HL Deb 20 May 1952 vol 176 cc1134-40

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House.

Moved, That Standing Order No. XXXIX be considered in order to its being dispensed with for the purpose of passing the National Health Service Bill through its remaining stages.—(Viscount Swinton.)

VISCOUNT STANSGATE moved, as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to add— excepting the Question that the Bill do now pass; and that Standing Order No. XXXVII be considered in order to its being dispensed with for the purpose of allowing Amendments to be moved upon the Third Reading of the Bill without previous notice given. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, an Amendment appears in my name on the Order Paper, and I should explain that it is my own individual work. On Friday morning, when I saw the Order Paper and observed the Motion which had been put down, it appeared to me that the full consideration which I personally, had hoped would be given to this Bill was not being given. That was the reason why I put down this Amendment for which, of course, I take responsibility. I do not propose to divide the House upon it, but, if your Lordships will permit me, I should like to explain the reasons for its being put down.

This Bill is a Bill to which noble Lords on this side take the greatest exception. It appears to us to undermine the principles which we though we had established in respect to private health and doctoring. That is the reason why we feel strongly about it. In another place, the Bill did not receive the full consideration which is due to any ordinary measure. It was passed through under the guillotine. It came to this House and the Committee stage was, I suppose one may say, prolonged, but not unduly prolonged for a Bill of this size. But no single Amendment was accepted. It may have been that the Amendments were bad, but I do not think that that was the reason. I think that the reason no single Amendment was accepted was that, had an Amendment been accepted, then a Report stage would have been necessary and, moreover, the Bill would have had to go to another place, where this conflict—which is a very bitter conflict—would have been prolonged. I do not think the Government wished that to happen. This so-called revising Chamber made no Amendment whatever in this Bill. If a Report stage had taken place in the ordinary way, we should have had art opportunity of making further Amendments; but as no Amendments were accepted, according to the Rules a Report stage was unnecessary.

The noble Marquess the Leader of the House very generously drew our attention to the fact that there being no Amendments there would be no Report stage, and offered to postpone for one day the question that the Report be now received in order that we might put further Amendments on the Paper. I thought this meant that the procession of the Bill through this House would be the normal one: that there would be a Committee stage, a Report stage, followed by a Third Reading, and that the Bill would then be passed. There is a reason for these intervals between the various stages of Bills. The Rules of this House and of another place have been very carefully drawn up in order that there may be time to consider a Bill closely at the various stages and so that the House may discuss and criticise it if they so wish. Therefore, I was surprised when I read on the Order Paper that we were being deprived of the opportunity to do this and that Standing Order No. XXXIX was being invoked in order to telescope the remaining stages of the Bill into one single day. It is not for me to say anything about Standing Order No. XXXIX, but I thought it was a Standing Order that should not be invoked except in very special circumstances. This House has a flexible procedure but this flexibility should be protected. Therefore I thought that this was going beyond what was necessary in the circumstances and that it was, in fact, an abuse of the suspension of Standing Order XXXIX.

I do not know whether the noble Viscount who moved this Motion is going to reply, but I should like to ask why is it necessary for this Bill to be taken through its remaining stages to-day. What is the necessity for it? We are not over-pressed with work. This Bill was guillotined in another place also: it was subject to that procedure in the House of Commons. Therefore I put this Amendment down on the Paper and I hope the noble Viscount will say what is possible in support of his Motion. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— At end to add—"excepting the Question that the Bill do now pass; and that Standing Order No. XXXVII be considered in order to its being dispensed with for the purpose of allowing Amendments to be moved upon the Third Reading of the Bill without previous notice given."—(Viscount Stansgate.)

2.47 p.m.


The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has said that, in putting down this Amendment and making his speech, he speaks only for himself. I am not surprised. The noble Viscount must be well aware of the circumstances in which we arranged for the House to have the opportunity of a Report stage before the Third Reading. On the last occasion when the Bill went through the Committee stage here without amendment, after full discussion, my noble friend the Leader of the House exercised all the ingenuity which he and the authorities of the House could mobilise in order to afford the Opposition the opportunity of having a Report stage, although no Report stage was in order. That was a course which I do not remember ever having been followed in all the years I have been in this House. We were extremely anxious to meet the convenience of the Opposition over this matter, as the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition himself fully acknowledged; and, indeed, the noble Viscount himself, on a previous occasion, expressed his gratitude to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for having arranged this. I think the noble Viscount is somewhat less than generous to-day in his observations.

What has happened? By this arrangement, which was agreed to, I know, with the full appreciation of the Opposition Leaders, we have manœuvred the situation (if I may so put it), so that the House has a Report stage where no Report stage would normally have existed. There has been an opportunity for noble Lords to put down Amendments on the Paper, and Amendments are on the Paper. If that arrangement had not been made, under the Standing Orders of the House we should to-day have proceeded without a Report stage, to the Third Reading of the Bill, on which, of course, no manuscript Amendment would have been in order.

