§ 9.3 p.m.
§ The First Secretary of State (Mr. Michael Stewart)
I beg to move,
That Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted business) be amended as follows: —
Line 17, leave out from 'provides' to end of line 22 and insert ' but Mr. Speaker shall put any questions necessary to dispose of such proceedings not later than half-past eleven of the clock or one and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings, whichever is the later:
Provided that, if Mr. Speaker shall be of opinion that, because of the importance of the subject matter of the motion, the time for debate has not been adequate, he shall, instead of putting the question as aforesaid, interrupt the business, and the debate shall stand adjourned till the next sitting (other than a Friday);
(c) proceedings in pursuance of any Standing Order of this House which provides that proceedings though opposed may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business;'.
The effect of this alteration, if the House agrees to make it, is that the House would in future be able to handle Orders subject to the affirmative procedure in the way that we can now handle Orders subject to the negative procedure; that is to say, that the debate would normally last an hour and a half unless Mr. Speaker judged that at the end of that 333 time there had not been adequate debate, in which case further facilities and time would have to be provided.
The House knows that the number of Statutory Instruments of all kinds has been increasing steadily over a great many years under Governments of all complexions.
While I am on this point, might I correct something that I said in our last debate about Orders. On 6th December I said that it was possible by Order in the House and not even by Statute to raise the rates of National Insurance contributions. I was in error about that, except for the contributions of certain special groups of contributors, such as mariners. I am sorry for having misled the House on that occasion.
This growth of Orders, without which it would be impossible to provide for the government of the modern State, has created the problem of how to deal with them in a way that does not waste time, but gives the House the proper control. As far back as 1954 the House decided, concerning Orders subject to the negative procedure, that the Prayer should last, as the Standing Orders now provide, for an hour and a half, subject to the discretion of Mr. Speaker to rule that the topic has not had a proper opportunity for debate.
§ Mr. Stewart
I trust I shall not mislead the House again. My hon. Friend is a great authority, but my information —and I believe it to be correct—is that this was a Sessional Order made in 1954.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not know whether I ought to pause for a moment to see if there are any further suggestions.
§ Mr. Stewart
If my hon. Friend is right, that strengthens the point that it is even longer than I had supposed since we decided to deal with Orders subject to the negative procedure in this way.
Since the House first debated the present proposal, it will be seen that the Motion has been expanded to give this discretion to Mr. Speaker. This is the 334 way that it will be bound to work. The Government of the day, whatever party they might be, will not want to land themselves in the position of trying to get an affirmative Order through in an hour and a half, to be told by Mr. Speaker at the end of that time that this had not given sufficient opportunity to discuss so important a subject and that they must, therefore, provide further time.
The Government would consider in advance, "Is this an affirmative Order of such importance that it would not be sensible to try to get it through in an hour and a half?" and would then provide for more time if they decided that it would not be sensible, because the proposed new Order does not prescribe that all Motions dealing with affirmative Orders must go through in an hour and a half.
It would be open to the Government, perhaps after consultation through the usual channels, to decide that for this or that affirmative Order more time should be allowed, and if they mistook the temper of the House, or, in Mr. Speaker's judgment, mistook the importance of the Order, they would find that they could not get it through in an hour and a half. In effect, therefore, this Motion means that if an affirmative Order is of such a nature that in Mr. Speaker's judgment it can be adequately debated in an hour and a half, that will be the time limit for the debate.
There remain, of course, certain other very important Orders which the House discusses, for example the general grant for local authorities, or Orders continuing the Armed Forces Acts, and these will continue to have a full day's debate.
I think I have explained the nature of the Motion. I think it will be simplest if I say no more at this stage, but, like my hon. Friend, listen to the debate and hope to have the opportunity, if necessary, to reply at the end of it.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page
As the right hon. Gentleman has explained, the purpose of this Motion, as I see it, is to place the same restraint on a debate in which the Government are required to ask the House by affirmative Resolution to approve an Order as is put at present, by Standing Order 100, on a debate in 335 which the Opposition, or indeed any backbench Member, asks the House by negative Resolution to nullify an Order.
