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Business Of The House

Volume 436: debated on Monday 28 April 1947

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I want to ask a question of the acting Leader of the House about Business today in respect of the Transport Bill. In view of the number of Amendments that are on the Order Paper—I understand there are no less than 176 Government Amendments and 200 from my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House—may I ask the acting Leader of the House whether it is really treating the House fairly to propose an extension of time limited to only two hours for today?

I dealt with some aspects of this problem last Thursday. We have considered the question of suspending the Rule for the Transport Bill. As today is an allotted day for the Report stage under the Order of the House passed on 3rd March last, we considered that it was most undesirable to propose a general suspension of the Rule, but only a suspension for a limited period, in order that arrangements could be made within the time table laid down by the House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman realise that that can hardly be regarded as satisfactory, as the House will be preoccupied with some Government Amendments, and in view of the fact that there are 37 Clauses and seven Schedules in this Bill which have never been discussed at all? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is not the fact that we ourselves are masters of our own Business in respect of how long we sit; and whether, in particular, he will reconsider the matter in respect of tomorrow, so that, at least, we are not subject to this kind of time table again tomorrow?

I think I pointed out last Thursday that many of the Government Amendments are Amendments which were accepted in Committee by the Minister in response to arguments made in Committee. I should think, therefore, that a large number of the Government Amendments do not need long discussion. As regards others, I would hope that reasonable time could be given for their discussion. But I would point out to the House that if we had unlimited discussion, and supposing the House sat all night, the Guillotine will fall at 9.30 on Wednesday evening.

Certainly not. The House agreed to that by a very large majority. Suppose we were to sit all night—[An HON. MEMBER: "Read 'The Times.'"]—I have not yet had time but, anyhow, it would not necessarily influence my argument that I should like to put to the House. If we had unlimited suspension, then the chances are that a very large number of Amendments which hon. Members opposite and some of my hon. Friends would like to have discussed might be crowded out, because, as the Order stands now, the Guillotine falls on Wednesday at 9.30. I should have thought myself that that cannot be altered. It is not going to be altered. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have heard rude remarks expressed against me before. I think it would be a proceeding unparalleled in this House if, after a decision of the House had begun to operate, the House then changed its mind. Therefore, we cannot do that. I do suggest to the House, in the interests of the orderly conduct of the Report stage under the Motion adopted by the House, that a limited suspension makes it possible—more possible for you, Sir; although I do not want to entrench on your prerogative at all—and easier to organise the Debate in the House—and easier for you, Sir—if a given number of hours are devoted to the discussion. I would really suggest to the House, with some little experience of Parliamentary Procedure, that the House may get more out of an arrangement like this than if I were to concede unlimited extension, with the prospect of a very large number of Clauses going to another place after Third Reading without adequate discussion.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a somewhat remarkable statement, because, as far as I understand it, he justified his argument by saying that a completely unlimited suspension of the Rule is not practicable because of the difficulty that you yourself, Sir, would have in selecting Amendments. Why is it that we should have only a two hours' extension? There is no reason why we should not have an extension of four or six hours to give proper time for all these important Clauses to be discussed. If it is agreed that we are to have a limited extension, is there any reason why it should be limited to one of two hours? If it is extended to four or six hours, you, Mr. Speaker, would have exactly the same right of selecting Amendments as you have now.

As the acting Leader of the House used the word "unparalleled," may I ask him if it is not unparalleled that we have to consider 176 Amendments moved by the Government? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he might possibly meet the House in this way, and that, if he will not extend the time tonight, he might give a much more extended time tomorrow, so that the House may have a better opportunity of discussing this very large Measure?

Is it not within the Rules of this House that hon. Members may protest when a question has been put to the acting Leader of the House to which he has refused to reply?

There is no way of compelling any Minister to answer if he does not choose to do so.

Might I ask the acting Leader of the House if he will not consider replying to the question which has been put to him? We are not asking the Government to change their mind, but the right hon. Gentleman may be aware that such events have been known to happen. We are not asking for any modification, but we are asking whether he will give an undertaking that, before tomorrow's Business begins, we may have a longer extension of the Sitting of the House to enable us to do this job properly?

I have already answered twice, last Thursday and this afternoon, the first question of my right hon. Friend. The Government Amendments, or most of them, are in response to—[Interruption.] Well, I am speaking about something of which I have some knowledge. I have examined all the reports of the Committee stage of the Bill, and I say that these Amendments are, very largely, primarily the result of concessions made by my right hon. Friend in Committee, and I do not regard them —if hon. Members will play fair—as being in the region of acute controversy tonight and tomorrow. On the other matter, the second point raised by my right hon. Friend, I am prepared to see how the Business goes tonight, and, through the usual channels, if we are agreed that justice is not being done in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—justice within the terms of the decision taken on 3rd March, this matter can be discussed again tomorrow.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he does not think that this is the first experience we have had of the Guillotine operating upstairs in Standing Committee, and that, on 3rd March, no one had the slightest idea what was going to be left out, and that, in fact, as my right hon. Friend has just pointed out, 37 Clauses and seven Schedules were never touched at- all? In view of these facts, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that, when a Guillotine Motion is proposed on another occasion for the Report and Third Reading of a Bill, it will be impossible to forecast what will happen upstairs, and that, therefore, it would be better to leave the Guillotine Motion until a later stage, until it is known what has happened in the Committee, as the proceedings in the Committee cannot possibly be judged in advance?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is raising a point about the future. The whole idea of making the Standing Order was that the Business Sub-Committee of the Standing Committee should do their best to try to arrange their business, but, of course, there are bound to be some misfits. I appreciate that, but we must wait for the occasion to arise on a future Bill.

I desire to put a question to the acting Leader of the House about Business. Would it not be possible to arrange that this House should sit in the forenoon instead of sitting in the early hours of the morning?

I think the right hon. Gentleman has not studied the Standing Order. The Business SubCommittee has nothing whatever to do with Report and Third Reading; we are only concerned with the Committee stage.

That is the point which was making—that the Business Sub-Committee should, in the light of its knowledge of the Bill, try to arrange the business the best way it could. If it has not done that, I am sorry, but all I am saying to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who has great experience in these matters, is that this is a matter for a future Bill and not for this Bill

Even if the Guillotine has to fall on Wednesday night, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the fewer hours we have for the discussion on the Report stage, the more Amendments we shall discuss, and, if that is his view, by what process of reasoning does he arrive at it?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Guillotine on this occasion will be operating in the same way as it has done before?

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that 95 per cent. of the Amendments put down by hon. Members opposite are designed to wreck the Transport Bill?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as things stand, there is a very great danger that a considerable portion of the Transport Bill will go to another place undiscussed by the representatives of the people in this House, and will he say whether it was the intention of the Government on 3rd March that the Bill should go to another place in that state?

I repudiate the in sinuation by the hon. Member—[Interruption.] Most certainly not. I still claim, and I have never said anything else from this Box, that, with a reasonable understanding, without unnecessary duplication of argument, with a Business Sub-Committee working in well, and with the representations on the matters which have been raised in this House regarding the Report stage-I still do not accept the view that reasonable facilities cannot be afforded for the discussion on the Report stage of the Clauses which have not previously been discussed.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. The acting Leader of the House has said that 176 Amendments are the result of concessions made to hon. Members on this side to improve the Bill, while an hon. Member opposite has said that 95 per cent. of the Amendments are designed to wreck the Bill. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the fact of the matter is that the acceptance of so many Amendments by the Government is proof that this is a very bad Bill?

May I take it that the real view of the Government, in spite of what has been said, is that we are to discuss as little as possible of this Bill in as little time as possible?