It is common knowledge that this Bill must become law by June 1: that was fully explained on the last occasion. I am well aware that the noble Viscount wishes to delay it. What, therefore, we are asking the House to do—and, indeed, what I understand it has been generally agreed we should do—is that we spend all such time as is necessary to-day in taking the Report stage which has been arranged and then the Third Reading. It is not at all uncommon that, where special circumstances arise, this House agrees to take all remaining stages of a Bill in one day. Certainly that is not an unreasonable course when one of the stages which we are asked to pass in one day would not have existed at all except for the courtesy and ingenuity of the Leader of the House, to which noble Lords opposite have paid tribute.

The Amendment that stands in the name of the noble Viscount is even odder when, first of all, he says that if an Amendment were made it would go down to another place and the whole of the Bill could be debated. With great respect, he ought to know enough of the proceedings of another place, even if not of this House, to know that that is complete nonsense. If an Amendment is passed in this House and goes to another place, the only Motion before the House is "That this House do agree (or disagree) with the Lords' Amendment." The only thing which may be discussed either in another place or here, if the Amendment came back, is the particular Amendment. There could not be any general discussion upon the Bill.

The noble Viscount asks that the agreed arrangement should be held up in order that there may be a Third Reading on which he or somebody could move a manuscript Amendment. He ought to know that it is a Standing Order of this House, from which the House has never departed, that manuscript Amendments cannot be accepted on Third Reading. I well remember once, when I think I was leading, that there was an Amendment which the whole House wanted to insert in a Bill which had reached the stage of Third Reading. Yet so tenacious was the House of that rule, by which, in its wisdom, the House had established that manuscript Amendments should not be accepted on Third Reading, that the noble Marquess, the Late Lord Salisbury, I remember, advised the House that, although we all felt it would be convenient to have that Amendment in, we ought not to break this long-standing rule. The Government and the whole House accepted that advice. If we were to postpone the Third Reading until tomorrow, the noble Viscount could not put down any manuscript Amendment on Third Reading. He has, in fact, put down an Amendment asking the House to do what it has never done, even in the most deserving cases (and this is a case which, as everybody agrees, has no merit at all), that we should suspend this particular Standing Order of the House I have accorded the noble Viscount the courtesy—he has not been too courteous in this matter—of a full reply. I do not think that there is any noble Lord sitting on either side of the House but who would feel that my noble friend the Leader of the House has met the convenience of the House and of the Opposition in every way possible. Certainly, I hope your Lordships will reject this Amendment so that we may proceed with the Business of the day.

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble Leader, Lord Jowitt, who has been engaged in the consultations on this matter, I ask leave to say a few words. It must be at least a month since we had discussions with the Government about the timetable to govern this particular Bill. It is unnecessary for me at this stage to say whether the Government won time or we lost time. The real point is that we did reach agreement


Hear, hear!


The agreement reached was that on this day we should take the Third Reading, and that we should also take the stage "That this Bill do now pass." My noble friend Lord Stansgate has raised this matter, I think from his point of view quite legitimately. I feel that he has done it quite courteously. He has explained to your Lordships that he has done it entirely on his own responsibility, so I do not think there is any need for any of us to get cross about it. I think that my noble friend Lord Stansgate would be satisfied with this course. I fully understood his point last week, when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, made his suggestion to the House, that if we had taken the Committee stage last week we should have been confronted to-day, as first Business, with the Third Reading of the Bill, and that the only Amendments which could be considered on Third Reading would be those about which notice had been given.

There are certain disadvantages about that procedure. If, during the discussions, there seemed a new opportunity of reaching agreement on some form of words, it would not have been possible on Third Reading to move Amendments as a result of that agreement. But when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, suggested that we postpone the Report stage, in order to give an opportunity of considering these Amendments again, he was in fact providing us with an opportunity of changing the Amendments that may be on the Order Paper in the event of our approaching some form of agreement. We do not know whether the noble Marquess's intention will be justified by events, but I think it only right for me to say from this Box that, in making that offer, he seemed to us to do it with a view to assisting some agreement between the two sides of the House to be reached. If we cannot reach that agreement, then I think we must not suppose that the noble Marquess was really interested in taking a "sharp practice" cut to what he might consider to be a desirable end.


My Lords, I do not suppose I am in order in speaking now, except to say that, had I been conscious of the making of any agreement of this kind, I should have observed it. I should not have broken any agreement of which I was conscious. But I hardly thought that I should hear the Whip of the Labour Party defending the setting up of the guillotine in this House, to which I myself would take exception.


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot co-ordinate the Opposition.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.