Briefly, it is that such debates shall end at 11.30, or, a slight variation under this Motion as compared with Standing Order 100, that the debate may run for an hour and a half. The difference is that in the one case Parliament has, by the parent Statute, required the Government to bring the Order, or draft Order, before the House. In the other case the parent Statute has given the Government power to create law, subject only to somebody in the House praying that the Order be annulled.
It may be astonishing to some right hon. and hon. Members who have not had cause to look into this matter in detail to know the different kinds of Statutory Instruments which there can be, and the different types of procedure for dealing with them in the House, if they come before the House at all. There are many which do not even require to be laid before the House. There are many for which, although they are required to be laid, there is no Parliamentary procedure for annulment, and all that can be done is to put down an early day Motion. But we are not concerned with those under this Motion. We are concerned with comparing those which can be annulled by a negative Resolution with those which require an affirmative Resolution.
Even in those two classes, there are many different kinds. Among those which require an affirmative Resolution, some are brought in in draft and cannot be made operative unless an affirmative Resolution is passed by each House or, in some cases, by the Commons only; some are made but will not operate unless an affirmative Resolution of approval is passed in each House; and some are made and are in operation and will continue in operation for only a number of days unless kept alive by an affirmative Resolution of each House.
These are the various types which require an affirmative Resolution, and, in considering them, the Select Committee, in its first Report, in August, 1966, said, in paragraph 15(iii):unopposed Affirmative Resolutions do not normally take long. Those proceedings should336not be limited in time pending further consideration of delegated legislation by Your Committee, since the affirmative resolution procedure is deliberately provided for Orders more important than those subject only to the negative procedure.That is the distinction, as recognised by the Committee—that the affirmative Resolution is required for Orders which are of more importance.
This was clearly shown in the Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation as long ago as 1953, when the type of Order which conventionally requires an affirmative Resolution was set out in evidence by the late Sir Alan Ellis and accepted by the Committee. He divided them into three different classes, placing in the first the powers which, when exercised, will substantially affect the provisions of an Act of Parliament, whether by altering its language or increasing or limiting its extent or duration or otherwise.
His second class was composed of powers to impose financial charges, such as Purchase Tax Orders and other such Orders, and his third class consisted of skeleton powers, where the parent Act fixes the purpose and leaves the whole substance of the law to be dealt with by subordinate legislation. He quoted the Development Council Order under the Development Act of 1947. Recently, we have seen a number of very important Orders requiring affirmative Resolution, such as those on Rhodesia and those under the Prices and Incomes Act.
Incidentally, there is still the power to make Orders under the Emergency Powers Act, the sort which must be approved within seven days and last for only a month. I trust that it is not suggested that those would ever be dealt with on the one and a half hour procedure after ten o'clock—
§ Mr. M. Stewartindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Page
What has happened in the past is that, through the usual channels, important Orders of this sort have been given a full day or half day of debate.
I wonder, however—this is where we feel a little suspicious—whether they would have been given that time by this Government if this Motion had already been accepted, that is to say, if they could have been put on at night after ten o'clock with a probability that the 337 debate would last for only an hour and a half. Under the present procedure and convention with regard to affirmative Resolutions, there have been very few occasions when the House has been inconvenienced by affirmative Resolutions going on after 11.30 p.m. There might have been, had the draft Orders been brought on at 10, but because there has been the risk of the debate going on late at night, the Government have found time for them at other times of the day. I suspect that this Standing Order may be used for putting on at night debates which should be given a full day's or half a day's debate and which, up to now, have been debated during the daytime. Otherwise I cannot see the purpose of this new Standing Order, because there has not been any mischief from the fact that affirmative Resolutions can run until after 11.30 at night.
For 14 years—from either December 1953 or January 1954—this Standing Order No. 100 has been a basis of argument when Bills have proposed to delegate legislation to a Minister. Time and again, when this Clause has appeared in Bills giving power to Ministers to use Statutory Instruments to create law we have argued from both sides in Committee upstairs and on Report on the Floor of the House that this ought not to be delegated legislation but should go into the Bill; that we should know for what we are legislating. The answer has been that if a matter requires an affirmative Resolution the Minister must bring it before the House and it must be debated.
