House Of Commons
Wednesday, 22nd October, 1947
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Marriage Of Princess Elizabeth
I beg to move,
The occasion of this Motion cannot but move deep feelings both of loyalty and of personal interest in us all. Their Majesties have always shown the keenest sympathy with their subjects. They have rejoiced with them in victory; they have mourned with them when tragic events have occurred, and throughout the war they shared the dangers of their people, and remained in their midst. This continuous sympathy is reciprocated by the nation. Few of us will ever forget the tremendous and wholly spontaneous demonstrations of loyalty and affection towards the King and the Royal Family with which our people marked the announcement of victory over our enemies in the late war. Many of us today have been taking part in a ceremony which commemorates a Sovereign whose example in public and private life evoked feelings of deep respect and affection. It recalled to the minds of many of us the day when we joined with Their Majesties in their sorrow. Today, we are giving expression as representatives of the nation to the general desire to share in the happiness which the betrothal of Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth has brought to Their Majesties, and we respectfully offer them our cordial and sincere congratulations on this happy event, which has been so widely welcomed by the nation. Her Royal Highness has shown in the public duties which she has undertaken the same unerring graciousness and understanding, and the same human simplicity which has endeared the Royal House to the people of this country. In the years to come, more onerous duties may fall to her lot, but, if the promise which we have watched unfolding comes to fruition, the high regard and popularity which the Royal Family has so justly earned will be fully maintained. She has won a secure place in the affections of the people. It is a source of pleasure to all of us that the future husband of Her Royal Highness has been trained in the great traditions of the Royal Navy and that he served with distinction under the White Ensign in the war. Lieutenant Mount-batten bears a name which has been honoured and respected in that great Service for two generations before him. It is our earnest wish that both of them should find the greatest happiness in their marriage. I move this loyal and humble Address in the confidence that it will receive the unanimous support of the House. It would seem appropriate on this occasion for the Address to be presented to His Majesty on behalf of the House by Privy Councillors representing all parties."That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to congratulate His Majesty, Her Majesty the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth on the approaching Marriage of Her Royal Highness to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten; to express to His Majesty the satisfaction felt by this House at an event which is of such deep interest to His Majesty and to the Nation and promises to secure the happiness of Her Royal Highness; and to assure His Majesty that this House will ever participate with the most affectionate and dutiful attachment in whatever may concern the interests of His Majesty."
I am very glad to second the Motion which the Prime Minister has moved in felicitous terms, and to associate the Conservative Party and the Opposition with it in the most cordial manner. I welcome the novel suggestion which the Prime Minister has made, that this Address should be presented by Privy Councillors representing all parties. There is- no doubt that the approaching marriage gives keen and widespread pleasure in British homes and that it stirs most warm and lively sympathies in the hearts of the British nation. Our constitutional monarchy and the Royal Family play a vital part in the tradition, dignity and romance of our island life. We congratulate the King and Queen upon the happiness which the betrothal of a beloved daughter in such auspicious circumstances has given them.I am in entire accord with what the Prime Minister has said about Princess Elizabeth and about the qualities which she has already shown, to use his words, "of unerring graciousness and understanding and of human simplicity." He is indeed right in declaring that these are among the characteristics of the Royal House. I trust that everything that is appropriate will be done by His Majesty's Government to mark this occasion of national rejoicing.
and millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of colour on the hard road we have to travel. From the bottom of our hearts, the good wishes and good will of the British nation flow out to the Princess and to the young sailor who are so soon to be united in the bonds of holy matrimony. That they may find true happiness together and be guided on the paths of duty and honour is the prayer of all."One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,"
We welcome this auspicious occasion as affording us in this House, not only on our own behalf, but, as their representatives, on behalf of all the people of this country, an opportunity of testifying once again our deep sense of loyalty and affection for the members of the Royal Family who share to the full in the joys and indeed in the sorrows of their people, as the people of this country, on their part, share the joys and, on occasion, the sorrows of the Royal Family. We respectfully desire to join in tendering to her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth and to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten our warmest congratulations. We wish them a long life of happiness and assure them that they will at all times have the abiding affection of the people of this country.
I would like to support the remarks which have just been made. My hon. Friends on this bench are particularly anxious that on this happy and auspicious occasion they, too, should proffer to Their Majesties their humble allegiance and express their best wishes for the future happiness of Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.
I am very sorry that I should have to speak upon what should be the intimate and private affairs of a young girl of whom I must say I know very little, but the fact that the matter is brought up in this House demonstrates that it is not a private but a public affair with certain political implications. We have been told in certain sections of the Press that this is a case of mutual attraction—what is generally termed a love affair. But that is quite irrelevant, because the uncle of the young lady had a love affair and lost his job as a consequence. When we hear what is going on in this connection, do not let us forget that it was a Tory Government, backed up by a huge Tory majority, which ten years ago threw the King off the Throne and sent him wandering over the face of the earth.
I am surprised that on this occasion such an irrelevant note should be introduced. These two young people have been engaged, and we want to wish them good luck. It is not relevant to go back over the past, as the hon. Member has done.
Surely, when one hears such talk about the Royal Family and the traditions of the Royal Family, it is permissible to take note of the treatment which the Royal Family received on a particular occasion. I cannot forget that on the day that this engagement was announced, thousands of Greek citizens—Communists, Socialists and trade unionists—were thrown into the prison camps of the reactionary Royalist Government.
The Motion which we are discussing has nothing to do with the Government of Greece.
We are told that this young man has forsaken his family name and nationality, and has taken on another name and another nationality. But that is of little consequence, because I am quite certain that he has not forsaken the family politics. The "News Chronicle," with unctuous hypocrisy, informed us that as Philip Glucksburg he would have been viewed with suspicion, but as Philip Mountbatten he will be warmly welcomed in this country. That is what may be called flying in the face of Shakespeare. I cannot see my way to welcome him under any name. I, therefore, desire to disassociate myself from this Motion and from the lavish expenditure in connection with this affair, at a time when the masses of our people are on short rations and some are even suffering from privation.
I would not have said anything, had it not been for the last speech. It was a most disgraceful speech to be made on an occasion of this kind. As is well known in the House and in the country, I hold Socialist and republican views, but I do say that on the occasion of the approaching marriage of this young couple it is very unfortunate indeed to introduce all sorts of outside alien political matters. I do not forget that I have just returned from Spain, and they are hoping to obtain a constitutional monarchy of the type which we have in this country. The more I look at the "Red Royal Family" in Moscow, the more I think that the British Royal Family still have a place in the hearts of the people.
May I ask the Prime Minister if this affair involves us in any additional financial expenditure?
Not in my opinion. Question put, and agreed to.Resolved, nemine contradicente:
Address to be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household."That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to congratulate His Majesty, Her Majesty the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth on the approaching Marriage of Her Royal Highness to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten; to express to His Majesty the satisfaction felt by this House at an event which is of such deep interest to His Majesty and to the Nation and promises to secure the happiness of Her Royal Highness; and to assure His Majesty that this House will ever participate with the most affectionate and dutiful attachment in whatever may concern the interests of His Majesty."
Business And Sittings Of The House
I beg to move,
(1) Government business shall have precedence at every sitting;
(2) The following provisions shall have effect as respects public Bills;
(a) no Bills other than Government Bills shall be introduced; (b) whenever the House is adjourned for more than one day, notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules (whether they are to be moved in Com- mittee or on Report) received by the Clerks at the Table at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on the last of the days on which the House is not sitting (excluding any Saturday or Sunday) may be accepted by them as if the House were sitting; (c) notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before a Bill has been read a second time;
(3) The following paragraph shall have effect in substitution for paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 7:—
'(4) Any Member who desires an oral answer to his question may distinguish it by an asterisk, but notice of any such question must appear at latest on the Notice Paper circulated two days (excluding Sunday) before that on which an answer is desired:
Provided that questions received at the Table Office on Monday and Tuesday before 2.30 p.m. and on Friday before 11 a.m., may, if so desired by the Member, be put down for oral answer on the following Wednesday, Thursday and Monday, respectively.'
(4) Whenever the House is adjourned for more than one day, notices of questions received at the Table Office at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on either of the two-last days on which the House is not sitting (excluding any Saturday or Sunday) shall be treated as if either day were a day on which the House were sitting at 4.30 p.m. and the notice had been received after 2.30 p.m., and notices of questions received at the Table Office at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on a day before the penultimate day shall be treated as if they had been so received on the penultimate day:
(5) The following paragraph shall have effect in substitution for paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 1:—
'(2) The House shall not be adjourned except in pursuance of a resolution:
Provided that, when a substantive motion for the adjournment of the House has been proposed after 10 p.m. Mr. Speaker shall, after the expiration of half an hour after that motion has been proposed, adjourn the House without question put.'
(6) The following paragraphs shall have effect in substitution for paragraphs (8) and (9) of Standing Order No. 1:—
'(8) A motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown, either with or without notice at the commencement of public business to be decided without amendment or debate, to the effect either—
(a) That the proceedings on any specified business be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of the Standing Order "Sittings of the House"; or (b) That the proceedings on any specified business be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of the Standing Order "Sittings of the House" for a specified period after the hour appointed for the interruption of business.
(9) If a motion made under the preceding paragraph be agreed to, the business so specified shall not be interrupted if it is under discussion at the hour appointed for the interruption of business, may be entered upon at any hour although opposed, and, if under discussion when the business is postponed under the provisions of any Standing Order, may be resumed and proceeded with, though opposed, after the interruption of business:
Provided that business exempted for a specified period shall not be entered upon, or be resumed after the expiration of that period, and, if not concluded earlier, shall be interrupted at the end of that period, and the relevant provisions of paragraphs (3) and (4) of this Standing Order shall then apply.
(10) Provided always that not more than one motion under paragraph (8) may be made at any one sitting, and that, after any business exempted from the operation of the order is disposed of after 10 p.m., the remaining business of the sitting shall be dealt with according to the provisions applicable to business taken after the hour appointed for the interruption of business.'"
This Motion is in very much the same form as that submitted to the House in the early part of the last Session.
Before the Lord President continues with his speech, may I ask whether it would not be for the convenience of everybody that the first paragraph should be taken separately from the rest? I have reason to think that there may be considerable opposition to the proposal for Government Business to take precedence, whereas there might not be so much opposition to the other more formal matters. If the Motion could be so moved or, necessary, a Division called upon that part of the Motion without affecting the rest of it, I think it would be more convenient.
I have no objection to the spirit of what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. I was not proposing to say much about the other parts of the Motion because I recognise with him that the controversial part is at the beginning, and he would have found that in a few more sentences I would have been off the remainder of the Motion and concentrated upon the admittedly controversial part. As to the second part of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion that there may be a possibility of a Division on the first part of the Motion, subject to your view as to Order. Mr. Speaker, I would not object.
I think the matter is quite simple. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has only got to move an Amendment to leave out paragraph (1), and then we can concentrate on that paragraph. Subsequently, we can take the Motion as a whole. I think that is the solution.
I was about to say that the House will probably think that it is unnecessary on my part to go in detail through the somewhat specific and detailed points which are raised in various paragraphs of this Motion. I think it will be fair to say that, except for the part of the Motion which deals with Private Members' time, broadly speaking the rest of the Motion could be regarded as non-controversial. Those parts of the Motion make the usual provisions for the convenience of the House and hon. Members generally, on such matters as sending in Questions and Amendments during the period of an Adjournment, safeguarding the half-hour Adjournment at the end of the day, and so on. I would only observe, with regard to the half-hour Adjournment, that there have been representations made to the Government from time to time, notably by my hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and Maldon (Mr. Driberg), to the effect that the right of Private Members to the half-hour Adjournment discussion at the end of the Sitting should be guaranteed at whatever hour that may arise or whatever the state of Business may be at that particular point. We thought that that was right, and part of this Motion takes care of that issue, which I hope will be acceptable to the House.
