§ 3.53 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)
I beg to move,That, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House), on any Wednesday on which the order for Committee on the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill stands as the first Order of the day—The House will recall that on Friday, 5th April, the House decided to discharge the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill from Standing Committee upstairs and return it to the Floor of the House.
- (1) the House shall meet at half-past Ten o'clock, and after Prayers, proceed with the Bill;
- (2) at One o'clock the proceedings on the Business under consideration shall be interrupted by Mr. Speaker, or if the House be in Committee, the Chairman shall leave the Chair and report Progress and ask leave to sit again, and further consideration of the Business shall be deferred until such day as the Member in charge of the Bill shall appoint; provided that if proceedings under Standing Order No. 31 (Closure of debate) be in progress at that hour Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the Business, or if the House be in Committee, the Chairman shall not leave the Chair, until the Question or Questions consequent thereon and on any further Motion as provided in that Standing Order, have been decided;
- (3) as soon as the Business under consideration has been disposed of Mr. Speaker shall suspend the sitting until half-past Two o'clock, and at that hour the House shall proceed with Business as provided in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House), as if the House had met at that hour;
- (4) if, during any proceedings on the Bill as provided in this Resolution it appears, on the H ruse being counted, that forty Members are not present, Mr. Speaker shall forthwith suspend the sitting until half-past Two o'clock, and the provisions of paragraph (3) of this Resolution shall then apply.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
On a point of order. Did not the right hon. Gentleman mean 5th March?
§ Mr. Bowden
I am sorry, 5th March. This Motion is in the response to the decision of the House on that occasion and restores the Bill to the Floor of the House.
I ought to take the House back a little and remind hon. Members of what was 1487 said in the Queen's Speech, when we promised that facilities would be provided for a free decision by Parliament on the issue of capital punishment. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) introduced his Private Member's Bill, the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, and the Government provided, as soon as possible after the date of introduction, a full day for a debate on the subject on the Floor of the House.
On a free vote of the House, the Second Reading of my hon. Friend's Bill was approved by 357 votes to 172, 98 Members of the House not going into either Lobby for one reason or another, wishing to abstain, or for illness, and so on. But no undertaking was given at any time by myself as Leader of the House, or by my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, that the Committee stage of the Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House. Consequently, no move was made by anyone on the Government Front Bench to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House for its Committee stage.
I accept at once that there are right hon. and hon. Gentleman, perhaps on both sides of the House, who might have expected and might have hoped that the Committee stage would be taken on the Floor, but I repeat that no such promise was given at any time. However, the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) moved that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House and this was resisted by the Government immediately after the Second Reading purely on the grounds of lack of Parliamentary time. There was no possibility at that stage of giving three or four days on the Floor to the Committee stage and there is no possibility now. We have just had exchanges on business when requests for—I was about to say dozens, but certainly many—debates of all sorts were made, and the House will appreciate that it is quite impossible to grant every application out of Government time.
The Government must be in absolute control of the time allocation for business, and it was for that reason and for that reason only that official Tellers were put into the Division which was called by the right hon. and learned Gentleman who 1488 sought to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House for its Committee stage. Official Tellers operated on this side of the House, as they will if there is a Division later today. The simple reason is that any Government must retain in their own hands the right to decide how business is taken.
When the Bill went to a Standing Committee, there were five sittings. Contrary to what has been said—and I have looked at this point on two occasions—reasonable progress was made. So far as I can see, only one major item of decision had still to be taken, and that might have taken three or four days—one does not know. Certainly, good and reasonable progress was made. Another point which seems to have been overlooked is that the Committee itself could have decided to sit not only Wednesday mornings, but Wednesday afternoons and, if it so wished, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Apparently, however, it was not the view of the Committee that it should have additional sittings.
On Friday, 5th March, the right hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West—
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
He is not a right hon. There is nothing right about him.
§ Mr. Bowden
—the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) introduced a Private Member's Motion to bring the Bill from Committee upstairs to the Floor of the House. I said when we discussed that Motion that there was nothing improper about this, although it was certainly unusual. There cannot be many occasions when Private Members' Motions have been used for this sort of purpose.
After five hours' debate and one or two long speeches with a great deal of detail, the Motion was carried. Having reread the debate—and I sat here through the whole of it—I think that the only argument carrying any weight in favour of bringing the Bill to the House is that repeated on a number of occasions by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West himself and the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom—that on a Bill of this sort there should be an opportunity for more hon. Members to take part in the Committee stage. This seems to be the only valid 1489 argument put forward during the whole of that day. If I may say so with respect to the Chair, we seem to have got out of order on many occasions and were debating the content of the Bill.
The fact that certain Members are excluded from debating a Bill in Committee happens with every Bill which goes upstairs to Standing Committee, and it could be an argument that no Bill should ever go upstairs but that they should all be taken on the Floor of the House. This is an argument which anyone who has had anything to do with government on either side of the House knows is completely impossible because no Government could get their business through.
We were told by hon. Members who spoke that Members were muzzled if the Bill remained upstairs. I cannot see the validity of that argument. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said thatthe fresh air of democracycould bebrought into the matter,"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 1722.]only if it were taken on the Floor of the House. It is a strange doctrine, particularly coming from the former Chief Whip, that the Standing Committee procedure of Parliament is undemocratic. We have to accept and appreciate that much of our procedure will have to undergo some change at least and many things will have to be discussed in Committees upstairs.
The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom said that the sending of this Bill upstairs to Committee was a "shabby political manoeuvre" on the part of the Government. Apparently, his argument was that the Government sent the Bill upstairs with the object of hiding it. If the Government wished to hide it, we need not have given any time whatever for it. Not only did we provide time for the Second Reading, but we are providing time on the Floor of the House for the Report stage, however long that may take—and I hope that it will not be too long—and for the Third Reading. Therefore, the argument that we sent it upstairs simply with the object of hiding it is absolute nonsense, and I am surprised that hon. and learned Gentlemen of the calibre of the right hon. And 1490 learned Member for Epsom used such an argument.
After the decision on 5th March, the Government could have taken a number of courses. First of all, we could have dropped the Bill altogether [Holy. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] Now we see the real objective. I thought that this was the case the whole way through. The object of the exercise of 5th March was not to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House, but to destroy it once and for all. But the House may do well to remember that the abolitionists are not all on one side. The Second Reading of the Bill was carried by a very large majority. It is clear from what happened on 5th March and the cheers which we have just heard that the object of some right hon. and hon. Members was to kill the Bill rather than to deal with it at all.
As I say, we could have dropped the Bill. The Government decided not to do so. We could, by decision of the House, which we might have got, despite a small majority, have put it back in Standing Committee at the point where it left off. But the view of my right hon. Friends and myself was that the House had taken a decision, and that was to bring it to the Floor of the House. The question then arose of how we should do this. In view of the Parliamentary time-table, and of the loss of three or four days which the Bill may take in Committee on the Floor of the House, the only possibility was to adopt the procedure which we are proposing in this Motion of bringing it to the Floor of the House on the same day and at the same times as it would have been taken upstairs in Committee.
I should like, as an aside, as it were, to remind the House of certain facts which every Government face. Under our present procedures, there are 50 to 60 days only of legislative time for any Government in a full Parliamentary Session. The Opposition have 32, and no one would wish to alter that. Therefore, to take three or four days out of Government time on the Floor of the House becomes a possible course. I do not dispute that there may be occasions in the dying months of a Government—we had this last year—when they are anxious to play out time and to prevent the sword from falling upon their head. Then they may 1491 be prepared to give time for debates applications for which they would normally have resisted had they been made in earlier Sessions.
That is not the position with this Government now, nor is it likely to be within the next five years, because we have a large enough legislative programme to last us for five years. Therefore, we must resist, and continue to resist, attempts of this sort to bring to the Floor of the House the Committee stages of Bills which can be taken upstairs.
The only way that we could honour our promise in the Gracious Speech, of providing time and, at the same time, noting the decision of the House on 5th March was to introduce the Motion to which I am speaking. Despite the fears which, I understand, are abroad, the Motion is straightforward. There is nothing sinister about it. It has no ulterior motive whatsoever. It is a proposal to bring the Murder (Abolition of Capital Punishment) Bill to the Floor of the House for the Committee stage, and the Committee stage only, and on the same day of the week and at the same time as it would have been taken in Committee upstairs.
It is not the first time that sittings have taken place in the morning, and I doubt whether it will be the last. This has happened before, and it may happen again. I would remind the House that in a very few weeks I, or someone from this Box, will be moving a Motion that the House will sit at eleven o'clock and take Questions until twelve o'clock and continue whatever the business may be until five o'clock that day purely for the convenience of Members on the day before we rise for the Easter Recess. There is nothing unusual in Motions to the effect that we adjust the times of sittings of the House to conform with the views and wishes of Members.
Therefore, this Motion is—and I repeat this—for this purpose and this purpose only and is without prejudice to any recommendations, if there are any recommendations, which may be made to the Select Committee on Procedure.
§ Sir Rolf Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say when the House last sat in the morning and then carried on for the normal day?
§ Mr. Bowden
I cannot possibly say that. I should think that there are probably precedents, but I have not looked into the matter.
This ad hoc procedure, if I may so describe it, will, I think, meet the convenience of the majority of hon. Members who want to make progress with the Bill. If the abolitionists who voted in great numbers in favour of the Bill really want to see it on the Statute Book, they will think that there is nothing unusual about this procedure. It meets a very difficult circumstance. It conforms to the wish of the House that it should be taken on the Floor of the House. If it had not been taken on the Floor, hon. Member would have had a legitimate grouse that a decision of the House had been reversed by the Government using their weight.
I am sure that this is the best course, and I hope that the House will accept it. I ask hon. Members to realise that in accepting it they will be acting in deference to the wishes of the whole House. While the Division tonight, if there is a Division, will be, on this side of the House, with official Tellers on, every stage of the Bill will be open to a free vote. If I may forecast, as I did on 5th March, as long as there is a liberal-minded Government at Westminster there may be many occasions when we shall have legislation of this sort on which party Whips do not function, but on which the free vote of hon. Members will operate.
I commend the Motion to the House. I hope that it will not be necessary to divide against it; but if so, so be it. I hope later, at some point during the day, to reply myself to any points that are made from either side of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
For the information of hon. Members, I inform the House that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not selected.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
On a point of order. That appears to be a strange Ruling, if I may say so, Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that it is the only Amendment on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
For the hon. Member's instruction, the word "select" in this context includes avoiding selecting even one only. The burden is upon me.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Sir Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
I should like to take up right away, while it is fresh in my mind, one point which the Lord President of the Council has made. He said that the only way in which those who wished to see the Bill through the House could hope to get it through would be by the procedure of taking the Bill in the mornings, and he said that if it were taken on the Floor of the House in the ordinary way it would take three or four days.
The right hon. Gentleman is as well aware as I am that the equivalent of three or four days on the Floor of the House, without even allowing for any extensions of time, is between 10 and 12 or more sittings of a Standing Committee, and, of course, the sittings of the Committee of the House in this instance will be even shorter than sittings of a Committee upstairs, because for seven minutes—and seven minutes is precious—there will be Prayers to start the proceedings. Therefore, those who are considering this procedure at very best cannot hope to see the Bill through the Committee stage in less than nine or 12 weeks. This is a consideration which must be borne in mind.
I will return later to the question whether the Government ought or ought not to give time in the proper manner, but I should like, first, to revert to the question of the Select Committee on Procedure, which was set up by the House on 22nd Decemberto consider the Procedure in the Public Business of the House; and to report what alterations, if any"—I ask the House to note "if any"—are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such Business".That was a Government Motion and it was passed by the House without debate.
The House gave the CommitteePower to report from time to timeand it was anInstruct on to the Committee to report first onthree matters. Two, which I will put briefly, concerned Committees for Second Readings and the Ten Minute Rule Bill 1494 procedure. The third matter, which is the most important for the purpose of our debate today, wasthe times of sittings of the House".I have the honour to be a member of that Select Committee, and it could be that my trade in this House during these last 13 years makes me to some extent suitable to be a member, but in the course of that trade I have learnt many things, good and bad. Among the first is that impatience with our procedures is often in all our breasts, whoever we may be, whether Chief Whips of the Government, Chief Whips of the Opposition, Privy Councillors, old Members or new Members. All have their separate impatiences. This is one of the things which one learns. The second thing, which is much more important, is that practically every proposition that arises out of those impatiences has as many effective and well-reasoned arguments against it for maintaining the established custom.
I say this to those hon. Members—and I think that they are mostly new hon. Members—who have been pressing for morning sittings because they fondly imagine that they will then get home to their wives at 7.30 or 8.30, or whatever the case may be: that the Government Chief Whip, who normally sits in his corner of the Government Front Bench, will always see that there are pressing and urgent reasons why they should support their party sitting on in the House to get the Government's programme through. The right hon. Gentleman himself has rather given the game away by stressing how much business the Government have yet to do, although, I must say, we have so far seen precious little sign of it.
When I was Chief Whip, I liked this House and enjoyed it and even loved it at times. I certainly hated it at times; that is understandable. But at all times it earns my profoundest respect in all its institutions. I want to see reform just as much as anybody else, although, perhaps, some of us see the difficulties more clearly than others. I want to see, and all of us want to see, that the reforms which we make are wise, and wise particularly in the nice balance between the Executive and the 1495 rights of the House, which are the true virtue, the keystone, the ark of the covenant of parliamentary democracy.
If I want reform, I also want to safeguard the conventions by which we work. For example, it is a convention that the proceedings of a Select Committee are not divulged until that Committee itself reports. In anything I say, I certainly will not divulge anything of the proceedings of that Committee.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The right hon. Gentleman is not inviting the House, is he, to say that because the Select Committee may some day report in favour of, or report against, a change in the normal hours of sitting, in the meantime, while the Committee is considering what it may ultimately report, the right of the House to control its own sittings is in any way in abeyance?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
The hon. Member is one of the most acute amongst us, and that is precisely the point which I was going to make. It is, surely, also a convention of this House that if a matter is remitted to a Select Committee —and Select Committees of the House are bodies of great dignity and importance, regardless of their membership—the House contents itself to await the recommendation of that Committee before taking any action in the matter remitted.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the point of my question. As I understand, the House has asked the Select Committee on procedure, among other things, to recommend or not recommend, as it may ultimately decide, a change in the normal practice. What I am inviting the right hon. Gentleman to agree with me about is that until the Select Committee has come to a conclusion on that matter the House remains in full possession of its authority to exercise its existing power.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I give the hon. Member his point entirely if his interpretation of what "the House" means is the same as mine. What I am saying is that the Government have no right to take decisions in anticipation of 1496 what may be decided by the Select Committee. The Members of this House have absolute power at any time to conduct their business in any way they please. The two things are very different.
§ Mr. Bowden
Is the right hon. Member saying that no procedural changes ever take place without recommendations from the Select Committee on Procedure?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I have looked for precedents of any sort of importance and I can find no precedent of the sort of importance of this change which is proposed by the Government. I make no secret of the fact—and this does not disclose anything about the Select Committee—that I think that the House gave the Committee a very difficult task that it should first report on the times of the sittings when its main remit was to consider the procedure in public business as a whole. The first task is difficult enough, the second is immense, and I doubted from the first whether the first task was possible of achievement until the second task had been concluded.
Be that as it may, what we now find, as I have suggested, is that the Government, impatient of the difficulties which have been brought on them by a free decision of the House that the Bill should be brought to the Floor of the House, now choose, regardless of the responsibility given to the Select Committee, and regardless of the difficulties which they acknowledge by remitting the subject to this Select Committee, to "jump the gun" and set up a morning Committee on the Bill. I said that the Government were impatient of this matter. If I were not by nature polite, I would use a phrase often used by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were on these Benches and say that the Government were arrogant. As a member of that Committee I resent very much this cavalier treatment of a Select Committee of the House.
I will not discuss the merits of the Bill, but I should like to make my position clear. I voted against the Bill. I think that it is untimely. I am a moderate man. I do not doubt that abolition will come, but I hope not yet. That is all that I shall say on that subject now.
I want to discuss the procedure, and the tangle of procedure, in which the Government have become involved. The right 1497 hon. Gentleman quoted the phrase in the Queen's Speech:Facilities will be provided for a free decision by Parliament on the issue of capital punishment.Sufficient was said on 5th March about sending the Bill upstairs, and the method by which it was achieved, and the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with this. I doubt whether a Standing Committee, which is, after all, only an agency of the House, however carefully composed— and I do not quarrel with the way in which it was composed—is "Parliament" in the terms of the Queen's Speech in respect of a subject of this importance. I would support that by reminding hon. Gentlemen opposite of what the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth said on this subject. He ruled that Bills of constitutional importance should always be kept on the Floor of the House.
We have had many arguments—and the right hon. Gentleman will recollect this—in the usual channels as to what was meant by a Bill of constitutional importance, yet there can be few Bills which come closer to the meaning of the phrase than a Bill which is concerned, in one way or another, with the exercise of the prerogative in respect of the life or death of a subject of the Queen. This seems to be almost a perfect example of such a Bill.
That point has been properly decided, and the Bill is to be taken here. What we now have to decide is whether the Government should accept the will of the House and permit the Bill to be debated in Parliament as we know it, and at the times which, by custom, are accepted, or whether they should be allowed to change those customs for their convenience and for the inconvenience, as I shall seek to show, of the House as a whole.
I propose to deal now with another point to which the right hon. Gentleman referred on 5th March. He said:… it ought to be made absolutely clear that the Government must have control—any Government must—of their own time on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 1787.]There spake an ex-Chief Whip, and I do not doubt that if I were Chief Whip, or if I were Leader of the House, or if I were a member of the Executive, I would think the same, and would hope 1498 to achieve it, but I doubt very much whether, in circumstances of this sort, I would say it in this House.
I claim no greater wisdom than the right hon. Gentleman. I suspect that I might have said it, but I would, at the same time, not have been surprised if the heavens had fallen on my head —and this relates back to the point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman)—because this is the House of Commons, and any Government can survive only by the grace and favour of Members of the House, regardless of party.
What is this talk of Government time? What, for that matter, is this talk of Opposition time, or private Members' time? These conventions exist because the House, not the Government, wills them, and the House must be jealous of its power in this respect. I should like to refer Members to what Erskine May says on page 311. This is in the chapter which deals with exceptional methods of economising time. I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has studied this carefully, either now or earlier in his career. There are four headings under which exceptional methods are set out.
First, there is the application of time limits to the discussion of Bills, which is a crime sometimes committed by Governments. Secondly, there is prolongation of the sittings, which happens all too often. Thirdly, there are abnormal sitting days, and may I say that the only abnormal sitting days are the rare occasions on which the House, for good reason or bad, has sat on Saturday or Sunday. Fourthly, there is the appropriation of private Members' days, something which Members will remember was done without conscience by the Labour Government of 1945, but has not been done by a Conservative Government at any time except in time of war.
I want to read the concluding paragraph of this section. After referring to the four methods which I have quoted, it says:The conclusion which emerges from the facts, collected in this chapter from the whole range of procedure, is that, while a Government is placed by standing order"—that is by will of the House—in effective control of the time of the House, and while it can and sometimes does use its 1499 influence over the majority of the House to remove any and every impediment to the full exercise of this control, yet reasonably adequate safeguards exist for the rights of the minority and of private Members as individuals; for these rights are inextricably embedded in the procedure by which Ministers secure the passage of indispensable portions of national business, and no Government could go far in withholding these rights without bringing the machinery of Parliament to a standstill.Perhaps it could be said that I am using a sledgehammer to crack a nut in this matter, but those are important words, and words which should be borne in mind by hon. Members in this connection.
I am concerned to hear from the Lord President of the Council that he has a whip on this Motion tonight. This is essentially a House of Commons matter, a matter of our own procedures, a serious matter—it is a big change which is contemplated by the Government—and I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, every hon. Gentleman opposite, whether in the House or not, that there is no whip on this side of the House in this matter. I hope very much that those, like the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who have learned to love the House—and I say that in all sincerity—will set aside their allegiance to the Government and vote as free Members on this occasion.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Naturally, I am personally gratified with what the right hon. Gentleman said, but to assist me in applying it to my action today, will he bear in mind that he himself was the Chief Patronage Secretary, the Chief Government Whip, for many years? Can he tell us of any occasion, when he was Chief Whip for the Government, on which he allowed a free vote of the House on the disposal of Government time?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I have no recollection of any precedents on that, but I have a mind that I can find them, and if I can I will see that they are reported to the House. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is a fair one, and, whether it is true or not, perhaps I might say that when there was a Conservative Government I heard many appeals from this side of the House to Members oppo- 1500 site to take the same attitude, and Members on that side, followed that advice on many occasions, which only proves what a bad Chief Whip I was.
The phrase in the Queen's Speech wasa free decision by Parliament",and I ask whether Parliament is properly represented by morning sittings, hastily contrived to suit the Government's convenience, and whether they are any better than the proceedings of a Standing Committee. We ought to study how complete the representation of the House will be. Ministers will inevitably be poor attenders, because the machinery of government will grind to a halt if Ministers are kept in the House on these occasions. Many Members must find attendance difficult because, for all the talk that we have from time to time from Members opposite, the opportunity to do useful work outside, in the professions, or in industry, or in commerce, is not confined to this side of the House alone. Indeed, Members of Parliament would be far less capable of doing their duty if they did not undertake these other occupations.
Therefore, on many days—and this applies particularly to the law—many Members will not be able to come at all. On other days many will miss the earlier hours of these short debates. I am thinking of those who have been engaged in their constituencies or elsewhere the night before, and are travelling back. Others will have to forsake the House at a critical moment during the debate to leave for a perfectly proper and useful function at lunchtime. They may have to leave at a time when the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill may greatly need their help and presence here.
I do not believe that these morning sittings will produce anything but scrappy and inconstant attendance in a matter which is of the most lively interest to every Member of the House. I say quite seriously that these morning sittings will not be Parliament in the sense of Parliament assembled because the difficulties which will face Members in attending will be too great. Nor do I think that the proposition is particularly good management by the Lord President of the Council, for another reason. It has been said —I believe that it was said on 5th March —that Wednesday was a convenient day 1501 for this operation because Wednesday is free from sittings of other Standing Committees except in respect of Standing Committee C, dealing with Private Member's Bills.
But I wish to put to the Lord President of the Council, who has equal experience with me in these matters, this question: when members of Standing Committees sitting on Tuesdays and Thursdays are asked to sit more often, do they ever choose a Wednesday morning for the extra sitting? The right hon. Gentleman knows that they never do. They will sit on Tuesday afternoon and, if necessary, all night, or on Thursday afternoon, but they say, "Pray leave us Wednesday to ourselves." The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but he knows how very true that is. Those hon. Members always ask, "Please leave us Wednesday so that we can look after our own affairs".
Then, what of the staff of the House and others who serve us here: the police who have to come in all day when the House sits; the refreshment rooms will need to be more fully manned; there are the Clerks of the House, whose mornings are already full, will have to be in attendance. Then there is the Press. We pretend not to observe them, but we are well aware of their presence here and they will have to work extra shifts in order to report us. [Laughter.] I do not see that these are laughing matters.
All these people will have to be here. So, too, will the staff of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the engineers, the boiler-room men, and others. I think that some hon. Members, particularly if they have not been about the House so much as some of us who have worked here long and late do not realise how many men and women are needed to keep this place going. Even the ladies who clean up the mess after we leave every day—and we leave a good deal of mess from time to time—must be extra nippy on these Wednesdays if they are to have the place neat and tidy before hon. Members arrive in the afternoon.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I woulc ask the right hon. Gentleman to take his memory back to 1945 to 1951 when, due to the tactics and antics of hon. Gentlemen then in opposition, we were here day and night—Ministers and all.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
Hon. Gentlemen always make a great deal of that point, but it was not so arduous, although that happened on occasion and might happen again.