That form of compromise has been accepted by critics of a Bill on many occasions. The argument of flexibility for the Minister and the argument of urgency to get a Bill on the Statute Book without writing long schedules into it have been smoothed over by the hon. Members being told, "If there is the affirmative Resolution procedure here you will know what the law will be." I am sure that on many occasions, if it had been known at the time that the affirmative Resolution could be restricted in time, that compromise could not have been brought about. There would have been greater insistence that the matter should be in the Bill.
The power—to extend the time and adjourn for a further period of debate— which is given to you, Mr. Speaker, if 338 the Motion is accepted and if we adopt this new Standing Order is, I submit, no real safeguard. I say that because this has only very exceptionally been used in respect of the negative procedure. It is in the Order relating to the negative procedure, but in fact, you, Mr. Speaker, or your Deputy, have not found on many occasions that, even though hon. Members are rising to their feet, you were justified in saying that the debate should continue or be adjourned until another day.
The second reason why it is not a real safeguard is because material points in debate may not emerge in an important debate lasting for one and a half hours. When thinking of a debate lasting for one and a half hours, one must accept that there might be four 15-minute speeches from the Front Benches, followed by a couple of Privy Councillors. After that there would not be much chance for a backbencher to get in and make his points. It may be that Mr. Speaker, having heard four speeches from the Front Benches and two Privy Councillors, will think that there has been enough of that debate and that the subject has been fully discussed without the need to hear the real points which might come forward from the backbenches.
The third reason why it is no real safeguard is because the steam goes out of a debate when it is adjourned. This would please a Government if they are embarrassed by a debate on an important matter. They might be pleased to have it adjourned until the atmosphere had cooled off the next morning, but this is bad for debate and does not make for a good discussion.
The fourth reason why I say it is no safeguard is the inconvenience caused to hon. Members in rearranging business after a debate is adjourned. In this case, it would not be adjourned to die following morning but to a later date. It is a great inconvenience to hon. Members when a debate is broken in that way. For these reasons, first, because there has been no inconvenience up to the present in allowing an affirmative Resolution debate to run for more than one and a half hours, and, secondly, that that it might be used to the prejudice particularly of back bench Members in future, I hope that the House will reject 339 the Motion and will leave the rules as they stand.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Everyone must recognise that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is an expert on the question of Orders, but I do not think that he has made a very convincing case for the rejection of this Motion. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the First Secretary need worry particularly about debates on many Orders which could not be completed, even on affirmative Orders, in an hour and a half.
You, Mr. Speaker, will agree that if you did not have to spend so much time trying to get hon. Members to debate Orders instead of the Bills on which they are based, many of these debates would be completed much more quickly than they are at present. I suggested that the date was 1951 or early in 1952 because I remembered that it was one of the early actions taken by the Conservative Government in 1951, when Mr. Harry Crookshank was Leader of the House.
I think that memories went back to what had happened in the last days of the Labour Government, when there had been this harrying process. He persuaded the Labour Opposition that it would be a good idea to try this experiment. I believe that he thought he was getting away with quite a lot when the Labour Opposition agreed to it for negative Orders. That can have been the only explanation why only for negative Orders, rather than for all Orders, a proposal for a one-and-a-half hours' debate was put forward.
I hope that the House will accept this Motion. I am sure that on very important Orders, such as those on Rhodesia and prices and incomes, the Government will do as they did last Session and provide time during the day for the main debate. There are certain Orders which would necessarily require more than an hour and a half to debate. I feel sure that the Government, in consultation with the Opposition, would recognise their importance and be prepared to find additional time to debate them.
I am wholeheartedly in support of the Motion, although it is not exactly what I should like. I should like to send all 340 these Orders to Committee, so that we could get through out business in reasonable time. I cannot see why we should have one set of rules for negative Orders and another for affirmative Orders, even though affirmative Orders, by Statute, have to be brought before the House. Therefore, I hope the House will accept the suggested addition of these Orders.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I shall be brief in supporting the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page)—which has not been selected—because it would be an impertinence for me to try to add anything to the speech made by my hon. Friend. He is probably the greatest living expert on this subject, but I think that I should underline matters of principle which are involved.