The question upon which I imagine that the Debate will largely turn, and which is, admittedly, potentially controversial, is the issue of the Government's taking Private Members' time—that is to say, the time which is set aside under the Standing Orders for Private Members to bring in Bills and Motions, subject to their good or ill fortune in the Ballot. It is proposed under this Motion that those facilities to Private Members should, in this Session again, for the third time in this Parliament, be denied, and that the Government should have the exclusive right to bring in legislation and, generally, to take the time of the House, subject to what I shall say later on. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, in the light of all the circumstances of the time, after very careful consideration, and sympathetically taking into account the arguments which have been advanced in favour of Private Members' time, we have come to the conclusion that, in the general public interest, it is necessary to ask the House and Private Members to give up the right to Private Members' time in respect of legislation and Motions. It is, of course, the case that all Governments, whatever their composition, have, at one time or another, taken the time of the House for Government Business. The circumstances have been different. Sometimes it has been a matter of congestion of Business; sometimes the circumstances have been heavy legislative programmes; sometimes the impelling circumstance has been war.
Briefly, the reasons for the present Motion are the same as the reasons which were advanced in the last Session of Parliament. In the Government's view, this step is inevitable and essential if the House is to devote adequate attention to the legislative and other Business before it, which is, in our judgment and, I think, in the judgment of the House, with certain reservations, appropriate to the circumstances of the time. The difficulty of providing for Private Members' time is, of course, increased by the generally urged necessity for an autumn Budget. That has been urged upon the Government from various political quarters and various quarters of serious economic thought outside; and, obviously, its coming along fairly late in the consideration of the Session's programme has disturbed the balance of Parliamentary Business. But it has been adjudged in many quarters necessary, and that is one of the reasons which makes it necessary for us to bring this Motion forward today.
It has, also—in the opinion of the Government, which we shall defend, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did yesterday, and as others of us will on other occasions—it has also been adjudged necessary on the part of the Government to bring in a Bill to amend the Parliament Act; and, whilst it will be a short Bill, there will be, no doubt, some talk about it; and a certain amount of time must reasonably be allowed for it. Moreover, if past experience is any guide, allowance must also be made for urgent Business. Much of it will, probably, be of an economic character arising out of the general situation. No doubt, various occasions will be taken for these discussions on Supply days and otherwise, and it may be that it will be necessary for us to co-operate amongst ourselves to provide facilities for the discussions which it is right that Parliament should, within reasonable limits;, engage upon in the light of the difficult economic situation at the present time.
It is a little curious that this Motion should come up in a Session in which it is proposed to amend the Parliament Act, 1911. Incidentally, the existence of the Bill to amend the Parliament Act, 1911, should be a contributory factor—I put it no higher—in favour of the implementation of this Motion. I have been looking up the Parliamentary records. There was a similar Motion to take Private Members' time because of the original Parliament Act, 1911; the Motion being brought forward by the Liberal Government of that time, who thought it necessary to limit Private Members' time because the House would have to devote attention to the Parliament Bill of 1911 which subsequently became the Parliament Act. It is curious how often the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is useful to the Government. It is extraordinary. Whatever issue we are debating in this House, when the Government are taking a line and the Opposition is attacking it, it is a thousand to one that we can find something in the history of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition which justifies the attitude which the Government are taking.
During that Debate, in which, as far as I can see, the primary case for the Motion
was the Bill which became the Parliament Act of 1911, the Government proposed to put a limit on the amount of Private Members' time. [HON. MEMBERS: "But did not take it all."] No, they did not take all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] It is all very well for hon. Members to say that. They would have been just as sticky about it then, as they are going to be about this. It really does not make any difference. The argument was just as fierce, the indignation just as great; and the indignation was about as unreal then as it is going to be today. I can assure the House that is so. Hon. Members can look up the Debate in due course. The right hon. Gentleman the then Home Secretary, now the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Conservative Party, in justification of the Motion—he went rather wide then of the Parliamentary Bill of 1911 and made an overall case with which I have a lot of sympathy—said:
"The congestion of Parliament is a disease, but the futility of Parliament is a mortal disease. And, Sir, if the rights of Private Members are important, the rights of the people of the United Kingdom are also important. It is in the name of the people of the United Kingdom that the Government have brought forward their Motion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1911; Vol 21, c. 1370.]
It is in the name of the people of the United Kingdom that the Government have brought this Motion forward.
On that occasion had not the Government of the day just come back with a mandate from the people for a Parliament Bill?
I am not at all sure that that was admitted by the Conservative Party at the time. I promise the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I will get my research assistants to look into it, and see if it was so or not; but I never knew the Conservative Party ever to admit that there was any mandate for doing anything with which they disagreed. That explains their whole attitude to the existence and the functioning of the Second Chamber. I expected my hon. Friends to enjoy the quotation from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I was not a bit surprised that hon. Members opposite laughed. After all, when they are embarrassed, they have to do something, and if it is a choice between looking embarrassed and miserable, and bluffing and laughing it away, they probably will do the latter. That was what was said by the right hon. Gentleman in 1911, and that is what I say today. It is the choice of the Conservative Party whether it follows the Liberal Home Secretary of 1911 or whether it follows its own bent as a reactionary Conservative Party today.What I have said does not, of course, mean that there will not be opportunities, apart from those open to the Opposition, for matters of topical interest to be debated. In the two previous Sessions of this present Parliament His Majesty's Government have not really been ungenerous in allocating time for Debates to meet the general wishes of the House.
Twelve hours for the Loan.
We try to meet them to the best of our ability. The hon. and gallant Member should not raise the memory of the Debate on the Loan, because the Conservative Party on that occasion was in a state of the utmost confusion. We propose to continue these amicable and friendly arrangements through the usual channels, which, by some miracle of nature, seem to stand outside the class struggle and politics; and we shall do our best to meet the general convenience of the House with regard to facilities for admittedly urgent and important Debates, provided, of course, that the proper consideration of the Government's programme is not thereby prejudicedI fully understand and am not without sympathy with the strength of the feeling amongst a number of Private Members on this subject, and their very natural desire for the early restoration of the right to initiate legislation and Debates on their own Motions. I venture to suggest to the House, however, without prejudice to the settlement of this issue in due time, that the advantage of those facilities should not be exaggerated. It is perfectly true that a certain number of legislative achievements by Private Members can be quoted which have been useful. There are about three which usually do service by being mentioned on these occasions. I think they are the Plimsoll Line, Miss Wilkinson's Hire Purchase Bill, and the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) on the reform of the divorce law. Those three keep coming up every time we discuss this matter of Private Members' time.
What about the Bill I introduced in this House and carried through all its stages, the Abolition of Tolls on Bridges and the Highways Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman incorporated in his Road Traffic Act?
A fair point. But what happened about that Bill was—it is perfectly true, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind my mentioning it—that I encouraged him to bring in that Bill because I had the question of toll bridges down in the Road Traffic Act of 1930. I encouraged him, and we had private conspiracies behind the scenes. Much of his Bill found, I think, incorporation in the Road Traffic Act, 1930, if my memory serves me aright. I agree it was a useful contribution. It was not, however, exactly as revolutionary as the Matrimonial Causes Act of the hon. Gentleman the junior Burgess for Oxford University. I only say in regard to the hundreds if not thousands of Private Members' Bills that have been introduced, that this is not an enormous legislative achievement. The fact is that there was a good deal of the academic about those Debates. Sometimes Ministers used those Bills, as I did, as the means of getting into the machinery of the legislative programme, things which they had failed to get through in the appropriate Cabinet Committee.That is really Government use of Private Members' time, and sometimes it provided interesting opportunities for debate. I remember our late colleague, Mr. Alfred Short, when Under-Secretary to the Home Office, being baffled Friday after Friday—and I am not sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was not in the same boat now and again—in finding reasons to side-step or obstruct Private Members' Bills. I doubt whether in relation to the amount of Parliamentary time expended a great deal of harvest was reaped.
Has not the right hon. Gentleman forgotten the Slaughter of Animals Act which released 16 million animals a year from the torture of the pole-axe?
Does the right hon. Gentleman consider the Racecourse Betting Control Act academic?
These are fair points, but in relation to legislation by and large, and to the possibility that the Governments of the day would have done many of these things anyway, I honestly doubt whether there is as much in it as is sometimes argued.With regard to Private Members' Motions, they sometimes produced embarrassing situations for the Whips. They were expressions of opinion, and sometimes they had to be sidestepped by the Whips promoting Amendments convenient to the Government of the day. I suggest that they had a little bit of the flavour of the Oxford and Cambridge Unions about them, though I do not want to be sensitive about that at the present time. I am not disagreeing, because I think these Oxford and Cambridge debates are most interesting and stimulating. However, I am not sure that the amount of time that the House of Commons spent upon Private Members' Motions was justified in relation to the time the House of Commons could have spent on measures for the definite social advancement of the people. These are personal expressions of opinion, and everyone has a right to his opinion. I would not close the door against the argument the other way round, because it may be that as time goes on we may be able to relax the present tendency for the Government to take over Private Members' time. I want a balance to be brought into the argument. The "overwhelming" case which is argued for Private Members' time is really not so overwhelming as hon. Members sometimes assume it to be. At the same time, I think there is a tendency outside the House—I would not say inside, because the House is too familiar with its own procedure—to get the position out of perspective, and to suppose that when the Government take Private Members' time they are thereby monopolising the time of the House, and that Members are deprived of most of their opportunities for ventilating their individual views. The House of Commons is, of course, fully aware that this is not the case, but the public outside, hearing that the Government have taken the whole time of the House, sometimes assume that the whole initiative as regards Business is in the hands of Ministers, which as the House knows is not true. Erskine May has something to say about this. I thought that I had better take Erskine May with me when I went on holiday this year, as well as Mrs. Morrison. I took with me that very large volume of well over 1,000 closely printed pages. I do not know how many Leaders of the House have read Erskine May right through, but I thought that it was time one did, and I got through over one-third in one holiday. I will go on with it at Christmas and every other Recess until I have finished it, and then you had better be careful. I found it very interesting to read the book every evening in the hotel in Guernsey, and this is what Erskine May says. This was the first time that the thought had ever occurred to me. He says, on page 284, which I marked, "Make a note of it for the Debate on Private Members' time when it comes."
You had decided then already?