One last point—and these are all perfectly good and practical points: how many hon. Members make a point of having visiting parties here on Wednesdays because that is the best day to do so? It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to brush these points aside, but, none the less, for many hon. Members Wednesday is the best day for that. That particular part of the ordinary pattern of the House, too, is to be interfered with. If some of these points seem small in themselves, none the less some are of considerable importance. And we have to put up with this simply because Her Majesty's Government cannot face the inevitable and give time, at a proper and acceptable time.
After all, other Governments have faced this situation. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he recollects that he forced us, against our will, to take the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill on the Floor of the House—and much good it did him! But we got the programme for the Session, as we do in every Session despite accidents which intervene; and, despite the right hon. Gentleman's slighting remark about the last Session of Parliament, the legislation that went through in that Session was very nearly a record. and in the year before the amount was a record. We always get it.
How can the Government claim to be short of time? If they are, then is it anyone's fault but their own? All that this Parliament has had to consider has been a "pudding" of legislation left over from the pipeline of the previous Administration— with an exception. Why, therefore, should Parliament now be deprived of time which it has willed because the Government apparently cannot reach agreement behind the scenes on policy on their major Bills? It is really most extraordinary that Parliament is five months gone and we have hardly had a major Bill yet. What a way to run a Session! Sometimes our friends in the country complain that our opposition lack punch, but so far we have had very little but pudding to 1503 punch. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman quite seriously that if the Government are late with their Bills it is their worry. In the meantime, the House wants to take this Bill in Committee on the Floor, in the proper hours, and the Government should pay heed to the House.
I wish now to deal with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council when he referred to the deep suspicions excited by this Motion. Of course, I accept that his intention that only the Committee stage should be taken in the mornings. Indeed, that is clear from the preamble of the Motion, but if that is clear why is the Motion worded, in paragraph 2, in such a peculiar way, and why are we given the alternatives, whether Mr. Speaker should be in the Chair or if the House be in Committee? And in lines 11 and 12 it is stated thatprovided that if proceedings under Standing Order No. 31 (Closure of debate) be in progress at that hour Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the Business, or, if the House be in Committee, the Chairman shall not leave the Chair,We are told that the House will be in Committee, and I accept the right hon. Gentleman's word on that, but if the House is in Committee the Chairman is fully competent to meet both provisions. Therefore, why is it necessary to include in the Motion the proposition that the House may not be in Committee? I would like to know the truth of this matter. Was it the Government's original intention that all stages of the Bill be taken in the mornings, or were they preparing a Motion which would come in handy on another occasion? Or is it just sloppy drafting and sloppy amendment?
It would be more respectful to the House if Motions put before the House were more precise in their intention. I am poacher-turned-gamekeeper and I know how such procedural Motions are drafted and the care and expertise with which words are chosen to give precisely the effect that the Government wish to achieve. Therefore, 1 believe that certain instructions were given to the draftsmen to achieve one objective and that they were not told that the Government had changed their mind, nor were they asked to approve amendments which were made.
1504 There is another point on this Motion which is of some importance. There may be a trap for the unwary in line 10, which says:further consideration of the Business shall be deferred until such day as the Member in charge of the Bill shall appoint.This is a common phrase in our procedure and means commonly that any Minister or Whip on the Front Bench may say that business shall be deferred "until tomorrow, Sir," or "This day, Sir," or "Monday next," or, on very good occasions, perhaps, "until 20th October." But here we are in different circumstances. This Bill, though taken in Government time—or time at least produced by the Government from thin air like a conjuror producing an egg—and conjurors can frequently produce more than one egg, once they have learned the facility—still masquerades as a Private Member's Bill and the Government are not in charge except, as the Lord President of the Council explains, when it suits them.
The hon. Member in charge of the Bill will be the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. He—if he will forgive me for saying so—is a downy bind; an old hand in Parliament. He is also a little short in Parliamentary temper. If he became dissatisfied with progress, being authorised by this Motion to name the day might not he fail to say, dutifully, "Wednesday next", and name Monday, or Tuesday, or Thursday?
I know that the Lord President of the Council will say that the Government would not place the Bill on the Order Paper until the following Wednesday, and that all would be well, but would the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne be satisfied? He could claim with justice that the powers given to him in paragraph (2) are every bit as strong as the intention to take the Bill on Wednesday, as is expressed in the preamble. If I know the hon. Member he would make that claim, and if I know the Government they might easily accept it.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
If the right hon. Gentleman is greatly concerned at this moment to know what I would be satisfied with, perhaps it may help him and relieve him from the exercise of any 1505 strain on his imagination if I tell him that my intention is gratefully to accept whatever time the Government feel able to afford for the passage of the Bill. I would be very foolish, and much shorter of temper than he accused me of being, if I quarrelled with the Government on such a point.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I must confess that there have been occasions when I have known the hon. Member to be less docile. At one time I enlisted myself as his unofficial Whip—not with his acknowledgement. I will not make too much of this. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if any care had been taken about the drafting of the Motion it would have stated simply that further consideration of this business would be deferred till the following Wednesday. Then we would have been clear what was meant.
I have said that these morning sittings cannot be considered to be a full repretation of the House. I wonder whether they are to be regarded as a glorified Standing Committee, and whether there would be considerable advantages if they were so regarded. The Lord President of the Council referred to the Report stage of the Bill, with apparent confidence that there would be a Report stage. If the Committee stage is taken on the Floor of the House there can be no Report stage, unless the Bill is amended. I hope that it will be. But if it can be accepted that these mornings sittings will be complete sittings of the House it may be reasonable—since this is a new procedure, and we are concerned that it should work smoothly if it is forced upon us—to suppose that there would inevitably be a Report stage to follow the rather sparse Committee stage.
Secondly, in respect of the closure of any debate in the Committee, I hope that the Chair will not be persuaded to be any more generous to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill than it would be in respect of any Committee of the House—as opposed to a Standing Committee upstairs, where the closure is often accepted earlier. The Standing Order sets out that the rights of minorities will be observed. I therefore hope that the Chair will not be influenced by the fact that this Committee will inevitably proceed in short sharp bursts of about 2 hours and 20 minutes 1506 —and a very uncomfortable procedure it will be for many hon. Members—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not making reflections on the Chair in anticipation.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
Most certainly not, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I feel sure that in your official capacity you will appreciate that we are puzzled and worried about this new procedure. These suggestions are entirely for the consideration or rejection by the Chair, at its pleasure.
That is all that I have to say. I think that this idea is a thoroughly bad egg, and that, unlike most bad eggs, it was bad when it was laid. In all honesty I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who is a very good Parliamentarian, to think again about the matter and, if he can, to withdraw the Motion. Let him take courage and example from other Governments, now lamentably departed, who got their programmes through with far worse difficulties than this. I assure him —and I ask him to assure his right hon. and learned Friend, who is not so experienced—that it can be done if he has the will to do it. If he is not prepared to withdraw the Motion I ask hon. Members to act as Members of Parliament in their own right, and to defeat it.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
We have had the very interesting spectacle this afternoon of two former gamekeepers opposing each other. The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) used some strange arguments in his speech. During the years that I have been here I have never known this Chamber not to be ready for action by half-past ten in the morning. If we have these Wednesday morning sittings there will be no difficulty in the staffs preparing the Chamber for the purpose.
I have been wondering which eel the Leader of the Opposition thinks has been caught in which noose by this exercise in gamesmanship. The House cannot be very proud of anything that has happened since the vote on the Second Reading debate. It has not added anything to the prestige of the House. The debate on 5th March had little relevance 1507 to the way in which the Bill should be debated. It might have had some relevance to a possible Steel Bill, or a possible Lands Commission Bill, but it had little relevance to a discussion of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill.
I consider that the exercise on 5th March was an episode in the Parliamentary struggle—not so much a desire that we should have the Committee stage on the Floor of the House as that there should be an opportunity of upsetting the Government's programme to some extent. Apart from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to object to our even considering a Motion of this kind to have sittings on Wednesday mornings, he seemed to think it relevant that the Select Committee on Procedure was considering the question of the times of sittings of the House. I take it that the Select Committee on Procedure is also considering Questions, but yesterday Mr. Speaker himself suggested a new procedure with regard to Questions. I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman was very serious in arguing that we could not have an alteration in our procedure because, at some future date, the Select Committee on Procedure was going to report upon it.
The complaints made during the debate on 5th March brought out two points—first, that most people who were on the Committee thought that they were not getting enough publicity and that a number of hon. Members who were not on the Committee thought that they were not having an opportunity of getting any publicity. I do not know whether we are supposed to take it that publicity is more important than doing the job properly.
The second point was that the Government Whips had been on when it was decided that the Bill should go to a Standing Committee.
§ Sir Rolf Dudley Williams rose—
§ Mr. Blackburn
The hon. Gentleman is always wanting to interrupt. Perhaps if he will let me make my speech—
§ Sir Rolf Dudley Williams rose—
§ Mr. Blackburn
—I can possibly answer the things he wants to say. He is such a regular interrupter—[An HON. 1508 MEMBER: "Particularly on a Friday."]—that I am not disposed to give way to him at the moment. There is no telling what might happen before I have reached the end of my speech.
I cannot believe that there is anyone in the House so naïve as to think that a Government would not retain control over their programme. I am sure that hon. Members know what the Standing Order is. I would refer them to Section 1 of the relevant Standing Order, which says:When a public Bill (other than a Bill for imposing taxes or a Consolidated Fund or an Appropriation Bill, or a Bill for confirming a provisional order) has been read a Second time it shall stand committed to a Standing Committee unless the House otherwise orders.Therefore, it was surely a natural expectation of everyone that the Bill would be committed to a Standing Committee. Of course, it is quite competent for any hon. Member of the House to move that the Committee stage be taken on the Floor of the House, but it is equally competent for the Government of the day to decide whether they want it on the Floor of the House or in a Standing Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have decided?"] I did not say that the Government had decided, but that they were competent to decide whether they would want to have the Bill on the Floor of the House or to send it to a Standing Committee.
I am sure that, whatever the Government, they must maintain control over their programme. The argument which the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe used—to the effect that some of the debates which have taken place on the Floor of the House during this Parliament were of a secondary nature—is no argument as to what is now in the pipeline. I think that it is inevitable when there is a change of Government that, in the first Session, in the early days, there are matters of secondary importance to be debated. I remember that one of the first things which the then Conservative Government did in 1951 was bring in a Bill about public houses in new towns. One would not consider that that was a world-shattering Bill of great importance, but it gave them an opportunity to fill in the gap while legislation which they considered more important was being prepared.
Of course, the fact that we have not yet had what the right hon. Gentleman 1509 says are a number of major Bills does not mean that those major Bills are not coming. That is why I said earlier that I thought that possibly one of the reasons for the exercise on 5th March was great concern with some of these major Bills which might possibly be coming, rather than with the way in which the debate should take place on the Committee stage of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill. I think that on 5th March there was a good deal of synthetic indignation about what had taken place. It was evident, and anyone who rereads the OFFICIAL REPORT of what took place on that day will agree with me. I am certain that there was more concern in the exercise to embarrass the Government than to gain whatever it was they said they wanted.
This Motion is a very clever Motion, I think. It meets exactly what it was that the House wanted. The House asked that the Bill should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. Without upsetting any future Government timetable, it does exactly that. It makes it possible for all hon. Members of the House to get the publicity they want and gives an opportunity for every hon. Member who wants to make his contribution to the Bill to do so, but it has to be on a Wednesday morning.
I might say that it is also a good example of an opportunity to try out something new in procedure. [HON. MEMBERS:"Ah."] It fits in very well with an Amendment which I moved to the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in the Parliament of 1955–59. I moved that meetings should be held, for a trial period, on Wednesday mornings, to give the House an opportunity to judge whether such sittings were suitable, whether they would be of any great value, and to discover whether the House wished to proceed with them. I did not get my way then. Now there will be an opportunity, because when this Motion is passed tonight, as it will be—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not think that there is any doubt about it. When it is passed there will be an opportunity—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. The Whips are on, quite rightly, too. I do not think that there is any doubt that it will De carried, and that it will give the House an opportunity to try out this idea.
1510 Having said, that I must add that I should have preferred something else. I would have preferred a straight vote to restore the Bill to a Standing Committee. I do not believe that the Floor of the House is the place to discuss the details of the Committee stage of a Bill. I do not think that 630 people wandering and and out are a competent body to discuss the details of the Committee stage of a Bill. Therefore, my view, which, I think, is generally known in the House, is that the Committee stage of every Bill—including the Finance Bill—should be sent to a Standing Committee, in order to give more time on the Floor of the House for many of the debates which at present we are not able to have.
I hope that none of those 128 hon. Members who voted for the Bill coming to the Floor of the House will begin talking about the need to "streamline procedure" and to have some alteration in procedure. The first thing which can be done to improve the procedure of the House and to find more time on the Floor of the House for many of the debates which hon. Members want is to take the Committee stage of all Bills in a Standing Committee.
I believe that every Report of the Estimates Committee, every Report of the Public Accounts Committee, every Report of a Royal Commission, should be debated in this House within a month off their publication. But we have no time, generally, for most of these things; there is so much time spent on the Second Reading, Report stage and Third Reading of Bills, and other matters which have to be dealt with. As my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council mentioned, from now until Easter most of the Session will be filled with finance matters. As I say, I should have preferred a simple reversal of the vote which took place on 5th March, so that the Bill would have been sent to a Standing Committee. I think that that is where details should be hammered out—in a smaller Committee and not by 630 Members, but that is not the Motion before the House.
I shall accept the second best, and with great pleasure vote for the Motion. Now that hon. Members on both sides of the House have had their say, and I think that honour has been served, I hope 1511 that hon. Members will give to this important Bill the consideration which it both needs and deserves.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I shall be touching on some of the things which were said by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) but first I must take him to task for the suggestion that some hon. Members on this side of the House who took part in the debate on 5th March were particularly concerned to disrupt the Government programme. That is simply not true. I do not think that the hon. Member was present during the debate, but if he rereads some of the remarks which were made on that occasion—I do not think that the Leader of the House will dispute this—he will see that some of us had quite different motives in mind from that. As for the hon. Member's wider observations about the proper use of the Floor of the House, that is more a matter for the Leader of the House than for me and I will leave others to answer the hon. Gentleman. When the Select Committee reports on the subject, we shall look forward to hearing more from the hon. Gentleman.
This Motion and the need for it is one more chapter in the most unhappy history of the Government's handling of this Bill. It is a history of miscalculation, and that is putting it very moderately. Having started on the wrong road, as I believe they did from the night of the Second Reading of the Bill, the Government have been consistently taking wrong turnings, and getting no nearer to the ultimate destination of the Bill. As a result of the decision we shall take finally tonight, the Bill is back where it was on the night of 21st December. The Leader of the House has acted in a manner in which, on occasions, we all act when travelling along a road, when we ask the way and, having been clearly informed that we should go back a mile or two and then turn right, we consider that the better way is to go on and take as many turnings as we can find in the belief that ultimately we shall get back on the right road. That never happens. The positive refusal to take the course which some of us recommended from the start has been largely responsible for 1512 the difficulties which the Leader of the House referred to today.
I am not affected by the decision to have morning sittings in this Chamber on Wednesdays. For me, with my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who are members of the Standing Committee, this decision will mean, in effect, that we shall conduct our business in this Chamber instead of in a Committee Room on the Committee corridor between 10.30 a.m. and 1 o'clock on Wednesdays. It will make no difference in terms of time or conditions. I make no complaint, but I would point out to those hon. Members who have been taking part in the Standing Committee discussions that one effect of this decision will be to nullify five full days and 121 hours of work in the Standing Committee, and that we shall have to start again from the beginning.
The people who will be affected by this decision will be the Ministers. I cannot believe that, in resorting to what I think some hon. Members opposite regard as a clever manoeuvre, the consequences have been sufficiently considered in their effect on Departmental Ministers. It is an illusion to think that this will hurt hon. Members on this side of the House more than the Ministers. Nothing could be further from the truth. It may well aggravate some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, but it will positively embarrass a great number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. Every hon. Member knows that a large number of Ministers are called on to work throughout Wednesday mornings at some distance from this House and, however the Divisions may be contrived during the Committee stage discussions, those Ministers will have to be on call. Anyone who knows the routine of a Ministry knows that it will seriously disrupt a great deal of routine business.
It is fair that I should add now, in this context, that a number of hon. Members on this side of the House support the Bill and abolition and, frankly, it will not be so easy for right hon. Gentlemen opposite to arrange pairs and to absent themselves on official duties. I hope that we shall not be told later, if difficulties do arise for Ministers, that hon. Members on this side of the House 1513 are deliberately trying to make life difficult for them. There are some circumstances here which I hope will be noted now and not later.
§ Sir Rolf Dudley Williams
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are allowing a free vote on the matter, so that it may not affect Ministers.
§ Mr. Deedes
This is not a point for me to argue. It remains to be seen how the Division list works out. It may be that this decision will not seriously impinge on the work of the Paymaster-General, with whose fertile brain some of us—perhaps wrongly—associate this idea. We cannot tell whether it will or not, because we do not know what work the right hon. Gentleman does, but we know that some of the Ministers will find it exceedingly tiresome. No one knows that better than the Leader of the House.
Moreover, this debate concerns a Bill in connection with which members of the legal profession emphatically have their uses. Obviously the Committee will have to consider their contributions to the debate and I should like to think that hon. Members who are members of the legal profession but were not members of the Standing Committee will have opportunities to take part, particularly in the later stages when we consider the alternatives and where I think a legal mind may have something to offer which a layman cannot contribute.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
I understand the concern of the right hon. Gentleman regarding Ministers, but is he really suggesting that lawyers who are employed in the mornings should be given special consideration?
§ Mr. Deedes
The hon. Gentleman has missed my point. I am sure that on a Measure of this kind the House should be able to bring to bear the best minds and experience that we can find. But in denying ourselves—not denying the lawyers—advice which some hon. Members who are members of the legal profession may be able to give, we should be doing ourselves less than justice. That is my point.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Will the right hen. Gentleman make himself 1514 clearer? I cannot understand why the House would be denied the advantage of the experience of lawyers at a morning sitting. Lawyers are available in the morning—unless the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that their professional activities prevent them from being present.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am making no bones about this. Obviously hon. Members know perfectly well what are the commitments of members of the legal profession. I make no bones about that. I know and the hon. Gentleman knows the practical effects of this will be that this debate—
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I referred to the right hon. Gentleman as "my hon. Friend" in order that I might be able to get in. I am somewhat at a loss over his argument about being deprived of the advantage of the presence of members of the legal profession. One would think that if hon. Members who are lawyers were members of the Standing Committee they would be present in any case. The only advantage which I see that would accrue from this arrangement is that other hon. Members like myself, who are members of the legal profession, and who would like to have been on the Standing Committee will have an opportunity to make contributions during the discussion. Therefore, from what I can see, we shall have more legal brains brought to bear on this subject.
§ Mr. Deedes
z: The hon. Gentleman will have to secure his place among the galaxy of talent which he anticipates will be present. We had better get on to a further point. I believe I said that those most affected will be Ministers, and I referred to lawyers afterwards. There is one other aspect, a more serious one, of this proposal which it is right to mention. I think that it betrays, no doubt unwittingly, a rather intolerant attitude on the part of the Government towards 1515 on a wholly legitimate point. I do not believe that the Opposition should be treated like schoolboys over this.
The move to get the Bill back on the Floor of the House was not entirely frivolous, whatever some hon. Members say about it. The Times, I thought fairly and fully, weighed up all the arguments advanced and came down in favour of, on the whole, accepting the views which had been expressed. I am prepared to take the opinion of The Times as being a neutral opinion in this matter, and hon. Gentlemen who argue otherwise should see the arguments adduced in The Times leading article I have in mind. That article stated that there was a case for and against, and it decided that a case had been made out.
A serious proposition was put to the Government on 5th March. It was argued and won, both on the argument and in the Division. Now we have this reaction and I find it disquieting. This intolerant response should not pass without notice. I say to the Leader of the House, in all fairness, that the Front Bench opposite does not like successful Opposition. Certain right hon. Gentlemen on it are apt to regard it as impertinent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) persistently lapses in that view and as a result those who oppose his policies are apt to be castigated as being irresponsible and outrageous.
I do not believe that the House should be treated like schoolboys. I remind the Government that they are not dealing with the Opposition but with the House as a whole. There is a distinction between what the Government may sometimes do to persuade the Opposition to take a certain line and what they should do when they should be considering the position of the whole House.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is treating this matter seriously, so would he not agree that the vote on 5th March was a much smaller one to bring the Committee stage back to the Floor of the House than the much larger and more democratic vote which sent it upstairs in the first place? Should he not weigh these two things in the balance?
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not think that any of us has ever taken the numerical results achieved in the House as being an indication of the strength of will, decision or anything else of the House. I dare say that certain hon. Members took the precaution of being paired on that Friday—some did not—and that some of them held views as strongly as those who voted.
Some of my hon. Friends think that the Motion may be used as a precedent. Speaking for myself, I am inclined to accept the word of the Leader of the House that this is a straightforward Motion and I think that, for reasons I have mentioned—and I must not anticipate a report which may be made on this subject—there may be obstacles to further moves of this kind.
I would not be surprised, however, if it were not held forward if not as a prospect then perhaps sometimes as a threat. It would not surprise me if the prospect of morning sittings were occasionally held over the heads of the Opposition as a means of achieving certain ends. "If we spend more time on this Measure or that, morning sittings are within our grasp," is something that could be said, without actually having morning sittings, thereby bringing Ministers into difficulty.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House. It was as a result of his persuasiveness that the House decided to bring the Bill back from its Committee stage in Standing Committee on to the Floor of the House. What does he think the Government should have done to give effect to that decision, bearing in mind the point of view of those who wished to see the Bill carried?
§ Mr. Deedes
That is an absolutely fair point and I will come to it later. As far as I recollect, we got through our 13 years of administration without any gambit of this kind. It may be that we managed things better or that we were a little more tolerant. At least, during those 13 years we never sought to manoeuvre a Bill quite in the way this one has been manoeuvred. It is manoeuvreing that lies at the root of the trouble.O what a tangled web we weave,When first we practise to deceive!1517 The Government wanted the best of both worlds, a Private Member's Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech which would have Government backing as and when required. The fact that we are dealing with it today once again is proof that this has been disastrous. It has led to the Committee stage—as some of us think—being treated as somewhat of a formality; it has led to the fiasco of 5th March; and it has led to this Motion today.
The Leader of the House said that it was quite impossible to find time before the Committee stage of the Bill to take it on the Floor of the House during our normal hours. Quite appealingly in his speech he said that in the 50 to 60 days available for Government business and so on, time could not be found. However, we are now at 18th March. The Bill received its Second Reading on 21st December. We all know, roughly speaking, what the Government's programme has been between 21st December and today. Therefore—and I now answer the last intervention of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—had the decision been taken in the first place that the Bill, as emphatically a Bill of a constitutional character, should and would receive three or four days in Committee on the Floor of the House, this difficulty would never have arisen and a right decision would have been taken. No one can really say that the Government's programme since Second Reading has persuaded many of us that, to use the words of the Leader of the Opposition, it was "quite impossible" to find time. The facts unfortunately have proved otherwise.
Perhaps some of us would be doing the Government a service if we used this occasion to impress one thing absolutely firmly on their mind, something which they have so far failed to recognise; that many hon. Members on this side of the House—and retentionists at that—consider that the Bill is a subject to be taken most seriously. In saying that I know that I reflect a great deal of opinion represented by both abolitionists and retentionists. It is indeed a subject of the utmost seriousness and if hon. Gentlemen opposite accuse some of us who take the Bill seriously of simply playing with Government time when we make speeches like this, they should reflect that 1518 some of us feel very strongly about the matter.
