Skip to main content

Business Of The House

Volume 400: debated on Tuesday 13 June 1944

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I would like to make an announcement on Business. I announced last week that we would make an arrangement to debate Regulation 18B, and the detention of an hon. Member of the House. I have considered this matter carefully, and I suggest that the points which my hon. Friends have in mind and which are set out in two Motions on the Paper can properly be dealt with in Committee of Supply without in any way limiting the Debate.

[ That this House having acquiesced in the detention of an honourable Member without trial or charge, in view of the authority conferred upon the Home Secretary by Regulation 18B, is now of the opinion that such detention for a period of over four years threatens the ancient and well established right of the House to the service of its Members, constitutes a dangerous precedent damaging to the prestige of the House and ought now to cease unless justified to the House, if necessary, in secret session.]

[ That this House is of opinion that the time has come for reconsideration of Regulation 18s and of the practicability of bringing to trial those now in detention on the sole responsibility of the Home Secretary.]

I think that this is the right way to handle it. The salary of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will accordingly be put down.

I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will further consider this matter. Private Members' time has already been taken from us, and there seems little point in Private Members putting specific Motions on the Paper and collecting the signatures of Members in support if they are not to be discussed. Putting down the Home Secretary's salary does not appear to me to cover the desires of hon. Members on this question. It is not an attack upon the Home Secretary but a desire to discuss a matter which is of supreme importance to the House of Commons as a body. It seems to me very unfortunate that the Government are going to take the action which the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

I do not think there is anything unusual in my suggestion. There are two Motions, one of which deals with one aspect of the question and the other with another aspect. The House having asked for facilities, we have proposed this arrangement for the Debate. The first answer to my hon. Friend in regard to the putting down of Private Members' Motions is, therefore, that his action in putting down a Motion is resulting in this Debate. Otherwise, there would probably be no Debate. As regards the scope of the Motion, hon. Members will realise that these matters fall within the administration of the Home Secretary. It is perfectly right and proper, and not a criticism of him, that a discussion which affects his administration should be taken on his Vote.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us who do not necessarily propose, if there is a Division, to vote for my hon. Friend's Motion, are concerned that the question should have been dealt with in this way, for the reason that here was a clear issue on which the House was asked to express its opinion? It is well known that in Committee of Supply, one cannot raise that clear issue, without voting against the Minister's salary, which many of us may not want to do. Will my right hon. Friend explain more fully the reason for this change of arrangement?

There is no change of arrangement. I told the House last Thursday that I was anxious not to limit the Debate. There are two Motions, one dealing with the detention of a Member of this House, and the other with Regulation 18B. I am informed that the first Motion would not enable a wide Debate to take place, and so I have put forward the proposed arrangement, which, I think, will be more for the convenience of the House.

Will not my right hon. Friend reconsider this matter? For a long time hon. Members have desired to debate the question of the detention of a Member of this House—not a particular Member but any Member. I have a Motion on the Paper—

[ That in the opinion of this House Regulation 18B of the Defence (General) Regulations should be modified so as to provide that the detention of a Member of this House, under the powers con- ferred by the Regulation, should be reported immediately to the House and should not continue without the approval of the House after consideration of the charges against the Member and his defence against them.]

That is entirely a domestic matter for the House of Commons and does not involve any party or any particular Ministers. I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that every effort seems to have been made to burke a discussion of a specific Motion by every artifice which can be devised. The House of Commons may understand what these artifices are, and the reasons for them, but people in the country outside do not understand them, and are getting impatient at being fobbed off with arrangements the meaning of which they cannot understand.

I do not accept any of the suggestions of my hon. and gallant Friend and I do not know what he means by being "fobbed off." There are two Motions on the Paper, one dealing with the narrow issue of the detention of a Member, and another dealing with the question of 18B and signed by a great number of Members of this House. The Government are under no obligation to take one or other of those Motions, in seeking to give the House an opportunity of discussion. As there are two different Motions, not covering the same ground, I have suggested putting down the Home Secretary's salary, so that both subject matters can be discussed. That is fobbing off nothing and need cause no indignation in the breast of my hon. and gallant Friend.

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates the general feeling of the House. The way in which he proposes to take this discussion would mean criticism of the administration of the Home Secretary but I think the House wishes to discuss—is very anxious to discuss—the Regulation itself, and not to blame the Minister for his administration of it. The House wishes to discuss whether such a Regulation is in accordance with the general wish of the House.

Before my right hon. Friend replies, may I ask him a further question? Has he not been approached since we last met with the suggestion that a third Motion should be put down, em- bracing the two which he has already mentioned, and thus getting rid of the objection that the original Motion in my name and the names of other hon. Members was of too limited a nature? Has he considered that suggestion, and if so, will he give it further consideration?

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, I would like to ask him, in view of the very serious changes that have taken place in the whole situation since these Motions were put down, whether he considers it desirable to have such a discussion as is now proposed. Would not such a discussion have a very damaging effect on the Forces, as well as among the people of this country and among our Allies? I think it would be a very serious step to have a discussion of this question in the existing situation.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) may I say that I am seeing to the point he makes, and that the point is covered by the Home Secretary's Vote. The Home Secretary is the Minister responsible for the administration of the Regulation and will be responsible for any change that is brought about. I have consulted my right hon. Friend, and he does not feel, any more than the Government feel, that the discussion is necessarily a stricture upon him; but we consider that this is the most practical way to deal with the matter. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) I am afraid that I have not had a chance to see the terms of any third Motion, but I have given consideration to the whole question, in consultation with the Home Secretary, and I believe that the House would have a more satisfactory discussion if they would take my advice.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Members of this House, and many people outside, believe that such a discussion will be a great waste of Parliamentary time, while our men are fighting on the other side?

Does not my right hon. Friend realise that the course he has suggested will prevent Members from expressing their opinion on the very important matter of the detention of a Member of this House? Surely this discussion is not a criticism of the Home Office as a whole. The House wishes to discuss the detention of one of its own Members; but the proposal which my right hon. Friend makes will prevent the House from expressing its opinion.

The Home Secretary and I have discussed this matter, and we fully realise the object of the Debate. It is my right hon. Friend's responsibility, and the House of Commons can express itself both in speech and in vote, if it so desires.