It disposes of the arguments which have been put forward by hon. Members opposite that this was a vote of a trivial nature that did not matter.
The Government themselves do not believe it to be trivial. From the very beginning we have been told that the Bill is very important. Not only the Secretary of State himself but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in replying to the Second Reading debate, said that it was an integral part of the Government's economic policy. The Daily Telegraph, perhaps more percipient than it knew, in its leading article on 9th March, called "Economic strategy" said:The decision to abolish r.p.m. is not an isolated act of policy. It is part of a broad strategy of structural reform in the British economy—broader, perhaps, than even the Government itself sometimes seems to realise.That shows remarkable foresight. It recalls the statement of Oliver Cromwell that no one goes so far as he who does not know where he is going. The right hon. Gentleman did not know where he was going. In his remarkable speeches today we could detect why he has got the Government into so much trouble. The trouble with the right hon. Gentleman is that he looks at the world through rose-coloured spectacles. He has an extraordinary faculty for excluding from his vision all disagree- 420 able factors. He tried to get us into Europe without noticing that General de Gaulle was there. Having failed in that enterprise, he went along to the Government and said that he had a bright new scheme for rescuing their fortunes—the r.p.m. Bill.
Tributes have been paid to him today and no one who has listened to most of the debate, as I have, could possibly fail to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman; but he cannot say after a speech which he delivered with such passion for three quarters of an hour, or an hour, that this matter was unimportant. If it was unimportant, why did he devote so much time to it? He devoted more time to this subject than to any other part of the Bill. He did so because he knew from all the conversations which had taken place how strong was the opposition inside his own party to the proposition.
Today, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman exerted himself to the full limit of his powers to try to persuade his party to support him on what he regarded as an essential Clause in a Bill which he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have described as an integral part of the Government's policy. When he has carried that by only one vote—[HON. MEMBERS: "His own."]—his own—excepting the single and dubious vote of the Minister for Science—he should not have the cheek to tell the Committee and the insolence to tell the nation that nothing very much has happened.
There is not an hon. Member who imagines that to be the case or who genuinely believes that nothing much has happened. Everyone who has witnessed the scenes today and what has happened tonight knows that tonight the biggest nail of all was driven into the Government's coffin. They can never recover their position of prestige, such as it was, from such a result as this. They can never do it.
Therefore, in their own interests it would be best for the Government to have such consultations as always follow votes of this character. If, having taken the false step of rejecting my right hon. Friend's proposal, they persist in the error, they are inviting a long night, throughout the whole night, of violent controversy. Many words will 421 be thrown from either side of the Committee. We have already had an example from the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) who has shown the degree of coolness which we might expect in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what will happen. Is this what he wants the House of Commons to do? Is this how he wants the House of Commons to deal with a situation of this character?
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to show that he has real stature in dealing with this situation, if he has teal respect for the House of Commons, he will rise now—it may be difficult but it is the wisest and most honourable course that he can take—s and say that on consideration he thinks it best, not merely in the interests of the Government, but in the interest of the dignity of the House, that this Motion should be accepted.
§ Mr. Heath
I do not think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) could have heard what I said in my opening remarks. I did not say that nothing had happened. I said that after a very important and long debate—which was long because so many hon. Members wished to take part in it—the Committee had reached a decision, and it was an important one, and it was part of our Parliamentary process, on which many hon. Members who have spoken have commented. That is our way of reaching a decision after a long and thorough debate.
I said to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that I thought the course we should pursue was to endeavour to make more progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) has quite fairly asked me what progress we ought to try to make, and several of my hon. Friends have urged that we should now continue to try to make progress, and that is the view which is now being echoed. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Belper that the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is a fair one, and that we should try to make progress now with Clause 1 stand part.
The hour is already late. It is past the hour at which we rose last night in a perfectly normal Committee stage, and I believe that it might be the wish of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we should make progress with Clause stand 422 part, which would be the end of these deliberations. For two days we have had discussions in great detail about the Amendments, the structure of the Bill, and the question of individual exemptions, and I therefore think that we should complete the progress tonight by gaining Clause 1.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley asked a particular question about Amendments. I understand that the matter which is giving cause for anxiety is the question of the use of the word "exemptions" throughout the Bill and the effect that this would have on Amendments. In fact it was changed in two places in the Bill by Amendments that we discussed yesterday in Clause 1(1) and in Clause 2(1). The key reference, which is in Clause 5(1), remains, and the first items in which it appears are Amendment No. 105 and Amendment No. 106 in the name of the right hon. Gentleman. I think, therefore, that the Amendments containing this word are not affected because it still remains in Clause 5.
But there are technical matters on which you, Sir William, have offered us your help, and certainly as the Minister in charge of the Bill I am prepared to offer my help to the Committee, and indeed some hon. Members have been kind enough to say that they have so far been treated with courtesy in the handling of this Bill.
As regards the use of the word in the Amendments, I think that we can meet the wishes of the Committee, and it should not cause difficulty in dealing with these Amendments. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will feel satisfied with that arrangement, and of course it can be carried out with the help of the Chair. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might beg leave to withdraw the Motion, and that we should make progress with Clause 1.
§ Mr. G. Brown
We could have had that speech just an hour ago. This is something which the right hon. Gentleman really has to learn. He really must drop this obstinate assumption that he can grind his way through with business which is highly controversial and about which there are many views. When I made my appeal to him earlier he could have had his face-saver by saying that 423 he wished to get Clause 1 and then rise. At any rate, that is what I understand him to be saying now, and I want to be quite clear about it. Had he put that proposition an hour ago it would have met the appeal which I made to him. But he refused even to listen to my appeal or my warning, which I gave him out of experience.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Do I hear the right hon. Gentleman aright? Is he saying that an hour ago he said that we should take the Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill?" I thought that he wanted to report Progress.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Brown
I appealed to the right hon. Gentleman because I recognised that not much more progress would be made tonight. I asked him to agree that we should shortly rise. It was for him to say that if he got the Clause he would not pursue the Bill further tonight and would take the opportunity which I suggested for the Government to consider the consequences of the Division. All that was put to him and could have been done, if the Leader of the House had not absented himself and had not arrived behind the Chair, taken a look to see that his right hon. Friend was in plenty of trouble and then gone out again. If he had done the job for which he is paid we could have had his assistance and avoided the last hour of the Secretary of State's obstinacy.
I am prepared to withdraw my Motion provided that the Secretary of State will make it clear that if I do so he has changed his tune and will seek only Clause 1 and nothing else.
§ Mr. Heath
I realised, as did my right hon. and hon. Friends, the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman's invitation that we should immediately report Progress. I have had some experience of what the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends like to do in a situation of this kind—because situations of this kind have occurred before and are quite natural I stated clearly what I proposed to the right hon. Gentleman—that we should get Clause 1, as amended, to stand part of the Bill and then I would move to report Progress.
§ Mr. Brown
That is clear. In case there is any misunderstanding about it, let it be quite clear that the debate during this hour and ten minutes which has been required to get this statement from the right hon. Gentleman has been conducted equally by both sides of the Committee. There have been as many speeches from the Conservative benches as from our benches. This has been an operation in which the right hon. Gentleman has provoked both sides of the Committee by his outrageous assumption that he can enforce his own arrogant views on the Committee. In view of his complete cave-in, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Heath.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.