I would say that I had a sort of healthy instinct that things might work out this way. I would go no further than that. This is what he says, and I thought it was a good idea:
In the first place there are certain items of Business which, under various Standing Orders or under the practice of the House, may quite properly be taken in Government time, or for which the Government may find themselves obliged to find time. Examples are Motions for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order Number 8, complaints about breaches of Privilege, votes of censure; and there is an important category from the point of view of Private Members' time, namely Prayers, which are tending to increase, which is quite understandable and about which I do not complain. In addition there is a more important group occupying much time which exists primarily to give opportunities for criti- cising Government policy, and in which the Opposition or Private Members have in practice the right to choose the subject of criticism. I have often said in the House that it is not for the Government to choose the subject but for the Opposition, and it is for Private Members to try to persuade the Opposition to choose the things in which they are interested. Indeed, I have encouraged some of my hon. Friends to see what they could do in the general interest of the House. That is quite legitimate, and it has been done the other way round. The main items in this group are the Address in reply to the King's Speech, Motions for the holiday adjournments, Estimates, both main and supplementary, other business on Supply, and such Measures as the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. These all give opportunities for reviewing administration and for criticism of the Government. Therefore, the idea that when the Government take Private Members' time they are monopolising the whole time of the House is wrong. It is constitutionally right that in our Parliamentary practice, and to some extent in regard to the Standing Orders, provision should be deliberately made whereby the Opposition have the undisputed right to choose the issue and attack the Government on whatever ground they think it right. That is the basis in many respects of our Parliamentary system. This is to say nothing of the opportunities which Private Members have of influencing the choice of subjects for discussion by the Opposition and the Government itself, nor of Question Time and the half-hour Adjournment. Indeed, when one goes into the matter one finds that the proportion of the time of the House which the Government cannot truly be said to have at their own disposal is substantial. I have had analysis made of the 164 sitting days in the last Session. Of these, about 83½ were devoted to legislation, and 5½ to Business of a miscellaneous character, relating, for example, to Privilege cases, which are no easy to classify. Of the remainder, at least 45 days were devoted to the discussion of subjects chosen by the Opposition or, , the case of Adjournments for Recesses, by back benchers. There were, in addition, days devoted to Adjournments moved for special Debates to meet Opposition requests or me general wishes of the House. This is the background against which, I suggest, the question of Private Members' time should be considered. That is not to say—and I do not say it—that the loss to Private Members is not material. Nevertheless, the matter is one of priorities. Our legislative programme for this Session has been carefully planned in relation to the available time, and it is quite clear that we cannot complete the task to which we have set our hands without asking Private Members again to give up their time. The House will see, as the days go on, that Bills will be presented with admirable and sufficient regularity and speed. That will show how well organised the Government are, how competent is their Parliamentary programme. We believe that in so doing we are studying the nation's interest at what is a very difficult period. Time for Private Members' Bills or Motions could only be given at the expense of important legislation outlined in the Gracious Speech or other essential Government Business, or even at the expense of the traditional opportunities of criticising Ministers, or debating general matters of policy at the initiative of the Opposition. It is in all these circumstances that the Government have come to the conclusion, not with any celebration or joy, but with some degree of regret, because we like to meet the views of Members and minorities in the House, that this must take place again for the third Session of Parliament. It is in that spirit of respect to the House, and having put all the facts before it, that I submit the Motion to Members for their sympathetic consideration."It is only when distinctions are drawn in the business which the Government has to sponsor and put down on its own days that it becomes apparent that the monopoly of time by the Government is in some respects more nominal than real. For a good deal of what is nominally Government time is devoted to matters of routine, which are designed to give opportunities for criticism, and is regulated by long-standing practice and by conventions which give the initiative to the Opposition."
I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out paragraph (1)I must admit that I am somewhat astounded at the line which the Lord President of the Council has taken in his speech, although I imagine that it was really intended to exercise that gift of leadership which was so absent from our Debate yesterday and to try to rally the party behind him. The trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman has entirely missed the point. What we are talking about today is Private Members' time, not Opposition time. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Erskine May, and made the revealing statement that he had looked at the passage with the possibility of curtailing Private Members' time, although the grounds he put forward were the economic situation, amendment of the Parliament Act, and an autumn Budget—all last minute decisions.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not a member of the Cabinet these days, so he does not know. These things have been before us for quite a time. All three things have been discussed in the country for months.
The economic crisis has been before the country for a long time, and we were all under the impression that there were some grounds for thinking that it had by-passed the Government. They were the ones who did not know. I do not wish to go into details, which are of interest to no one except the right hon. Gentleman, as to when he did or did not read Erskine May, but he said that a good deal of time which was reputed to be Government time was at the disposal of the Opposition. We are talking, however, of the time which used to be at the disposal of Members on both sides of the House, not about anything to do with the reasonable time which is at the disposal of the Opposition. I hope the Lord President will allow the Amendment I have moved to go to a free vote of the House, because it concerns every Member of this House. He said that all Governments, at once time or another, had had to move the sort of Motion which he had moved. Without having an opportunity for research while sitting on the Front Bench, I will take it from him that all Governments have done it. I should doubt it myself, but whether they have all done it or not, I should be safe in asserting that except in time of war no Government had done it for three successive Sessions. That is the situation with which we are faced today.The Lord President tried to reinforce himself by quoting something that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said on a previous occasion. Just as the new Secretary of State for War accuses the Conservative Central Office, quite wrongly, of having specially detailed reporters after him, it looks as though the Lord President has some "research assistants" spending all their time reading my right hon. Friend's past speeches. I can only express the hope that those research assistants are on the pay roll of Transport House, and are not civil servants. I do not see why the State should pay civil servants to do it in order to give points to the Lord President. They ought to be doing something for the good of the State as a whole, and not educating themselves and the Lord President. I am astounded that the right hon. Gentleman, this year, could make a speech on this subject without making any reference to the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which the House set up to investigate this problem, among others. Last year it would not have been possible, on the corresponding occasion, for the Lord President to have said much about it This Committee, on which I had the privilege to sit at the order of the House, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), was appointed in August, 1945. It was instructed to sit in spite of the fact that the House was not sitting. We worked hard and produced three Reports, the last of which was presented, not in the last Session of Parliament, but in the one before. That report was dated October, 1946. I must say in the absence—I cannot see him—of the hon. Gentleman that, speaking for my colleagues on this side of the House who sat on that Committee, we think it regrettable that the Lord President did no even refer to our recommendations on this subject of Private Members' time. We do not ourselves boast that we did good work, but we put our time at the disposal of the House, and I think it rather discourteous that the right hon. Gentleman did not even mention the fact that we made some suggestions on this subject. He says, as I suppose others before him who have had to move a Motion of this kind have said, that it is necessary to get the Government's business through. He, more or less, put it on the grounds that it was necessary to get the Government's legislation through. I only hope that after this Debate some hon. Gentleman will find it sufficiently interesting to look through our Report and, possibly, through some of the evidence, and he will find that, in point of fact, the right hon. Gentleman did not believe in Private Members' time at all. He is not for it. He does not think it a good thing. Therefore, he is quite happy to come here today and suggest that we should not have any this year. He is on record as saying, in the evidence on page 140:
that is Private Members' Debates—"Quite honestly, I thought them"—
Later, in reply to a question from myself, he said:"for the main part a waste of Parliamentary time."
The trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman belongs to that very select company of Members of this House who got office almost at once after entering the House, and if one looks up his very distinguished Parliamentary record one finds that he was only on the back benches for less than one year; and people like myself who sat on the back benches for ten years, and others who sat much longer, do realise the value and importance of Private Members' time. I thought that the Prime Minister would have welcomed Private Members' time because it gives opportunities to Private Members and also many opportunities to junior Ministers. One could have tested their strength and failings and one might have had quite a different change in the "second eleven," even before now, if some of the young secretaries had had to come Friday after Friday to win their spurs. Private Members have had, under Private Members' time, real opportunities in raising matters of interest to themselves or their constituencies, subject, of couse, to a ballot which they would not have had otherwise. It is no answer to say that there is plenty of time given to the Opposition. The Opposition is an essential part of the running of the House and of our general constitutional system, but so are Private Members. Let us be quite clear about that, because the right hon. Gentleman I do not think gave a satisfactory reply to that fact. I think that more than half of the present Members of the House have had no experience of Private Members' time, and they can only take the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman or by me or some of my hon. Friends who have sat here for a long time. We must be quite clear that there are two questions at issue. There are Private Members' Bills and Private Members' Motions The right hon. Gentleman tried to make out that there had been only three Private Members' Bills which ever amounted to anything, and I think that the reference which he made in his speech suggesting that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) had in some way tried to make a stooge of him, was going a bit far. To take Bills first, the opportunity has been afforded to hon. Members in the past to promote Bills and they were not always party Bills; that is to say, they received support from all parties, and a great number were passed. They were by no means limited to the three to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. A note by the Clerk of the Committe on page 169 of our Report shows the average number of Private Members' Bills passed in any Session. This may be rather astonishing news to the House. In the 20 years between the two wars the average number of Private Members' Bills per Session which passed into law was 10.8 I do not know what.8 of a Bill is, but that is where one gets in statistical matters, and we will make it 11 for the sake of argument. Eleven Bills became law whereas 56.3 were introduced but not passed. That is a creditable achievement of legislative output on the part of Private Members. We are going to be deprived of that possibility. The second thing is Private Members' Motions. That is an entirely different question. It is open to Private Members to initiate Debates, again as a result of a ballot, and I feel rather tenderly about that loss of Private Members' time, because it was on a Private Members' Motion that I first made a speech in this House; and it is a good opportunity for other people to make their first speeches. A great number of those who subsequently obtained distinction in the House will be found to have spoken then for the first time. It gives an opportunity for hon. Members to raise all sorts of matters, whether of great consequence or trivial consequence to their constituents. While it is true that under the present system of Adjournment Debates they have half an hour every day, and something has been done, it is nothing like as much as used to be the case, and no one can pretend that half an hour was enough for the great bulk of the questions raised on Adjournment Debates daily during the last Session. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the whole position and not to press this Motion today. I say that the right hon. Gentleman is definitely against Private Members' time. He does not like it. He has no personal experience of it, and he wants to do away with it. Every successive year that this Motion is passed makes the chances for the future more remote. We may hope to get over what may be for one year, but now it is two years and next it will be three years. If this Parliament ends and there has never been any Private Members' time at all, I wonder if it will ever come back? If it does not come back the right hon. Gentleman will have had his way, because he does not believe in it. There is no doubt about that because the evidence says so, and he does not contradict it. The curious part is this—and this is another point which I want to put because I think that it is important—that the gist of the right hon. Gentleman's speech today has been that it is necessary to have all the legislation which the Government want; that there are certain opportunities for right hon. Gentlemen here on these Benches to initiate Debates as the official Opposition, and that that is quite enough. That is the gist of his argument."I am bound to say that I did not miss the loss of those Private Members' days, and I do not believe I would if I were a Private Member I think the time of the House could be occupied with something much more useful."
And for back benchers to take part.
That is different from initiation. I think that, without revealing Cabinet secrets, it can be said that the plans which the right hon. Gentleman puts before his colleagues would be considered by him to be quite different from those of other right hon. Gentlemen about which he talks. Initiation is something in the past which has been open to hon. Members as a result of ballot—the best method so far devised for the purpose—and that is quite different from speaking in the Debates. The right hon. Gentleman confused the two points. It is not a question of Private Members speaking in Debates initiated from the Opposition benches: that is different from a Private Member raising something in his own time. It is not the same thing at all. It may be that the same speeches will be made because the occasion may permit the same speech to be made, but it is a very different motive which actuates the Private Member in his action on that occasion.I was saying that the right hon. Gentleman lays a good deal of his case—I do not want to be long on this subject; it is a matter for Private Members—on the fact that it is necessary to get a great mass of legislation through the House. He does not think himself, or he professes not to think, that that is the most important function of Parliament. Listening to him today one would think that that is what we were really here for and what really mattered, but the right hon. Gentleman, giving evidence before the Select Committee on Procedure, said something different. In reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who no doubt will remember it well—in fact I will not read out what the hon. Gentleman asked because it is rather long—the right hon. Gentleman stated what was the most important function of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman had asked him what was the primary function of the House, and he said that in the legislative field he thought the initiative should largely be with the Government. In other words, he does not believe in Private Members' time. Then he goes on to say:
this is what the right hon. Gentleman said then though one would not have thought it from his speech today—"I think that, is right. I would not myself say that legislation is the most important function of Parliament, because I think"—
Why not give the Private Members some opportunity of exercising that function? That is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is taking from the Private Members by this Motion. He admits that legislation is not as important as the check on the Government, but apparently he wants that check to function only on the initiative of His Majesty's official Opposition. As a House of Commons man I say that a certain part of that function should devolve on the Private Members. If hon. Members have read the history of Parliament and how our Standing Orders came into being they will find that in the beginning Private Members had all the time, then the Government gradually took some of it and now in this third Session of the present Parliament the Government propose to take it all. When we were discussing this matter on the Select Committee it was put to us at that time that it was unrealistic—that was the word—and academic to discuss this at all, because we were so near the end of the war and there were a lot of transitional Measures, Orders and all the rest of it to be dealt with. Despite that we put it to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that we thought it was right that Private Members' time should be restored. The Government in reply in their Memorandum said it was unrealistic for the Select Committee to discuss this, but they added that if the Select Committee put up a scheme, of course the Government would give it every consideration. I do not find any sign of the Government having given the Committee's scheme any consideration at all."the check on the Government perhaps is the most important function."
