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Clause 14—(Early Registration And Calling Up)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 10, line 3, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall."

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we take together the first two Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and the one to page 10, line 13, at end, add:

"(2) This section shall come into force cn the passing of this Act."

I cannot take the three Amendments together, Major Milner, because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has added his name to the last one, which he has adopted from us. Under Clause 14, as I read it, the right hon. Gentleman merely has power to make regulations providing that a person who wants to register before he is 17 years and six months can do so. We think that that power should be mandatory; that the right hon. Gentleman should make regulations to enable people to register younger than the normal age of registration if they so desire. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept that, because we think that there ought to be this power in particular cases.

The second Amendment—namely, in page 10, line 5, leave out "be allowed to" and insert "if he so desires"—which goes with the first one really deals with a small point. It will be seen in line 5 that provision is made whereby a person may be allowed to be called for service. I am not quite sure what the words "be allowed to" mean, but I suggest it ought to be at the option of the person concerned, and that, therefore, the insertion of the words "if he so desires" is preferable. What we want to achieve is that a person shall be allowed to register early if he so desires, and that the Minister must make regulations to provide for him doing that.

With regard to the first Amendment, it is the intention of the Minister to make these regulations. I do not know that there need be much ado about it. If it is pressed hard that we shall take "shall" instead of "may," we have no feelings about the matter. However, I want to give the Committee the assurance that the Minister will make regulations to provide for young men, who elect to do so, registering at the age of 17½. I think that meets the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made.

With regard to the second Amendment, here the position is rather different. It is not only a question as to whether the young national serviceman shall be allowed, it is also a question of it not being abused. There must be a genuine reason. Therefore we feel that we ought not to accept the Amendment, because, if it is accepted, every young man who wants to do this, in no matter what circumstances, will be entitled to do it. If they are entitled to do it, it is quite possible that they will throw out of gear the various intakes. They will crowd camp quarters by an intake for which no provision has been made, and it is felt that this concession ought to be kept to cases in which there are some material grounds.

Let me give an example. A young man has taken matriculation and has a higher school certificate. He has to wait six months before getting into the University. He is17½. He feels he would like to register early and start his service at 17½, getting it done with, and going to the university the next year. That is a perfectly reasonable case, and one for which provision is made within the terms of the Clause as drawn. But now let us take the opposite. If the Amendment is accepted, any young man, no matter what his circumstances, can, as I said before, have the option to go in. It is our view that this should be confined to cases in which there are some material reasons for it. We are not very concerned about the first Amendment, and, if the hon. Gentleman presses it, we will accept it. With regard to the second Amendment, as the students and young men in difficulties are amply provided for, I would ask the mover to withdraw it.

I have had some difficulty in following the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary. Although I understand that, at the moment, we are not concerned with the first Amendment, as the hon. Gentleman referred to it, I would like to ask him why, if it is the Minister's intention in any case to make these regulations, the matter should not be made a statutory obligation upon them. It seems to me that there is a clear case for using the word "shall." If one is going to use the word "may," it is difficult to see when the word "shall" should be incorporated in an Act of Parliament at all. Perhaps we shall have the benefit of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view on that.

On the second point, it seemed to me that the case put by the Minister would be precisely covered by the terms of my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment. The hon. Gentleman's argument seemed to me to overlook the words in line 2, to which, in fact, he made no reference. If my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is accepted, it is still incumbent upon the young man who wishes to antedate his period of military service to show that he has sufficient cause, and then he must show, which is no doubt easier, that he wants to do so. But he still has to show those two things. The Parliamentary Secretary argued that all he would have to do was to express a wish. That is not so. He has to express a wish, and make it precisely the sort of case to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred in his illustration of a young man wishing to matriculate, and so· on. It seems to me, therefore, that this case is thoroughly provided for by the Amendment. With respect, I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary's argument, in which he carefully omitted all' reference to the words "for sufficient cause," really meets the case put forward in this Amendment.