The Leader of the House suggested that the real motive behind this was to lose the Bill. I do want to lose the Bill and I am not ashamed of saying that I wish to do so. If that is to be regarded by hon. Members opposite as an ignoble motive, then they will have to learn more about opposition, even after their 13 years in Opposition.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
I have not myself made this charge, but the charge has been made not that people are entitled to be against the Bill—of course they are; those who are against it spoke against it and those who want it voted for it—but that the question is whether their being against the Bill provides a good reason, there being no other reason, for opposing this Motion.
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not want to repeat all the arguments which have been made and which I put on 5th March on the motives some of us have in wishing to have the fullest discussion on the Bill. I have said that this is not regarded by some of us as a subject for any kind of Parliamentary manoeuvre. I am sure that the police do not think it a subject for Parliamentary manoeuvre, nor the prison officers, nor many members of the public. I simply decline to feel ashamed of the attitude I have adopted to the Bill and reject the accusation that this proves that I am simply hostile to the Government's programme.
There are, and there have been from the start, overwhelming reasons for giving the Bill the status accorded to the most important Measures. It has not been given that status. It is not even now receiving that status. If the Government will the end of a Bill of this kind, they must will the means. So far, they have refused to do so. I consider that their attitude is indefensible, and for that reason I at least shall vote against the Motion tonight.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I want to apply myself directly to the arguments advanced by the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) in his speech from the Opposition Front Bench at the beginning of the debate. First, I want to reply to what I suppose 1519 are the two main arguments presented by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). He said that there was something impertinent or intolerant about the way the Government have behaved in this matter. I think he said that partly because of the way the Government had behaved on the original Motion as to where the Bill should be committed and partly because of their subsequent action.
Taking, first, the question of how the Government behaved immediately after the Bill was accorded a Second Reading, I must say that I do not think that the Opposition have presented a very powerful argument. They have claimed—the right hon. Gentleman himself claimed—that this was indisputably a constitutional Bill. Herbert Morrison's hook was quoted to substantiate the case that constitutional Bills should nearly always be taken on the Floor of the House. Anyone who has been in the House for any length of time knows that there has always been discussion, often between Opposition and Governments, as to what constitutes constitutional Bills. I have heard the late Herbert Morrison himself arguing on that point. Therefore, it is no good right hon. Members opposite being so dogmatic on the subject and saying that, because they say so, because they put their imprimatur upon the Bill as a constitutional Bill, therefore it is one.
One of the examples which slipped out in the course of the debates illustrates my point very well, because the right hon. Gentleman told us that in the last Session when the Government of the day introduced the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill they sought to have that Bill dealt with by a Standing Committee but were thwarted by the House of Commons, which did not agree with them. As between the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, which deprived Commonwealth citizens of rights which they have held ever since there has been a British Commonwealth, and the Bill which is under discussion now, I should have thought that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was incomparably more certainly a constitutional Bill than is this Bill.
After all, important though this Bill is—I do not diminish its importance; my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) has every 1520 right, more perhaps than many hon. Members, to stress its importance—it is also the fact that the consequences of the Bill for large numbers of people are not so great as were the consequences of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. I know that hon. Members have different views on the matter. There are hon. Members opposite, who are bitterly opposed to the Bill anyhow, who say very strongly that in their view this is a constitutional Bill.
My opinion and, I am glad to say, the opinion of many of us who were in the House of Commons at the time was that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was a constitutional Bill. We have been told by the spokesman for the Opposition today that, in his opinion, the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was not a constitutional Bill. I say that to illustrate the fact that it is not easy for anybody to determine what are constitutional Bills and what are not. There is a powerful argument at least for saying that a Bill which is to decide that two or three people who would be hanged if the Bill were not passed will not be hanged is not a great constitutional Bill, important though the Bill may be. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for Ashford got himself into great difficulty when he was trying to describe, in answer to an intervention, what other course he would recommend. It must be remembered that the accusation of the right hon. Gentleman against the Government was that they have acted in an intolerant manner. He argued that the intolerance of the Government is such that they are inviting the House of Commons to agree that the proposition passed by the House on Friday, 5th March, should be carried out. That is the measure of their intolerance.
There have been much more intolerant Leaders of the House in days gone by. I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Member for Ashford was in the House during the war. In the latter years of the war there was a vote against the Coalition Government which Sir Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister, found awkward and irritating. The remedy which was adopted by the Government at that time was not to tell the House, "We will allow this Measure to go through" or "We will allow further 1521 time for its discussion". The attitude of the Government of the day was to say, "We require that the House of Commons shall turn a somersault and that many of those who voted for the original proposition should go into the Lobbies and vote against".
§ Mr. Foot
That was how previous Leaders of the House and Chief Whips have behaved, without any protest from right hon. Members opposite, who, indeed, were members of the Administration at the time. So, compared with that measure of intolerance, this Government have behaved with the utmost lack of arrogance. They have gone out of their way to accommodate hon. Members. Hon. Members should be more gracious and grateful for having their wishes so carefully respected by the Government. This lack of gratitude on the part of hon. Members opposite shocks me.
I hope that I am not taken to say this in any patronising sense, but the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe put his implausible case in a most agreeable manner. He put his ridiculous proposition with all the power which we have come to recognise from him. It used to be said in the House, "Once a Chief Whip, always a Chief Whip". We have seen today from both sides of the House that this does not apply. The two of them have survived and have come out almost as human beings. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman put his case pretty well.
However, it did not come very well from the right hon. Gentleman when at the end of his speech he appealed to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, to myself and to others not to obey our Whips but to act as House of Commons men and not take any party consideration into this matter. If I am to be seduced from my allegiance, it will have to be by a more ravishing siren than the right hon. Gentleman. I can find it comparatively easy to keep my chastity intact on this occasion. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman must understand that some of us, however much we respect the way in which he put his case—there was not much passion about it—take the view that there was an element of humbug in it. I do not want to put it too high. I should like to prove the point 1522 later. I want to deal now with his other arguments.
The right hon. Gentleman said, first, that it is improper for the Government to make this proposition because it is inhibiting the Select Committee on Procedure in its work; or that, because the Select Committee on Procedure is sitting and examining the exact question of when the House should most conveniently sit, the Motion should not have been put forward. If this proposition were correct, it would give enormous temptations for filibustering to the Select Committee on Procedure. I, like the right hon. Gentleman, am a member of the Select Committee on Procedure. It would be improper for me, as it was improper for him, to say what was going on there, but, like him, I can give a few hints.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I gave no sort of hint as to what was going on there; nor will the hon. Gentleman, I hope.
§ Mr. Foot
I was only following the right hon. Gentleman's example. If I stray any further, I am sure that he will pull me up. Shall I refer to Select Committees on Procedure in general and none in particular? I studied them when I allowed myself to be appointed to a Select Committee on Procedure, one of the most foolish actions that I have taken in my whole career. I have wondered ever since whether the best course that the House could take would be to appoint a Select Committee on Procedure to examine the procedure of the Select Committee on Procedure. If only that were done, perhaps the whole procedure of the House could be speeded up.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe must be generous in these matters. It is perfectly possible to filibuster in the Select Committee on Procedure and for the proceedings there to be extended almost indefinitely and for no decision to be reached. Therefore, if the House accepted the proposition that no alterations in Government business or in the business of the House should be made while the Select Committee on Procedure is examining the question, it would give all power over the business of the House into the hands of the Select Committee. This follows absolutely.
I am not a member of the Committee which has been examining this Bill but 1523 I am told by those whose opinion I respect—and I am not referring to the right hon. Gentleman—that there has been filibustering there. Hon. Members opposite must not imagine that we are so innnocent as to think that they would not in any circumstances filibuster, and if the proposition put forward by the right hon. Gentleman were accepted by the House it would be an invitation to hold up the business of the House not only on the Floor and in Committees but in the Select Committee itself. Therefore, we need not take that argument from the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman's second and most astonishing proposition is that Committees of this House examining Bills are not really Parliament. I do not know what right he has to say this. He said that it is not really Parliament if we have something in Committee. I do not see how he is allowed to say it. This is a procedure which has been accepted year after year and, as one of my hon. Friends has said, it is a procedure which more and more people are coming to believe must be followed. More and more people are coming to believe that if the House of Commons is to function successfully more and more matters must be referred to Committees. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that this is Committee and not part of Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman read out extracts from Erskine May and tried to apply them to the position, but business conducted in Committees is as much business conducted in Parliament as is business conducted on the Floor of the House itself. We can argue among ourselves which Bills and which parts of Bills should be taken on the Floor, but it is not merely wrong but reprehensible for the right hon. Gentleman to arrogate to himself the right to say which parts of business are being properly conducted and should properly be dignified with the description of the business of Parliament.
Part of the right hon. Gentleman's objection to sitting in the morning is that it would not be Parliament if we sat in the morning—that it would not be quite the right thing, not the done thing. That is an old public school slogan, not an argument. The House of Commons sat through a number of 1524 years in the mornings. There happened to be a war on at the same time. Some of us think that we might win the peace better if we sat in the mornings. One of the troubles with right hon. Members opposite is that they know so little of the history of their country. If they applied their minds to it they would discover that not only in the last war but in previous wars won by this country the House of Commons has sat in the morning.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said that the House used to sit at 8 o'clock in the morning, not for the reason that he would have wanted the House to sit but for other reasons. It is quite wrong historically to say that Governments would not be able to conduct their business while the House was sitting in the morning. It was done throughout the war. The House met on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10.30 or 11 o'clock in the morning and the Government's business was transacted.
§ Sir Herbert Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member will recollect that in those days we met at 11 o'clock and it was because of the air raids. Perhaps he will commend to his right hon. Friend the same rising hour, which, if my recollection is right, was 5 o'clock.
§ Mr. Foot
It sounds a very enticing proposition. We might put it up to the Select Committee on Procedure.
I am trying to repudiate one of the principal arguments put from the benches opposite that it is impossible to carry on government if Parliament is sitting in the morning. All I say in reply to that is that Parliament conducted its most important business and the Government conducted their most successful business in this century when Parliament sat in the morning.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is my hon. Friend aware that when England was at war with Scotland this House met at 6 o'clock in the morning?
§ Mr. Foot
And what is more, we did not have any Scots here interfering with business.
It is a serious proposition for the House to understand that hon. and right hon. Members opposite stated, as if it was an unarguable dogma, that it is 1525 impossible for Government business to be transacted when Parliament is sitting earlier, but this is not borne out by the facts. I never like to overstate an argument.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe said that his last argument concerned the whole question of Government time and he tried to look as shocked as possible by the claim of the Leader of the House that the Government must have control over the time of the House of Commons. I am in favour of protecting private Members' time in the House, although I think that private Members often make a great mistake in thinking that the way for private Members to use their time is in private Members' time. Some of the worst Governments we have had in recent years—and I will not go into any controversial matters on this—have been very eager to restore private Members' time. The more time that is wasted on private Members' time the less time there is to gel through important business.
The right hon. Gentleman sneered at the Government of 1945 because they had taken away or failed to restore some of the private Members' time that existed before the war. The reason was very proper. The Government had a series of very important Government Measures to get through. It would not be a denial of the rights of private Members for the Government to take more time to get important business through the House. It is a denial of the proper function of a private Member to say that the only time during which he can be effective is in private Members' time. The laziest Governments would like to give as much time as possible to be squandered on such matters as cattle grids, though I would not wish to diminish their importance—I have had a few established in my constituency recently. They like to see time squandered. The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe was extremely good at it in his day. It was easy to give time when there was plenty of time to waste and the situation was quite different from that which the present Government have to face. I say that the right hon. Gentleman is guilty of humbug when he talks as if the question of allocation of time was one which had nothing to do with party considerations, and it was quite improper for the 1526 Government to have asserted their right to influence the time at their disposal in connection with this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman knows, as everyone in the House who is engaged in these activities knows, that on questions of time every Bill, of whatever nature, is important. I remember when some of us were engaged in seeking to prevent the Government of 1950 from carrying out some very wicked Measures. We decided to examine in the closest detail a whole series of other Measures. We gave exhaustive scrutiny to the Isle of Man Customs Bill. The knowledge has never left me since. I have never set foot on the Isle of Man again without a sentimental feeling aroused by my recollection of the part which I played on that Bill. What we did by our detailed and deep application to our Parliamentary duties at that time was to manage to hold up several other even worse Measures.
The right hon. Gentleman must not talk as though the proposal made by the Opposition that the Bill be taken on the Floor of the House came solely from a concern that its examination should be taken here, and there were no ulterior considerations. If some of his hon. Friends on the back benches were sufficiently blockheaded not to understand the implications, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understood them. He knows perfectly well that the best thing for him to do, particularly in the present situation when many of the Government's most important Bills are necessarily crammed into the later part of the Session, is to hold up as much business as he can at the beginning. The more he can do that, the better it will be for him later on. Therefore, for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that all such ulterior considerations were out of his mind is just a piece of humbug.
It would have been perfectly proper for the Government to have responded to the manoeuvre—we have to talk of manoeuvre on this Bill and there was manoeuvring on the Friday before last—by saying, "Do not behave like schoolboys any more. We are sending the Bill back to the Standing Committee to be taken up again at the point which it had reached, and we are perfectly satisfied that full consideration will be given 1527 to it on that basis. We do not intend to follow what the Opposition have done, that is, denigrate the status of Committees of the House of Commons". That would have been perfectly proper.
§ Sir Rolf Dudley Williams
I do not think that the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman makes now as to what the Government could have done is correct. They could not have sent the Bill back to the Committee to be continued with at the place where it had been left because, after the Resolution of Friday, 5th March, the Committee was discharged.
§ Mr. Foot
It could have been done. The hon. Gentleman must not underrate the ingenuity of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, if he tempts us too far, if the anger and fury which he and his hon. Friends express against the Motion is too great, they may press the Government to take just that course. I advise them not to press us too hard. In my opinion—and I am no great legal expert, as everyone knows—it would have been possible for the Government to take that course.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The method would have been to reappoint the Committee and to give it a direction to proceed with the Bill from the point which had been reached. Perfectly simple.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure that that course could have been taken, and I congratulate the Government on having resisted the temptation. I only wonder whether the squeals would have been even louder from the Opposition if they had done it. But they decided to behave in a most generous and open-handed fashion, saying that, within the limits of the Parliamentary time available to them, they would do everything in their power to carry out the wish expressed by the House on Friday, 5th March.
The debates on the Bill will now be taken on the Floor of the House of Commons. No one will be able to say that it is done in the secrecy of a Standing Committee, not that there is any validity in that charge in any case, and there can be full and open debate about it. It will take a bit of time, but who is to complain about that?
1528 What we are really concerned to do in this debate is to discover why the Opposition are so testy when they have been given so much of what they wanted. Why are they so bitter? Is there some motive which they do not like to explain? It might be explained or illustrated partly by their suggestion that this is a precedent. I thought that the Tory Party loved precedent. If we find that this system works well, it will greatly assist the Select Committee on Procedure, will it not? We shall be able to have reports before the Select Committee showing how successfully it has worked on Wednesdays, and the matter could be referred to the Select Committee on that basis.
From whichever angle one views it, the Opposition's case has no validity. The Government are behaving with great fairness and consideration towards the House. The fact is that the opposition to this Measure has nothing very much to do with the opposition of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to the Bill itself. It is more due to an irritation which they cannot suppress at what happened at the last General Election. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite just cannot take a licking. They were defeated at the election and they do not like the fact that the time of the House of Commons is controlled by a new Government, though controlled far more fairly than by the old Government. This is what smarts. This is the reason for their activity on this Bill. I ask them to reconsider their attitude and to remember that the country can judge what has occurred. When the country sees that what the Government have agreed to do is to have the Committee stage of the Bill debated in the mornings on the Floor of the House, when everyone can be here and our proceedings can all be reported, and when the country understands that this is what the Opposition do not like, it will wonder what can be the justification for the charge which they level against the Government.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) gave us the "Saying of the Week" when he said, "I never like to overstate an argument". I have never known any hon. Member 1529 use more skill and apparent plausibility in leading the House away from the correct argument under debate. The hon. Gentleman and I are both in the difficulty that we are gagged in one respect and cannot say anything about what has happened in the Select Committee on Procedure beyond what is recorded in the Journal, that the Committee has been summoned to meet six times already.
The Government's proposal is a complete innovation in our procedure. It is no good the Lord President of the Council saying that the House has met before in the mornings. Never in our history have we had the hours for sitting from 10.30 in the morning until 10.30 at night. Not on Fridays, not on the days we adjourn, and not during our wartime sittings did this happen. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) reminded us a few minutes ago, we rose at five o'clock during wartime. It is proposed to do something completely new and something which will have great repercussions on those who serve the House and on hon. Members themselves.
It was for this reason, I thought, that the Government remitted the matter to a Select Committee to make inquiries and see what would be the implications of such a recommendation. If the Lord President of the Council had strong views on it, they should have been communicated in due course to the Select Committee, and not kept away from the Select Committee to be ventilated this afternoon on the Floor of the House.
So far as I am aware—I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—on no occasion in the history of the House has a matter of procedure been remitted to a Select Committee and then, while the Select Committee was in process of considering it, taken away again and put down by Motion of the Government on the Floor of the House. This is my charge against the Government today. It is an unconstitutional way of dealing with Parliament's affairs. I do not raise the matter from the point of view of being for or against the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). In fact, I purposely avoided voting on Second Reading, because I thought that the 1957 Act had been highly unsatisfactory and 1530 wanted the matter discussed—preferably on the Floor of the House.
I suggest to the Leader of the House that the course he is adopting is doing grave damage and is an affront to the Select Committee on Procedure. In future, hon. Members will not be keen to serve on a Select Committee on Procedure when they know that the Government will anticipate their decisions by bringing in a Motion such as this on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that yesterday Mr. Speaker himself made an important decision that anticipated some discussion or arrangement by the Select Committee. Surely that is rather fundamental.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Member has just made a grave reflection on Mr. Speaker. I stand to be corrected, but I understood that, yesterday, Mr. Speaker noted that the matter of Questions was being examined by the Select Committee and stated that, pending its decision, he would ask hon. Members to accept his Ruling, leaving it subject to the recommendations of the Select Committee.
Do I understand, from the interruption of the hon. Member, that the Leader of the House will withdraw or curtail this Motion in the light of what the Select Committee reports? That seems to me to be the logical consequence of the interruption. But what the right hon. Gentleman is, in fact, doing is riding roughshod over the whole Select Committee procedure.
I have two specific questions for the right hon. Gentleman. Before he put down this Motion and decided on this procedure, had he consulted the Press Gallery? I think that it is very important. Whatever views one may have on the Bill, quite clearly the whole country is very interested and there must be ample opportunity for our debates to be fully reported. A system under which those debates will not get such full reporting as they will get if they are held at the normal time during the afternoon sittings is clearly a matter of great moment to the House and the country.
§ Mr. Paget
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has been following what has been happening upstairs. But one thing that certainly has happened 1531 is that there has been very full reporting of the proceedings. I do not see that it is any more difficult for the Press to report us when we sit here than when we are sitting in Committee upstairs.
§ Mr. Turton
One of the purposes of the Motion on 5th March was to give the fullest opportunity for reporting. Quite clearly, as is well known to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), there is more opportunity for reporting debates when those debates are on the Floor of the House than when they are upstairs—one of the reasons being that the amount of space available for the Press in any Committee room is insufficient when there is a debate of importance.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
The Committee stage will now be on the Floor of the House, so the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making has been met. On the point of convenience of reporting, does not the right hon. Gentleman attach importance to the fact that, if he House debates this matter in Committee on Wednesday mornings, this will give the papers the opportunity to report the proceedings fully on the same day, whereas, if we held our discussions late at night, which might be the only alternative, we would probably get no reports at all?
§ Mr. Turton
I am asking the Leader of the House whether, before he put down this Motion, he consulted the Press Gallery. He should have done so.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes rose—
§ Mr. Turton
I will not give way to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I gave way to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) because he is in charge of the Bill and because it is right that he should put any point to me.
Secondly, have the Government considered what should be the changes in Standing Orders of the House when we have an all-night sitting preceding the Wednesday? We are coming to the time of year when the House is in Committee on the Finance Bill and for many years we have had very late sittings on it.
For the convenience of the staff of the House, we always have the rule that, if the sitting goes later than a certain hour, the following day is lost. This enables 1532 the staff of the House and others who serve the House to have a proper rest. It looks as if there will now have to be some alteration in the Standing Order so that we do not have the House sitting round the clock without any intermission. These occasions are a very great strain on those who serve the House. It is unfortunate that this course has been adopted at the period of the year when we are coming into financial business.
It is a great pity to force this Motion through when there is a great deal of good will for the Bill on both sides of the House, when the supporters are not entirely drawn from the Government benches and when, as I have found—and I can say this without breach of confidence—on the Select Committee on Procedure no real partisan attitude is apparent at the moment. Whatever their views as individuals, members of the Committee are trying to improve the procedure of the House. To introduce such a Motion at this time, to inject a partisan spirit into the Select Committee and to destroy a measure of support for the Bill on this side of the House, is a very great mistake.
I do not know why it has been done. I would have thought that there was plenty of opportunity for the Bill to be taken in the normal time on the Floor of the House. Today, would have been a good opportunity. But, on the contrary, we are to spend a full day's sitting in discussing the Motion. Had the Government instead used today for the Committee stage of the Bill, good progress could have been made and I think that the Leader of the House would have found that probably another two days would have enabled the Committee stage to finish.
I can only feel that this is an attempt by the Government to placate the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. It is the sop to Cerberus. If I remember my Greek mythology correctly, Cerberus commanded 50 heads. It is because the Government are rather worried about foreign affairs and the influence of the hon. Member that the Prime Minister wants to get past Cerberus into his own peculiar Hades and is giving this sop to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, if there should ever come a time when any 1533 Government wished, for any reason, to placate me, on this occasion they would have pleased me equally well, whatever decision they came to—whether for this Motion, for the course the right hon. Gentleman would have preferred, or for sending the Bill back to Committee upstairs. All I wanted from the Government was that they should provide time in any way they thought fit and appropriate in order to complete the remaining stages of the Bill. Any question of placating me is not affected by the method chosen.
§ Mr. Turton
I feel sure that, when Hercules offered a similar sop to Cerberus, he made equal protestations of innocence.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) spoke of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) as being Cerberus and of the Government throwing a sop to Cerberus. My knowledge of the classics is not very great, but as far as I can remember Cerberus had three heads. What a terrible calamity it would be for the House of Commons if my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne had three heads. With one head he can completely discomfort the Opposition. If he had three the position of the Opposition would be impossible.
§ Mr. Hughes
That only makes it worse.
The right hon. Gentleman has the Conservative instinct of objecting to doing something new, but the House of Commons ought not to hesitate to do something new if that is necessary. Hon. and right hon. Members who have been on the Standing Committee have wanted full freedom of expression to put the views of their constituents. The Government have now agreed to give the critics of the Bill time to express their views. For instance, the Liberals will now have every opportunity to express their view.
But I believe that the critics would have even more opportunity if the House met earlier than 10.30 a.m. My criticism of the Motion is that it will not give sufficient opportunity to give the Bill the 1534 consideration it deserves, and I ask the House not to be too conservative. The House has been accustomed during its long history to meeting much earlier than 10.30. I have done some research and I have found that for many years the House met at eight o'clock in the morning. I do not suggest that this should be a Standing Order, but I do not see why the House should not meet at eight o'clock in the morning to meet this emergency situation.