Tell us what the point was?
It arose through cross-examination, and then there was a supplementary document on the part of the Government and the phrase is there that if the Select Committee put up proposals, the Government would consider them.
Please wait a minute while I quote from the Government's statement of 21st March, 1946:
that was what I was saying and this was March, 1946, not October, 1947, which is a big difference—"The Government are disposed to agree that plans might well be devised for increasing the usefulness of Private Members' time. The whole matter, however, is academic at present"—
that was the document which we as a Committee were discussing—"since the Government continue to find it necessary to take all Private Members' time. No detailed comments are therefore offered on Sir G. Campion's proposals under this head"—
That was the position and we gave them an opportunity of considering the matter further in our report and there is no evidence——"the Government would welcome an opportunity of considering the matter further."
I think I would rather finish because this is a perfectly accurate statement. I do not want to bore the House with all the details of this matter but if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne has any relevant point to put perhaps he will put it now.
I hope the right hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if he thinks I am interrupting him unnecessarily. My own recollection is that he is mistaken in what he says. I was under the impression that the Select Committee did not make any recommendation on that at all.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Sections 47 to 52 of our Report deal with Private Members' time and one of the recommendations is:
here again nothing is said by the Lord President—"Your Committee recommend that facilities for Members to initiate business should be restored as soon as possible, and that, in any case,"—
There is no suggestion of that. It is swept away. The Government do not appear to have paid any attention at all to our recommendations. All I want to say in conclusion is that we as a Committee considered the matter and put up an alternative scheme because we recognised that the present arrangements were not very good. It is immaterial to discuss exactly how we proposed to make the alterations. They are on record for the House to see and consider, but I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he has entirely confused the issue. He himself admits that the most important function—as I have pointed out from his own evidence—of the House is criticism of the Government, not legislation, and for years now that function of criticism has been shared, though not exactly jointly or on a fifty-fifty basis, by the official Opposition and by Private Members. I might add that Private Members are not the people who sit behind me, for Private Members also sit on the opposite side of the House. In the past they have had legitimate opportunity given them under the Standing Orders of raising points of criticism, and so carrying out what the right hon. Gentleman himself stresses is one of the most important functions of Parliament. I say that to deprive for the third Session running this House of Private Members' time and of those ancient rights—because they are well established in the custom of Parliament—is an absolute outrage. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members on all sides of the House will join with me now when we go into the Division Lobby to amend this Motion and to take out the reference to Private Members' time. I hope that the Government are going to lock at it again and consider the recommendations which we have made to see whether they cannot bring in a Motion to modify the "Standing Orders, as they are likely to do, I understand in other fields, so that they will not, on the second day of this new Session, deprive Private Members of all rights of initiative."the provisions of Standing Order No. 10, which enables Members to bring in Bills under 'The Ten Minutes' Rule' should be made available again."
I am deeply grieved that the Government are not prepared to meet Private Members even in the slightest degree on this question. I should not be doing my duty to the House if I sat quiet whilst a Motion like this went through the House. It is ten years since I came into this House, and in eight and a half of those ten years there has been no Private Members' time. It is exceedingly fortunate for me, at any rate, that I have had the benefit of one and a half years of Private Members' time, because if I had not had it I might not feel so strongly on this matter. I feel all the more strongly on it because we had no assurance from the Leader of the House that Private Members' time would ever come back. I very carefully took a note of his words and he said that "it may be as time goes on we will be able to relax." Knowing the right hon. Gentleman as I do I do not regard that as an assurance. Rather do I regard it as almost a positive assurance that unless the utmost pressure is put upon my right hon. Friend, we shall never see Private Members' time again.It is unfortunate that there are so many Members in this House who do not know the value of Private Members' time. A very right and proper point was put by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) when he said that Private Members' time was not merely a matter for the Opposition Members of Parliament, but was a more important and fundamental matter for the people who sit on these benches. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are more of them."] Never mind about there being more of us. The point is that Opposition Members of Parliament have the advantage of Supply days, when they select the subject. Hon. Members on these benches have no choice, other than speaking upon a subject which the Opposition have chosen, or of continuing to be marionettes dangling on bits of string for the benefit of the Lord President of the Council. In a Parliament such as this I do not think we can afford to risk Members being deprived of any rights of expressing opinions upon Government legislation. Powers that are developing and are being concentrated in certain hands are such that Private Members have a responsibility to their constituents and to the country. I was deeply sorry that the main argument which my right hon. Friend used in support of this Motion was to depreciate the value of Private Members' time. I regard Private Members' time as of very great value in this House. In the past we have been subject to the limiting handicaps of the Ballot box, but the Ballot box was not more heavily weighted against us than the Ballot for the half-hour Adjournment now is. To suggest that the Motion for the Adjournment in some way compensates for Private Members' time is one of the most ludicrous things that has ever been heard in this House. Has the Lord President not examined the book which is in Mr. Speaker's office? Has he seen the number of people who have put their names down and how long one's name has to appear daily on the book before one has any hope of being heard? By the time one gets to that half-hour Adjournment, of what value is it? The subject may have been completely swept away, so that it is no longer of use to make any point about it. It does Members an injustice to suggest that they should accept the half-hour Adjournment Motion as some compensation for the loss of Private Members' time. There are many non-political matters on which Members on this side hold common views with Members on the other side, and which require righting. They will never be righted by the Government, whose hands are full, rightly so, with the economic and political matters of the day. Many matters can only be redressed by Private Members bringing Measures into this House. We are now to be denied that right for the third year of the postwar era, and for the ninth year of my time in this House. Unless we are prepared to make a fight for it we shall be deprived of it for all time. Unfortunately, I have seen Parliaments on the Continent of Europe where Private Members' time has gone entirely. I know the Parliaments of Hungary, Roumania, and Bulgaria, and Private Members' time has gone there. While I do not suggest that there is any parallel here, I am not prepared to be reduced to the position of a Member of Parliament who comes here solely for the purpose of endorsing a line which the Executive may have taken. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to reconsider this matter of Private Members' time. A lot of people who sit behind the Government desire to help them and are prepared to do so. Instead of languishing here and making no contribution, we ought to have the opportunity of Private Members' time. I regret that I shall not be able to support the Government in taking the whole of Private Members' time.
I am sure the House has enjoyed the humorous digressions of the Lord President of the Council. He quite obviously enjoyed his holiday in spite of Erskine May. I refer to them as digressions because, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said, they were totally irrelevant to the Motion with which we are faced this afternoon. The arguments were given by the Prime Minister yesterday when he warned the House that he was going to introduce this Motion. He said that it had been his intention—no doubt his good intention, and we all know where good intentions lead to—to give Private Members back their time after Christmas, but unfortunately, owing to three Measures mentioned in the King's Speech, namely, the Budget, the agreement with Burma and the constitutional situation in Ceylon, he had had perforce to give up those good intentions.I would like the House to consider those three subjects to which the Prime Minister referred. The Prime Minister regarded them as something that made it impossible for Private Members to get back their time, but it seemed to me, first of all, that the Burma business must have been known for many weeks, if not many months past. The Agreement has been negotiated over a very long time. Therefore, the Prime Minister could not have been rushed suddenly at the last minute into having to defer giving Private Members back their time for that reason. The constitutional situation in Ceylon is a matter about which negotiations have also been going on. It does not seem to me that giving away chunks of the Empire is any really good excuse for not giving Private Members an opportunity of discussing those matters in the House. As regards the Supplementary Budget which the Chancellor is to introduce, the Chancellor was warned months ago that there would be a financial crisis. He knew that it would be essential to produce an autumn Budget, and there was no ignorance about it. Every one of the arguments which the Prime Minister used yesterday in order to deprive us of our time has been proved absolutely fallacious. During the war it was a perfectly good argument to say that Private Members' time could not be given. That was a Coalition period. It was not a question of the time being required by the Government, but of being doubtful whether it would be an advantage to introduce controversial discussions. As soon as the Lord President of the Council can give me a little of his time instead of carrying on his private discussions, my task in making this speech may be a lot easier. I am dealing with the subject of Private Members' time, when the Lord President is able to consider that subject. I was trying to make the point that during the Coalition period it was evident that the Government could not give us our time, not because they needed it, but because there was a risk of controversial Measures being introduced, which would have been inadvisable at such a period. Private Members, without the responsibility and knowledge of Members of the Government, might well have raised issues that would be embarrassing. During the first hilarious Session of the new Parliament, when exciting and thrilling adventures, lay ahead in building the brave new world—almost as thrilling as the sadistic desire to pull down the old one—it was natural that the Government should take Private Members' time so as to enjoy to the full the newly-found pleasure and capacity to harm the interests of our country. Now we have come to a different period in our history and in the history of the Government, when the future certainly lies in a very much more insecure lap of the gods than it did two years ago. I imagine that during that period the zest for destruction has been somewhat assuaged. I imagine also that the passion for the brave new world has been a little weakened. But I cannot think that with 400 well-trained, well-Whipped automatons at their disposal to pass through official Measures even by the Guillotine when the power of argument has failed, the Government find it impossible to give back the one free method by which Private Members can express their opinion and restore one of the traditions of this House, which we, at any rate, value most highly. Indeed, it is very painful to me to see those cohorts opposite, the majority of whom have never tasted the warmth, the colour and the interest of a free House of Commons, willingly assisting the warders in clamping the shackles on their traditional liberties. I can only suggest that they are still so bemused by the outmoded document, "Let Us Face the Future," that they can think only of the future and can learn nothing from the past. Quite a lot could be learnt from the past, as they themselves will learn. [Interruption.] Judging from those cheers and the stereotyped speeches we have had during the Recess, the only thing in the past about which they are allowed to speak now is the misdeeds of the wicked Tories. I imagine that the Socialist Member of Parliament of today will in the future tell his grandchildren, not what Gladstone said in '86, but bloodcurdling tales of what the wicked Tories did in '36. I now come back to the question of Private Members' time, referring both to the Motions on Wednesdays and the Bills on Fridays. I apologise for reminding the House that I have been here for nearly.23 years. I have heard a lot of these Motions, and I have always listened with interest because they represented something which generally concerned the public at that particular time. They were topical. They always referred to matters in which at any rate one section of the community was interested, and, therefore, in the aggregate the Motions before the House during any one Session represented a broad section of the opinion throughout the country. As my right hon. and gallant Friend has said, they give the Government a means of judging the timber of their Parliamentary Secretaries, and also give back benchers an opportunity to take an interest in the work of the House. One of the greatest problems which any overweighted Government can have is how to keep its back benchers employed, interested, constantly in touch and proud of what they can contribute to the House as a whole. When I look at those well-trained rubber stamps opposite, I feel very grieved for them that they have not the opportunity which Private Members' time gives of showing their mettle and incidentally of contributing to the general welfare and good of the country. Indeed, from the Government's point of view those Motions provided a far more important weather vane of public opinion than the well selected by-elections on which the Government so consistently rely. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sour grapes."] I would like now to refer to the question of Private Members' Bills. Again, with some modesty, I would like to remind the House, if they think it worth my while reminding them, that I understand that I still hold the record in this House for Private Members' Bills, having brought in and carried through eight during my period in the House. I am not making any song and dance about that, because I think there are other hon. Members who have brought in far fewer which were probably of much greater advantage to the community as a whole. As my right hon. and gallant Friend has reminded us, the one brought in by the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) certainly relieved a great deal of the human sufferings involved in unhappy and ill-assorted unions. I would modestly refer to my Slaughter of Animals Act which, as I said earlier, relieved from the torture of the knife and the pole-axe 16 million animals yearly. Those two alone justify Private Members' time. If no other Measures had been introduced, apart even from that by Miss Ellen Wilkinson and that by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald), if we got two or three really substantial, vital and human contributions to the happiness of our people today in this austere time, surely it would be well worth while? What Measure is there in the Gracious Speech, apart from those initiated by Coalition White Papers, that will relieve the suffering of anyone? What Measure will not probably give a lot of suffering to many? What opportunities have Private Members today of relieving the sufferings of both humans and animals? After all, that would be something—I was going to say to be proud of—to welcome and about which to be not unhappy. I do not know whether the Lord President will pay the slightest attention to the most cogent speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend. Every word was to the point, every argument was convincing; and if the Lord President had his mind open—I am doubtful whether it ever is—the only retort he could make to my right hon. and gallant Friend would be, "I have sinned, and I withdraw paragraph (1)." This Motion which he has moved accords exactly with his policy of reducing newsprint to the papers; in other words, to cloud and prevent the free expression of opinion inside this House and outside. That is obviously the policy of the Lord President, and I do not know whether any of us can achieve anything by bringing pressure or convincing arguments to bear on the situation. I do not believe that the Lord President came to the House to receive any arguments. He came to lay down the law to his supporters behind him, knowing that he has a two-to-one majority and that wherever he leads, they will fall in and follow. That is not the way in which I thought our Business should be conducted in This House. In my earlier days I thought it was a matter for argument, and that if one could bring forward convincing reasons for a certain course of action which was recognised by the House as a whole, irrespective of party, that had some weight. But apparently that is not so today. It is merely to what the Lord President lays down that his sycophantic supporters behind him give adherence. I bitterly resent that we should have come to this situation in which we are prevented from playing that part which our constituents wanted us, and still want us, to play. We have been deprived of that opportunity by the will of the Lord President, and the responsibility and the blame for anything that may happen at the next Election when the electors find they have been frustrated over this matter, will lie fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Lord President.