I agree with the interpretation of the Amendment suggested by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). I will put it my own way by saying that the change of words proposed by this Amendment does not seem to me to raise the question which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary thought it raised. The Amendment only proposes to take out the words "be allowed to" and to substitute "if he so desires." That does not seem to raise the question which my hon. Friend thought it raised, in addition to the fact that the words "for sufficient cause" remain in line 2. It has also been overlooked that the word "may" remains in line 5.

10.30 a.m.

I would not have troubled the Committee merely to repeat a point which has already been made, but I want to take the argument a little further and tell my right hon. Friend that, for my part, if the change of wording had involved the grant to the man of an absolute option to be called up at 17 years and 6 months, I would see no reason against it. I thought that was what my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary were arguing on an earlier Amendment. It is true they did not refer to Clause 14, but to Clause 16. It is equally true that Clause 16 did not say so until it was amended by another Amendment. But, even so, I thought the principle for which he was contending, and the difference between this Bill and the National Service Act, was the substitution of the principle of personal option in this matter of the time of the call up, for the hardship point and the public interest point involved under existing legislation. I think the date ought to be later. I would have preferred that the call-up age should be 21 instead of 18, but the Committee has decided against me, and has decided that the dangers of the earlier date shall be overcome by giving a choice to the man to decide whether his service should be interrupted, or postponed, and, under Clause 14, whether it should be ante-dated. I think it would be a good principle that the option should be his option. He should choose according to his own taste and convenience. The only interest of the State is that he shall perform his service. If he does perform it within certain limits of age laid down by the Measure, I can see no reason why he should not decide whether it should be 17 years 6 months, 18 years, or some time between 18 and the date when he finishes his apprenticeship period, or whether it should follow the completion of his apprenticeship. The State can have no great interest in the matter, and I would sooner leave it to the personal point of view of the man concerned.

I find myself very much convinced by the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). As I understand it, he would have supported these Amendments if they had gone a little further because, as he quite rightly explained, if the Amendments were carried even in their present form they would still leave these somewhat restrictive words. There would not be an absolutely free choice to the young man to decide whether he should do his service at 17½ years or not. I can see there may be a number of arguments from the Minister for leaving in some such words as "or sufficient cause," which our Amendments leave in. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the whole matter before the Report stage, because I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that, as far as possible, when we are introducing a Measure of this kind—which we all know in our hearts is putting, a great burden on the individuals concerned—we ought to do everything possible to keep the maximum degree of liberty consistent with the State's demands. We ought not to make the State a kind of grandmother to decide what a boy Should do. I would have preferred some words such as "the man, with the consent of his parent." I have much more confidence in the parent's love, affection and knowledge of the child, than in regulations and bureaucratic control.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the whole Clause in the light of this discussion, and see whether between now and the Report stage it would be possible, if not to follow quite on the lines of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, at least to give some indication that it shall be the right of the young man, subject to the consent, advice and approval of his parent, to begin his service at that moment in his life which suits him and not at that moment which suits some educational or other authority which thinks it knows better than he and his family do about his own life and future.

The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) has thought of a matter which was in my mind, and I am very glad he expounded it at some length. I am not a lawyer, nor versed in the law, but I imagine that the young man is still an infant in the eyes of the law and is subject to parental consent unless there is some statutory obligation over and above the parental authority. In this case, an option is given to the young man of 17½. There is no legal necessity that he should join the Services and carry out his service at 17½. If that be so, is there not a difficulty in regard to the decision of the young man and the authority of the parent or guardian? I ask the Minister to say a word on the point, not merely to avoid domestic conflict, but also because he may press this matter too far by thrusting the obligation on the young of the community before they are mature I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) when he suggested that the age of joining should be later than 18. But, as he says, we have decided that it should be 18. That seems to' me to be the lowest age to which we should go and I am extremely dubious about going still further in any indirect fashion. It might go to 16½, although, of course, legislation would then be required. I very much doubt whether a youngster of 17½ knows his own mind, although he may think he does. I hope this matter will receive further consideration and that an attempt still further to thrust responsibility on the immature will not be accepted. I hope the Minister will deal with the point I have raised—the position of the parent responsible for the boy at the time when, by law, he is called up far military service.