We are dealing with delegated legislation. Any further restriction on discussion of delegated legislation is something we all ought to resist. Anyone who is not in the Government, but who sits on either side of the House should resist it strongly. When one hears my hon. Friend say, "There it is, now we must accept it" we know that there are some delegated legislation Orders which can go through the House without any discussion at all. Not many years ago hon. Members on both sides of the House would have protested against that. I suppose that in modern days with our magnificent white-hot systems of government we have to have that, otherwise we would never get through the work.
If we are to have it, we must have an opportunity of discussing it. The first consideration, therefore, is: is there a justification for further curtailing the opportunities of the House to discuss these things? I have always had the highest respect for the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn). I have sat with him on the Select Committee on Procedure. I was horrified to hear him, of all Members, say that an Order altering the law and the rights of the subject ought not to be discussed on the Floor of the House, but should be sent to a Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that a Standing Committee would be formed by Members of Parliament.
§ Sir L. Heald
It is not a question of who it is formed by. It is a question of what the form of it is and what the effect of it is. I would require to be satisfied on any occasion of the justification for any further curtailment of the opportunities of Members of the House to discuss in the House and as a House of Commons, not as a Committee, increased powers, perhaps to levy taxation. We are not told what is to be done until the Order is laid. These are what they call skeleton powers. "Skeleton" is the right word.
The second point is the difference between an affirmative Resolution and a negative Resolution. In effect—I use the words carefully—this proposal has an assimilating effect. It is blurring the difference between them. This matter was discussed in 1953. I have a personal reason for remembering it. I was quite clear at that time that there was a very big difference between the two things and that there was intended to be. This is the beginning of a new approach. There is to be no difference. It is a gradual shading down. The House should be very careful before it agrees to something which increases the tendency towards dictatorial powers in the Government. I therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
There is undue apprehension about the Motion. I was a member of the Committee on Delegated Legislation which made the recommendation in regard to negative procedure Orders. There is one distinction which has not been made today. One reason why it was passed was that it was not only designed to place a restriction on the length of time for which a Prayer could be discussed. Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown used to allow about two hours for a Prayer. Six Prayers might have been tabled, in which case matters dragged on continually, one Prayer after the other.
By the time our Committee discussed the matter the Government of the day had discovered another way of putting a stop to this, by the simple expedient of moving the Adjournment of the House, an expedient which no genius had thought about during the period in which these debates lasted through the night. In spite of that, our Committee thought that it was desirable to make this recommen- 342 dation, and the then Conservative Government adopted it. There has never been the slightest complaint about it. It stopped half a dozen Prayers from going down and allowed one Prayer to be decided on one night.
There is no question of half a dozen affirmative Orders going down. If the Government want to bring an affirmative Order before the House, they do it in such a way as to get it carried reasonably. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), who expressed many misapprehensions, may be interested to know that the Select Committee has on several occasions discussed the question of how far the liberty of the Opposition would be restricted. On every occasion we came to the conclusion that, if the Government were unreasonable on any subject such as this, the Opposition had unlimited means for making them pay for it. There is, therefore, no question of dictatorship. If the Government try to put down an affirmative Order and rush it through, they might, perhaps, rush that one through the House, but the Opposition will have plenty of powers in reserve to make sure that they pay a heavy price for so doing. The difficulty as regards suppression of the liberty of the Opposition is, therefore, imaginary. We ought not to exaggerate these things.
§ Mr. Graham Page
As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that we should have to let an affirmative Order go through under the l½-hours arrangement, the law would be made and it would be all over. But then, he says, we could be spiteful on another occasion just to pay the Government back. That is an extraordinary view.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is what he is objecting to, that we should remove power from the Opposition to obstruct the Government's business. But that is the weapon which the Opposition have to compel the Government to be reasonable. I am pointing out that the Select Committee discussed this matter and came to the conclusion that there were plenty of reasons for the Government's being reasonable. Otherwise, as he says, the Opposition could be spiteful. That is the way the House of Commons works and has worked. It is the reason for many all-night sittings, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The Opposition's argument here 343 is putting up Aunt Sallies only to knock them down.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
When we discussed this, we did not proceed on the basis that there would be an easy Guillotine machinery for every Bill. Because we thought that our powers could be used against particular Bills, we thought that no harm would done. But this will not be so now.