However, this does not appeal to the Leader of the Opposition, who views meeting at 10.30 without enthusiasm. Why do we take the view that 10.30 is the only time in the morning when the House should meet to discuss important business? The Standing Orders of the House are very important, but they are not the laws of nature. The fact is that the great majority of people start work much earlier than that. I see nothing undignified in the House meeting to discuss these important matters not at the time when lawyers or stockbrokers or others who work in the city of London work, but at the time when the great majority of people work. I would have no objection to coming here at eight o'clock in the morning in order to get the full benefit of the wisdom of the critics of the Bill.
I have undergone a certain amount of suffering. I have been a member of the Standing Committee on a Bill and I have attended four sittings. I have listened carefully to every argument and I know exactly what arguments I shall have to hear for probably the next six weeks. If the critics want more time to consider whether hanging should be continued, and they want free speech, why do we not start the proceedings of the House at eight o'clock?
Let us consider what is done in other legislatures. The Parliament of Switzerland meets in the summer at eight o'clock in the morning and I do not see why we should not follow that example.
§ Mr. Hughes
Whenever its business is finished. If the hon. Gentleman wants to do a little patient research into this matter, he should go to the Library and 1535 look up the proceedings of the Swiss Parliament and then return here to give us the benefit of his research.
The West German Parliament meets regularly at nine o'clock, and I can give the hon. Gentleman a whole list of Commonwealth Parliaments, if those instances do not satisfy him, which do not regard 10.30 as the only hour in the day at which proceedings can begin. One example which will appeal to him is that if he were a member of the Parliament of Western Samoa—I doubt whether he would ever get in there—he would get a "Whip" to appear at eight o'clock in the morning.
However, we do not need to travel so far, for we have our own precedents and in the House of Commons precedents are nearly as important, but not quite as valuable, as grievances. As a Scottish Member, I am not sure whether it is better to have a precedent or a grievance. However, there are many precedents which should appeal to Conservative Members. For many hundreds of years, the House of Commons met at eight o'clock in the morning and even at six o'clock, and I have discovered times when it met on Saturdays, Sundays and Christmas days. Let me quote a few of those precedents.
In 1660, the House met to consider a very important piece of legislation. It passed a Bill for attainting Oliver Cromwell and divers other actors in the horrid murder of the late King's Majesty. It was the Regicide Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
It was the Tories who did the murder.
There was a very large number of atrocious hangings in the City of London as a result of the Bill. There was a meeting in the early hours of the morning and the resolution of the House was that the carcase of Oliver Cromwell and others should be taken up, drawn upon a hurdle to Tyburn and, after being hanged, buried under the gallows. The Members of those days were pioneers. Even the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport does not suggest that people should be hanged twice.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman knows who I mean. I am referring to the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who deliberately left the proceedings of the Committee upstairs to go to the Leipzig Fair to trade with the Communist countries. I know that because I paired with him and helped him to go. When I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) whether I should agree to pair with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, he said that I should be doing a public service in keeping the hon. and gallant Gentleman away from the Committee. But even the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with his very bloodthirsty views on almost every question which comes before the House, would not agree to hanging people twice.
I mention these Bills because, in some respect, they are similar to the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill. I want to see the end of the proceedings on the Bill. I do not want them to go on for many more mornings, because as a member of the Committee and of the House I think that I will suffer enough before they are finished. I therefore want to concentrate all the suffering into one or two mornings. Let us have a good "go" from eight o'clock to one o'clock. The sooner we get the Bill on the Statute Book the better.
The House of Commons met in the time of Walpole and for years in the eighteenth century in the early hours of the morning. There is, therefore, ample precedent for the House doing something radical about changing its procedure, because this is an emergency situation and a constitutional crisis. It would give the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry)—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—an opportunity of explaining to the House some of the extraordinary statements which he made in his speech on 5th March. He criticised the Standing Committee and said that there was only one Scottish Member there. When it was pointed out to him that there were two, he said that there were two Scottish Ministers. Then, when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said that the 1537 hon. Member for South Ayrshire was there, he said that I should not count because I had a Welsh name.
There are, however, other things which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West should explain. One of them is the amazing private-enterprise public-opinion poll which he carried out and with which he tried to persuade the House to carry his Motion.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because his excellent suggestion could avoid the worst threat of all which was advanced by Strephon:You shall sit, if he sees reason,Through the grouse and salmon season:…Peers shall teem in Christendom,And a Duke's exalted stationBe attainable by Com-Petitive Examination!
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I think that mythology and history have been in order. But to bring in Gilbert and Sullivan is going too far.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am indebted to my hon. Friend for that quotation. I will study it in HANSARD, so that I may use it when the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West condescends to attend the House.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West led the House to believe that there was enormous public pressure on him to have the Bill brought to the Floor of the House. In the poll which he conducted, he went to 382 of his constituents—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Hughes
I am coming to the point.
We are told that when the constitutional position was put to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and they were asked whether the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House or upstairs, 382 out of the 382 were of the opinion that it should come to the Floor of the House. What great knowledge the citizens of West Aberdeenshire have of the procedures of this House!
1538 I should like to hear further details about this extraordinary census taken in West Aberdeenshire, and to be told exactly who was consulted, what were the questions and precisely what kind of people they were. If I went to 382 houses in my constituency, the people in them would think that I had come to sell them something. I would soon have some doors slammed in my face. They would probably say, "I see enough of you at election time".
Here we have this extraordinary phenomenon, this poll used to impress the House of Commons that in Aberdeenshire, West there was tremendous public opinion to the effect that the Bill should be discussed on the Floor of the House and not in Committee upstairs. When we try to get to grips with the position in Aberdeenshire, West where is the hon. Gentleman, the missing link? Very reluctantly, I will be forced to drag myself through the Division Lobby this evening hoping that the Government will adopt my proposal for eight o'clock sittings instead of 10.30 a.m. sittings.
I want to say one thing in conclusion to the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. He says that the proceedings on the Bill deserve the maximum publicity and that if we meet at 10.30 in the morning they will not get it. I make a challenge to him. There is another Committee which meets regularly in the House at 10.30—the Scottish Grand Committee. I want the right hon. Gentleman to become a member of the Scottish Grand Committee, to test out his theories. He will discover that speeches made by Scottish Members in the Scottish Grand Committee receive far more publicity and attention in the evening Press and daily Press of Scotland because the proceedings are conducted at such a time in the morning as to enable the mechanics of journalism and printing to get going. If the right hon. Gentleman were a member of the Scottish Grand Committee, he would not only get his speeches reported in the evening Press; he would be twice on the B.B.C. as well.
I do not think that the arguments which we have heard have been advanced out of consideration for the members of the Press. If there is anything interesting in the proceedings on the Floor of the House, the Press will be there. If there is anything sensational or exciting in the 1539 debates, the Press will be there. I know from experience of the Standing Committee that the Press disappeared after the first two days because there was no sensation in it.
So I say to the right hon. Gentleman, if he is not prepared to accept that proposition and to learn from first-hand experience, let him consult any Press men in the Gallery. I find myself having to go into the Lobby for the Motion, having to endure day after day of this interminable Committee from which I have suffered so much.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I hesitate to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), as I have never been a member of the Scottish Grand Committee. Even after his invitation, I do not think that I should be very willing to accept it. The Motion touches the very basis of our Constitution. I am not referring to the particular subject matter of the Motion, the Bill for the abolition of the death penalty. I mean that the procedure that the Motion proposes is of great constitutional importance.
I voted for the Second Reading of the Bill, but I am strongly opposed to this Motion. I assure the sponsors of the Bill that I have no intention of doing as I did when a similar Bill came before the House, moving Amendments which nearly divided the House. Indeed, in Committee one of them was carried. Even if such Amendments are moved when the Bill comes again to Committee, it would be my intention not to support them.
Let me say at once, however, that I do not regard the Bill as a popular one. Therefore, there is certainly no particular advantage for those who support the Bill in wishing to have more discussion about it or, indeed, that that discussion should receive more publicity. It is probably true to say—and this will be generally agreed in all parts of the House—that it is, on the whole, embarrassing to us to support the Bill. That is not least so among some of my hon. Friends who have somewhat narrow majorities.
For my part, I want to see the Bill passed, and passed quickly. I hope that nobody will be so silly as to vote for the 1540 Motion on the ground that it is necessary to do so to get the Bill. The Bill can be passed whether or not the Motion is passed. Even if we reject it today, the Government will certainly have to find other means of getting the Bill through.
I shall vote against the Motion for two reasons. First, I wish to protest against the Government's attitude to the Bill. However much I wish the Bill to be passed, I regard the attitude of the Government as both cowardly and unseemly. I think that it was Pope who said of Addison that he wasWilling to wound, and yet afraid to strike".The Government's attitude is even lower: they are willing to spare, and yet afraid to act. It is quite improper for the Government, on such a Measure as the Bill involved in the Motion, to seek to hide behind the hon Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman).
The Bill does not involve any party issues. It has great moral content. I think that it was right for the Government, in considering their attitude to such a Measure as this, to be guided by opinion both inside and outside this House. I made no complaint, and I make no complaint now, that the Government allowed a free vote on their side on the Second Reading of the Bill—that seems to me to be quite right; but once they have done that, they should take their responsibility.
The Government of the day are responsible for law and order. That is the very first responsibility of the Government. The Bill in question touches at the very heart and centre of law and order. It is a matter of which the Government have washed their hands. But it having been decided that a Measure of this sort should be passed, the Government should have made themselves responsible. I believe that they know that that is true. They know that they are responsible in this matter.
One of the most urgent questions that will arise as a result of the abolition of the death penalty is what is to be done by those who are not executed as a result of the passing of the Bill. Whatever their views on the merits of the Measure, hon. Members will, I think, agree that that is an extremely important question. 1541 It is not a question which the Government can leave to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne or to anyone else.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Government to deal with this matter on their own responsibility. Their actions now a7e the worst piece of back-seat driving I have even seen. It is the failure of the Government to take proper responsibility for the Bill that has brought about t le need for the Motion now. They have only themselves to thank for the position in which we find ourselves. The pretence that a Measure such as this can be a Private Member's Bill is nothing more nor less than a scandal.
Having said that and made my protest, I want to give another reason why I think that the Motion should be rejected. To my mind, it violates constitutional propriety. It is said commonly that we have an unwritten Constitution, and, indeed, most of us take pride in this. That statement is not simply an empty quirk. It is not a peculiarity of which we boast, but it contains a principle on which rests our whole democratic system.
When we say that we have no written Constitution, that does not mean that we have no set of basic rules governing the way that we make and alter our law, nor does it mean that we have a set of rules but that they are not written down. We have a set of rules, and they are to be found in writing in various books and elsewhere.
What the saying means is that the essence of our Constitution is not to be found in Statutes, but that Parliament, and, in particular, the House of Commons, can change the rules for making and altering our laws by a simple majority of this House and that that majority can be carried by one single vote. The rules of procedure of this House are the only thing which protects our freedom as subjects in this country. It is this principle which is the special character of our Constitution and the very basis of our system. It is a system which I will defend to the limit, even when my political opponents are on the benches opposite and even when they have a mere majority of four. It is right that it should be so. It is right that we in this House should be able to decide by simple resolution the way in which our 1542 laws are to be dealt with. It would be intolerable if we were to restrict that right in any way.
If, however, our Constitution is to be free in that sense, it is of vital importance that that freedom should not be abused. For many years, our procedure in this House has been respected by all hon. Members and by the two main political parties.
Of course, our procedure has been changed, and is constantly in need of revision and modernisation. If it were not so, it would be dead and useless, but the changes which have been made so far have all been made after full and fair discussion between the parties. I challenge any hon. Member to point to any change in our procedure which has been made without full and proper discussion. I am not saying for a moment that the changes have always been made after agreement between the parties. That is not always possible, but there should at least be proper discussion, and it is not until such discussion has taken place that changes should be made.
Today, we have a Motion which has been put down by the Government relating to an aspect of procedure which is so important that, by Resolution, it has been referred to a Select Committee. The Motion was put down by the Government without any discussion between the parties, and at extremely short notice—I think two days ago. It is entirely novel in spirit.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The hon. Gentleman is talking about constitutional procedure. Is it not a fact that the Bill was sent upstairs under our constitutional procedure? The Motion which brought it back to the Floor of the House a week ago last Friday was not discussed between the parties. It was sprung on the House to defeat the normal processes of the House. The hon. Gentleman always tries to be fair. On this occasion he is not being fair according to the standards which he has set for himself.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Both the first and the second Motion were tabled strictly in accordance with the procedure of the House, a procedure which has been used on many occasions, and with full opportunity for debate.
1543 This matter has already been referred to a Select Committee. The Motion has been put forward before the Select Committee has reported, and before it has had an opportunity to report. No suggestion has been made that it has been dragging its feet, or been overlong in coming to a decision. I cannot say more than that, because I am a Member of the Select Committee.
Whether the proposal to sit in the mornings is a good one or a bad one, or whether it is a necessary or an unnecessary one, is not a matter which I wish to discuss now. What I am saying is that for the Government to table a Motion of this kind in these circumstances is wholly unconstitutional and wrong, and can do nothing but violate our constitution.
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this Motion is as constitutional as the Motion tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to bring the Bill back to the Floor of the House? What evidence is he willing and able to produce that this is an unconstitutional Motion?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
It is unconstitutional because it seeks to change the procedure of the House without discussion, or any opportunity for discussion, between the parties. My hon. Friend's Motion was tabled strictly in accordance with precedent. It was tabled by a back bencher, and not by the Government of the day. There are always irresponsible back bench Members, but we do expect the Government to behave responsibly.
§ Mr. Maxwell
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, is not this really a reflection on you, to imply that the Motion put down by the Government is unconstitutional?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
It is clear from the hon. Gentleman's interruption that the Motion, if carried, will produce a precedent. It is no good saying that this is not intended to be a precedent. What is done in the House is a precedent, and it will always weigh with those who come after. What I am complaining about is that a precedent should be created without any discussion between 1544 the parties. I think that that is entirely wrong. This is a thoroughly bad Motion, and I hope that it will be thrown out.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
I think that the Opposition are making very heavy weather of what is obviously a sensible compromise by a Leader of the House who was faced with difficult circumstances.
§ Mr. Mapp
I am suggesting that my right hon. Friend has put before the House a sensible compromise which he has developed having regard to his threefold obligation to the House, to which I shall refer in a moment.
I thought that my right hon. Friend's statement this afternoon, which I very much appreciated, was broad and constructive in approach. I listened with care to the speech of the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne). It was, in brief—and this can be said of most of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite—a speech for the maintenance of the status quo, and an attempt to find every conceivable reason, detailed and otherwise, why change is undesirable.
In the last few words of his speech the right hon. Gentleman was so forthcoming as to appeal to the Leader of the House to take the Motion back, and, in effect, to rely on the good will of the House. That appeal might well be responded to in certain circumstances, but, having been here on the Friday in question, and having listened to most of the debate today, I see no evidence at all of any good will on that side of the House. I see no evidence of anything other than a desire to embarrass the Government. Surely an appeal in that direction is one that cannot fairly be made.
I believe that this is an experiment in compromise. It is a typical decision of our race and country. I think that we should change places with my right hon. Friend and ask how we, as normal people, and without a party bias, would have responded to the contradiction with which the House was faced. As Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend has an overriding obligation to deal with Government business. In this case, he has an even greater difficulty in that the Government are given to change, which 1545 means more and more legislation. Had we had a Government of the Right the problem in that direction would have been less marked.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend has an obligation to the Opposition, who have the right to initiate discussions and debates. He must bear that obligation in mind. Thirdly, he is the custodian of the rights of us all as Members of the House. We, too, have the right to initiate debates and Bills.
Faced with that threefold responsibility, my right hon. Friend has had to try to deal with what I think was a contradictory decision a week or two ago, and to present the House with a compromise. I think that he has done his job in a workmanlike manner. I cannot discuss the merits of the Bill in question, but there was a substantial majority in favour of its principle. We must, of course, recognise that the decision that it should go upstairs was taken with a less noticeable majority, but it was not a majority of merely three or half a dozen. There was a clear direction from the House, and at that point—and not until that point—the matter became one for the Leader of the House.
The House having expressed its will, I believe that at that stage it became a matter for the Leader of the House; and the decision of the House was that the Bill should go upstairs. The main complaint from the other side on the Friday in question was, first, that upstairs there was a lack of publicity and, secondly, that in many cases individual Members were unable to participate. Let us look at the application of the Motion before us in relation to those two complaints. Those who wanted the Bill on the Floor of the House, with the publicity which they felt went with it, have succeeded in obtaining that.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was quite unfair in alluding this afternoon to the conditions of the Press and to the conditions of other staff, for those should not be determining factors in the decisions of this House. Those should be recognised as consequential but certainly not determining factors. Secondly, in regard to the other point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) each and all of us will have the opportunity on a Wednesday morning 1546 to put down Amendments and, subject to the Chair calling them, the right to debate them.
Has the hon. Gentleman achieved very much? I do not think that he has. I should have thought that those rights would have accrued to me as an individual Member and to others, on the Report stage provided each of us recognised that at that stage only vital matters should be brought up. What, then, have we lost? I cannot see that we have lost anything at all. Rather, the Leader of of the House has done the right thing.
The decision taken on that Friday brought my right hon. Friend to an awkward situation. He wanted to recognise the supreme decision of the House and yet perhaps his inclination might have been to resist it. What were the alternatives available to him? I suppose that he could have attempted to "kill" the Bill, but would that have been right in the light of the expressed desire of the House as a whole? Would it have been honourable? The Leader of the House would have been regarded as a dictator if he had attempted in any indirect way to "kill" the Bill though he might have spoken of pressure of Government business, and so on.
The Leader of the House might have taken a second course. He might have said, "I want to accommodate the House and will recommend that the Bill be dealt with by the House on Friday in private Members' time." That course would have been understandable but it might have been resisted on both sides of the House, and properly so; so in his capacity of Leader of the House he resisted it. Then, presumably, his mind worked in a direction in which mine might have done and he asked, "Is it possible that the House might sit on precisely the same day and at the same time as the Committee has been sitting upstairs?" I believe that because that appeared to be a workmanlike compromise he has been straightforward and has acted without any subtlety at all or any other purpose in bringing this Motion before the House.
I would remind the House that since we met in October last the Leader of the House has carried out his functions admirably. There has not been from either side of the House the slightest hint that he has misunderstood his rôle as 1547 Leader, as distinct from the other rôle he has. I feel that that compliment at least should be paid to him. That fact should be noticed and if there is any doubt in other people's minds, then we should give him the benefit of accepting that he has sought to think his way through this problem without subtleties of the kind that have been implied.
I wish to develop my personal reactions to this change, which might give some comfort to those on the other side of the House who feel that there have been some subtleties. I am delighted that this compromise has been reached and that the mind of the House is travelling in a direction which I and many others want to see the procedure of this House moving. Many of us feel that we are tied to Victorian procedure. I feel that that statement is justified in the light of what has been said on the other side of the House this afternoon and time and time again—that change is bad and is liable to cause dangers and difficulties.
Speaking for myself and, I believe, for a number of hon. Members on this side of the House, and without putting any pressure on our Front Bench, I say that I hope that this experiment will be very successful, successful for both sides of the House and for all shades of opinion and without prejudice to the Committees upstairs which have been sitting on this kind of problem. Since I came here five and half years ago, the constant problem has been that of modernising the House. Left to that side of the House, or at least to many hon. Members on that side, we should not have modernised anything. I am not suggesting that the Leader of the House has reached a decision by this Motion to modernise our procedure, for I have argued that he has reached his decision in this Motion on the basis of sheer compromise. I acknowledge and appreciate that, but I hope that we shall be able to look forward to successful morning meetings. Doubtless, the Select Committee will be influenced by the success which I am certain is around the corner for this innovation.
In conclusion, and possibly in the light of what I am saying, we are touching on the question of whether membership of this House should be full-time 1548 or part-time. I will not enter into any discussion of that matter. I believe that each Member has to make up his mind whether or not membership of this House is his primary task. It is for the Member to decide in his own conscience whether being a Member of Parliament is an overriding responsibility and all other considerations are secondary.
If that is the case, if there are meetings on Wednesday mornings and other great developments, it would seem that Members must decide whether there could be morning meetings of the House—as I hope there will be—and whether attendance will be a basic responsibility. We must move with the times. I welcome this as a sensible compromise. The House should not infer from what I am saying personally that these are anything more than the views of a number of back benchers on this side, but we are quite convinced that, come what may, the existing arrangements for the business of the House must in due course be changed. We welcome the fact that on this occasion, born out of necessity, a change is here.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
There are three points which I should like to make clear at the outset. First, I do not give place to anyone in this House, not even to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), in my desire to see an end of capital punishment. Secondly, on Second Reading I voted in favour of the Bill and in favour of its consideration by a Standing Committee upstairs. Thirdly, I also voted on 5th March for the Bill to be restored to a Committee of the whole House. That may seem a somewhat contradictory piece of behaviour, but my reasons were logical, at least to me.
In the light of the representations which f have received, not only from my constituency but from others, I do not think that this issue can he properly considered by a Committee upstairs. That is why I thought it right and proper to vote for the Motion put before the House on 5th March. That is why I am delighted at the decision which the Government have taken to abide by the majority opinion of the House as expressed on that day.
1549 I now come to the question of the present proposal. I confess that I do not like it. At the same time, I recognise the considerable difficulty with which the Leader of the House is confronted, and I have not been impressed by the arguments put up from the Conservative benches this afternoon, suggesting that there can be anything other than a real difficulty confronting the right hon. Gentleman. For that reason, even though I would have preferred to see the Bill dealt with in Committee in the normal manner, and in the way in which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne expected it to be dealt with, I believe that this is the only possible compromise in the circumstances. For that reason, I am prepared to support it.
We have to consider whether there are any objections to this decision by the Leader of the House. A number of arguments have been advanced. It has been suggested that a dangerous precedent is being set. I shall not attempt to compete with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Ernrys Hughes) in going back into history and discovering the peculiar hours at which this House has sat in the past. It is sufficient to say that during the war—certainly from 1940 until 1945 —the House sat from eleven o'clock in the morning as a regular procedure. Those Members who attended the House during that period did so because they believed that it was their first duty to the nation to be present in the Chamber.
I suggest with humility that that position has not changed simply because the country happens to be at peace instead of war. If we are elected by the people to represent their interests, and to guard and protect them in relation to legislative measures, our first duty is to attend the House whenever it is in session. I am not impressed by the suggestion that the quality of debate in Committee will suffer because of the absence of legal experts or others who find it difficult to be here.
Let us not beat about the bush; if any lawyers are unable to be present it will only be because they have not been prepared to hand over their lucrative briefs to other members of their profession who are not Members of the House. I see no reason why the legal profession should regard it as an imposition that they should be asked to attend the House 1550 once a week, on Wednesday morning, to discharge the duties which they have undertaken to their constituents.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Will the hon. Member deal with the case of a learned Member who is sitting as a recorder, or chairman of a court? Does he suggest that that court should be adjourned?
§ Mr. Bessell
I am not a lawyer, and I am open to correction on the point, but if an hon. or right hon. Member sits as a recorder or judge there is a procedure by which he can give way to a deputy. If that is not the case, I am willing to accept correction.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
The hon. Member must accept correction at least in respect of cases which are part heard, or whose length is not predictable, as is nearly always the case.
§ Mr. Bessell
I accept correction from the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who is an expert in these matters, but even if that is so—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
In the rare cases where the position which has just been mentioned arises it is always possible to arrange a pair, especially on a Private Member's Bill.
§ Mr. Bessell
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Nelson arid Colne. My point is not dissimilar.
Although there may be instances of the kind suggested by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), the vast majority of legal opinion in this Chamber is not likely to be seriously affected by cases of this kind. If a Q.C. is defending a case, or appearing for the prosecution, there is no question but that he can hand over his brief. It may not be convenient to him; it may be difficult for him to do so, but I suggest that if hon. and right hon. Members are genuinely concerned about the passage of the Bill, and about the Amendments which will be put down and considered in Committee, there can be no doubt that their first duty is to be here, however inconvenient or difficult it may be.
