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Business Of The House

Volume 437: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1947

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May I ask the Leader of the House if he will tell us what are the Government's intentions regarding the Business for today, in the event of the Motion on the Order Paper being carried?

The Government hope to make good progress in Committee on the National Service Bill today, which is the first of the three days which have been allotted to the Committee stage of the Bill. We desire also to obtain the Committee stage of the Town and Country Planning (No. 2) Money Resolution, as well as the similar Resolution for Scotland. It is proposed to report Progress on the National Service Bill at a reasonable hour, to enable us to obtain the other Business

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that, since the National Service Bill was introduced into the House and passed its Second Reading, with the full support of the Opposition, very important changes have been made, affecting in various directions the whole character and scope of the Measure. We are supporting this Measure, and our support will be real, in order to get it through, but we do not know exactly where we stand at the moment, and it would seem to be necessary that some statement should be made from the Government Front Bench by the Minister responsible, either today or tomorrow. I am not putting this in a hostile way at all, because I am desirous to assist the Government to get this great principle of national service established. At the same time, we must have some information on what is the attitude of the Government and how they propose to handle the matter for the general convenience of the House. A very important statement is undoubtedly required from the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman has put his point, if I may say so, very reasonably and properly. Of course, I have no knowledge of what Amendments will or will not be called by the Chair, but it looks to us as if the Amendment substituting 12 for 18 months should be reached quite early today. There is not a great deal that is of a contentious character in front of us, and, if that is so, we should hope to dispose of that Amendment before the Sitting is concluded today. I agree that it depends upon how we progress, though we have allowed three clays for the Committee stage, which is not, I think, ungenerous. With regard to the point about a Government statement, I think it is a perfectly reasonable request, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will make a complete and what he conceives to be an adequate statement when he moves this Amendment, so that the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman will be fully met.

I do not think it would be very satisfactory if what is practically a new Bill were announced later this evening, and that we should then have to decide on that matter tonight. Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, who has just entered the House, is to make this important speech —after all, it is important, because it means a totally different outlook on our defence considerations—we cannot be expected to vote on it tonight.

What a typical question. Because we have not had time to consider the great change proposed. Therefore, while we should welcome a statement from the Minister of Defence tonight, we strongly object to taking a decision on this new matter, until' we have had some time to consider it, namely, by tomorrow. Is that an unreasonable request?

I cannot agree that this Amendment makes this Measure a new Bill. I agree that it is an Amendment of substance and of real importance, but such an Amendment does not make the Bill a new Bill. The intention of the Government to move the Amendment, if I recall it rightly, was announced just before the Easter Recess. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not need long then to issue a statement pronouncing upon the merits of the Amendment. If he was so ready then to pronounce on it, I should have thought that he would have been ready to do so tonight, after the speech of my right hon. Friend. Therefore, I do not think it would be unreasonable, in view of the time which has elapsed and during which hon. Members could, undoubtedly, think about the important issue of policy involved, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence should make his statement today, explaining the reason for the Government's change of attitude, and that the House, after several hours of Debate, which I hope will follow, should be ready to come to a decision.

I did not say that this made it a new Bill; I said it tended in the direction of making it a new Bill. Here was a plan, if I may submit it to the right hon. Gentleman, which we were told was absolutely necessary to maintain our position abroad, and which had been worked out for months. Within 48 hours it has been changed to another plan, which may also be explained by the Minister of Defence to be a solution. It is obviously quite different. Surely, we are not going to have a statement from the Minister of Defence, whose position is much called in question, without having at least—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Not so much "Order." We must have at least from today till tomorrow to consider what attitude we are to adopt. We are giving loyal support to the Bill. Even if it is altered in a way of which we do not approve, we shall still endeavour to carry it to the Statute Book in the national interest. Therefore, we have some right to decent consideration. I should protest against a decision on the question of the 18 months versus 12 being taken tonight, and I shall use every Parliamentary means to make sure that it is not taken tonight.

I hope I have not been guilty of stirring up trouble. I should not wish to do that. If I may say so, I think that the right hon. Gentleman's latest observations provide some admirable raw material for a speech which, I have no doubt, he will make later in the Debate, but I do not think I ought now to enter into a controversy on those lines. I am dealing solely with Business.

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman treat the House a little more seriously in this matter? Irrespective of whether this is a new Bill or not, and irrespective of this perpetual clowning between the Front Benches, this is a matter which affects the lives of all young men in this country. A most important change of policy has been announced, and we are expecting, and eagerly awaiting, some explanation in detail from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, but, so far, it has not been forthcoming. May I appeal to the Leader of the House to give some opportunity to the House, of Commons to consider at length, and with proper discussion, that statement when it comes, instead of trying to rush it through without any Debate on it?

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will make a statement which he believes to be, and which we anticipate will be accepted by the House as, an adequate statement, when he moves the Amendment. We hope that the Amendment will be moved at a reasonably early hour. After that, Debate will ensue for what we think will probably be an adequate time, and then the Committee can reach a decision. I should have thought that, if the Committee gets my right hon. Friend's statement, and then has an opportunity for adequate Debate, all reasonable claims would be met.

Are we to understand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to closure the Debate on this Measure—on which we are supporting the Government in all the main principles—and if so at what hour tonight? Is that the way he proposes to treat us, because, in that case, I think we must reconsider our general position?

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of Order. Could I not be permitted, before you close this matter, to have an answer from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House? I may say, Sir, on this point of Order, that I am most anxious to economise time on this Measure, if we are treated in a decent way.

The right hon. Gentleman is really assuming that the Committee is going to be subjected to tyrannical treatment, which is quite unrealistic. So far, I have not mentioned the word "Closure." It is a word that I would not use if I could help it. The Minister who gets nearest to using that word is my right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip. I suggest to the House that we should see how we get on. Let us try to be reasonable about it. We have given three days to the Committee stage of the Bill, which is not ungenerous, and I should have thought that, if reasonable time were given for the Debate on the matter, that would meet the case. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we, on our side, will try to be reasonable on any question of moving the Closure. Let us hope it does not arise.

With great respect, and with the indulgence of the House, I, as the Leader of a party which is supporting this Measure, and which is taking a full share of the unpopularity of this Measure, would respectfully suggest that it would be better if this main issue of the 18 versus 12 months was not concluded tonight.

In view of what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition, will the Government not abandon this rotten Bill altogether?