We are discussing affirmative Orders. The Chair is empowered to see that the Government are reasonable. If they are not reasonable, Mr. Speaker has ample powers to allow an extra debate. It is a reflection on the Chair to suggest that Mr. Speaker would not protect minorities in this case. I am certain that both Mr. Speaker now and past Speakers, have always made it their responsibility to protect minorities. Any Speaker would ensure that the Government did not ride roughshod over the Opposition. Therefore, the Government must be reasonable.
The hon. Gentleman said that he could not imagine any mischief arising from what he wants. That is probably right, but one has to bear in mind that affirmative Orders come before the House on superannuation matters, for example. An Order on superannuation for teachers, the police or whoever it may be, has to be agreed by all the parties and it is all fixed according to a pattern. When the Order comes before the House, the House cannot alter it; it must either accept or reject it.
Obviously, there ought to be plenty of time to discuss the principle of such an Order in the shorter time proposed. If not, the Speaker has power to extend the time. But my experience of bringing such an Order before the House is that any number of Members want to make constituency speeches about it. My experience in bringing measures forward on education is that the Government must be very careful because, once something like that comes before the House, one is there almost for the duration. Much the same thing happens on fishing; a large number of Members want to make speeches not on the Order but on fishing. They make the Order a peg on which to hang their observations. This is a misuse of an affirmative Order. In such a case, if the House is being kept going 344 by what appears to be irrelevant discussion, it is quite right, in my view, to have this limitation of time. In the old days, when an Order was being discussed Mr. Speaker kept hon. Members tightly to it and did not allow them to wander all over the place. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating.
We are told that the Motion is a suppression of liberty. But there are only 365 days in the year and only a certain number of days when the House sits. It can sit for only 24 hours in one day. Somehow or other the Government must fit their Parliamentary business into the time available. The House is becoming busier and busier in dealing with important matters. Many important matters are not discussed here. Delegates from the House go to the Council of Europe and other places, and nobody ever knows what they are doing. [Laughter.] No reports come before the House, and there is no discussion.
There are Select Committees, such as the Select Committee of Public Accounts, and there is the Estimates Committee, but sometimes we have little discussion about the important work they do. Yet we waste time forming a debating society on something that should be dealt with in an hour and a half. From the common-sense point of view, and not from the point of view of obstructing business, we should be reasonable. I am satisfied, as I am sure hon. Members opposite are satisfied, that' the Government will act reasonably in this matter. If we are debating an important affirmative Order I am sure that they will give it the whole day and, if necessary, provide extra time. In addition, we always have the guarantee of Mr. Speaker's presence to safeguard the liberties and opportunity of the Opposition.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The operative words of the proposal are:… Mr. Speaker shall put any questions necessary to dispose of such proceedings not later than half-past eleven of the clock or one and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings …I understand that "those proceedings" refers to the following words in Standing Order No. 2:… proceedings in pursuance of any Act of Parliament …345 Where there is a series of Orders, as is almost invariable in these matters, will the Standing Order apply to each one of the series or to them all? I see the Leader of the House nodding, and I take it that that means it will apply separately, so that each can be debated for 1½ hours. If so, the Opposition and the usual channels will be put in something of a difficulty.
Where the Opposition think that it would be unfortunate if the debate came to an end within 1½ hours, or that their constituents might think it unfortunate if they agreed to this, they would not be willing lo adopt the common practice of discussing the Orders together and agreeing to subsequent Orders being taken consequentially. I doubt whether it would be possible to have a Division on subsequent Orders, and that seems to me a very unfortunate state of affairs.