I have some difficulty in recognising myself in the role of a marionette dancing on a string for the benefit of the Lord President of the Council, a difficulty which I imagine my right hon. Friend will share. I believe that the greatest service a back bench Member of Parliament can render to the House, to his constituents, and to the country is in the fearless exercise of his own conscientious judgment on issues as they arise, and his willingness to say what he honestly thinks it necessary to say, and to vote in accordance with his conscience as opportunities for voting occur. I have also been in the House to enjoy the warmth, taste and colour of a House dominated by a Tory majority for 10 years under the instruction of the most iron-willed Chief Whip the House has ever known. In spite of all that, I do not believe that any responsible Member of the House today could vote for the Amendment which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has moved. The effect of that Amendment would be to deprive the Government, in these extremely difficult days, of every Wednesday and every Friday throughout the Session.
There would be no difficulty about the Government conceding an odd Friday, for instance, once a month.
My hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that it is really quite impossible for me to make all my speech at once. At the moment I am dealing with the Amendment moved from the Front Bench opposite, and I am saying that no conscientious Member of this House could honestly vote for that Amendment because the effect of it would be to deprive the Government of every Wednesday and every Friday for the whole of the Session and I say that no Member of the House on either side dare take that responsibility.
I think the hon. Gentleman is doing my argument less than justice because I said that if the Amendment were carried, the Lord President would have an opportunity of looking at it again when he brings in other Amendments to Standing Orders, and could then incorporate into our procedure the suggestion to which the hon. Gentleman assented, which was that there should not be any Wednesday or Friday at all, but something quite different.
At the moment I am not dealing with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument, but with his Amendment, and I am saying that no hon. or right hon. Member could responsibly vote for it. I am relieved to hear from his intervention just now that he is not in favour of it himself. What he is saying is that he moves it, not in order to get it carried because he does not think it ought to be carried, but to enable the Lord President to move something else.
That is precisely what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman just intervened to say. If I have it wrong, I will give way to him.
Yes, the hon. Member has got it wrong. The whole point of the Amendment is to maintain Private Members' time. The hon. Member has said that the present system is not the best way to do it, but that it should be maintained——
I am coming to that
But if the Government carry this Motion, they cannot do it at all, because they will then have said that there will be no Private Members' time. I am arguing that there should be Private Members' time, and the hon. Member must not twist my words.
I am not twisting the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's words. I am coming to his words in a moment, and to his argument, too; but what I am dealing with now is his Amendment. I say again, and I challenge him to deny it, that if the House were to accept that Amendment and nothing else happened, and that is all that is put forward at the moment, for he has not proposed what he could have proposed, namely, to leave out paragraph (1) and insert something else——
There could not be a manuscript Amendment.
It is not for me to say, but I should have thought, Mr. Speaker, that you might have looked with sympathy on a proposal not merely to leave out that paragraph in order to produce a result which nobody wants, but to leave it out and to substitute something that somebody might want. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not done that, and therefore I can deal only with his Amendment. That leads me to the argument with which he thought I was not going to deal. I am sure he did not wish to mislead the House in any way, but all those who have not recently read the report of the Select Committee might possibly have been misled by the way he put his argument, into believing that the Select Committee thought that Private Members' time, as we used to know it in the days of colour and taste and romance and all the rest of it, ought some day to be restored. The Select Committee, of which he was a member, recommended unanimously that that should never be restored. Let us be quite clear about it. Nobody on the Select Committee on Procedure thought that the old Standing Order about Private Members' Motions on Wednesdays and Bills on Fridays should be restored.That Committee recommended something totally different. They recommended that there should be, as soon as possible—and I can see that in the opinion of some Members it might be possible now, though in the opinion of others it would not be possible now—not the restoration of Private Members' time as it used to be, but the provision of 20 Fridays, and 20 Fridays only, throughout the Session divided equally between Motions and Bills. I voted for that recommendation, and I still think it ought some time to be implemented. I think some other things might be done, too, but do not let us suppose that anybody who has looked at this question at any time has ever thought that the old procedure ought ever to be restored. And for good reasons. Nine-tenths of it was never Private Members' time at all. I accept the distinction which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman drew between Opposition time and Private Members' time. I think that is right, and I thought my right hon. Friend rather confused the two things. I agree entirely with the constitutional right of the Opposition to raise questions for debate at a particular time and for ascertained constitutional purposes. It has nothing whatever to do with Private Members' time, and the two things ought not to be confused. In the old days nine-tenths of both the Motions and the Bills were put into Members' hands by the Government Whips on the one side and Opposition Whips on the other.
Is the hon. Member suggesting now that whoever put into the Ballot Box a Motion or Bill to be brought forward was compelled to accept what his party's senior officials thought?
I am not saying anything of the kind, and anybody who said that would be quite wrong. The interesting thing is that, without there being any compulsion, nine-tenths of them did it. It is a strange commentary that, without any compulsion, nine-tenths of them did it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."] My estimate may be wrong, but I would say that a very substantial majority certainly were Motions or Bills put into the hands of Private Members with the intimation, "If you are successful in the Ballot, move one or other of these Motions or one or other of these Bills." It is quite true that there were exceptions but in the majority of cases it was so, and it was used by the machines of both parties as a convenient opportunity to snaffle, either for the Government or for the Opposition, time of the House that could not normally be won for either side.I am sure we ought not to go back to that, but I would like to say to my right hon. Friend that the one thing which the Select Committee thought ought to be restored immediately is a thing that could be restored without sacrificing anything of value to the Government or anything essential in the allocation of Business of the House. That is the very valuable right that a Private Member had at the end of Questions on any day in a short speech to move a Bill which raised a particular point. I do not know why that should be resisted. It could never on any particular day take more than 20 minutes of the time of the House. It was called the Ten Minutes Rule, but of course there was no actual rule that it should be ten minutes. The Standing Order said "a short speech," but the short speech was usually interpreted as a ten-minute speech. One speech was made in support and one speech against, and that was the end of the matter.
There might be a Division.
There might be a Division and it would take another few minutes if we divided, but it is not a great matter. I feel absolutely certain the Government could have made that concession without sacrificing anything essential.I think they could do two other things without sacrificing anything essential. They could give, say, on a Friday once a month, a Private Member's Motion—I do not say a Bill, because a Bill has the consequence that if it is moved and is given Second Reading by the House, the Government are in honour bound to provide further time for it. I think a day could be given for a discussion which a Private Member genuinely wished to raise. There is another way in which the Government could allow Private Members to initiate Business. From time to time Motions outside the ordinary run of party programmes are signed in many parts of the House by a large number of Members. When there is a Motion of that kind, raising some question which cuts across party divisions altogether, and with wide all-party, or more than one-party, backing in the House, I should think that occasionally the Government might find time for a Debate on such a Motion.
Arising out of the suggestions of the hon. Member, with which I find myself in full agreement, in order to achieve what he has in mind would it not be necessary to carry the Amendment which has been moved by my right hon. and gallant Friend?
I think that if my right hon. Friend wished to make these concessions he could himself move a suitable Amendment. I do not think it is necessary for that purpose to carry the Amendment which is before the House. But, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, instead of merely moving the deletion of paragraph (1), had also moved to insert what I am proposing, I might have found myself in greater difficulty than I am in at present. I do not believe that Private Members are seriously handicapped in their activities by the failure to provide Wednesdays or Fridays, or any portion of those days. A back bench Member of this House who wants to play his independent part in the conduct of the Business of the House has ample opportunities for so doing, and better opportunities for doing so in the conduct of the day to day Business of the House than in the rather refined and remote questions which are usually the subject of Private Members' Motions and Bills. If back bench Members really wish to have a live House of Commons, and really wish to restore—if it is lacking—the confidence of their constituents in the independence of their activities, they can do so best by employing themselves in the conduct of the daily Business of the House as it appears on the Order Paper, and not by chasing these remote will-o'-the-wisps of Private Members' Motions.
With much of the criticism made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) I agree. I agree with his criticism of the system as it prevailed before, and with his appeal to the Lord President of the Council to modify his Motion, and I hope the Lord President will listen to that plea. I wish to put another consideration altogether. The status of every Member of Parliament, whether he sits upon the Treasury Bench, the front Opposition Bench, or merely on the back benches, is precisely the same. It is a status common to all, and enjoyed by all, in whatever part of the House one sits and whatever office one holds, whether one belongs to the great majority or to a very small minority. It is the status of representing in this House one's own constituency.