I was glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that he was prepared to make the regulations contemplated by this part of the Bill and, if pressed, to accept the first Amendment. My hon. Friends and I were more relieved to hear that because we had some doubt as to the Government's intentions by reason of a certain curious fact. Whereas we now know that as from 1st January, 1949, arrangements will be made, subject to safeguards, for young men of I7½, if they so desire, to be called up, I understand that that is not the position at present. Because I believe this will be a helpful provision, I am gratified that it will be so after 1st January, 1949. But, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say why what is good for 1st January, 1949, is not good for 1st December, 1948?

I am sure the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) appreciates that the date of the operation of the Bill is some time ahead. To make general provisions retrospective for this special class and to make them later on for others, would be difficult.

The 17½ provision was put into effect during the war and it has been cancelled, and it is to be put into effect again. Surely, the argument does not arise in view of the fact that it was in effect during the war?

I am not quite certain about that. I should like to consider that point in conjunction with the other points that have been put. However, I should like the Committee to bear this in mind. The Committee has decided that 18 is the proper age for call-up. That is the general principle laid down in the Bill. In that, I think hon. Members were influenced my many types of considerations. There is the consideration of the immaturity of the young man under the age of 18; there is the question of the utility to the military Forces of a man under the age of 18. We feel it is right in certain cases to give this option, but it is not right to give a general option over the whole field and never know what the intake will be because of not knowing whether boys under 18 will elect to be called up before they are 18. We want to keep control over the whole position. We do not want it abused, and used for wrong motives. We do not want young men who want to escape parental control running into the Forces before the age of 18; we do not want domestic differences to be the cause of certain boys exercising this option. We want the option preserved for those cases where it is clearly to the advantage of the boy. I have no objection to exer- cising the option for call-up at I7½ with the consent of the parents.

I am glad to hear the suggestion that it should be with the consent of the parents. Could the Parliamentary Secretary include some such words as that to make it perfectly clear?

This will be done in the regulations, which will come before the Committee. That will be the time for hon. Members to make absolutely certain that all these points are being met.

Powers to make regulations provide for the position. In view of the general assurance I have given, that we will look at the matter in the light of the discussion, and as we have decided that 18 is the normal age of call-up—this arrangement will come into effect with the passing of the Bill—I hope the second Amendment we have been discussing will be withdrawn, when we shall reconsider it. The first Amendment, we accept.

In what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the consent of the parents, I hope he was not intending to convey that the consent of parents would be made an essential condition of a grant of an application by the tribunal which would have to consider the matter. I am all in favour, as everybody must be, of taking into account every reasonable consideration. Of course, the views of parents are very important considerations, but they ought not to be allowed to be decisive. There might be a case in which there was a dispute between a boy of 17½ and his parents, in which the boy might conceivably be right, and it would be hard to deprive him of the choice which he might otherwise have merely because he is not six months older.

I think it must be appreciated that all these details will be worked out in the regulations. The matter can be discussed and settled then. If hon. Members feel aggrieved at the form of the regulations they can take the necessary action. We shall examine everything that has been said and try to arrive at a proper conclusion in the interests of the boy, of the Service to which he is going, and of the domestic life of the country, and not forgetting the interests of industry, too.

I feel that I must make this point. It appears to be assumed that there is general agreement that any provision which would allow a boy to take his service at 17½ years of age is a good thing. I think it is a thoroughly bad thing, and is likely to be dangerous. We have decided—or at least, it has been stated from the Government Front Bench—that it is proposed to send our conscripts overseas to Germany. I do not want to be melodramatic about it, but there are conditions in parts of Germany under which it is not desirable that groups of boys under 18 years of age should live. I think it is a thoroughly bad thing. Whilst it is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has said, that six months one way or the other do not make any difference, it might be equally true that six months under 17½ years of age, bringing it down to 17, would not make any difference.

The Committee as a whole has to be careful about any provision that is made with regard to the under 18s. I hope that some attention will be paid to the fact that all experience in Germany up to now—and I see no reason to believe that it will change greatly before 1949—confirms that one of the most tragic things that has happened in the American zone there is that all the older people have been removed and have been replaced by recruits with even less training than our boys will have when they get out there. The result has been disastrous and everyone who is interested is most concerned. I hope those doubts will be borne in mind when this matter is being considered.