The difficulty may well arise in the very common case where two Orders are in virtually identical terms, and one deals with England and one with Scotland. I am rather surprised that the Scottish Nationalist Member is not present to draw attention to that. It is a real problem. It could be merely a difficulty in practice if the wording is corrected, but as it stands there will be difficulty in working the matter out, and I do not believe that the Government have thought about it. That is another reason for resisting the proposal.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. W. O. J. Robinson (Walthamstow, East)
We are not discussing the general question of Parliamentary control over delegated legislation, but whether or not there is justification for the control over an affirmative Order being any different from that over a negative Order. It seems to me that those arguing that it should be different have to establish two things quite clearly. The first is that there is a sufficiently clear distinction in sub-stance in method and working between affirmative and negative Orders to justify any difference in treatment. Secondly, they have to establish that an affirmative Order is of such a character that it needs a greater measure of Parliamentary control which cannot be achieved in the one and a half hours allocated generally to a negative Order.
We all listened to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) outlining the 346 nature generally of affirmative Orders. I am sure he will agree that, apart from convention, there is no statutory or constitutional authority providing any inherent difference between a negative and an affirmative Order, although, as I have said, there is clearly a convention on the subject. But I am sure he will also agree that whether or not an Order is subject to the negative or affirmative procedure is a matter for the Statute in question which introduces these Orders and that, to that extent, it is the decision of the sponsoring Minister whether or not he provides in his Bill that Orders shall be negative or affirmative.
I accept that the House will decide in the ultimate whether that is so or not, but, in practice, I would have thought that, if a Bill contained provisions for negative or affirmative procedure, that would be accepted generally by the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his vast experience, will accept that there is a considerable amount of inconsistency between the types of form used.
I wonder whether I should be in order in referring to the book "Law and Orders", by Sir Carleton Allen, an authority on this subject. It is the 1965 edition. It says:In the choice of the form of control (or the choice between control and no control-) when an enabling statute is being drafted there is no consistent principle ….The variations between affirmative and negative procedure have caused much bewilderment. So experienced a Parliamentarian as the former Leader of the House, the late Lord Crookshank, has said that it is a ' complete fluke' whether the one or the other method is adopted. The late Sir Herbert Williams, who in 1953 claimed to have read every Statutory Instrument during the previous ten years"—I admire his ability to do so—gave it as his opinion that there is ' no inherent principle at all'.So it is a matter of fluke and no inherent principle whether or not an Order is a negative or an affirmative one.
Sir Carleton also writes:The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has several times called attention to the unsystematic use of the affirmative and negative procedures and has pointed out that the two may even be found, for no apparent reason, cheek by jowl in the same Instrument.347 With that degree of inconsistency, can it seriously be argued that any hardship will be occasioned by the two forms of Order being subject to the same time limit?
The second question is whether there is any practical effect of the limitation of discussion on the lines suggested. Presumably, it is said that more Parliamentary attention is devoted to affirmative Orders because of their particular importance. That may be so of certain affirmative instruments, but as has been pointed out, you, Mr. Speaker, will decide whether or not an Order has had sufficient discussion. There is thus protection for any hon. Member who wishes to discuss it not to be cut out because of the limitation of time.
But I wonder whether it is true that affirmative Orders attract the same amount of attention as suggested? Sir Carleton Allen writes:Affirmative resolutions frequently come on in the evening, and often late at night, and unless they raise contentious issues—which most of them do not—they do not command great attention.From my limited experience of the House I would say that that is the situation. The question is, therefore, whether any hardship would be caused and whether there would be any danger of steamrollering if an hour and a half were devoted to the normal affirmative Order. As I have said, there would be adequate protection to enable the debate to be continued if it were important. But why is it more important and why is more time needed for an affirmative than for a negative procedure Order? I would have thought that the arguments for or against an Order could be fully canvassed within an hour and a half.
I am a very new Member of the House and perhaps still have the naïvety which comes with newness, but I cannot see that an argument becomes any more cogent for being repeated, which is an experience often to be found in debates on these Orders. It is said that there may be constituency problems to be raised and that the pressure of argument against an affirmative procedure Order may lead the Government to change their minds. In those circumstances, when all the arguments have been canvassed as they could succinctly be in an 348 hour and a half, if hon. Members wanted to join in they could simply say, "I support the objections to the Order and subscribe to all the arguments against it", and no more. [Laughter.] That laughter shows my naïvety, but the adoption of such a suggestion would be no bad thing on occasion.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
By leave of the House, the suggestion at the end of the suggestion of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. W. O. J. Robinson) was most interesting and would be most salutary if adopted, and I do not see the smallest chance of hon. Members adopting it.