Not only in theory, but in practice. An hon. Member carries a twofold responsibility. Every hon. Member represents the whole of his Division. It is his duty to represent every person, and to meet the needs and demands of every elector, irrespective of that person's political colour or party allegiance. There is a large number of issues covered by that alone, where there is common ground between Members of Parliament, whatever party they may support in the House. The other function and responsibility is entirely different. No hon. Member represents every shade of opinion in his Division. He may represent majority, or minority, opinion, but he represents party opinion, and that party opinion is for the convenience of the government of the country. It is a great convenience for the carrying on of the government of the country that there should be majority opinion on general issues and that we should divide as far as we can in blocks. The one great difference between the Government of the day and the official Opposition on this matter is not so fundamental as the difference between them on other matters, as might be illustrated by the Brighton Conference.The Government of the day, having the bulk of opinion behind it, has the first power to initiate legislation and carry it through. The official Opposition party can express its opinion and organise opinion and, on specific days, initiate Debates. That has nothing to do with private Members, but it has to do with the main political division of the country. There is no opportunity there at any stage, whether chosen by the Government or by the Opposition, for a Member of Parliament to carry out his other role. Private Members' time, in some form or other, is the only means whereby that can be done. I believe that the old method of drawing lots by ballot did not meet it. There may be better methods, and I think that is the force of the appeal made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) to the Lord President of the Council to reconsider the matter. I should like to enforce the plea for the Ten-minute Rule by which Members could bring before the House issues which were not only alive in their own Division, but were matters of common ground between Members of all parties. Today the overwhelming majority happens to be in the Socialist Party. The minority parties have some opportunity on the main issues of voting against or criticising the Government, but not of initiating policy. Therefore Private Members' time becomes more important to them. However, it is not upon that basis that I urge it, but upon that of the common status of every Member of Parliament alike—that there should be the opportunity for every Member to initiate legislation. That status should be recognised, and for that reason I hope the Lord President will listen to the appeal of his own supporters, even if he will not listen to the powerful plea made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough.
Another writer Member of this House, I believe another Independent, Mr. William Cobbett, after having listened to all the swells on his first night in Parliament said, not very unprovocatively, "Sir, it seems to me that I have listened this evening to a great deal of vain and unprofitable conversation." That was not a very unprovocative opening for a maiden speech, and I am not going to repeat his words now. I think that the discussion has been in "vain" in the sense that we shall get nothing out of it from that inflexible man the Lord President of the Council on the Front Bench, or rather not on the Front Bench, but it has not been "unprofitable." The things which have been said so well on both sides of the House should be said every year until we get these rights back. So many people seem to think that the rights of Private Members are merely an opportunity for Private Members to prance about and express themselves and have their private arena, and so on. There is a great deal to be said for that. Especially when we have a Government which has only one idea of its own, it is not a bad thing that Private Members should be able to put forward other ideas.But there is something more important than that. Private Members' rights are a very good piece of machinery for getting things done, and especially for getting things done which no Government, however courageous, however well-meaning, can, very often, dare to do. There has been an almost embarrassing—to me—amount of talk about divorce in regard to the old Bill, which had nothing to do with me. All the Private Members were responsible for that—all the Private Members together. I remember saying two years ago to hon. Members opposite that if I could bring in a Bill, which I then had in my pocket, to abolish the decree nisi, all Members of all parties would have been together on the subject. Since that time the decree nisi has been, not abolished, but suspended, not by legislation but by round-the-corner, very wise administrative action—and all thanks to the Lord Chancellor, and his Committee, and the Judges, for doing it. But my point is this: ten years ago I tried to do that in a Bill. All that I am saying, modestly, is that unless that agitation had been started ten years ago, this reform would not have been so easy now. It is easy to talk about successes, but it is the failures which matter as well. If one brings in a Bill which fails, at least a seed is planted, and an idea, a doctrine, is spread about. So do not let us talk about waste of time because a Bill has been brought in and rejected or talked out. "Nothing is wasted" is the great rule of life; and nothing is wasted in this department of our work. Take another example, a subject like betting. All this, of course, is highly hypothetical; but supposing that it were the case in this country today that there was a vast betting industry the dimensions and the disorder of which were a national scandal, and supposing that that industry was taking out of the pockets of the people hundreds of millions of pounds at a time when we had a great savings campaign, and a campaign against inflation, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was about to introduce an interim Budget to reduce spending. Supposing the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to tax this industry's activities. Supposing the Ministry of Labour was embarrassed because too much labour was being used but could not get at that manpower because the industry was not organised or controlled, because the bookmakers and their staffs were not licensed or registered. Supposing that no Government had the courage to deal with that industry in the only way in which it is possible to deal with it effectively. It might well be that there was a humble, modest Private Member, perhaps even an Independent, who had a Bill ready, a Bill based, perhaps, on a Royal Commission of 1932, a Bill which, in fact, was ordered to be read the first time and printed ten years ago, a Bill which was debated first—the first failure, if you like—on 13th May, 1938. Would it not be a good thing if the Government had that sort of legislation behind them now? Might it not be a good thing if a Private Member were able to introduce that Bill tomorrow, not for his glorification, but to pull the Government's chestnuts out of the fire, to make a contribution to the public good which no Government dares to do? That is the one point I wish to make today. We all talk too much, first of all, as though time is wasted when ideas are put about in this House, and are not immediately accepted. Secondly, we certainly talk too much as if Private Members' time was a kind of Private Members' playtime. I take this matter very seriously, as I always have. I see by the papers that I am one of those about to be abolished. I am bound to say that, as this House is now conducted and led, I could hardly care less.
I listened with interest to what the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) has said. He started a new train of thought in my mind that nothing succeeds like failure, which is comforting to those who have striven so long in this House to put things over and to get things done. I would say to the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore), speaking as one of the heavily Whipped and badly harassed automatons who usually support the Lord President of the Council, that I think the hon. and gallant Member overstated his case, and spoiled it in so doing. He got what the Prime Minister said yesterday completely wrong. My right hon. Friend stated that he had contemplated giving Private Members' time until Christmas. I regret that it has been found necessary to withdraw what was originally intended. I committed myself rather rashly last year to a course of action this year—not that I propose to deflect in any way from my course. I have spent two years wooing the Lord President, but have made no impression of any kind upon him. I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) should get himself out of his own dilemma by assuming that the Lord President will do anything about the matter simply because he asks him. I do not think that he will, and that is why I propose to go into the Lobby against the Government tonight.I think my hon. Friend is wrong in his interpretation of what would happen—not immediately—if the Amendment were carried. It would give the Lord President just the opportunity which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne desires, to bring in just those amended proposals which my hon. Friend wants. I am not impressed by the answer of the Lord President, having spent two years wooing without success. He reminds us that we have got the half-hour Adjournment restored to us. I think it suffers through the present balloting system. One may be unlucky for ever. I practically always am, and I rarely speak; in consequence everyone gets a wrong impression. I am taking the opportunity of starting the new Session well. I have got such a number of matters which I wish to raise on the Adjournment that if I were successful at the next General Election, I am doubtful if I could get through them. The Lord President should take steps to give back benchers more opportunity. It is no use saying that the Chief Whip has had an analysis made of the last Session which shows that there were nine days given to Adjournments moved for special Debates to meet Opposition requests or the general wishes of the House. That does not help the back bencher. What happens is that rows of Front Benchers get up, followed by a lot of Privy Councillors whom no one wants to hear, and the enthusiastic, intelligent, keen loud-voiced back benchers are not called. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should go back to the old system. I did not have very much experience of it. I only came here in 1938. I would, however, like something more than we have at present. I agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that we might have a Friday occasionally. I do not see why we should not have that opportunity. I understand that the Select Committee suggested 20 Fridays. If we adopted my hon. Friend's suggestion and had one Friday a month, there would be about nine Fridays. I do not think that that would do the Government very much harm. It might do them a great deal of good. At any rate, it would give some of us an opportunity to tell them some of the things which we do not get an opportunity to talk about now. That would be all to the good. The present Adjournment arrangement is not altogether satisfactory. There is never really enough time to develop an argument or for anybody else to join in. There is never really enough time to get a reasoned answer from the Minister standing at that Box. Usually the Minister who replies starts by saying, "In the very short time at my disposal," when, incidentally, he has already "cooked it" up by persuading somebody else to get up and waste the time in between. We all know what happens. There is no secret about it. Why cannot we consider extending that half-hour Adjournment to an hour so that we might get some reasoned sort of Debate? I am disappointed with the Lord President. As I said, I have wooed him twice, spoken to him in the softest tones, given him the broadest smiles and the greatest possible encouragement and, almost always, I have done practically everything he has asked me to do. What have we got out of it? Nothing whatever. The only way to force upon his attention the fact that we really do mean business is to go into the Lobby against him.
I am glad to note that the right hon Gen leman the Home Secretary is keeping an eye on matters at the moment. He happens to be one of the comparatively few leading Members of His Majesty's Government who spent a considerable time as a back bencher before he attained high office. It is impossible to realise the position in regard to Private Members unless one has been a Private Member for a reasonable period of time. I remember the old days when Private Members had time at their disposal. At that time, the party to which I belong had a considerable majority, as, indeed, the party opposite has today. I say without hesitation that without Private Members' time, the degree of frustration which must be faced by the cohorts of a Government who have very few opportunities of speaking must be very great. The stray two speeches a year do not give an opportunity to back benchers to discover what speaking in the House of Commons means. I know that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) contrives to speak a great deal, and I congratulate him upon it.
Anybody can do it.
It is not so easy as all that, particularly if a man comes in new with a large army at the same time. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was here before the present landslide brought in an enormous number of new Members of the Labour Party.
The hon. Member will remember that as a result of the 1931 Election, for instance, there was a much larger proportion of new Members than there is now.
That may be true. I do not suggest for an instant that we should go back to the Wednesday and Friday of every week. That is impossible in present conditions. A degree of Private Members' time is absolutely essential if we are to get the best out of the House of Commons. It is well to remember sometimes that it is the House of Commons and not the Executive who are the elected representatives of the people. Many of the elected representatives of the people, particularly on the Government side, get very few opportunities of speaking, and that stultifies their endeavours. It is true to say that, except in the case of a genius, it is impossible to become an effective Member of the House of Commons unless one has a certain amount of practice. Practice is absolutely essential. Anybody who thinks differently should be reminded of the story of the young cricketer who was invited to play in an eleven captained by W. G. Grace. When Mr. Grace was drawing up the order of batting, he turned to the young man and said, "Do you bat or bowl?" "Oh," said the young man, "in all my life I have never made a duck." Grace replied, "The place for the gentleman who has never made a duck is No. 11." The new Member has to learn the job and he can only learn by getting a fairly free run as a Private Member.There is a wider aspect from the point of view of the Government. The junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) was very modest in the observations he made. I remember when the Matrimonial Causes Bill came before Parliament as a Private Bill. No Government would have touched a Bill of that sort at that time. There were too many repercussions, too many difficulties, right through the Bill. I do not think there was a single Minister on the Front Bench who could have piloted such a Measure through the House. It happened that the junior Burgess was able to get that Measure introduced as a Private Bill and it was owing to his work, above all else, that it became law. If we had not had Private Members' time, neither that Government nor this would have touched the Bill. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to remind us that when we have Private Motions and Private Bills we have the Whips handing out suggestions for Members to adopt if they are successful in the Ballot. These things were only handed out so that persons who balloted and who had no ideas of their own would have something to say.
That is the whole point.
Is that the whole point in the brave new order? Does the hon. Member suggest that if Private Members' time came back, his army of colleagues would have no ideas and would need suggestions from the Whips?