10.45 a.m.

I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee, but it seems to me that the whole call-up would be thrown out of gear if the men who wanted to be called up at 17½ were allowed to be called up simply because they wanted to be. The operative words in the whole of this Clause are "for sufficient cause." There may be material reasons why the Minister should bear this in mind when there is any question of the call-up of those of 17½. If the Minister accepted the Amendments to this Clause I think it would strengthen the Clause.

The Parliamentary Secretary has approached this problem in such a fashion as to disarm my determination, if I possess any determination at this late hour, for it is not as strong as it would be normally. However, we are satisfied in regard to the second Amendment that the Minister will look very carefully into the whole question. This does require careful consideration, and I would ask the Minister to resist the temptation into which some Members of this Committee, in my view, appear to have fallen imagining what good parents they would make of other people's children. The question to be considered here is to what extent the parents and their children can wisely determine that it would be to the child's advantage to be called up a little earlier. In some cases it might do harm; in other cases it would do no harm at all and it might be to the benefit of the individual. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will go into this matter very carefully, and I would ask him before the Report stage to put down something so that we will have ample time to study t. I understand that the Government propose accepting the first Amendment, and on the understanding that the other Amendment will be considered, I shall formally move it and then ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 10, line 5, to leave out "be allowed to," and to insert "if he so desires."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 10, line 13, at the end, to add:

"Provided that he shall be called up not later than three months from the date of registration."
This Amendment covers the same principle as is covered by another Amendment, standing in my name, in regard to the Third Schedule. It is devised to meet a difficulty felt by many conscripts under the present system. It has already been said that these young men, their parents and their employers should, as far as possible, know when they are to be called up, and when their period of service is likely to end. Under the present system, there is no guarantee that conscripts will be called up near to the time when they become eligible. I have a number of cases of young men who have been waiting nine months under the present system to be called up, and during this time they have not been able to plan their future, find employment, or continue their educational careers. I need not waste the time of the Committee in reciting the details of their cases. I hope that the Minister will look at this sympathetically, and see if anything can be done to prevent the abuses which exist at the present time.

I am afraid that we must resist this Amendment. We have much sympathy with what has been said, but under the powers given to the Minister in some of the Clauses which have already been carried, he can now start registration at 17 years and 2 months. We must have reasonable time in which to get the machinery to operate. As the registration is taking place at a much earlier date, we think that the forces will be able to take in the men at a much more normal flow. Now that the great unwind of mobilisation has all but come to an end, the administration is improving all the time. One need not anticipate that there will be the delays in calling up which there have been in the past.

I rise to ask the Government what are their intentions. I should like to move to report Progress, as it is a long time since that was done. I think that the Committee are entitled to know the Government's plans for the rest of the day.

It certainly would be more convenient to dispose of the Amendment before raising any question of reporting Progress. We cannot take that step in the midst of a discussion on an Amendment.

Is it not the usual practice that the Motion comes during a discussion on a Question? I am in your hands, Major Milner, and I am quite willing to defer moving to report Progress until a decision has been taken on the Amendment. Since the Opposition seem to have lost their capacity for opposition, I thought I would do it for them.

I want to say a few words in support of the Amendment. I should have thought this Amendment could well have been accepted by the Minister, as it would hardly cause any real inconvenience to his Department. On the other hand, it does give some guidance to the person who is going to be called up. Three months is, surely, an adequate time in which to make the necessary arrangements.

I hope that the two speeches to which we have just listened will not cause the Government to lapse on this matter, and give way. I think the Minister, if I may say so with respect, put his case with great force. I know that when the Government have a good case they generally run like blazes from it, and so I feel obliged, in trying to help them to get this Bill, to protest against any inclination on their part to give way on this Amendment. I regret that time should be wasted on such an Amendment.

In view of the support the Government are receiving from the other side, I think it necessary to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes). It must be within the knowledge of many hon. Members that their constituents have suffered in the way he has described. The fact that the Clause deals with men of 17½ reinforces the position brought out by my hon. Friend. Young men will be left high and dry without jobs, and without prospects of being able to get jobs, because the machinery of the Ministry of Labour has not worked in sufficient time. I am certain my hon. Friend is not bound necessarily to this form of words in the Amendment. I do think that, in spite of the words spoken from the other side of the Committee, the Minister might take notice of the fact that the position is quite unsatisfactory at the present time.