I confirm the assurance already signalled to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), that if under this procedure the House were to debate a series of affirmative procedure Orders, the debate could last for one and a half hours on each. He advanced that as an argument against the proposed change, but I am sure that if the answer to his question had been the other way round he would have regarded that as an even greater objection. Clearly, it would be entirely arbitrary and improper for the Government to put down half a dozen affirmative procedure Orders on the same night and be allowed to get the whole lot through in an hour and a half.
We can rule out that idea altogether. If the Government put down half a dozen Orders to be debated on one night so closely related that it was the sensible thing to do, then the first would be debated in one and a half hours or less and, if the subject matter were that closely related, it would be clear that hon. Members would not then wish to spend one and a half hours on each successive Order and that business would go through with reasonable expedition.
It might be asked what would happen if the Government were not sensible, or if the Opposition were unreasonable. That happens from time to time and then time is wasted and tempers are frayed and there are unnecessary all-night sittings. I know of no arrangement of the Standing Orders which will prevent that from happening on some occasions. The business of the Standing Orders is to see that such occasions are minimized
349 Let us consider how this procedure would work in practice. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) gave us a picture of four speeches by Front Benchers. He knows very well that when negative procedure Orders are debated under the one and a half hour's rule we do not have two Front Benchers from each side and that by common practice Front Benchers try to moderate their speeches, knowing that back benchers particularly like to get in on debates of this kind. It is reasonable to assume that what happens on those occasions will happen with debates on affirmative procedure Orders under the new procedure.
There was then the suspicion that this procedure would be used for Orders which ought to be given a whole day, that the Government might try that on, either as a deliberate try-on or through an error of judgment. They would not try it on more than once, because as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has pointed out, there is government in opposition by revenge, and this remark has a good deal of soundness in it. We all know that it is perfectly true, if Governments actually try it on, and it is apparent that they have tried it on, they may be able to get away with it on that one occasion but they are made to regret it afterwards.
This is not something that ought to happen often, but the fact that it can happen is a powerful check on unreasonable action by Governments. I do not believe that in practice one would have Governments doing this as a deliberate "try-on". It is conceivable that they could by error of judgment try to get in an hour and a half something which really ought, if they had judged it better, to have had a whole day. It is exactly on that occasion that Mr. Speaker's discretion will make it clear to the Government that they have made an error of judgment. In this connection I assure the: hon. Gentleman and the House that there will be no question of the kind of Orders required when a State of Emergency is proclaimed being put through under this procedure. It would be recognised that they required a full debate.
The other question asked was: is this really necessary? My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire answered this very powerfully when he pointed out the nature of some of the 350 affirmative Orders which have been made affirmative Orders because they affect the interests of parties and organised groups outside the House to whom the Government have given some kind of pledge.
Basically, what is wanted is a reasonable-sized debate on the basic principles of the Order. Very often this could be done quite sensibly and adequately in an hour and a half, but, in the absence of a rule this, might quite easily drag on for twice or thrice that length because many of us, I am afraid, are not prepared to adopt the suggestion made of saying "I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member who has expressed the argument better than I could "and then sitting down. I am afraid that hon. Members very rarely behave like that.
Speaking from my own experience of the House, it is true—and I have been as guilty as any of this—that we occasionally waste time, partly for the pure pleasure of annoying the Government or annoying hon. Members opposite, whichever side we may be on, partly because of the feeling that, although the subject has been fully discussed, the vital points have not yet been expressed with that complete clarity that only oneself can add to the argument.
This is sometimes what prolongs debates. It does not really add to the protection of liberty in the country to have this kind of thing. It is an unnecessary consumption of time which, as has been pointed out, the House needs for discussion of a large number of important and interesting subjects for which we do not at present find time.