In actual fact, it is true on both sides of the House that in the great majority of cases a man who succeeded in the Ballot put down, not an idea of his own, but an idea from the Whips' Office. That does not prove that he was subservient but that the number of subjects outside the programme of the two parties that were crying out for elucidation was very limited
To some extent certain Measures did come from Private Members' Bills that were of advantage to the Government of the day. It was not a bad thing that that medium should be used. The fact remains, however, that, apart from that, we had a number of opportunities where the Government could test the opinion of the House. I would give one example. The Access to Mountains Bill was introduced about 1938 as a Private Bill from the Socialist Benches. The Government noted that that Measure received a good deal of support from both sides of the House. As a result, efforts were made to facilitate its passage and it passed through the House very rapidly as a Private Members' Bill. I do not think that with the congestion in the Government's programme that Measure would otherwise have been introduced in that Parliament. There are many other examples of that kind.I apologise to hon. Members for taking up so much time. These are points on which those of us who have known Private Members' time in the old days can speak without political bias and with a certain amount of knowledge which it is impossible to have unless one was a Member at a time when that arrangement was in force. I was very much intrigued by the opening statement of the Lord President following on what the Prime Minister said the previous day. It will be within the recollection of the House that the Prime Minister said he had hoped to be able to give some Private Members' time up to Christmas. The Lord President said that, in view of the fact that a new Parliament Bill would be introduced, there was no time to be given to Private Members, and one can assume that, long before yesterday or the day before, the Prime Minister must have been fully aware of that fact, and we may take it that the time required for the Parliament Bill has probably been the deciding factor in reaching the conclusion that Private Members' time could not be restored. The Lord President went on to quote some observations made by the Leader of the Opposition at the time of the Parliament Act, 1911, and he quoted with satisfaction that, at that time, the Leader of the Opposition said that Private Members' time must be limited in view of the great importance of that Measure. But if Private Members' time was to be limited, there would be no objection by either side of the House. It has not been limited on this occasion, but is being abolished, and it is of great importance that we should hear a Government pronouncement on whether the same degree of time is to be given to the House of Commons to discuss the Parliament Bill of 1947 as was given to it to discuss the Parliament Bill, 1911. If that is what the Lord President meant when he emphasised the necessity for time for that Measure and for the abolition of Private Members' time, it is an interesting question, and it will be exceedingly interesting to see if the House is prepared to meet the right hon. Gentleman when that Bill comes before it. Finally, I would add that I am speaking non-politically. I believe that, unless Private Members' time is brought back, it will remain, like so many other things, in desuetude. It will never come back, and, if it never does come back. Parliament will be the weaker for it. It is the individuality of the ordinary Member of Parliament, who now never gets a chance in our ordinary Debates, that has made Parliament so valuable, not only from the point of view of the country, but sometimes from the point of view of educating the Executive. I hope this battle will be carried on until every ordinary Member of Parliament is able to do something on his own, if he gets the opportunity.
I rise only for a minute or two because I understand that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsboroagh (Captain Crookshank) regretted that I was not in my place when the discussion began. I can assure him that it was through no discourtesy to the House, and that my absence was simply due to a physical incapacity which prevented me from being present. As Chairman of the Select Committee, I am only concerned with the recommendations of that Committee, and I have no intention of entering into controversy between one side of the House and the other. Some of us may think that Private Members' time should be restored, while others take a different view, but the recommendation unanimously submitted by the Committee was that the Government should "as soon as possible" restore Private Members' time. The words "as soon as possible" seem to me to be important. I take it that, when we passed that recommendation, we realised that the only people likely to be able to say when "as soon as possible" could be determined were the Government themselves. We are new living in a time when the Government of the day are not passing one or two important Measures in a Session, but a great galaxy of Measures, and, if they consider that these Measures are well worth passing, it is up to the Government to deter mine whether they can restore Private Members' time on the present occasionI feel that it would be altogether wrong that anyone should come to the conclusion that the Select Committee recommended the Amendment submitted by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough. There was only one definite recommendation, and that was that the introduction of a Bill under the Ten-minute Rule should be restored. I heard the latter part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and I agree with what he said. The definite recommendation was that the Ten-minute Rule, as it is called, should he restored immediately. I think it is a pity that the Government have not accepted that recommendation. It would not have taken up very much time, and it would, of course, have enabled some hon. Members with some good ideas to propose Bills or Motions. I quite agree with the hon. Member who said that no one in this House should say a word against those who have in the past introduced Bills or Motions, and the hon. Member himself referred to two important Bills as proving that the time was rightly and profitably used. I could recite quite a number more from my long experience, including one with which the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson was associated. However, the only really definite recommendation made by the Committee was that concerning "as soon as possible." I say that I regret that the Government have not accepted that recommendation now, because it would not take up very much time and it would enable the House to hear and discuss the speeches made by hon. Members on the introduction of a Motion or Bill. The other points of the Select Committee's recommendations were dependent upon the Government restoring Private Members' time, and we ask that the Government when they come to restoring Private Members' time should take the other three points of our recommendation into consideration for allocating the days and the purposes for which those days are allocated. I think it is a good recommendation, and I hope that the Government, when it comes to the time for restoring Private Members' time, will give due consideration to that recommendation. The Government of the day may rest assured that hon. Members will always be ready to oppose them from one side or the other on the question of Private Members' time, because it is a valuable feature of Parliament from many points of view. As Chairman of the Select Committee it is my duty to make sure that the House realises what we did propose in our recommendations, and, in my estimation, the Committee meant that the Government should, "as soon as possible," restore Private Members' time. I, as Chairman, must submit to the conclusion of the Government that the time has not yet arrived for the restoration of this privilege, though I regret that decision. Our second proposition recommended that the Ten-minute Rule should be restored, and I regret that this has not been accepted. After all, when the House appoints a Select Committee, it appoints them to make recommendations, and they can make those recommendations either definite or somewhat indefinite. We did not say that Private Members' time should be restored immediately. We said "as soon as possible," and, in these circumstances, even as Chairman of the Select Committee, I feel that, in opposing the Amendment of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough, I am not acting in any way contrary to the Committee's conclusions.
I feel certain that all hon. Members will welcome the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) whose knowledge of the House of Commons is very extensive, and whose experience of it covers a very long period. No one could possibly accuse him of being otherwise than a Member who has done a great deal to help to keep the position of Private Members high in this House.I have been greatly encouraged in the words I wish to say today by the wisdom, tact and helpfulness that fell, during the Lord President's absence, from the lips of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The hon. Member for Ipswich, who has now departed—though not too far; I see he is just below the Bar—told us that it was necessary to become tough with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, or words to that effect. I will take that advice. Even though I cannot be tough, I can, at any rate, try to put my case in such a way that it is not too meek or mild. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was really very useful indeed. He said that the real trouble with the House of Commons was that Back Bench Members did not use to the full their opportunities for intervention. I can assure him and the Lord President of the Council that I will remember that advice, and will try to see if I cannot get an opportunity from time to time. I feel sure that I shall be helped from every quarter in occasionally trying to make myself heard in this House. I hope that the Lord President will be rather less brutal, cruel and really un-British than he has been in the last few years in the abominable use of the Closure. I put that as a preliminary so that I may not always be prevented from speaking my mind. What really are the suggestions that have, so far, come up in this Debate? Let us look at the Ten-minute Rule. To my mind, if we had the Ten-minute Rule one day a week, it would be far more advantageous than having half an hour at the end of the day on all four or five days of the week for the purpose of raising a grievance. Under the Ten-minute Rule, both sides can put their points immediately after Question Time, when a grievance would receive publicity. If the public outside think it is a good idea, they can then do what is right, and put pressure on hon. Members to insist that the Government give Bills proper consideration
Is not the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) considering two entirely different points?
The advantages of a Private Member's Bill are many. It may be a Bill on which there is a strong difference of opinion on both sides of the House, and it enables hon. Members, of whatever party, to put forward a Bill and to get it discussed, whereas, otherwise, it would not be discussed, because neither all the Government nor all the Opposition are at one on the subject. There would always be a minority in a Government against a Bill dealing with a subject such as this marriage question. The Ten-minute Rule would enable a Bill to be printed and to appear on the Order Paper, and, if the House rose early, then there would be a chance of getting on with it. That is why I would prefer to have the Ten-minute Rule than almost anything else. If Private Members could get half an hour three days a week immediately after Question Time, instead of half an hour at the end of one day of the five days a week, they would make a very good bargain with the Gov-, ernment and it would help the Government in a great many ways to get rid of awkward questions. Nothing would induce me to accuse this Government of being either kind enough or wise enough to accept such a proposal.The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne made another suggestion which I think is worth considering. After all, the Ten-minute Rule has been approved by the hon. Member for Newton, who spoke with great knowledge. He said it was really a pity that it could not be reintroduced. His main reason for saying that was, undoubtedly, because it comes quickly after Question Time. I see that idea hurts the Lord President. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne put forward another idea—and it is one which has been ventilated on a great many occasions—that, if a large number of hon. Members sign a Motion, time should be found to deal with it. Quite frankly, I feel that if such an innovation were accepted, is a sort of quid pro quo for Private Members' time, only one signature a year should be allowed, as, otherwise, we might have the abuse of 50 hon. Members saying that they want it on several occasions. If one hon. Member were allowed one vote a year, and if we had six or eight half days on a Motion on which there was feeling all over the House, I believe that such a Motion might do something to meet what is happening at the present moment. Such an arrangement would tend to produce a type of Motion which has really some feeling behind it in the country, and would be better than some of the Ballet results which we used to have under Private Members' time which, though excellent, were not of so much value as they would have been if put forward by individuals at the time. Having said those few things about the position in which we find ourselves today, there are one or two further points I wish to make. The first thing we should remember when considering Private Members' time, is that, when we are asking for it, we are not taking anything away from the Government. We are asking that Members of Parliament, who have been elected by their constituents to come here to represent them and to put forward their grievances, should have restored to them the time specially set aside for that purpose. That time has been stolen from their constituents and not from hon. Members by the Government of the day for their own purposes. We as hon. Members are nothing. We come and go, just like Ministers—sometimes here and sometimes there. I have been rather surprised at some of the faces I have seen here. I suppose it is coming back, and seeing them below the Gangway. But that is neither here nor there. Quite frankly, we are talking of the time which we use as if it were something belonging to the Government or ourselves. It is nothing of the sort; it is really the time we are able to have in this House for carrying on the affairs of our constituents. I fail to see how any hon. Member, no matter to what party he belongs, could say that the time which we have had for so long should be taken away from us at the behest of the Government of the day. The Government have their programme, and they have any amount of time in which to carry it forward. It is not our time but our constituents time which is being taken away. There must be hon. Members opposite as well as on this side of the House who have received indignant letters asking, "How long are you going on without having those hours which we thought we gave you when we elected you?" Today the initiative is with the Government and not with the Private Member; that is what is wrong. We want the initiative to be with the Private Member who very often is much closer than the Government to the people of the country. To whom are we asked to hand this time? To this Government who have made the most unexampled mess of our affairs, wasted our time, and which has less knowledge than any government in the history of our country. We are asked to give them more time in which to make a greater mess and to upset more trade and industry. It is a folly to give more time to this of all governments—this Government which has squandered its time and opportunity. One only has to look at affairs outside and read Government speeches which are always telling us what a mess we are in. The Government are responsible. They said they would put us on our feet. They have. They have made us walk and have taken away our means of getting about in any other way. Let me give one illustration. Yesterday we had a speech from the Prime Minister—the Leader of the Government, and the Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence—who told us quite clearly that he had not got the haziest idea of the position of the Home Fleet. It is a monstrous suggestion that such people should have the time which is taken away from Private Members. I see the Lord President smiling. That reminds me that he made a speech on this subject earlier in the day. He said that he had read Erskine May up to page 200, I think. [An HON. MEMBER: "Page 284."] Well, whatever the page was, I suppose he has read about one-third of Erskine May. I think he was very wise to begin to read Erskine May. What he has read so far may be very nice for him and may fit into the picture today, but he may find it more useful to know Erskine May backwards and forwards. The Government are a sad lot. It is hurtful to my kindly feelings that I should have to say such things about them, but we were urged to do so by those who have spoken earlier from the other side. If we do hand over this time, what are the Government going to do with it? The Lord President did not tell us much about that. Of course, there are the contents of the King's Speech, and there is legislation. But a great deal of that legislation could be brought forward by Private Members. Indeed, it could probably be done much better by Private Members, and we might get on much faster. It is in the King's Speech alone that we can judge why they want this time. According to them, they have a programme, but much of it we could deal with quite easily in Private Members' time. The Government do not seem to know whether they want us to work together as a nation or whether they want us to be controversial. I have tried to be controversial sometimes, and not so controversial at other times, but surely in this programme of their's a large amount of the legislation is not controversial. Some of it is highly controversial, of course, and could be thrown overboard without doing any harm to anyone, but the rest of it could be passed quite easily. That brings me to the third point which this House should consider very seriously. This Parliament having been in existence for two years, with a great number of new Members on both sides with little or no chance of having this time given to them, might it not be an advantage to the Government if some of those new Members occasionally had a chance of putting forward and supporting Private Members' Bills? It might help the Government to find someone who was really good at putting forward his views. It might, on the other hand, give a chance to some of those square pegs or round pegs who are no longer in holes, to come back again. They might prove themselves to be really efficient. Then again, there is the chance which would be afforded to the Opposition. There are two or three smaller Oppositions below the Gangway. Is it not right that one or two of those hon. Members—Members of the smaller Liberal Party, for example—in view of the great revival with which they are threatening us, should once or twice in a Session have the power to show whether they are capable of making any difference between a Second Reading speech and a Committee point? Is not that an argument which might pursuade the Lord President, out of the kindness of his heart, to give some opportunity to these smaller parties to bring forward legislation? I would like to emphasise two points. In this Parliament there has been a remarkable devotion to duty by the ordinary Member under very great difficulties, and he should have much greater consideration than he has had from the Government during the past two years. Hon. Members opposite came into power flushed with a new programme, and they naturally wanted to see it put into force. But is it not right that that part of Parliament which is of such great value—the independence of thought of the ordinary Member—should have the chance for which we are asking today? I do not expect the Government to give us back our Fridays and Wednesdays, but surely they might have sufficient human kindness, thoughtfulness and judgment to give us back the Ten-minute Rule and the occasional day in which we can have a discussion on points put forward not by an official body but by a Private Member—points which cut right across party feelings. Those are the matters to which I think the Government might very well give some consideration. They have not come from only one side of the House. The Ten-minute Rule has been mentioned in two speeches from hon. Members opposite, and there is also the powerful plea which was made by a former Chairman of Committees. In the circumstances, this Debate is no longer merely an academic discussion between a Government and an Opposition as to whether or not this time should be given. The point is that the Government, having taken the full time for over two years, should make some concessions to Private Members and should restore that right to Members of this House as representatives of the electors of Great Britain.