I am sure that those hon. and right hon. Members who, on 5th March, voted to have the Bill considered by a Committee of the whole House—and I include 1551 myself among their number—will be here on Wednesday mornings when the Committee meets and there is a counting of heads. I believe that they will be here in great strength. I think that we shall have a fine turnout every Wednesday morning at 10.30. I am looking forward to the quality of debate because we shall have the benefit, throughout the Committee stage, of the attendance of the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition. He was one of those who voted for the Bill to be brought back to the Floor of the House, and I am sure that he will make many valuable contributions to our deliberations.
The question whether the intention of those hon. Members—including myself—who voted to bring the Bill back to the House was to destroy the Bill by their vote on 5th March will be clearly decided. If it was their intention merely to destroy the Bill the Members concerned are under no obligation to attend the Committee. If, on the other hand, their intention was genuine, and they really believed that it was important for the question to be debated by a Committee of the whole House, they will be here. We shall look forward to their contributions.
Some degree of weight should be placed upon the argument that this could be a dangerous precedent, not because it would be bad for the House to meet at 10.30 in the morning each day—because in this matter I go as far as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire and say that we could even meet at eight o'clock, although I do not promise to attend at that hour—but because the Select Committee on Procedure is now considering the activity of the House, the means by which it should meet, when it should meet, and the hours when it should sit.
I hope that this will not be regarded as a precedent, but I am prepared to accept the word of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that this is a perfectly straightforward Motion which has been desigied to deal with a particular and a peculiar situation. I do not think for one moment that it will be abused, or that the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne would abuse the terms of reference of this Motion in the way which was suggested by the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe 1552 (Sir M. Redmayne). I think that this will be dealt with in a straightforward manner.
I shall be rather surprised and disappointed if there is a Division tonight, but if there is I can assure the Government that I shall have no difficulty whatsoever in walking into their Lobby and supporting them on this Motion.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), with whose observations I am in almost complete agreement. I am glad that he has had the courage to face the major issues in this matter in the bold way which he did. He said that he did not consider it right that a Bill of this importance should be discussed in Standing Committee. Many people would probably share his view. He said that as the request that the Bill should be brought back to the Floor of the House had come from the House itself, he realised the difficulty which the Government were in—the fact that if time were to be found in some way other than by normal sittings of the House it was necessary to have the Motion before the House.
We have heard hon. Members pleading that they must earn a living outside. We used to hear this a good deal when they said, and I think rightly, that we, as Members of Parliament, were poorly paid. But this can no longer be claimed as a reason for an hon. Member having to have a dual appointment. If an hon. Member is not happy to come here and do a normal day's work—or even an abnormal day's work, which is the lot of most Members of Parliament for most of the time—he has the remedy in his own hands. No one compels him to stand for election as a Member of Parliament. In any case, there is the pairing system, which goes back through the centuries and was a means adopted by the then Liberal and Tory business and professional men, and grew up as the means of permitting them to be absent from this place so that they could conduct their business or profession.
This system still remains. I am not particularly enamoured of the pairing system, but it remains, and it is, of course, still open for any hon. Member who does not want to come here in the 1553 morning to arrange to pair with another hon. Member.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I intended to deal with this point a little later. As my hon. Friend points out, the system only works so long as the other hon. Member concerned keeps his word. I think that we might—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I hope that the hon. Member will concede that he and I have paired almost every week during the whole of our joint careers in the House and that there has never been any breaking of words.
§ Mr. Wilkins
The only time I normally pair is on a Friday, as, like most hon. Members in the House, I have commitments in my constituency. My hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will advise my colleague from Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) that I have rigidly opposed the pairing system in the House, and that I should like to see it abolished. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh."] I do not believe in it. I should like to see it wiped out, but it is a system which has grown up as one of the traditions of the House. It is a matter of honour between two hon. Members, and we are not certain that honour has always been satisfied.
May I come back to the hon. Member for Bodmin? He said that he thought that some people would regard this as a dangerous precedent. All precedents which have, in the course of time, become accepted tradition in the House were, of course, precedents at some time or another. Precedents have to be established somewhere along the line and they are established, as in this case, by the will of the House of Commons if it wants to make changes in the procedure which it follows.
I do not want to take up too much time. I should like to refer for a moment to one or two things said to the House by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). He said that the Government Front Bench were hiding behind my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). He went on to say why the Motion should be 1554 rejected. The first and principal reason which he offered to the House was that it was a change in our procedure and/or in our tradition. The only change is that we will accept the desire of the Opposition, because it was the Opposition who were responsible for the defeat of the Government last Friday, with the result that the Bill is to be taken on the Floor of the House instead of in Standing Committee. The time of sitting will he precisely the same as if the Bill were still in Standing Committee.
What does it matter what time it is, so long as all hon. Members who wish to take part can take part? They are not obligated, but if they wish to take part in some way, they will be here at half past ten o'clock in the morning on the Wednesday if this Motion is carried. I admit that I certainly have an interest in the proposal which is now before us. I hope and believe that I have a Motion now before the Select Committee on Procedure, which, I suggested, might agree that we should change our hours in the House so as to sit at least three mornings a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, leaving the Monday and the Friday as they are at present. I declare that I am interested in this proposal.
I can understand that the Opposition are apprehensive about this. Indeed, some of them, I fancy, are even perhaps fearful lest this run of morning sittings should prove to be a resounding success. I welcome this as the test of a pilot scheme. I hope that we shall see such attendance at the morning sittings which are proposed that it will be shown beyond any doubt that they are popular with hon. Members.
After all, why should we not work civilised hours in this place? I believe that the public regard us as being stupid rather than clever in the way in which we martyr ourselves in the House until the early hours of the morning, upon occasions. It is about time that we had some sort of civilised arrangement for carrying out our work.
§ Mr. Anthony Buck (Colchester)
Would not the hon. Member concede at once that this is a matter for consideration by the Select Committee on Procedure, and that this Motion is an attempt to short-circuit this time-honoured 1555 procedure? Should he not therefore dispose of this point, which is exactly contrary to what was said from his Front Bench at an earlier stage?
§ Mr. Wilkins
I said that I hope that I have a motion before the Select Committee on Procedure. I am rather concerned because I have not had an opportunity to see the Committee about the proposal.
I say this because, like the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne), who, I believe, is now the shadow Minister of Agriculture, I spent a long time—12 years—in the Whips' Office. Some would say that it was too long, but it was certainly long enough to know how the procedure of the House works. I am absolutely certain that these arguments are simply, as the right hon. Gentleman stated them, a series of Aunt Sallies, which they are putting up only to knock down. Much of the opposition to this Motion will not stand up to any sort of detailed examination.
When we say that this House could not function if hon. Members worked here in the mornings, that is a lot of rubbish. This House has worked in the morning, and on one occasion I remember that we worked for 57 hours without rising. We have worked here in the mornings, in the mornings, afternoons, nights and all night. Why is there this suggestion that if we had morning sittings all the Ministers would be in difficulties? That is not so. Ministers have rooms in this place and they did their work from those rooms day in and day out in the Parliament of 1945 to 1951. What is all the fuss about? The present proposal is not that we should sit in the mornings day after day. This relates to one day a week. If the Opposition "create" about this one day, what will they do if the Select Committee on Procedure decided that this should become the normal sitting time of Parliament?
I welcome the opportunity to experiment in this way. I do not understand the ingratitude of the Opposition in this matter. Let us be frank. Anyone with any experience at all knew instinctively that when the Motion of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) was carried, and the Govern- 1556 ment were defeated, the Government were bound to be in difficulty in honouring the will of the House unless they took some extraordinary measures. Hon. Members must have known that before they went into the Division Lobbies. Why did they go into the Lobbies? It was not because they were desperately anxious to get the Committee stage of the Bill on to the Floor of the House. They wanted to embarrass the Government, and now the Government have embarrassed them.
§ Mr. Bessell
May I ask the hon. Member whether he thinks it is fair to tar all hon. Members with the same brush? There were some hon. Members who felt it necessary to have a full debate on this matter on the Floor of the House because then hon. Members would be able to vote on Amendments, some of which might be very important indeed.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I should be most sorry if the hon. Member for Bodmin thought that I was including him among those hon. Members, and I certainly apologise to him—[HON. MEMBERS: "And others."]—and any others who share his view.
Here we have an Opposition who are—the words which come to my mind most readily are—basely ungrateful. There has been base ingratitude on the part of hon. Members opposite for the gesture by the Government. It is a very generous gesture to offer time for this matter to be debated on the Floor of the House for as long as hon. Members wish to discuss it within any bounds bounds of reason, and without affecting any other stage except the Committee stage. We are spending a whole day, which I think is being wasted, debating whether we should have the opportunity to fulfil the requirement of the House.
I think it rather unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) should have made the observation that he did—I think that on reflection he will agree—when he appealed to the Chair not to be influenced into curtailing the debate. It seemed to me a clear indication that what hon. Members opposite were anxious to do was to delay our proceedings for as long as they possibly could. 1557 That is the inference which I drew and if I am wrong, I am willing to be corrected.
§ Mr. Wilkins
If I am quite wrong, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will tell the House what he actually did mean? What did he mean by offering the suggestion to the Chair that it should not curtail the debate—in other words trying to tell the Chair what it ought to do about the business?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I thought that it was perfectly clear. I made my speech wholly Ls a student of the procedures of the House. Anyone who understands those procedures knows that in Standing Committee the procedure is slightly different from that on the Floor of the House. I fully agreed with the decision of the House to bring the Committee stage of the Bill on to the Floor of the House. I simply asked that the judgment of the Chair should take into account that since the Bill was to be discussed on the Floor of the House it should be ruled by the rules which govern procedure on the Floor of the House. That seems quite simple, and certainly I had no malice or intent.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I still do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have brought Mr. Speaker into it. Surely it is improper to make any suggestions to the Chair about how to deal with the debate. I think it at least unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should have made that suggestion.
There have been references to the Press and, by the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe, to the servants of the House, and so on. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to do the same as did his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West, take a "Gallup poll" of the opinions of servants of this House, and, if he wishes, of the officials, and of a good many other people in the House. He will be very surprised at the response which he will get, if he uses the same tactics as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said that he used in trying to discover what was in the minds of his constituents.
I welcome this opportunity to see whether this is a workable proposition for the conduct of the business of the House.
1558 It is my personal hope that as a result of this proposal, which I regard as a pilot scheme which will give us an indication, we shall at some time have some proper hours of work.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
I speak as one of the two promoters of the Bill on this side of the House and, therefore, hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that I am anxious to get the Bill through.
I have two observations which I wish to make. The first is that the Government have behaved with quite grotesque discourtesy to the promoters of the Bill. The second is that the chief culprit for the muddle in which we find ourselves, the chief culprit for the delay we are experiencing over this Measure is the Chief Patronage Secretary, who is sitting now on the Government Front Bench in, I hope, at least a faintly penitential mood.
The plain facts are these. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) and I, the two sponsors of the Bill from this side of the House, were always under the impression—I think that I may speak for my hon. Friend—that the Committee stage of the Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) was always under the impression that the Committee stage of the Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House.
I do not know a single sponsor of the Bill who had the slightest idea that the Committee stage might be taken in a Standing Committee. I therefore believe that both the Leader of the House and the Chief Patronage Secretary were well aware of the impression of the sponsors of the Bill about what would be the future conduct of the Bill. Therefore, it seems to me that we are justified—does the Government Chief Whip wish to say anything? He should be aware that, if he does, he should stand up.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Edward Short)
What the hon. Member is saying is quite untrue.
§ Mr. Berkeley
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I must make a comment on that somewhat terse observation, that courtly, graceful observation from the 1559 Chief Whip. He says what he cannot possibly know—that what I have said is untrue. Does he say that it is untrue that I believed that the Committee stage would take place on the Floor of the House? Does he say it is untrue that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne believed that the Committee stage would be on the Floor of this House?
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
The hon. Gentleman must not confuse the issue. I certainly thought, as he rightly says, that the Committee stage would be taken on the Floor of the House. I did not say that I preferred it. I expected it because it had happened before and, perhaps carelessly, I came to the conclusion that it would happen again. When the hon. Gentleman says that he believes that the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip knew of that expectation, then if he says that he believes it I suppose that he believes it. I would not question that. But if he says that I believed it he would be quite mistaken. I did not believe it. I had no reason whatever to think that they knew that the expectation was that it would be taken on the Floor of the House. Certainly, I had not told them.
§ Mr. Berkeley
The point I made was that the hon. Gentleman expected it to be taken on the Floor of the House. He told me that. I believe that the Leader of the House and the Chief Patronage Secretary knew that he expected that because any intelligent person would have believed that to be the case. [Interruption.] It may be that the Chief Patronage Secretary is casting some doubt on who is or who is not intelligent. [Interruption.] I believe, as I said, that any intelligent person would have surmised it.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
On a point of order. It is almost intolerable to have the Patronage Secretary muttering remarks under his breath.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have the advantage of not hearing them, but it is highly desirable that conversation should not be of a character which detracts from the attraction of the current speech.
§ Mr. Berkeley
I think that the Chief Patronage Secretary is a little overcome 1560 with the sense of the occasion. The extent of his histrionics will be shown by the many entries under his name in tomorrow's HANSARD.
When we debated this on 5th March I had a discussion with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne at 8.45 p.m., before the ten o'clock vote took place. I have told the House that it was my recollection of that conversation that the hon. Gentleman said that he believed that the Committee stage would be taken on the Floor of the House, that, secondly, he said that he would be prepared to move a Motion to that effect and that, thirdly, he said that he thought that it was essential that this should take place. The hon. Gentleman repudiated that last statement and I can only say that, having told the House my recollection and he having told his recollection, the House must decide which of the two is the more accurate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is proving a little difficult. The House may or may not have to decide that, but I do not see why the House must decide it on the Question before it. It would help if the hon. Gentleman would explain how this relates to the question aye or no we should adopt this Motion.
§ Mr. Berkeley
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, it occurred to me that the Motion is the result of a considerable degree of incompetence and, I think, a certain degree of bad faith on the part of the Government in their dealings with myself and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I thought that I would be in order in chronicling the events which took place leading up to our very parlous situation now. It was for that reason that I hoped that I would not be trespassing beyond the bounds of order.
To proceed from there, it seems that we who are the promoters of the Bill, and who wish to get it through, have a perfectly legitimate right to query what the Government are asking the House to do today. The Government and the Chief Patronage Secretary have behaved with extraordinary discourtesy to the promoters of the Bill on this side of this House and with astonishing discourtesy to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne because the hon. Gentleman did not know at 8.45 p.m. on the day on which this matter was first debated that at 10 p.m. 1561 —[Interruption.] I should say 11 p.m.—Government tellers were to be put on and that there was to be a whipped vote.
Two and a quarter hours before this decision was taken the main promoter, for whom the Government were finding time, did not know what decision the Chief Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House had taken. That is, by any standards, a most extraordinary situation and one which I should have thought showed a maximum lack of consideration and a lack of thought for their hon. Friends who were the promoters on the benches opposite and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North and myself, the promoters on this side of the House.
Whether the Chief Patronage Secretary thought that if he told his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne a little earlier what his intentions were his hon. Friend would, quite naturally, have resented it and objected to it, I do not know. But the fact remains that lie chose to keep the promoters of the Bill, in particular the hon. Member for Nelson and Cone, in complete ignorance as to what his intentions were until the very last minute. I fully understand the dilemma in which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne found himself. He explained to the House that he was dependent on the Government for Lime. He was told—I imagine very abruptly and at short notice—that what he supposed would happen was not to happen. Had he not accepted then and there a shotgun ultimatum he would have lost any chance of time for his Bill.
Being keen on his Bill, the hon. Member had to surrender to the ultimatum. Had I been treated to similar peremptoriness I might have chosen the same course of action. In any case, I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is blameworthy. The person who is blamworthy is the Government Chief Whip, who has been responsible throughout for the muddle in which we now find ourselves.
Hon. Members an this side of the House who are, first, anxious to get the Bill through and are, secondly, not in this instance anxious to make a great party issue of this are resentful of what I believe to have been the arrogant behaviour of the Government in refusing to see that they would not, through 1562 their actions, get us into the trouble in which we find ourselves.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) was right in saying that if we could have four days on the Floor of the House we could dispose of the Bill. The alternative, as he equally rightly said, is to have up to perhaps 12 morning sittings from 12.30 p.m. to 1 p.m., which will delay the passing of the Bill by three or four months.
I find it extremely difficult to understand what has been the motive of the Government Chief Whip. It may be muddleheadedness or inexperience. I do not know. The plain facts of the situation are that between December and now we could have finished the Committee stage of the Bill and not sacrificed a single valuable day of parliamentary time. The fact that he finds himself in this difficult position now is entirely due to his ineptitude and is not in any way the responsibility of those who were either for or against the principle of the Bill.
I begin to wonder, as the Government majority dwindles away, whether they will ever be able to get a Parliamentary majority now for the Second Reading of the Steel Bill. If we have any more happenings like Leyton, the Chief Whip may find that he has time on his hands.
§ Mr. Berkeley
What about the Gallup poll at Leyton? That showed a Government majority of 20 per cent.
It seems that those who support the Bill have every right to be aggrieved. We ask the Government to treat the House of Commons as a responsible body, not as a pack of school children. We know that the Government Chief Whip imposes a discipline on hon. Members opposite which very few of my hon. Friends would find tolerable. We have seen the slips of paper which they have to sign if they want to pair. The last time I had to get a signed pass to leave a building was at my preparatory school. The fact is that the Government Chief Whip cannot treat us as though we are kindergarten children, even if he can get the whole of his side marshalled behind him in the Lobby tonight.
1563 I hope that the Government will realise that this is genuinely a House of Commons matter. I hope that the Government will recognise that there are abolitionists who are as angry with the Government's ineptitude as there are retentionists. I hope that we can shame them into re-thinking their attitude and behaviour on the whole of this issue.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I did not intend to intervene in this debate, although I was a member of the Standing Committee which was examining the Bill. However, in view of certain remarks which have been made, I felt that I should intervene. I have very great sympathy with the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), who feels a sense of considerable disappointment that it was not considered that the Bill of which he is a sponsor should be discussed on the Floor of the House. I do not know what happened. I think it was a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman to make an attack on my right hon. Friend for something that he thinks happened in private. I do not, and cannot, believe that that is a reasonable criticism to make of the proposal now before us.
I have listened to all the speeches so far. As to the suggestion of constitutional impropriety, I cannot think what the Government could do in face of an overwhelming vote in the House. I personally have always been greatly in favour of private Members' time and have always rather resented any attempt to interfere with private Members.I applauded the Government on this occasion for having decided to give some weight to a Private Member's Bill. I have been in the House for 20 years. So far, I have drawn only one Bill, and that took thirteenth place in the Ballot. It could not reach the light of day, although it was partly discussed.
I believe that it was a very good action on the part of the Government to decide to give time to a Private Member's Bill. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said that it was a scandal that the Government should have permitted a Private Members' Bill to be dealt with in this way. Every private Member who has been in the House for some years will feel that any Government who are willing to give 1564 respect to a private Member are to be congratulated. I do not believe that we have enough private Members' time. I am all out to support the private Member, as I am one myself. I cannot think that the word "scandal" is justifiable.
On the issue of constitutional propriety, I ask the House to consider this. If the Government, in face of a Resolution passed by the House, had said, "We do not accept it. We now move to remit the Bill back to the Standing Committee", there would have been an outcry from hon. Members opposite, who would have said "The Government have ignored the will of the people. They have ignored the decision of the House". How many times have you, Mr. Speaker, reminded us that a Motion carried in the House expresses the, view of the House and that the House is supreme? Therefore, the Government had to decide what to do.
I personally do not very much like the method of discussing a Bill of this kind on the Floor of the House. It is a Bill which 1 wholly support. I feel deeply and strongly about it. The Standing Committee spent many hours discussing the Bill. We did not get anywhere near reaching the Question that Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill. I cannot believe that it is a good thing to discuss such a Measure at times when, according to the mood of the House, the sittings can be extended into the early hours of the morning. I certainly do not think that the Press can take much notice of discussions between 12 o'clock at night and 3 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning. Apart from that, I have always been of the opinion, after all the experience I have had in the House, that long sittings and protracted discussions are a bad thing and that we do not get the best results from them.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) made some remarks which caused me to feel that I must speak. Bearing on the question of constitutional propriety, his argument was that, because the question had been referred to a Select Committee of the House, it was wrong that we should have attempted to make a decision, even if it was a temporary one, on a matter which the Select Committee was bound to discuss. I intervened to refer to the statement you, Mr. Speaker, made yesterday. The right hon. 1565 Gentleman thought that I was casting a reflection upon you, Sir. I should like to remove any such impression. My view was that you, Mr. Speaker, had made a statement in anticipation of a discussion in the House of Commons, but nevertheless it was some kind of change in our procedure. In a situation in which the House by a Resolution decided that the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House, I could not think that there was anything wrong in the matter being discussed in the manner in which the Government proposed.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Gentleman will remember that you, Mr. Speaker, said this yesterday:I am, however, anxious to take that course which is least likely to prejudice the issue to be determined by the Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 1281.]The point I was making and which other hon. Members had been making was that the course taken by the Lord President of the Council is not less likely to prejudice the findings of the Committee.
§ Mr. Yates
I appreciate the words you used, Mr. Speaker. I cannot believe, in any case, that the decision we are asked to make now would prejudice a Select Committee which is examining the general question of procedure. For that reason, I think that it is wrong to raise that argument. Surely it is the House which makes a decision. That decision I personally do not think was the best decision. As a Member of the Standing Committee, I believe that it would have been wise for the Standing Committee to have completed the Committee stage of the Bill and then for the whole House to consider on Report the Amendments that hon. Members wished to make.
I do not say that all matters ought to be considered in Standing Committee. I do not go as far as one of my hon. Friends who thought that all Bills and all questions ought to be discussed in Committee upstairs. We should be careful before we take away the right of the House to discuss on the Floor matters like the Finance Bill and questions of a wide variety affecting the whole of the population.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) made one or two remarks which we should consider carefully. He said, for example, that for 1566 the House to meet in the morning would interfere with hon. Members who wished to follow their professions. I have felt for some years that when we have had Committees appointed to consider Bills upstairs quite a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have not pulled their weight. The argument applied against morning sittings of the House that hon. Members might have to attend the courts applies just as much to Committees. I was absent from Standing Committee C on only one occasion when I agreed to pair with a lawyer. I have no doubt that this happens in all the Committees upstairs and on the Floor of the House where we have now to consider these matters.
The argument about the convenience of hon. Members should not have precedence. I take the view, which I know is not entirely popular, that membership of the House is a full-time job. I argued this 20 years ago on a Motion which I supported against my own Labour Government at that time. I believe that, especially now, hon. Members must realise that the general public are watching us carefully. They say that hon. Members are being paid £3,250 a year. They, at any rate, work it out at £60 a week, though we know what arguments we can put in reply. But I do not think that we can plead that hon. Members ought to be able to put their professions before their duties to the House. This applies not only to lawyers and doctors but also to company directors.
One argument put forward against morning sittings is that they would make the Government's position difficult by forcing Ministers to be here. As I understand it, hon. Members would not be so willing to pair with members of the Government to relieve them of attendance. I have no doubt that we shall find in practice, however, that large numbers of hon. Members opposite will wish to follow professions and lucrative positions of responsibility outside.