I did not put the the strongest case possible against the Amendment, because I feel some sympathy with the intention behind it. What my hon. Friends must understand, and so must the Committee as a whole, is that if, under the regulations, a man is registered at 17 years and eight months, and if he is not called up within three months, his liability to national service under the Amendment departs. At the same time, the Minister would not be entitled to call him up until he reached the age of 18. The Amendment would create a really ridiculous situation. It is administratively impossible and would result in losing men. It would result in a number not being called up because three months had elapsed or because the man was under 18.

I am not in the least tied to this form of words. I think the Parliamentary Secretary is wrong, because Clause 14 gives power to call up men before they are 18. I am putting forward the principle that there should be no undue delay in calling up a man when he has registered, whether he takes advantage of Clause 14 or not. I put the case very shortly though I could have taken up the time of the Committee in quoting hard cases of young men who, at present, are completely at a loose end, having been waiting for nine months or more and not knowing at what moment the call-up will fall upon them. I am prepared to withdraw my Amendment, but I hope my hon. Friend will look at the principle sympathetically.

11 a.m.

Notwithstanding the answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary—and I think it was a good technical reply to the actual form of the Amendment—there is a point of substance here, and I hope he will give an assurance that it will be dealt with on the Report stage.

As I said I had great sympathy with the intention of the Amendment, I thought that would have conveyed to my hon. Friend that we will look at this and see if we can tighten it up to avoid unnecessary delays.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

We have had a long and busy Sitting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] We have made some progress but not as much as we would have desired. I have had the advantage of discussing the matter with the Leader of the House, and I recommend the Committee now that we should move to report Progress, on the understanding that—perhaps with some extra time given to the further consideration of the Bill tomorrow, as well as the rest of the new Sitting today—we will get the assistance of the Committee in completing this stage of the Bill.

At an earlier stage, I was in favour, and I said so, of reporting Progress because I thought the conditions then were not conducive to a really constructive examination of the Bill. but things have improved since then. We have had a very useful morning's work, we are making very good progress, there is no sign of any obstruction from any part of the Committee. I think the Ministers would agree that we are doing very well and are co-operating very well. I wonder what possible advantage is to be gained by stopping now. We have lost the Standing Committees in any case. There is nothing we can do about it, and if we adjourn now—[Interruption]. Seriously, if we adjourn the discussion now, the only possible effect is to do without the three hours that we might usefully spend now, only to add them on at midnight tonight, and perhaps have another all-night Sitting. I submit that this is not a useful moment to adjourn the discussion. We are all here, we are quite fresh, we are doing very well, we are getting on quite nicely. Why in the world should we not go on? It may be that by halfpast two we shall have finished the Committee stage of the Bill altogether and, if not, another hour might see the end of it. If we do what is now suggested and adjourn the House, none of us can go to bed at this time of day. It would not be worth it because we would have to come back early in the afternoon, and the three hours or so of the new Parliamentary day would be completely wasted. I can see no point in it, and I think it would be much better to go on with it and get it completed.

I agree entirely with what has been said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I have been a long time in the House, and I must say I cannot remember any occasion when we have had more confused leadership in connection with Business than on this occasion. We have made a good amount of progress during the last few hours. I do not know whether the reason for that was because the leadership was in different hands. Having made this good progress, the Minister of Defence now comes along with a Motion to report Progress, and informs us that he has had the advantage of a consultation with the Leader of the House. I might be willing to accept the Motion if the Leader of the House were here to give us his sage counsel on the matter. Having nearly worn ourselves out, owing to the fact that some of the Service Ministers could not make up their own minds, we are now asked to agree to the Motion to report Progress, on the understanding that we should give the Government an assurance that they shall have the Bill by Friday. Why should I sit through the night in opposition to this Bill, merely to be asked now to give an assurance that the Government can have it by Friday?