I wish to refer to the degree of discretion given to you, Mr. Speaker, by this Order. Has it occurred to hon. Members opposite that we give to Mr. Speaker the discretion to decide whenever the Closure should be moved? If it were not for this discretion an unscrupulous Government could push their business through at lightening speed, moving the Closure quarter of an hour after the debate began. We have recognised that the safeguard of Mr. Speaker's judgment when there has been adequate debate is of permanent value in preventing an abuse of the Closure by Governments. Mr. Speaker's discretion is a tried and trusted instrument that it is proper to 351 use on this occasion, and I commend this proposal to the House.
§ the arguments used on this side of the House and suggest that we now vote.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 216, Noes 133.353
|Division No. 19.]
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)
|Garrett, W. E.
|Grey, Charles (Durham)
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
|Oram, Albert E.
|Heffer, Eric S.
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.
|Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
|Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
|Hilton, W. S.
|Paget, R. T.
|Bishop, E. S.
|Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
|Houghton, Rt. Hn, Douglas
|Parker, John (Dagenham)
|Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)
|Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
|Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
|Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
|Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.
|Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)
|Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)
|Price, William (Rugby)
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)
|Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'bum)
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)
|Cant, R. B.
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)
|Robertson, John (Paisley)
|Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
|Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
|Concannon, J. D.
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
|Ross, Rt. Hn. William
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)
|Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)
|Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Rlchard
|Shaw, Arnold (llford, S.)
|Cuflen, Mrs. Alice
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)
|Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N V tie-u-Tyne)
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
|Lee, John (Reading)
|Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)
|Davies, C. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)
|Davies, Harold (Leek)
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
|Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
|Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
|Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
|Macdonald, A. H.
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John
|Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
|Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
|Mackintosh, John P.
|Urwin, T. W.
|Dunn, James A.
|Varley, Eric G.
|MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)
|Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
|Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)
|McNamara, J. Kevin
|Watkins, David (Consett)
|Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
|Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
|Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
|White, Mrs. Eirene
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
|Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
|Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
|Mendelson, J. J.
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
|Winterbottom, R. E.
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)
|Milne, Edward (Blyth)
|Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
|Foot. Michael (Ebbw Vale)
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
|Fraser, John (Norwood)
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
|TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Galpern, Sir Myer
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
|Mr. Ioan L. Evans and Mr. Alan Fitch.
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)
|Glyn, Sir Richard
|Nabarro, Sir Gerald
|Attins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)
|Osborn, John (Hallam)
|Baker, W. H. K.
|Gresham Cooke, R.
|Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)
|Page, Graham (Crosby)
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
|Page, John (Harrow, W.)
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
|Pink, R. Bonner
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
|Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
|Black, Sir Cyril
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere
|Prior, J. M. L.
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John
|Bromley-Davenport,Lt. -Col- SirWalter
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)
|Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M)
|Bullus, Sir Eric
|Burden, F. A.
|Hutchison, Michael Clark
|Steel, David (Roxburgh)
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
|Summers, Sir Spencer
|Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
|Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
|Temple, John M.
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill
|Ka berry, Sir Donald
|Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
|Costain, A. P.
|Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)
|Lancaster, Cot. C. G.
|van Straubenzee, W. R.
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver
|Vickers, Dame Joan
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
|Walker, Peter (Worcester)
|Cunningham, Sir Knox
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)
|Loveys, W. H.
|Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
|Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
|Drayson, G. B.
|McAdden, Sir Stephen
|Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
|Mac Arthur, Ian
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
|Errington, Sir Eric
|Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
|Wylie, N. R.
|Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
|Younger, Hn. George
|Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
|Mr. R. W. Elliott and Mr. Jasper More.
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)
|Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
|Glover, Sir Douglas
§ That Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted business) be amended as follows: —
§ Line 17, leave out from 'provides' to end of line 22 and insert ' but Mr. Speaker shall put any questions necessary to dispose of such proceedings not later than half-past eleven of the clock or one and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings, whichever is the later:
§ Provided that, if Mr. Speaker shall be of opinion that, because of the importance of the subject matter of the motion, the time for debate has not been adequate, he shall, instead of putting the question as aforesaid, interrupt the business, and the debate shall stand adjourned till the next sitting (other than a Friday);354
§ (c) proceedings in pursuance of any Standing Order of this House which provides that proceedings though opposed may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business;'.