Although I greatly wish the Bill to remain in Committee upstairs, I must either agree that the Bill shall be discussed on the Floor of the House during our normal hours or that we shall meet as a House in the mornings to discuss it. I have come to the conclusion that, in all the circumstances, it is 1567 better on this occasion—though I do not say that this would apply to all occasions—that we should discuss the Bill on the Floor by starting our proceedings in the morning. This seems to me a sensible arrangement and I do not believe that it has political complexities.
The only alternative would be to discuss the Bill on the Floor during the present normal hours of sitting. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton spoke about the Finance Bill coming along and the difficulties of going through all-night sittings. He was in an earlier Government, and he will remember how my colleagues and I were kept up night after night. I remember one night when we were kept here until 4 o'clock in the morning discussing porridge when Scottish oatmeal was put on points and all the Scottish Members rose as a body and we had four hours to consider the protein and vitamin value of Scottish oatmeal. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not now present, but heaven preserve us if Scottish Members put forward proposals which came up for discussion at 6 o'clock or 8 o'clock in the morning.
I do not see how a matter of this kind can be discussed properly in the early hours of the morning of an all-night sitting. There should be proper and adequate time for discussion and I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friends on their decision to take the only course open to them. If my right hon. Friends had decided that they would refuse to accept a decision made in the House, even on a private Members' Motion it would have been a serious constitutional question. I do not believe that they have been wrong constitutionally or discourteous in what they have done. I hope therefore that this Motion will be carried.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) will forgive me if I do not take up some of his remarks for a minute or two, but I want at the outset to say to the House that I do not think that the Motion which we are discussing has very much to do with the merits or otherwise of the Private Member's Bill which was introduced 1568 by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). This is a Motion on procedure. It involves a complete departure from procedures which we have known hitherto. It affects abolitionists and retentionists and a whole lot of hon. Members who do not take a rigid view either way.
As has been said several times, a Select Committee on Procedure is now sitting and has been sitting for some months. Presumably, it is discussing quite a number of proposals which have been put to it. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who, I am sorry to see, is not now in the Chamber, told us that one of the proposals which he put to the Select Committee was that the House should sit in the morning and rise earlier in the evening. But the Committee has not yet reported and we do not know what view it will take. Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides who are members of the Select Committee are, of course, "in baulk"; they are, quite rightly, inhibited and cannot disclose what the proceedings in the Committee have been.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South said that he hoped that the arrangement now proposed would be a pilot scheme. This is a most interesting suggestion. To be fair, it was not the line taken by the Lord President of the Council. The right hon. Gentleman went almost out of his way in his speech to convey the impression that in no circumstances would what he was proposing be a pilot scheme. Those who want the House to sit in the mornings and afternoons as well, in the hope that it might rise rather earlier at night than we sometimes do, overlook several grave objections. In the first place, no matter what the hon. Member for Ladywood and others may say, morning sittings of the House not only on this Bill but on other business as well would make the task of Ministers very difficult. It is part of a Minister's duty to be in his Department and to administer it. One cannot administer a great Department of State from rooms in this building. In the second place, it would be impossible or, at least, very difficult for hon. Members to fulfil any outside commitments, business or otherwise.
I may be in a minority in this, but I should not like the House of Commons 1569 to become a legislative body composed of 630 wholetime professional legislators with absolutely no stake outside, no interest outside and very little contacts outside, never feeling the effects of their legislation at the receiving end. I should not like to sit in that sort of House. One of the remarkable characteristics of the House of Commons, as all hon. Members who have been here any time know, is the extraordinary breadth of view and variety of experience possessed by hon. Members on both sides. This is its great strength. No matter what subject is being discussed on any day, however technical or however obscure, one can always find an hon. Member who brings to bear upon that subject a whole wealth of experience acquired, perhaps, from a lifelong interest in the subject. I should be very sorry to eliminate that breadth of view and experience which can come only from contacts outside the House.
The proposal now before us offers the worst of both worlds, of course. It is not a proposal to take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House in the morning, and, then, as the hon. Member for Ladywood would like, for the House to rise earlier in the evenings. It is the worst of both worlds. The House is still to sit just as late as ever to get through Government business. Moreover, this proposal has been foisted upon the House in a somewhat peculiar way due entirely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) said, to the absolute jam the Government have got into with their legislative programme. Their business has got clogged up in the pipeline and this is one of their ways to try to overcome the difficulty.
The Patronage Secretary is not here at the moment, but I feel that I must say this, even in his absence. The right hon. Gentleman did indulge in a little sharp practice.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich) rose—
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
No. I put this to hon. Members who have been in the House any length of time. It must have been absolutely obvious that the Committee stage of a Bill of this kind, carrying with it very wide social and other implications, ought to have been taken on the Floor of the House. I should be astonished if 90 per cent. of hon. Mem- 1570 bers, whether abolitionists, retentionists or in between the two, did not assume automatically that its Committee stage would be taken on the Floor of the House. I am certain that quite a number of hon. Members who abstained from voting on the Second Reading assumed that they would be able to put particular points which either they or their constituents felt strongly about on the grounds that the Committee stage would be taken on the Floor of the House and they would then have their opportunity.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
The hon. Gentleman used the expression "sharp practice" in the absence of the Patronage Secretary. I should like to know, and I am sure that the House would, what he means by that. I understand the expression "sharp practice" to mean that people are led to do things which they would not otherwise do by being deceived. Who was led to do what by what deception?
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
The hon. and learned Gentleman need not be so simple. The expression "sharp practice" has been used already several times in the debate. By "sharp practice" I mean that a large number of hon. Members on both sides, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster who was a supporter of the Bill, were led to assume automatically that the Committee stage would be taken on the Floor of the House. As my hon. Friend said just now, it was not until a quarter to nine that evening that he had any idea that this was not to be.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin rose—
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I shall not give way any more. I invite the House to listen to the answer which the Lord President gave on 5th March when he was—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. We who have been in the House for some years realise that the expression that the Government have been guilty of sharp practice or that the Tory Party or the Labour Party has been guilty of sharp practice may be in order. But is it in order to name a right hon. Member and say that he personally has been guilty of sharp practice? Is it not right that, if one speaks in the plural of a party or an 1571 organisation, that is permissible, but it is not permissible to accuse a right hon. or hon. Member of sharp practice?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
It depends on the way the term is used. As the hon. Gentleman has explained it, it is not out of order.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I invite the House to listen to the explanation which the Lord President gave on 5th March. He was interrupted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) who asked:Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when it was decided that, after the Second Reading—if the Bill were given a Second Reading—it would be committed to a Standing Committee and not to a Committee of the whole House When was that?We hoped that we should get an answer, because the Second Reading was in December. This was the right hon. Gentleman's answer:The Government assumed that there would be no objection to the Bill going to a Standing Committee." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 1787.]What a reply from the Leader of the House. It does not hold water.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
No, I shall not give way again. As I have said, that reply does not hold water. Moreover, the result of it will not, I suspect, save very much time. I am a little afraid that this is the thin end of a very ill-conceived and ill-fitting wedge, and I hope that the House will reject the Motion.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) was quite within his Parliamentary rights in accusing a right hon. Gentleman of sharp practice and in refusing to give way, more especially if he knew that he had no justification whatever for what he was saying. I should have thought that if anything shows sharp practice it is to accuse without justification a right hon. Gentleman of sharp practice and then impede any hon. Member who wishes to come to the defence of that right hon. Gentleman. It is quite disgraceful 1572 behaviour. The hon. Member for Windsor should know better—and probably did know better.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
No. I shall not give way. I shall follow the hon. Gentleman's example, at least in that respect.
I have not sought, until a very short time ago, to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or that of Mr. Speaker, to take part in the debate and probably would not have done so had it not been for the speech made by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), who is a cosponsor with me of the Bill. I am not complaining that the hon. Member is not here. I know that he had to go out and I understand that he will come back when he has the opportunity to do so. I think it right to say that at once.
I had no intention of taking part in the debate, because it seemed to me to be on a very narrow point. I thought that it was at least doubtful whether it was possible to take up the whole of a Parliamentary day to decide whether, it having been conceded that the Committee stage of the Bill must be brought back to the Floor of the House, it should be taken at one hour of the day rather than another.
It is quite clear, however, that there are considerations—some of them important—in deciding that we should or that we should not take the Committee stage on the Floor at 10.30 in the morning instead of at some hour in the evening. But for the evidence of what has taken place, I would have doubted whether it was possible to prolong such a discussion realistically for a whole Parliamentary day.
For my part, I have never regarded it as of the slightest importance whether the Committee stage was taken in Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House. It has never seemed to me to be a point of principle at all.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
If that is so, why was it that when the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill received a Second Reading in 1956, the hon. Gentleman himself moved that the Committee stage should be taken in Committee of the whole House? Why was it so important in that case but not so important in this case?
§ Mr. Silverman
I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) will apply his mind to the points made so as not to make false points. Of course, one may think it better that the Committee stage should be taken on the Floor of the House rather than in Standing Committee. But it does not necessarily follow that in every case it is a point of principle. What I am saying—and I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he will make an effort, will be capable enough of following it—is that it is riot, in my opinion, in the case of this Bill a matter of principle.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
I am not refusing to give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman but perhaps he will allow me to finish the point I am making, then I will give way again.
There is a very great difference between the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill of 1956 or the Homicide Act, 1957, and this Bill. In the 1956 Bill and the 1957 Act, we were changing the law of the country fundamentally. In this Bill we are not. We are making a mere consequential amendment to the general principle adopted by Statute in 1957 and which has, therefore, been the law of this country for eight years.
That principle could have been questioned or discussed in two General Elections since then and it never has been questioned or debated. Nor has there ever been any attempt in the House, nor is there any attempt now, nor was there on Second Reading of this Bill, to interfere with the principle, adopted first in 1956 without exceptions and in 1957 with exceptions.
I suggest to the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom that he is quite capable of seeing why other people might think—I concede that he may not agree with them that there is all the difference in the world between the present Bill and the 1956 Bill and the 1957 Act, which were taken on the Floor of the House. Nevertheless, I concede, as I have always conceded, that I expected this Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House and thought that it would be. But I say now that I never attached very much importance to it and do not do so now.
1574 Does the right hon. and learned Gentle. man wish to interrupt now?
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I do not think that it is really profitable to intervene. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not think that anyone else can understand anything. I was interested to hear what he had to say as to why there was a difference between the circumstances of the 1956 Bill and the 1957 Act and this Bill. I have listened to his explanation. I do not think that it is a very valid one, but I have at least heard it.
§ Mr. Silverman
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not find it profitable to discuss the point with me, perhaps I need not waste further the time of the House by paying any more attention to what he has to say on the subject.
I can concede that many hon. Members—certainly the hon. Member for Lancaster, for he has said so and I have no reason to doubt him—expected that the Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Lancaster says that he has a real sense of grievance about the fact that it was sent upstairs. I understand this. Had I thought that it was a question of principle, I would have voted for the proposition that it should be taken on the Floor of the House on 21st December. What I cannot understand about the attitude of the hon. Member for Lancaster is his subsequent behaviour. I take it for granted that, on 21st December, he wanted the Bill to be carried as far as the House of Commons can carry it. I take it that that is still his desire.
When the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) spoke, he defended his vote of 5th March and sought to reconcile it with his desire to see the Bill become law. The hon. Member for Bodmin resented, as he was entitled to do, the innuendo that seemed implicit, in at any rate one speech from this side of the House, that the vote of 5th March was intended to obstruct that result, and I accept from the hon. Gentleman that this was not in his mind, and that if it had been in his mind his action might have been different.
The hon. Member for Bodmin will forgive me saying, I hope, that this may be the result of his limited experience 1575 as a Member of the House. But the hon. Member for Lancaster is not an inexperienced Member. He has been here a lona time. I acquit both the hon. Member for Lancaster and the hon. Member for Bodmin of any obstructive intention. But what I cannot understand is why the hon. Member for Bodmin does not see that the question whether the Bill should go to Standing Committee or remain on the Floor of the House was a very different question on 5th March from what it was on 21st December.
§ Mr. Bessell
The hon. Member suggests that the reason for my vote on 5th March was my inexperience of the House. I reject that suggestion. The reason for my vote on 5th March, as 1 made clear, was the representations which I had received from many people who genuinely believed that this matter was of such importance that all Amendments should be considered by the whole House and not by a Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman said that in his speech. I understood it then and I accepted it then and I accept it now.
What I am saying is that if his experience of the House had been a little longer, he would have known that to bring the Bill back from Standing Committee would inevitably cause immense difficulties for the Government and immense embarrassments in the future progress of the Bill. I accept that the hon. Gentleman may not accept it from me, and there is no reason why he should, but I say it in good faith—that anyone who had had that fact present in his mind, whatever he thought about this question on 21st December, must have come to a different conclusion on 5th March.
§ Mr. Bessell
I recognised the difficulties. I knew that if the Motion on 5th March were carried it was bound to be an embarrassment for the Government, but I felt that an issue of this importance, when two-thirds of the House had expressed the desire that a certain law should come into being, could not be ignored by the Government irrespective of the difficulties, and that is why I have accepted the solution which the Leader of the House has provided.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman repeats the point and I still accept it. I am sure that that was in his mind. What I am saying is that it is one thing to appreciate that a course may embarrass the Government. One might tolerate that. I have embarrassed Governments in my time, even my own Governments, and it does not seem to be a capital offence. But there is something else besides the embarrassment to the Government. What I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that to do what the House did on 5th March was not merely to embarrass the Government, which is no doubt a venial offence in any case, but to embarrass the future progress of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bessell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman does not think so. I have caught Mr. Speaker's eye in order to express my opinion and I think that it was a serious embarrassment to the progress of the Bill. That brings me to the next point which I want to make.
I have dealt with the hon. Member for Windsor, who talked about sharp practice, but I would now like to deal with the suggestion of bad faith on the part of the Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom talked about the Government embarking on "a shabby political manoeuvre". If ever there has been a shabby political manoeuvre in my experience in the House, it is the charge against the Government on this occasion of bad faith. What bad faith?
In the Gracious Speech, they pledged themselves to give time for the discussion on a free vote of the present Bill. They did that. When the Second Reading was passed, by a more than two to one majority, they did not move that the Bill should be kept on the Floor of the House. There was no need to ask my right hon. Friend when he decided to send it to a Committee upstairs, because everybody knows that all Bills go to Committees upstairs, unless the exceptional step is taken of moving immediately after Second Reading that they should stay on the Floor.
If there was any fault in our not knowing that they preferred that it should not remain on the Floor, the fault was mine in that I never told them of the Motion which I intended to move. I 1577 have no doubt that if I had told them, they would have said, "We would rather that you did not move it. We would prefer the Bill to go to a Standing Committee", just as they told me that very thing when I told them that I was about to move that it should be kept on the Floor.
If there was any fault, it was my fault in not telling them of that intention earlier. En view of everything which has been said since, I regret that I did not do so, but to call the decision to send the Bill to a Standing Committee an element in a course of conduct showing bad faith is utterly ridiculous.
So the Bill went to a Standing Committee, which debated it, Amendment by Amendment, for 121 hours in five sittings of two and a half hours each. Then it came to the House again by sheer accident, the sheer accident being that art hon. Member opposite happened to be lucky in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions and drew No. 1 and chose to move the Motion which we debated and carried on 5th March. If he had not been lucky in the Ballot, the whole business of 5th March would never have occurred—it could not have occurred. That is why I say that it was a mere chance. I suppose that it would be fair to say, although I shall not take the time of the House by defending the proposition, that it was mere chance that the Motion was ulimately carried.
If the Government had decided to do what Sir Winston Churchill did in the middle of the war, and had asked the House to rescind its decision, there would have been a very sound Parliamentary case for doing so, a much sounder Parliamentary case for doing so than Sir Winston Churchill had at the time when he did it. They did not do that. They accepted the snap Division arrived at by accident on a Friday on a Motion which was there purely by chance. They took no advantage of that and said that this was the decision of the House and that, however it was reached, they would give effect to it.
Bad faith? What would hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have said of a Government which did not do that? It is a great shame to bedevil arguments on an important Measure, going through the House without Whips on either side and on which hon. and right hon. Mem- 1578 bers are left to exercise their own independent and conscientious judgments, serious arguments conducted on both sides with a high sense of responsibility. with cheap tricks of this kind. I am perfectly certain that the charge of bad faith was not made in good faith and ought not to have been made.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
The hon. Member knows that I am in the same position as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley). If he argues that the charge of bad faith does not apply, does he not concede that the only alternative excuse is gross incompetence because the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House did not take the trouble to find out what was in the mind of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) before moving that the Bill should be taken in Standing Committee? This was surely gross incompetence. The hon. Gentleman must allow that one or other of the charges lies.
§ Mr. Silverman
I quite understand that there can be differences of opinion as to whether the Government should have kept the Bill on the Floor of the House or sent it upstairs. I quite understand that there can be differences of opinion as to the exact stage and moment when the Government should have told me, as the mover of the Second Reading, what they had decided. Of course, there can be legitimate differences of opinion about that, and I do not complain about it. What I think there can be no legitimate difference of opinion about is my proposition that to accuse my right hon. Friends of bad faith is itself an act of bad faith, because nobody can really believe it.
Having decided to accept the decision of the House with all the difficulties which necessarily flowed from it, the Government decided to ask the House of Commons to deal with it in Committee on the Floor of the House but on Wednesday mornings. Is that bad faith? Is that one of the factors in building up this artificial shabby political trick? There is no point of principle involved in whether the Bill is dealt with at 10.30, 2.30, 3.30 or 9.30.
This whole debate seems to me to have been highly artificial and unreal. 1579 A number of points have been put forward, which, no doubt, were put forward in good faith, about whether the Bill would have better or worse publicity in the Press if it is dealt with at one time or another. This is not a point of principle. There have been arguments about whether lawyers would be better employed earning brief fees in the courts than attending to their duty in the House of Commons on an occasion which they had insisted on having.
It was not the Government's decision to bring the Bill to the Floor of the House. It was the decision of the House of Commons on an Opposition Motion inspired by oppositional influences and supported, in the main, but not entirely—I accept that—by Opposition votes. When the Government accept that decision and give the Members who supported it exactly what they wanted, they make this a cause of complaint and found on it a charge of bad faith. This is Alice in Wonderland. It has nothing to do with genuine, serious, legitimate Parliamentary debate.
I wish particularly to ask the hon. Member for Lancaster a question. I would ask it of others, too, but I put it to the hon. Gentleman because he has enough experience of Parliament to know what is involved. What will he do tonight? Will he vote for this Motion?
§ Mr. Berkeley indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silverman
Will he vote against it? The hon. Gentleman has answered the first question. Will he vote against the Motion?
§ Mr. Silverman
And still put himself forward as seriously believing in the abolition of the death penalty in this Session as a sponsor of the Bill? In his speech, the hon. Gentleman did not say what he thought the Government should do.
§ Mr. Berkeley
The Government have a duty to find time for the Bill. I hope that we will beat the Government in the Division tonight and that they will find time for the Bill in conformity with the normal procedure of the House.
§ Mr. Silverman
I beg to assure the hon. Gentleman that, as far as I know— 1580 I have been here only 30 years—there is nothing which conflicts with the normal procedure of the House in the Motion which my right hon. Friend moved this afternoon. If I were to interpret uncharitably what the hon. Gentleman has said, I would withdraw my statement that, perhaps, he was not seriously interested in getting the Bill through and substitute for it the proposition that he would very much like to get it through provided that it is done at the expense of some other Bill which the Government wish to introduce and which he is not in favour of, because otherwise there is absolutely no reason in principle—and the hon. Gentleman did not suggest in his speech that there was any reason in principle—why the House of Commons should not sit in Committee at 10.30 on Wednesday mornings.
§ Mr. Berkeley
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is not the normal procedure of the House for the House to meet in full Committee at 10.30 in the morning. He also knows that the question of morning sittings has been referred to the Select Committee. It is, I think, a quite definite breach of principle for the Chief Patronage Secretary and the Government to get themselves out of a difficulty of their own making by agreeing on an alteration in the normal procedure of the House before it has been adequately ventilated before the Committee concerned.
§ Mr. Silverman
I can only say that, in my opinion, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. I think that, in the end, the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne), when I intervened in his speech when he made this exact point, accepted that there was nothing in it at all. He accepted that the fact that the question whether the procedure of the House should be changed was being considered by the Select Committee was no reason why the House of Commons should abdicate control over its own procedure and its own affairs.
The logical consequence of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that, since the Select Committee on Procedure is considering all matters of Parliamentary procedure—both those which we have and those which we might have—the House should go into permanent recess until the Select Committee reports. This 1581 is the consequence, because if we cannot change our procedure as it is being considered by a Select Committee, neither can we keep our procedure because it is being; considered by a Select Committee.
Of course, we must look after our affairs and deal with the practical questions as they arise as far as we can without prejudice to anything which the Select Committee may ultimately decide. That is why the Motion appears on the Order Paper in these severely restrictive terms—only Wednesday morning and not any other morning, only this Bill and not any other Bill. It is done precisely to avoid embarrassment to anything which the Select Committee might be considering
It seems to me that any hon. Member who really wants to do everything in his power to prevent the Bill from completing its House of Commons stages quickly should vote against the Motion. Anyone who thinks that the House of Commons majority rather than the minority should have its way will vote for the Motion on the good old principle that there is no reason why the tail should wag the dog.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I hope that I am as little tempted as any man to bandy charges of sharp practice, and so forth, and I am under no such temptation this evening. We are entitled to ask—if I might have the attention of the lion. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), who is in charge of the Bill. I listened to 10 interventions from the hon. Gentleman and a speech, and to all the other speeches today except one and a half, and I beg now that I may have the attention of those persons who are most interested in the Bill: I do the hon. Member the honour of supposing that he comes first in that list.
I have always taken it for granted that when we address each other as "honourable Gentlemen", this implies, without prejudice to the definition of the word "sincerity", that each one of us feels himself to be sincere enough to think it proper, at least publicly, to assume the sincerity of others.
There has been a good deal of conscience about the Bill and its predecessors. I have no wish whatever to ques- 1582 tion the sovereignty of conscience nor the sincerity of those who have been rather, I will not say ostentatiously, but at least noticeably, aware of it. They must pay us the compliment of making the same assumption and I resent very much the continuous talk today about the artificial nature of the objections either to this Motion or to all or any part of the Government's conduct with regard to the Bill.
I approach the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), whom I seem to have lost—and I am sorry for that—I will not say with timidity, but with shyness and deprecation, because on the last occasion on which he spoke he rebuked me for garrulity. Conscious as I am of the sins of most hon. Members of this House, including myself, I must own that the fact that Jemmy Twitcher should peach me did a little surprise me. I want, if I may, to make some references to the hon. Member even in his absence.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne told us that the Bill is not a matter of principle, that the Motion today is still less a matter of principle, that the principle has all been settled and that that has all happened. Today's proceeding, he told us, is a mere consequential Amendment. I almost could wish that the hon. Member were a Minister in charge of a Bill on his side of the House. What fun it would be when he used the expression "a mere consequential Amendment" about something of the importance either of the Bill in question or even of today's Motion.
It is not a mere consequential Amendment. It is a completion meant to be, as near as anything human may, irreversible, of the principle that in this country the State has no duty and no right ever to kill judicially. That is an important matter. It ought not to be completed without full discussion.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale had some constitutional learning, I thought partly mistaken, about immigration, but I may be wrong about that. Where, however, I am sure that the hon. Member was wrong was that he argued that because the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was constitutional, although some people thought it was not, therefore, although he did not deny that the present Bill is constitutional, yet he said that 1583 having demonstrated that it is difficult to draw a line or make a definition between constitutional and non-constitutional, therefore he wiped that argument away. I am sure that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne had no patience with that logic.
The poet Housman admitted that he did not know how to define the difference between a small dog and a big dog, but that he seldom found difficulty in knowing which was confronting him. It may be difficult to define so that one is sure that everything on one side of the line will be constitutional and everything on the other side of the line not constitutional.