In my opinion, the Minister of Defence would be much better advised to carry on with the Business. Hon. Members would be more willing and more capable of discussing the Bill now than they would if they had to sit through another night. I realise, of course, that if things develop during the course of today, as they developed yesterday and through the night, it might still be necessary to have another night Sitting. I hope that the Government will think again on this matter, and that the Service Ministers will show a little more comprehension of their own Bill. If they do that, I have no doubt that they will get the Committee stage nicely finished by this evening, with the Business having been done in an orderly way, and while there is still daylight. It would mean that we should not have to spend another miserable night in these uncomfortable surroundings amid all the litter such is now on the Floor, and which is possibly emblematic of the mental condition of some hon. Members. If we now report Progress and resume at 4 o'clock and continue till about 11 o'clock, and then, after that, have to go on again through the night, the mental condition of hon. Members will make it quite impossible for us to do justice to this miserable Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Minister of Defence will withdraw his Motion.

I hope I shall not give offence to hon. Members opposite if I rise to support their Minister. I rise at this moment because I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was unlikely to get the aid which he so much desires. If it were possible for me to be surprised by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), I would have been surprised by the speech which he has just made, because only five minutes ago I hurried to the Committee, having heard a rumour, which I believed to be accurate, that the hon. Member was in the process of moving to report Progress.

I thought the right hon. Gentleman had been long enough in the House of Commons to know that a Motion to report Progress is the method of interrupting Business to ask what the Government intend to do. I asked the leave of the Committee to do so. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that.

I must confess that in the last year or two I have moved to report Progress quite a number of times.

I did it with the intention that Progress should be reported. I shall know better in future. When I hear the hon. Member for Camlachie rising to move a Motion of any kind, I shall know it is because he wants exactly the opposite to happen. The hon. Member gave the most cogent reason for accepting this Motion when he referred to the tired Minister opposite. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is tired; he will be more and more tired as the day progresses, and so will his colleagues. We are discussing a most important Bill, and I do not think it is right that we should go on discussing a Bill of this kind with Ministers getting more and more tired. In the end, if we sit, as hon. Members say now they would like to sit, right on through the afternoon, through the evening and the night, right on to Friday without any interval at all, I do not think the country will be getting what it ought to get from the discussion of this Measure. Although the interval before we should resume would be a short one, Ministers and the rest of us should have that opportunity for rest and refreshment, and, if I might say so, as far as the Ministers are concerned, not only the material refreshment that I shall seek, but they might spend part of the time in refreshing their minds on the part of the Bill which still remains to be discussed. The learned Attorney-General, for instance, might look up the law on which, some hours ago, he quarrelled with the Secretary of State for War. [Interruption.] I gather it is all settled now. All my hon. Friends on this side will support this Motion in the belief that, in doing so, we are likely to return to the Bill with a better chance of doing it justice, and of doing justice to our constiuents, to whom this Bill is a matter of vital interest.

I only want to make it plain that there is no bargain that we should end this Bill by any particular time. We on this side believe that if we sit this evening and tomorrow it can be done, but when I see serried ranks of the Government supporters rising in opposition to the Government, not only on every Amendment but even on the Motion to report Progress, it is clear that no one on this side is going to commit himself to finishing this Bill today, tomorrow, or, indeed, at any time. All we can say is that if we report Progress now as far as we are concerned, if there are no dilatory tactics on the other side, we believe it should be possible to complete the Bill and at the same time give it fair consideration.

11.15 a.m.

This is not a party matter, and not even a matter for those who have disagreements inside their parties. It seems to me that it is a House of Commons question as to the best manner in which we can advance the Committee stage of the Bill. I have listened to the right hon. Gentle; man, who has managed to maintain his skill and grasp since last night right into the mid hours of today. The position seems to be that those of us who have sat solidly throughout the whole tirne—[HON. MEMBERS: "Stolidly."]—solidly, or stolidly, whatever hon. Members like—have done our best to assist in shaping this legislation and we want to go on with the job whilst we are feeling at our fittest to do that job. The question I want to ask the Government is this: if we adjourn our deliberations until the beginning of the next Parliamentary day, are we in fact, by voting for this Motion, leaving it open to ourselves to go on working all tonight? If we are making it open to ourselves to go on working all tonight, there is every reason, I submit, why we should reject the Motion and use the next three or four hours to make progress.