What is the most constitutional thing there can be about human society? It is whether the governing organ in a trade union, a party whips' office, a nation, an empire, a world government or whatever else has what rights and duties as the governing organ in exercising force, especially in exercising the decisive force of execution; and much the most respectable argument used for this and similar Bills has been that when that last is done, it is irreversible. It is not an unanswerable argument, but, still, that is a fair and good argument. It is an argument which it cannot be denied is constitutional, whatever else can be denied to be constitutional.
Incidentally, I hope that I am not boasting falsely. Earlier in the debate somebody quoted Mr. Herbert Morrison's pledge that the Socialist Government of that time would not send any constitutional Bills upstairs. That was in answer to a challenge from me, and I have always been glad that it was made. I was never sure that it was fully kept, though I am not making any charges of sharp practice there—there were difficulties of definition.
These matters are difficult to define, but this tonight is a constitutional matter. It is a constitutional matter, the primary one, and the ultimate one, and many of the most important in between. It involves an action irreversible in a unique sense, and the whole case against capital punishment has been put on those assumptions.
I would not dare to accuse any hon. Gentleman opposite of insincerity or 1584 sharp practice; but, that being so, to turn round at this stage and tell us that this is a mere consequential Amendment and then—I do not grumble at this; no doubt enough of me is enough—pop out of the Chamber, seems to me to be if not sharp practice, at any rate rather slight toying with a great subject. I hope that nobody on this side again, and certainly not I, will be accused of not being serious about this, or of not meaning what we say about it.
Incidentally, I do not want to attack the Leader of the House. If it is not patronising or treacherous to say so, I think that of a rotten lot he is about the best. He seems to be pretty competent, and almost always to have polite language even if his intentions are wicked. It is all very well for his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne to leap chivalrously to his defence when "sharp practice" dropped from some indiscreet lips, but one or other, or both of them, he and the right hon. Gentleman must have been conscious, before the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour, that it was at least arguable that this was a matter of high constitutional importance, and that the normal practice of the House, and the invariable claim on the Opposition side, is that where a Bill is beyond question, constitutional, it is taken for granted that it will be left on the Floor of the House; and I for one took it for granted.
When I asked one or two of my hon. Friends and was told that that was so, I went off to bed, All that perhaps is of no great importance, but it may perhaps have cleared some memories—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh at my saying that I am not very important, but I am not less skilled in derision than most of them, and I am prepared to laugh at them on similar ground tomorrow.
That is the first thing that ought to be said in commenting on some of the earlier speeches. The second thing is this: we have been accused that what we are really doing and meaning is killing the Bill. I am against the Bill. If the Bill is killed, I shall be pleased, but that is not what I am after, and it is not what I have been after throughout the discussion since that Division. Hon and right hon. Gentlemen have got ulterior motives, but 1585 to do the Lord President of the Council justice once more, if I may do him justice twice in an evening, he in his speech, only rather cautiously and slightly, admitted—but he did admit, and he can read it tomorrow in HANSARD, and he will surely agree with me that he did admit—that there was one silver lining to the cloud of this small imbroglio, and that was that it formed—mixing my metaphors a bit—a kind of snow plough or ballon d'essai, for something which he had always wanted, to turn the House into a highly paid set of professionals spending all their time here and therefore under the Chief Whip.
Every other speaker on the other side—the Lord President of the Council did it only by indirection, I admit, by innuendo, but I would undertake to show in any court of law that it was in his words—every other speaker who spoke on the other side, I think I am right in saying, but I did not hear one—certainly practically every other Member on the other side—said the same thing but plainer and louder.
But the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne just said, "Pouf! What a misuse of the word 'principle'. It does not matter in the least whether we have a vote at 2.30 or 3.30 or 11.30. It is not important. It is a matter of the convenience of a timetable." Right ho. He warns about the thick other end of this wedge. Why cannot any Government who can rely on a majority of two—the present Government so far have had a majority rather greater, but cannot rely on more than two—why should not any Government who can really rely on a majority of two, say, "We will not have Divisions any more ever, except that the Clerk will register the end of each debate and what propositions are then under discussion, and all the Divisions on all such debates so registered shall all happen at 3 o'clock in the morning 10 days later"? That is a slight absurdity, but it is no more an absurdity than the talk of hon. Members opposite would have seemed to their grandfathers, and than consequentially have been thought an absurdity.
It is a gross absurdity. That is the second thing I thought ought to be said at this stage.
Now I come to the third thing I want to say about it. This is the primary, fun- 1586 damental constitutional question: on what authority who may be killed for having done what? I do not apologise for repeating that. How do we expect, in a mature Parliamentary country, this question to be settled? How do we expect it to be settled? Do we expect it to be settled by a Private Member's Bill? That seems to me grossly improper.
I am bound to say that, to me, it seems grossly improper also it should be settled without Whips. I have never ceased from blaming the Government, that of my own party, for taking the Whips off on the first hanging Bill, because it seems to me that if there is one thing the Government are entitled to know about, and if there is one thing everybody else is entitled to refuse to admit except on the advice of the Government, it is this question: what is the necessary amount of human execution, without which the odds are government would be even worse carried on than it is at present? For that question I think the Whips should always be on all the time. That may leave people with consciences, like the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, like me, for that matter, in some difficulty, since because of our consciences we might be compelled to vote against the Whips, and be damned to them. In my judgment the Whips should have been on from the first.
Should it have been done by way of a Private Member's Bill? No. That is grossly and sillily unconstitutional. If it should not be done by a Private Member's Bill, should it have been done by a Government Bill? That is not what the Government are doing. They put a note in the Queen's Speech—I do not know whether it is unprecedented, but it was quite odd, if not quite unique—saying, "There will be an unpredictable Bill on this topic, and we shall give time for it." But when the occasion came they did not give time for it; they gave time for the Second Reading, and beyond that they said, "This is now a matter of Government time, and since Government time is what Government omnipotence depends on, we must have our own way about this. We must not listen to you."
Should it have been done with the Whips on or off? It was done neither way. It was done with the Whips sometimes on and sometimes off. Should it have been done by a Private Member's Bill or by a Government Bill? I am sure 1587 that if it should have been done by either it should have been done by a Government Bill—but it was not; it was done half by one and half by the other, and with the Whips off and on.
Now it is being done avowedly and with boastings from the other side in the hope and with the intention that it will go a considerable way towards altering the effective composition and the normal habits of the House of Commons. That is grossly unconstitutional. If such a thing should be done it should be done after the most careful discussion between parties, and individuals of any party or no party, and especially between poor little beasts like me who are faithful Members of their party but who seldom agree with it. The last thing that it should ever be is a by-product of an impropriety—a bastard of a bastard—of this silly muddle which the Government have got into and which they do not like being called sharp practice.
I warn hon. and right hon. Members opposite that this is a matter of the utmost importance. It is not a funny matter at all. Perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly, largely by accident, the British constitution as it existed not so long ago—and as it could still be thought to exist when I was a boy—has gradually been whittled away. There is nothing of it left now except, perhaps, the law of evidence and certainly the procedure and custom of this House. All the other checks and balances are gone. "We are the masters now", "How many Ministers there are depends on what the Prime Minister thinks will be convenient"—and all that. These things have gone beyond all checking and balancing. They are matters of one-time "Yes" or "No".
I warn hon. and right hon. Members opposite of another thing: the world is divided. We are now fighting as our ancestors did from 1791 to 1815—[Laughter.]that was not funny either. I do not know which hon. Members opposite took part—[HON. MEMBERS:"1815?"]—yes, 1815. I know quite well what I said. If any of them did take part, either directly or ancestrally, they will know very well that 16 years —25 years nearly—is far more than five times five. We did it in five years and know how far more that was than four. It was a very long time. This war 1588 against an armed doctrine now is not, as is generally assumed in the House, a war for and against democracy. It is a war for and against constitutionalism, which is an older and deeper thing, without which democracy will be, in a short time, a fraud and then a corpse. It is a war against an armed doctrine, for nearly six years in the last war and which, if we are not fighting, we are at any rate enduring now. In this war, that this House should, with whatever noble motives and in whatever consciousness of superior sincerity, permit itself to legislate in this matter by a series of unconsitutional tricks, is a great defeat in this war which we are now enduring.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
It must be very hard for hon. Members, on both sides of the House, I think, and surely for members of the general public reading reports of our debates, to conceive that we are debating whether we should, on certain occasional Wednesdays, discuss the further procedure of a particular Bill which had been remitted to a Standing Committee of the House. We have been treated to a tirade of language, arid language very largely—
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Arid and rasping language, to which we have, in the past, become accustomed from the right hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn).
I feel that it is necessary that the House should be brought to some realisation of the kind of issues which we are discussing. I am quite sure that hon. Members opposite will do nothing to restore the general public's faith in them as a fighting Opposition, if they use matters of this kind as their subjects for major discussion.
It will be realised all the more fully by the public how completely out of date their views and ideas are when this issue is considered. I am sure that the general public would wish us to discuss these matters fully at proper times. Proper times, in the general public's view, would surely include times when it is generally thought that the general public and hon. Members are most competent to give clear views. It is now, I am sure, the 1589 view of many people outside the House, as well as inside, that the House would be far better employed using its time more fully in the mornings than it has in the past.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Procedure. It was because of that and because of suggestions which have been made that there might be a slight to that Committee, that I thought it right, as other members of that Committee have done, to say a word at this stage. While, obviously, as a member of that Committee, I would not wish to reveal any matters which have been discussed, it is surely no discourtesy to the Committee—I should take the view that it is almost a courtesy—to provide it with some evidence which the Committee would welcome of how this kind of procedure can most efficiently operate.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
Is the hon. Member arguing that it would be a good thing to "jump the gun", so that the Committee will be guided Dy something which has been done and, therefore, helped to come to a final assessment of the situation?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I should think that the Committee would welcome further evidence from all quarters. I am far from thinking the members of that Committee are so supine as to accept any prejudgment on a matter of this sort, but I certainly think that the Committee would welcome evidence which has not been available up to now. I think that this would be extremely valuable evidence which could be provided for the Committee and which would meet many questions that have been raised on matters which earlier Committees have had the opportunity to discuss, but which have been left unresolved. Therefore, without any prejudice to the way in which the Committee may decide, or make its recommendations, it seems to me that this is a perfectly valid form of action for the House to take, if it so desires.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
I wish to ask my hon. Friend whether, assuming that we were looking at this matter as a sort of experiment. though that is admittedly not the principal object, he can think of any better form of experiment than a Private Member's Bill, subject to a free vote of the House?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I think that my hon. and learned Friend has made a fair comment. I am amazed at some of the charges which have been levelled at my right hon. Friends about sharp practice and the rest. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite seem to be trying to seize on this to make a major party issue which does not exist and to make a case which certainly would collapse under any investigation conducted in calm thought outside the House.
One matter which strikes me clearly in sharp contradistinction to the principle adopted by my right hon. Friends is the memories that I have of occasions when the present Opposition occupied the Government benches and Private Members' Motions were passed without Divisions and apparently accepted, but no action was taken to implement them. This was treating the House with very slight courtesy. Here we have the opposite case. The Government, although clearly pressed for time, as every hon. Member will understand, have made it possible for this Measure to be debated, as the House apparently desires, fully on the Floor of the House.
Whatever right hon. and hon. Members opposite may say about the constitutional importance of whether the House meets in the morning or in the afternoon, this will be found an extremely curious doctrine, I am sure, by everyone outside the House, if not by all hon. Members. I suggest strongly that it is about time hon. Members opposite woke up to the circumstances and realised that quite a lot of our business is carried out by hon. Members, or at least some hon. Members, in the mornings. So far, that has not been regarded as at all objectionable.
§ Mr. Turton
Can the hon. Gentleman give any precedent of an occasion when a matter has been remitted to a Select Committee on Procedure and the Government of the day put down a Motion that prejudges the issue on which members of the Select Committee are precluded from mentioning evidence given to them on that very matter?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
With all consideration to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not take the view that this precludes the decision, or in any way invalidates any view of the Committee of which we are both members. Far from this being 1591 the case, it is completely open to the Committee to take whatever view it wishes, but it will have the benefit of further knowledge of the effects of morning sittings on hon. Members, Ministers, Officers of the House and others. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, like myself, would welcome this information becoming available, as distinct from the information we have in relation to more unusual times when the House sat in the mornings during the war.
As a member of the Select Committee on Estimates I welcome the added information that this will provide. The procedure which my right hon. Friends have adopted should meet the reasonable wishes of the House and I cannot help feeling that the Government have been extremely courteous to the House in the procedure they have adopted, particularly when we consider the procedures which they might have found necessary.
I find the attitude of some hon. Member opposite peculiar, particularly those who have announced their support for the Bill. They should realise that in practical terms it is the only way in which the Measure can be as fully debated as they apparently wish it to be. I hope, therefore, that the attitude taken by many hon. Members opposite will be seen for what it is; nothing more than a bit of political activity, an attempt to get some support which they have so noticeably lacked in the past.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) supposes that we who take a different view from him are simply playing politics. I can only speak for myself. I voted against the Bill to abolish the death penalty because I am flatly opposed to that action. I voted against sending the Measure to Committee upstairs because I thought that it was a subject which should be discussed on the Floor of the House so that, and this was my primary reason, the full pressure of public opinion could be brought to bear on hon. Members during our debates on the Bill.
There is no doubt but that the Bill to abolish the death penalty is profoundly repugnant to the great mass of the people 1592 who have sent us here to represent them. Whether I am speaking to abolitionists or retentionists I say that if Parliament passes the Bill it will be doing something which the British people do not want.
The main reason why I objected to the Measure having its Committee stage upstairs was that by taking that action we were limiting the amount of publicity which our discussions would receive, thereby limiting the opportunities for public opinion to put pressure on hon. Members. I am, therefore, in favour of the Bill coming to the Floor of the House.
I do not wish to use the expression "sharp practice". I will not impute any motives but simply state the facts as I see them. When we voted—and I was one who did—to bring the Bill back to the Floor of the House we meant a Committee of the whole House sitting at the usual time, in the afternoon. [Interruption.] I think I understand what lies behind that interruption from the benches opposite and I will deal with it later. As I said, we assumed that a Committee of the whole House would mean in future what it has meant in the past; a Committee sitting in the afternoon.
The Government's proposal that the Bill be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House which meets in the morning is not a matter simply of the difference between ten o'clock and two o'clock. In fact—we all know it; the Government know it as well as anybody—if we send the Bill to a Committee of the whole House meeting in the mornings, we shall exclude from the discussions of the Bill a considerable number of Members of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am delighted with that interruption. That is exactly the information I wanted. If the Committee of the whole House meets in the morning, a large proportion of hon. Members will not be able to take part in the discussions.
§ Mr. Curran
The question "Why not?" is an interesting one. I will make hon. Members opposite a present of this. It may be that some of them 1593 are busy making money outside. It may be that some of them are directors of companies. It may be that some of them are earning money in the courts. It may even be that some of them are earning money in Fleet Street. We are not concerned with why they will not be here.
§ Mr. Curran
The Government should be concerned with the results of what they are doing. It may be, in view of the results which may be arrived at, that their decision should be changed. As the Government know full well, by sending the Bill to a Committee of the whole House meeting in the mornings the Government will in fact ensure that the Bill is debated in Committee by only a small proportion of Members of the House.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree with this fact, at any rate. If the debate takes place at 10.30 in the morning on Wednesday, even accepting the argument advanced by the other side it will be debated by more hon. Members than would have been able to debate it in Standing Committee. As I understand it, this is the basis of the argument advanced by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Curran
I quite agree with that. I should have thought, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, that it pretty well goes without saying. The Standing Committee, which is limited to 50 members, necessarily involves a smaller number of people taking part than will take part if the Bill is debated here. Since I have agreed with the hon. Gentleman, will he not now do me the justice of agreeing with me?
§ Mr. Curran
The hon. Gentleman might listen to what I say before he says that he will not agree with me. Will he not agree with me that, if we debate the Bill in a Committee of the whole House meeting in the mornings, we shall in fact —whether this is a good or a bad fact is beside the point—exclude from the debate most of the lawyers in the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Will not the hon. Gentleman agree with me that the 1594 practical consequence of the Bill being dealt with by a Committee of the whole House meeting in the mornings is that a considerable number of practising lawyers in the House will not be here to take part in this discussion? Does he disagree with that?
§ Mr. Richard
Speaking as a practising lawyer and not as a Fleet Street journalist, I would not agree with the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Curran
I should have made it plain that when speaking about lawyers I was not talking about the briefless lawyers. I was talking about the busy lawyers. They are to be found on both sides of the House. I am talking about those lawyers whose abilities are valued so highly that people are prepared to pay money to have the use of them.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
I am not sure in which category I myself come, but as one who was a member of the Standing Committee—I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was; at least, I do not recall having seen him there—I can assure him that lawyers were probably the most regular attenders on both sides of the Committee.
§ Mr. Curran
I quite agree. I am not disputing that. I am asserting that, if the Bill is dealt with by a Committee of the whole House meeting in the mornings, we know as a fact that there are here, not on the Standing Committee but as Members of the House, a number of lawyers who will be too busy to come here.
It may be that we ought to alter the composition of the House. It may be that it can be argued, though I do not think that this is the place to argue it, that the House ought to change its character and become a place inhabited entirely by full-time professional politicians working factory hours, clocking in at ten o'clock and going on all day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I quite agree that it can be argued that the House ought to become that kind of assembly, but it is not that kind of assembly now. It may be that hon. Members opposite who think it ought to become that kind of assembly are 1595 entitled to say that we should transform it, but if we are to transform it let us do it with our eyes open and not by a subterfuge, as we are doing now. This is an attempt to have a pilot experiment for the purpose of making by subterfuge a radical change in the constitution of the House of Commons.
Obviously, one day a week is a pilot test, but I suggest that if we are to make that sort of change and turn the House of Commons from what it is now to something quite different we ought to do that only after careful and detailed discussion. Hitherto, for all the centuries that the House of Commons has existed it has been a place which did not expect to run itself entirely on full-time professional politicians.
§ Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
My hon. Friend will recall that it was Lord Attlee who said that one of the great strengths of the House of Commons was that at least 50 per cent. of its Members had to be part-time because they lived in the great world outside.
§ Mr. Curran
Exactly. There is an enormously powerful case which could be supported by quotations from Lord Attlee and a great many other people for the view that the strength of this institution to which we are all proud to belong derives from the fact that most of its Members are not full-time politicians.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The hon. Member is talking about lawyers, company directors and so on who would be active in the morning. Has he ever considered the point that some of us on this side of the House were building trade operatives and operatives in factories before we came here? Has he considered how strange it would be if we put in four-hour shifts in the morning and came to the House direct from our jobs in our Wellington boots and our overalls? Has he considered that the following morning people like myself in that position would have to get up at 6.30 to start work at 7.30? Would the hon. Member not consider that the time has come—
§ Mr. Curran
It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) has said, that some people, and he gives himself as an example, might work at plumbing or bricklaying and then come there afterwards. I do not know that that is a hardship. As things are now a good many professional people work three or four hours at their profession before coming here in the morning. I see nothing wrong in that, and, equally, I see nothing wrong in the people of whom the hon. Gentleman was speaking doing the same thing.
But I ask hon. Members to consider this. We have recently raised the salaries which we pay ourselves. Why have we done so? We have done it on the plea that, by raising Members' salaries, we widen the catchment area from which Members of Parliament are drawn. Yet, having done that, we are now urged to make changes in the composition of the House which would narrow the catchment area far more closely than ever before in our history.
We must make up our minds whether we want to preserve the House of Commons which we have or whether we want to make it something quite different. But, whatever may be the arguments for the one or the other, they should be deployed in the open. They should not be deployed as subterfuge on this Bill.
I repeat that the primary reason why I at least am resisting the Bill and the Motion before us is not some sort of political gamesmanship. I am doing it because I am honestly and firmly opposed to the abolition of the death penalty. I believe that if the House votes for it it will be doing something which the British people do not want, and I hope that, by bringing the Committee stage to the Floor of the House, a House which meets in the afternoon when hon. Members of all kinds can take part, we shall be able to promote such a blast of public opinion against it that it will prevent the Bill from being carried.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I wish to intervene only briefly, and, as a new Member, I do so with some trepidation because new Members are often told that they cannot understand procedure until they have been here for donkeys' years.
1597 The crux of the debate is not the merits of the Bill itself. It is not even the question of Principle as to whether it should be brought for its Committee stage to the Floor of the House. The simple question is, the House having decided that it will be brought to the Floor of the House, should the Committee meet in the morning rather than at some other time? In attacking the Motion, the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) made the point, which has been followed by several speakers opposite, that meeting in the morning will deprive the House of the services of those who have a broadening of interest as a result of their activities in the City, in Fleet Street, or in the courts of law.
I think that I can speak here with the full support of practically every new Member on this side—[An HON. MEMBER: "And some old ones."]—and perhaps some old ones, too—when I say that, if one wants a broadening of experience and interest, if one wants, as the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. MottRadclyffe) said, to know something about the impact of our legislative activities upon ordinary people, one can get it not in the courts of law or in Fleet Street, but by coming with me each Friday night on a tour round the clubs, the "pubs" arid the townswomen's guilds of east Newcastle, or on Saturday mornings when I meet my constituents.
I make this observation on the question of full-time membership. There are now in the House, particularly as a result of the last General Election, a substantial number of Members who have come here determined to devote their full time and energies to serving the people they have been elected to represent. To most of us, meeting in the House in the morning will make no difference, because we are here at ten o'clock anyway. As for the argument raised by the Opposition Front Bench, that it will inconvenience Ministers, I can only say that it will not inconvenience the Ministers in this Government, because the vast majority of them are quite capable of dealing with their business here, where they have rooms, and of meeting their responsibilities to the House, whether it meets in the mornings or not.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds) rose—1598
§ Mr. Rhodes
I am quite prepared to give way if the time which I use in doing so is taken from the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson), but I know that he wishes to rise in a moment or two and I do not wish to delay him.
Members who make their membership of the House of Commons a full-time occupation are determined to make use of the facility now being granted to meet on Wednesday mornings. I would urge hon. Members who say that they need to do remunerative work outside the House in the mornings so as to enrich their experience to realise that this is something that their constituents should know. We should meet in the mornings —that is what the public expect us to do. We should make this a full-time job—that is what the public expect it to be.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) started with an apology to the House for being a new Member, but he brought the debate back to the real issues and I should like to thank him for his courtesy in sitting down when he did and cutting short his speech.
I understand that the Lord President of the Council is to reply to the debate. He has complained about the phrase that I used that this has been a shabby political manoeuvre and I propose to refer to that again. I believe that this Motion is the culmination of a wretched story of Government ineptitude in regard to this matter, which is one that affects the business and procedure of the House and which also concerns something of the greatest importance to everyone outside the House. Not only has it been a matter of Government ineptitude. According to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), there has been what he called a breach of faith—and he, of all persons, should know, for his name stood second among the sponsors of the Bill.
Abolition is an issue of constitutional importance, and in the past has always been treated as a House of Commons matter, a case for individual conscience and one on which every hon. Member should be able to vote, speak and act as he thought proper and right. Yet there is to be a three-line Whip on the Government side tonight.
1599 The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) wondered why the debate should have lasted so long. He said that the issue was so narrow. I understand that he thought that the matter had been, as it were, decided already. But the feelings on this side of the House have been deeply moved by the conduct of the Government, and whether the hon. Gentleman accepts it or not, all hon. Members on this side of the House who have spoken today, whether they be abolitionist or retentionist, feel that the Government and the Patronage Secretary in particular have shown a breach of faith to the whole House, and it is for that that we indict the Government.