There is another point of interest. The task of right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench has been one which we have seen has been very much shared. I believe the Attorney-General, for example, did have some period of duty while the night shift came on. There has not been a totally "one-man burden" on any Minister on the Front Bench. From the performances we have had latterly, I think it can be hoped as far as back benchers are concerned that those who have had eight or 10 hours' sleep will be able to carry on. I hope we shall reject the Motion and get on with the Bill.

I do not consider that it matters whether we adjourn now, or not.—[Laughter.]—This is a very serious point. I consider that the damage was done when we decided to go on after midnight. No matter whether we adjourn now, or not, this Committee is going to be tired for the rest of the day. I want to register a protest against a great constitutional Measure like this being driven through in an all-night Sitting with the result that the Committee must inevitably be tired whether we adjourn now, or not. I protest that the Government should have the impertinence to ask the country to accept a Measure like this after its consideration by a very tired Committee. The Government ought to allot more Parliamentary time to the Bill. What I want is, another two or three days allotted to this Measure next week. Unless that is done the country can complain that the Bill has not been discussed properly and adequately by those whose duty it is to do the job. This point ought to be taken seriously by the Government, and this Committee, in its tired and weary state, should not be asked to go on with this Bill.

We had discussions among ourselves several hours ago as to whether it would be better for the Committee in general to report Progress. We have now reached the stage, at 1I.20 a.m., when the proposal is simply that we shah adjourn for two or three hours. If, in that period, there was time for hon. Members to go home and go to bed, all well and good. But that is not so. It will not be a rest. There is another point, which is pretty well known. After all-night: shows it is true that with the dawn we feel the touch of death. But after the dawn comes the second light, and there is now a much better temper in the Committee than there was several hours ago. In that happy atmosphere, let us proceed for the next two or three hours. It must also be borne in mind that hon. Members can answer only for themselves in what will happen in our discussions. If we take three hours off now, not to go to rest but simply to go and pass the time in some other part of the building, it will probably be added at the other end. Therefore, having gone through the whole of the night it seems logical to proceed about our business, as I thought was agreed generally much earlier this morning.

I should like to support the plea made by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally). The only virtue in a Motion to report Progress now is that we do not sit again this afternoon, otherwise it is entirely valueless. During the night we have seen Ministers floundering through this Bill, and unable to explain provisions in it. We have seen it is a hastily drafted Bill, which Ministers have not been able to explain. We saw that at six o'clock, when we gave the Ministers an opportunity to rise. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) suggested that if this Motion is accepted, we should not sit again today but should have two days next week. I go one better. If we rise now, the Government should take this Bill away, and scrap it and think over the whole matter again.

I only trouble the Committee a second time because I want to dissociate myself from those hon. Members who have been good enough to support my proposal but have coupled with it attacks upon the Government and upon the leadership of the House, with which I do not wish to be associated, and in which I do not share. My opposition to the Motion to report Progress is based on purely practical and, I hope, constructive grounds. I am not trying to score points against or for anybody. It seems to me that on every practical ground, the Committee would be making the best use of its time by continuing now, and not by stopping. I can see no advantage in stopping, unless it is to be adjourned until next week. I understand that is not the proposal, and I would not make such a proposal. Since we do want to go on to- day and get the thing finished it seems to me an almost tragic waste of time to adjourn at 11.20 a.m.

During the night I made my protest about the continuance of the Sitting to the point which we have now reached. I am, therefore, in a better position to do what I am sure the Government would not expect me to do, and certainly do not deserve, namely, to support them. The people who have suffered most from the process through which we passed last night were the Government themselves. We had an exhibition which I do not want to say too much about, but it was an exhibition of disagreement, of tiredness and of inefficiency. Indeed, I am being charitable to the Government and it will be a good reason for not attempting again tonight what has been done on this occasion. I cannot get any undertaking about what will happen tonight, but if we have to suffer again as we did on this occasion, it will be a very grave defect from our point of view—and I am not bothering about the other side now. So I hope the Government will carefully consider what happened last night before they take any further steps in regard to this matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.