It is easy to take a superficial view of the question of when the House should sit and how it should carry out its business. I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite will be obedient to the cracking of the whips tonight, but this is a matter which started when the House of Commons reached a decision in December after a debate in which hon. Members spoke on the merits of the Bill with complete sincerity and complete good faith and voted accordingly. There was no doubt whatever about the feeling of the House then.
There then happened the incident which has really led us into the situation the House is in today and, in particular, the position in which hon. Members opposite find themselves—of having to obey a Whip on a matter such as this.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone) rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House will have to think about the possibility of its being thought that there was too much noise for speeches to be heard.
§ Mr. Mendelson rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the House has to think about this and I propose to secure that it does. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is speaking does not give way, the hon. 1600 Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) must not persist.
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order. I distinctly heard an hon. Member opposite use the term "craven core". I understand the words "craven core" to mean "cowardly centre". This phrase has been used in another context. I should like to know whether we on this side of the House are to receive an apology from the hon. Gentleman who made that statement.
§ Mr. Speaker
First, I do not know who it was. Secondly, I do not know who the target was, but it appears to be of a group character and I think we should not interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I will give way to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), who has not been here during much of the debate, but I will finish the sentence which I was in the middle of uttering when he interrupted.
I was saying that my criticism of the Government is connected with their promise to give facilities for a free decision on this issue. Anybody who read the Queen's Speech and read therein these words knew what they meant, having regard to the history and tradition of the House in this matter. They knew, that the words meant that the Government had decided that the Bill would be given priority and that there would be Divisions according to the consciences of hon. Members and that the Bill would be dealt with, as previous Bills have been dealt with, in the House through all its stages.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should appreciate that I have been here for most of the debate, that I heard the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) throughout his speech and that I have heard most other speeches. I have risen only because the right hon. and learned Gentleman made the accusation that after the Second Reading decision this was turned into a political manoeuvre. That is quite untrue. The Bill was proceeding in Standing Committee. On Friday, 5th March, there was a combination of hon. Members opposite who 1601 wanted to kill the Bill and, equally important, certainly to embarrass the Government's legislative programme, and they got together and produced this situation.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
That is totally false. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong and I say that specifically to him. There are deep feelings about this matter among hon. Members on this side of the House and the constant accusations of hon. Members opposite, such as we have had during the course of the afternoon, have only increased that resentment. The Government promised to give these facilities and everybody knew that that meant that the Bill would be part of their programme in so far as they would give free votes on all the issues brought before the House—and there is more than one issue.
The Bill having been drafted by Government draftsmen, it was handed to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, not an unusual course when a Government support the principle of a Bill. Why not? But let us at least do away with any hypocrisy or cant about it. This is what the Government were doing and the Government therefore were not being neutral but were leading on the issue.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman mistaken in thinking that when a Government provide time for a Private Member's Bill they are necessarily supporting the principle? The Conservative Government in 1956 did that very thing, and it must be to their credit that they did so because they were known to be against the principle. The fact that one Government or another find time is without prejudice to their view about the matter.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
The hon. Gentleman must forgive us if we look with a little scepticism upon that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I do not suggest that it is not a perfectly honourable attitude for the Government to adopt to say, "This is a matter of consultation. We will get the Parliamentary draftsmen to draft the Bill and we will have a free vote on it". That is a perfectly sensible and honourable attitude for the Government to adopt.
That is what happened until such time as it was decided—nobody 1602 seems to know when it was—that the Government would not do what previous Governments have done, and that is to take the Bill through all its stages on the Floor of the House. They permitted my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to believe and anticipate that it would be taken on the Floor of the House. They must have known the precedents. Why should this occasion be different? It is reasonable to assume that the Patronage Secretary would treat the matter as similar matters had been treated before.
But the Leader of the House, on Friday, 5th March, said that the Government assumed that there would be no objection to the Bill going to a Standing Committee. Why should there be such an assumption, which is completely contrary to what had happened in the past and certainly contrary to all the precedents. There was not a word to the promoters—we have heard that—and no consultation at all with anybody as to what they intended to do. This is the shabby political manoeuvre. They hoped to slip in this Bill—and the right hon. Gentleman must know it—and send it to a Committee upstairs without bringing before the House the issue of whether it should go to a Committee of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary could very easily, if he had so wished, have advised either the opponents of the Bill or the promoters that this was what, in his judgment, should be done. But he did not do that. It was only when I moved the Motion after the Division that the House was able to take a vote on it. The whole resentment begins from the time when he took the tellers off and put the Government Whips on. As we thought that the matter had been ill judged, a Motion was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and myself before the Committee stage started upstairs suggesting that the Bill should come back to the Floor of the House and be debated on the Floor of the House. No notice was taken of that. That was before the Committee stage started and before my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams) put down his Motion. We therefore started the Committee stage amid the protests taken up in the Committee that the Bill should proceed there at all.
1603 Then it was the good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to win in the ballot the right to put the Motion before the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] It was a valid expression of the opinion of the House on Friday, 5th March, that it should come back to the Floor of the House. That is our condemnation of the Government's conduct.
Now we have the procedure Motion to try to salvage something from the difficulties into which the Patronage Secretary got the Government. Either it is a serious and considered experiment to see whether or not the House should sit in Committee at 10.30 on Wednesday mornings or merely an expedient. If it is a serious experiment, why was there not consultation before it was suggested? Why was it not discussed? Is it not customary in the House that when charges of this kind are made discussions should take place? Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that if this is a serious experiment this has been the right atmosphere in which to debate it?
This is a House of Commons matter and should be treated as such. If it is a House of Commons matter, why are the Whips on? If it is a serious experiment, why have the Government put the Whips on? Is the alternative—the truth—that this was a slick and rather petulant attempt to punish the House for daring on Friday, 5th March, to have reversed the earlier decision? The decision taken that day was taken after debate, whereas on 21st December, when the Division followed the moving of the Motion, there was no debate whatever.
Does not the Lord President of the Council, who tonight will be having to reply to the House on this procedural matter, think that this is a matter of constitutional importance? If he does, does he think that this has been the hest kind of atmosphere in which to have such a debate? Will he tell us how long the question whether there were to be sittings of the House at 10.30 in the morning has been considered? If he considers that the Select Committee on Procedure is important, as it is, it should be allowed to examine this matter and consider whether these mat- 1604 ters should be taken by the House sitting at 10.30 a.m. in full Committee. How is the Select Committee to be treated if it is not to have close examination of people from all quarters of the House, so that they can give their opinion, and then report back to the House, so that the House can discuss it as a House of Commons matter?
There are few occasions, I suggest—and there ought, some people think, to be more—when the House of Commons can speak and vote as individuals and without the pressure of party politics playing upon it the whole time. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite who are shouting do so from guilty consciences at the way they have treated the House of Commons in this matter. Of course, they will go off to vote as they voted for the Bill, which was a Government Bill. With one exception, they voted for it, whereas on this side of the House there was a division, and a division according to judgment and conscience.
Right hon. and hon. Members opposite will go into the Lobby at the behest of the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House, but the Leader of the House knows perfectly well that this is a matter and issue which needs much more careful consideration than has been given to it. I can only repeat, as I said before, that I believe that the Government have been guilty of a shabby political manoeuvre.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowden
We have spent almost six hours today, following upon five hours on Friday, 5th March, discussing this subject. It is true that the Motion which we are now discussing came before us only today. I have listened to almost all the speeches on both occasions. This debate has been pitched rather high.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
On a point of order. Is it not customary, Mr. Speaker, for a Member who speaks twice to ask the leave of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a case of the right hon. Gentleman being the mover of a substantive Motion. The hon. Gentleman is on a point of order but it is a had one.
§ Mr. Bowden
I was saying that this debate has been pitched rather high. 1605 Charges and words have been thrown about which, I am sure, on reflection in calmer moments, hon. Members opposite will regret. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and myself have been accused of breach of faith. We have been accused of being slick and of petulance and arrogance—all these things. The hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) was the only Member on the apposite side of the House who has had a kind word to say about me.
I would remind the House that it does not really matter. After all, this is the House of Commons, and we all understand each other. What is said out of kindness, or of a derogatory character, does not matter very much. I am not in the least concerned about what Members say about me personally in the House, and I am concerned outside only if they are worth suing. In defence of my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and myself, it might interest hon. Gentlemen opposite to know that we are referred to as "Merry" and "Bright" on this side of the House. I would not like to have to differentiate.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) dealt with one or two procedural points which I should like to take up. 1 have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge in this field. I am sure that no one has a greater knowledge of procedure than he has, but one or two of the things that he said were somewhat "off beam".
First, he said that in his view this was a complete break with precedent in that the House of Commons was considering a new procedure introduced by the Government which had not previously at least been considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that there are about 117 Standing Orders, that 89 of them have been changed in some way or other since the war, and that most of them have been changed without any reference whatsoever to the Select Committee on Procedure.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what action we on this side felt we could take about referring this particular matter to the Select Committee on Procedure. I think that it was his view that it ought to have gone there before we brought it here today as a Motion. 1606 I do not think that this is the point at all. This is a very simple, narrow, point. This is a point which deals with one, simple, plain issue, and it has been built up to mean all sorts of things.
It was the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who said that "this specific matter has not been referred to the Select Committee". Of course it has not. Nor can we refer many others. I might be asked what examples there are of occasions on which the House has approved matters of procedure and adopted new procedures which have never been before a Select Committee on Procedure. There are many examples.
Older Members will recall that in the days of the "Boothby harriers" we used to be kept up all night discussing Prayers. The Prayer procedure was altered so that we no longer discussed them beyond half-past eleven. I am not certain on this point, but I have done some research, and I think that it was the Government of that side who ended that procedure and brought the discussion on Prayers to an end at half-past eleven without any reference to the Select Committee on Procedure. I am not disputing this. This is the sort of thing that should be done.
§ Mr. Turton
I said that this specific matter had been referred, but I and other members of the Select Committee were gagged because we could not explain the evidence which had been given to the Select Committee on this specific matter.
§ Mr. Bowden
I dispute that. This specific matter as to whether the House should sit for three hours on one morning of the week to consider the Committee stage of a Private Member's Bill has not been referred to the Select Committee.
A further example of this will arise on Monday of next week, and I give it for what it is worth. Then, we shall adopt a procedure which has never been adopted before in this House. On the Report stage of the Estimates we shall be moving that the Estimates be taken formally on a Guillotine day to enable a debate to take place at the request of the Opposition on the Milner Holland Report. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a good thing to do, but it is a precedent.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham) rose—
§ Mr. Bowden
I cannot give way. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) and I have cut our time to the minimum to allow other hon. Members to take part in the debate.
It is a misunderstanding in the speeches of a number of Members on that side of the House to assume that any action is necessary, after a Second Reading of a Bill, to send it upstairs. It was not necessary for us to take any action. As I said on 5th March, I assumed that the Bill would follow the normal procedure of Private Members' Bills and go upstairs. That is precisely what I meant and what I assumed. It was the right hon. and learned Gentleman who moved that it be taken on the Floor of the House, and a Division took place and he was defeated.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe has referred to the question of Government time. He says that we have got plenty of time. He says there is no need, so early in the Session, or now, to economise on time. Let me remind him that although the Session started only in November 41 Public Bills have already been introduced. I accept his point that some of them are hangovers. One such was the War Damage Bill. That was the child of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and they turned that child out and left it to us, and we are carrying it—though it is hardly a baby, for the baby is growing up.
The point was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton and others about the inconvenience to the House of sitting in the mornings. I accept that it is an inconvenience to sit in the mornings. It is an inconvenience to those who have something else to do, and it may not be as convenient for Ministers who have apointments, and so on. It may not be as convenient to Members who have to be in court in the mornings. It may not be as convenient to doctors who are in their surgeries in the mornings. But, surely, in all these things Parliament must come first. If we really argue that the hours of the Sittings of Parliament must be adjusted to suit the convenience of all Members at all times, we should be sitting some peculiar hours. Parliament 1608 must come first, and Members must adjust their lives and their interests outside to suit the hours of Parliament.
I was asked why, in the view of the Government, it was thought necessary to have free votes on the Bill, and why we are not to adopt it as a Government Bill. The answer is simple. The answer is that on this side of the House we are of the opinion that there are many measures —I am thinking particularly of Sunday observance, measures of that sort—which are not party political measures at all. There is a great deal which ought to be done. The Government could introduce a Bill; a private Member could introduce a Bill; the decision on the issue must be by a free vote of the House. That is our view, and that is what we shall do on a number of occasions as legislation comes along.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe talked about the Motion on the Paper.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford) rose—
§ Mr. Bowden
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I have only 12 minutes.
I am not quite sure, but I think that I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman said it was a sloppy Motion, sloppy and doubtful.
§ Mr. Bowden
A sloppily drafted Motion? I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have said that, because it was drafted by the distinguished gentlemen who drafted Measures when he was a member of a Government.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I cannot let the right hon. Gentleman get away with that. Draftsmen work on instructions given by the Front Bench. These instructions were not in accordance with the Government's intentions as stated.
§ Mr. Bowden
These instructions are in complete accordance with Government instructions. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will read the Motion carefully they will find that it is absolutely watertight, and is precisely what we said.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a specific point. He referred to the wordsshall be deferred until such day as the Member in charge of the Bill shall appoint".1609 He thought that there was something sinister in that. This is the normal procedure in Committee, whether on the Floor of the House or upstairs. At the end of the day—at one o'clock—when Progress is reported, the Member in charge—whether he be a Minister, or, in the case of a Private Member's Bill a private Member—moves, "Tomorrow." The right hon. Gentleman suggested that he should move, "Next Wednesday." That is not necessary; next Wednesday is contained within the Motion.
Why does he move, "Tomorrow"? It is because—and the right hon. Member knows this as well as I do—that it is to get it on the Order Paper for the next day, below the line, to leave sufficient leeway in case of business changes, so that it can be altered very easily.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the more important point? Why does the alternative remain, that the House may be in Committee or sitting as a House?
§ Mr. Bowden
That is a fair point.
If the House should be counted out it is necessary to report Progress earlier, and the Member in charge of the Bill would have to report it earlier. Under the terms of the Motion, as drafted, it is not possible for the Committee to sit other than on the Floor of the House from half-past ten in the morning until one o'clock. It is not possible for it to sit on any day other than Wednesday. That is what the Motion says, and it is absolutely watertight. If it were the wish of any Member of the House in the Committee on Wednesday morning that the Committee should sit on another day, it could be done only by a decision of the House. The Motion is specific.
The right hon. Gentleman referred a little earlier in his speech to a draft Motion. I can tell him that there was an earlier draft Motion, but that it was tightened because we felt that there was a possibility, under it, of something other than the Committee stage being taken on the Floor of the House in the morning. ft was altered in accordance with my view and my promise that only the Committee stage shall be taken on the Floor of the House in the morning, and that we will find time for Report and Third Reading.
1610 The point has been made about the Whips being on. I said on 5th March, and I repeat, that the reason why the Whips were on then, as they are on today, was that the Motion refers to Government time. The Government must be responsible for their own time. When we go into the Lobby tonight I understand that there will be no Whip on for hon. Members opposite. There is a Whip on this side. I am glad to see that the Opposition Chief Whip laughs. I understand that there was no Opposition Whip on on Friday, 5th March. It was an interesting coincidence that at about twenty minutes to four on that day the Chamber suddenly became crowded with Members. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says that there was no Whip on, and that it was a pure coincidence that so many Members came in at twenty minutes to four.
The House may be interested to hear a newspaper report concerning that debate. I will read it because it is brief. It is from the Sunderland Echo of 6th March. [Laughter.] I hope that the House will listen, because it is worth listening to.The Government's defeat in the 'No Hanging' Bill vote yesterday was the Conservatives' first major success in opposition, Mr. G. P. Davidson, prospective Conservative candidate for Sunderland, North said last night."—[Laughter.] Listen.Mr. Davidson was deputising for Mr. R. W. Elliott, Conservative M.P. for Newcastle. North, who missed his plane from London because he was detained in the House of Commons by the three-line Whip for the vote"—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I presume that the report from which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted arose from a message which I sent to Mr. G. P. Davidson on the afternoon of Friday, 5th March, when I apologised for being unable to reach the meeting in Sunderland because I wished to take part, on my own account—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in a Division in the late afternoon.
Could I say this to the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am quite sure that Mr. G. P. Davidson and others may be surprised, and will certainly be pleased, to know that we did not need a three-line Whip or any sort of Whip to defeat the Government.
§ Mr. Bowden
There is nothing to withdraw. So much for the three-line Whip. So much for the question of there being no Whip.
Finally, may I remind the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—that when I posed, in my opening speech, the question whether or not the real object here was to defeat the Bill or not, there were Opposition cheers. There is nothing wrong with this. If hon. Members want to defeat the Bill that way, then by all means let them do it. It is part of our procedure and it is a legitimate thing to do, but they should not pretend [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—they should not get "all het up" and in a state of excitement and throw words like "breach of faith" around the Chamber, when, in fact, the object of a considerable number of hon. Members on that side is simply to defeat the Bill.
When the Bill was discussed on Second Reading, there were 357 or 355 hon. Members who voted for it. Those hon. Members voted for the Bill because they believed in it. They wanted to see the Bill go through. I hope that those Members will tonight rethink their position. If they want the Bill to go through, they should go in the Lobby on this side of the House and make quite sure that the Committee stage proceeds. This is much ado about nothing. What the Govern-
§ ment have done, sincerely and honestly, is try to meet the decision of the House of 5th March, by bringing the Bill on to the Floor of the House. Neither the country nor the House will ever be convinced that the constitution of this country is severely shaken by Members of Parliament, for one Private Member's Bill, sitting for three hours on Wednesday mornings for something like five, six or seven mornings. I hope that, as there is no Whip on that side—and this should prove it—[An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Gentleman will see."]—some dozens of hon. Members on that side will come into the Lobby and vote with the Government.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham rose—
§ Mr. Short rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that I am being addressed on a point of order, but I cannot hear what it is.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
No, Mr. Speaker. What I was saying was that the real reason why the Government are trying—
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 299, Noes 229.1615
|Division No. 75.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Cullen, Mrs. Alice|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Boyden, James||Dalyell, Tam|
|Aildritt, W. H.||Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Darling, George|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bag[...]er, Gordon A. T.||Brown, R.W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Delargy, Hugh|
|Barnett, Joel||Buchanan, Richard||Dell, Edmund|
|Baxter, William||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Dempsey, James|
|Beaney, Alan||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Diamond, John|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Dodds, Norman|
|Bence, Cyril||Carmichael, Neil||Doig, Peter|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Donnelly, Desmond|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Driberg, Tom|
|Bessell, Peter||Chapman, Donald||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Binns, John||Coleman, Donald||Dunn, James A.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Conlan, Bernard||Dunnett, Jack|
|Blackburn, F.||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Bienkinsop, Arthur||Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||English, Michael|
|Boardman, H.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Ennals, David|
|Boston, T. G.||Crawshaw, Richard||Ensor, David|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Crosland, Anthony||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)|
|Ferayhough, E.||Leadbitter, Ted||Rankin, John|
|Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Ledger, Ron||Redhead, Edward|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Richard, Ivor|
|Floud, Bernard||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Foley, Maurice||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Lomas, Kenneth||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Yale)||Loughlin, Charles||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Ford, Ben||Lubbock, Eric||Rose, Paul B.|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Freeson, Reginald||McBride, Neil||Rowland, Christopher|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||McCann, J.||Sheldon, Robert|
|Garrett, W. E.||MacColl, James||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Garrow, A.||MacDermot, Niall||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd||McGuire, Michael||Short, Rt. Hn. E.(N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Ginsburg, David||McInnes, James||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Gregory, Arnold||Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Grey, Charles||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||MacMillan, Malcolm||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Griffiths, Will (M'chester Exchange)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Small, William|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Hale, Leslie||Mallalieu J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Snow, Julian|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Manuel, Archie||Solomons, Henry|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mapp, Charles||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Marsh, Richard||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hannan, William||Mason, Roy||Steele, Thomas|
|Harper, Joseph||Maxwell, Robert||Stewart Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mayhew, Christopher||Storehouse, John|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mellish, Robert||Stones, William|
|Hattersley, Roy||Mendelson, J. J.||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mikardo, Ian||Summerskill, Dr. Shirley|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Millan, Bruce||Swain, Thomas|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Swingler, Stephen|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Molloy, William||Taverne, Dick|
|Hobden, Dennis||Monslow, Walter||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Holman, Percy||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Horner, John||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Murray, Albert||Thornton, Ernest|
|Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Neal, Harold||Tinn, James|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Newens, Stan||Tomney, Frank|
|Howie, W.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Hoy, James||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Norwood, Christopher||Varley, Eric G.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Oakes, Gordon||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||O'Malley, Brian||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)||Orme, Stanley||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Oswald, Thomas||Wallace, George|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Owen, Will||Warbey, William|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Padley, Walter||Watkins, Tudor|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Weitzman, David|
|Jackson, Colin||Paget, R. T.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Palmer, Arthur||Whitlock, William|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&st.P'cras, S.)||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Parker, John||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Parkin, B. T.||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pavitt, Laurence||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pentland, Norman||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W.Ham, S.)||Perry, Ernest G.||Woof, Robert|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Popplewell, Ernest||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Kelley, Richard||Prentice, R. E.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Probert, Arthur|
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lawson, George||Randall, Harry||Mr. Sydney Irving and|
|Mr. George Rogers.|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Atkins, Humphrey|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.||Awdry, Daniel|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Astor, John||Baker, W. H. K.|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Grant, Anthony||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Grant-Ferris, R.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Batsford, Brian||Gresham-Cooke, R.||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Grieve, Percy||Murton, Oscar|
|Bell, Ronald||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Neave, Airey|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Gurden, Harold||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard|
|Biffen, John||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Blaker, Peter||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Bossom, Hn. Clive||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Peel, John|
|Box, Donald||Harvey, John (Walthantstow, E.)||Percival, Ian|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Peyton, John|
|Braine, Bernard||Hastings, Stephen||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth|
|Brewis, John||Hay, John||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Pounder, Rafton|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col.Sir Walter||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Hendry, Forbes||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Higgins, Terence L.||Pym, Francis|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hiley, Joseph||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Bryan, Paul||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin|
|Buck, Antony||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rees-Davies, W.R.|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Buxton, R. C.||Hopkins, Alan||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Campbell, Gordon||Hordern, Peter||Roots, William|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hornby, Richard||Royle, Anthony|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Gary, Sir Robert||Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Sharpies, Richard|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Iremonger, T. L.||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John|
|Cooke, Robert||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cooper, A. E.||Johnson Smith, G.||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Stodart, J. A.|
|Corfield, F. V.||Jopling, Michael||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Costain, A. P.||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Craddock, Sir Beretford (Spelthorne)||Kershaw, Anthony||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Kilfedder, James A.||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Kimball, Marcus||Teeling, Sir William|
|Curran, Charles||Lagden, Godfrey||Temple, John M.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Lambton, Viscount||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Dance, James||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Dean, Paul||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Litchfield, Capt. John||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Doughty, Charles||Longbottom, Charles||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Loveys, Walter H.||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Eden, Sir John||MacArthur, Ian||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McLaren, Martin||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Emery, Peter||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Walters, Dennis|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McNair-Wilson, Patrick||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Maitland, Sir John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Foster, Sir John||Marten, Neil||Webster, David|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Mathew, Robert||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maude, Angus||Whitelaw, William|
|Gardner, Edward||Mawby, Ray||Wiliams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wise, A. R.|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Miscampbell, Norman||Wylie, N. R.|
|Glyn, Sir Richard||Mitchell, David||Younger, Hn. George|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Monro, Hector|
|Goodhew, Victor||More, Jasper||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Chataway and Mr. Berkeley.|