I rise to speak as a comparatively new Member of this House. I have never had the blessings of enjoying Private Members' time, so that I am not familiar with what those blessings are. It has appeared to me, however, long before I entered Parliament, and since I have been a Member, that one of the common complaints for many years has been the chronic congestion of Parliamentary Business. We were told this afternoon by the Lord President that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) made this complaint in 1911. Today the Lord President makes the same complaint. It seems that so long as this is the state of affairs in the House, any Government of any complexion can make the same demand as has been made upon us today.What I suggest is that, rather than suppress the rights of individual Members, it would appear that there is a duty upon the Government to discover ways by which this congestion can be eased. It can be eased by arranging that functions which are at present performed on the Floor of the House are performed elsewhere. I suggest to the Lord President that he should give very serious consideration to the recommendations made by a great Socialist, a great Scotsman and a former Secretary of State for Scotland, in the Gilmour Report of 1937. In that Report recommendations were made whereby the Scottish Grand Committee could have its functions extended. [Interruption.] Did I hear somebody say "Oh"? That is one of the things to which we who represent Scotland object—that attitude of mild tolerance. These suggestions were made seriously by somebody who, at least, had some knowledge of the feelings of Scottish Members and of the practice of this House, we suggested that the function of the Scottish Grand Committee should be extended. I do not want to go into the details of the manner in which he suggested the extension; but the point relevant to this Debate is that the recommendation was made by him and one of the reasons given was to relieve the congestion of Business, and to give more free time on the Floor of this House for Business pertaining to the United Kingdom. I want to suggest that the Lord President gives these recommendations the fullest consideration. I am confident that English Members, who consider Scottish days as being holidays, would support them, that Scottish Members would also support them, and that the people of Scotland would certainly consider them worth while. We should also achieve what we are trying to achieve now—the gaining of more time on the Floor of the House. I suggest, therefore, that the Lord President give this matter serious consideration.
I naturally am not going to follow the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) on the question of what might be done about the handling of Scottish business. It is, I think, significant, and cannot escape the notice of the Government, that this year, on this occasion, no Member has yet risen to give his whole-hearted support to the suggestion that all Private Members' time should be taken away. I remember very well in 1945, when this Parliament first met. those of us who pleaded for more Private Members' time were described as obstructionists. Last year there were some mild murmurs from the benches opposite. This year hon. Members have been far more vocal in their demand that there should be some concession in this matter. I am myself in agreement with the views put forward by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). He did not agree with me when I intervened to suggest the best way to achieve what he had in view. He suggested, first, that we should have restored to us the facilities of the Ten-minute Rule, and secondly, that there should be an allocation of Fridays on which Private Members' Business could be taken. I want to suggest to the Government, particularly to the Home Secretary, if he is to reply, that here are grounds for a very reasonable compromise on this matter between all sections of the House.This Debate, after all, has not been a Debate between the Government and the Opposition. It has been a Debate between Private Members and the Executive. It has so proceeded since it was initiated by the Lord President. The right hon. Gentleman has been many years in this House, many of them, I think, on the back benches. I rather suspect that he would say that we do not get anywhere with the Ten-minute Rule, and that all that we have is an opportunity at the end of Questions for a Member to get up to make a short speech in 10 minutes, and for someone who disagrees with him to make another short speech; that then the House goes to a Division, that that is the end of the matter, and that the Bill is printed, but no further progress made with it. I want to suggest to the House, and particularly to hon. Members who are with us for the first time in this Parliament, that there we have a most valuable instrument for the airing of matters. I remember very well a Private Bill of my own which made no progress, but which did have certain consequences. I remember its being printed; and in consequence of its being printed, correspondence started in the newspapers, and local bodies of one kind and another began to discuss it, and the main object of the Bill was, in fact, achieved and the matter was put right through the pressure of public opinion, without the Bill going through the House at all. I want to suggest that that is one rather important function of the House of Commons. A matter can be aired, and if public opinion is sufficiently strong something may be done about it. The matter may be quite a minor one. My Bill was about a minor matter. If public opinion is sufficiently strong the complaint, whatever it may be, is removed because there is a possibility of legislation in this House to deal with it. That not only achieves the objective of the Private Member but, incidentally, saves the time of the Government and of the House of Commons and of all concerned. The same applies to what we used to call the Friday Bills. The Home Secretary will remember many occasions when such Bills got a Second Reading but, owing to lack of time, the congestion upstairs in Standing Committees, or for one reason or another, never got through, never got to the Third Reading stage. None the less, they did have an impact on public opinion which was of the greatest value in airing a particular grievance and getting it put right. I believe that to be an argument which, in the third year of any Parliament, is of considerable weight. His Majesty's Government for the first two Sessions were engaged in the full flood of their Election manifesto. The further the Government get away from their mandate, the more they lose touch with the electorate. No clearer evidence of that can be shown than their fiddling with the House of Lords. Their fiddling with the House of Lords is an instance of how they are getting away from their mandate. Now we shall pass legislation with which public opinion is more likely to disagree than any of the past two years. I do suggest that the third Session is the time to give Private Members some kind of concession. Few of us hope to be as fortunate as my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) in passing some great Measure such as his Matrimonial Causes Act. No Government would have touched a Bill of that kind, with all the cross currents that there were running across the House about it. One would, however, have the opportunity of putting forward matters which certainly would not be initiated by the Government, and are unlikely to be initiated by the Opposition when the occupants of the Front Benches change places. If the Government have listened to the Debate—as I know they have—in which there is almost unanimous agreement about what ought to be a concession, I do hope that they will give it us. The hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), who for many years was Chairman of Ways and Means, and who has great knowledge of the subject, lent his support to the idea of the restoration of the concession. I was not clear whether he lent his support to the allocation of Fridays; but this is a perfectly honourable solution, I suggest, and an honourable compromise. I hope the Government are not going to ring the bell and fetch in the big battalions who have not heard the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary having just come in made me fear that we were about to have the first closure of the Session. I hope that is not coming yet. The Home Secretary has been a regular attender at our late night sittings. He is generally here. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should translate himself in imagination for a moment to the back benches he once adorned? Whether he were sitting here or behind the Government, I think I know the kind of speech he would make. He would say that the Government have an important programme and that we cannot expect them to surrender all Private Members' time; but I think he would say—as I am hoping he will say, so that we can get on with other Business—that the Government should restore the Ten-minute Rule as a token that the right of Private Members is still accepted, and will not be overridden, and that they should take Mondays and Fridays up to Easter—it has been done before now—and then look at the matter again at Easter. Then, if they still think Private Members' time is necessary, they can bring in another Motion, instead of saying here and now that they are seizing all the time of Private Members until July. That is a long time to look ahead. His Majesty's Government may not be here in July. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne knows better than anyone else the vanity of human wishes in the House of Commons as anywhere else. It is a long time from now until the end of July. I suggest that at Easter the matter should be reconsidered in the light of the progress of the Government's programme. By agreeing to this the Government would show that they are in earnest in wishing to preserve the rights of Private Members. If they take the decision now to take away Private Members' time, and steamroller us despite all that has been said today, we can regard it only as further evidence of their determination to proceed along the totalitarian road.
The eloquent and impassioned speech of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) to which we listened with such rapt attention would have been more impressive, were there any single subject under the sun on which he as a Private Member had not found it possible to speak remorselessly, relentlessly and loquaciously in the Session concluded on Monday. I have only one reason for intervening today, and that is to ask a question, although I would preface it with one observation—that I agree with so much of what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Holder-ness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) that I should like to say "ditto." I am quite sure that there is no Member on these Benches who views this proposal of the Government with complete and unalloyed pleasure. We should like to see time given back to Private Members, but it is our duty to support the Government when they say they have need of it for public Business. I have myself an important Bill for the amendment of long leaseholds and the reform of leaseholds and to give the right of enfranchisement to the lessees. It has had a certain amount of discussion. The Gracious Speech told us only of major Measures. I wonder if the Home Secretary is in a position now to tell me whether the Government do intend to introduce a Measure of leasehold reform? It would make it very much easier for me to forgo the rights I should otherwise want to retain to introduce a Measure myself.
This has been a most remarkable Debate because there has not been one speaker on either side of the House who has supported the Lord President of the Council. Even the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) was very interested in a private Measure, and illustrated the necessity for the measure of concession for which we are pressing. He happened to be concerned with one particular Bill—although I believe that because of the rapidity with which he speaks he would have an unfair advantage under the Ten-minute Rule, for the hon. Gentleman would get two Bills through in that time. I want just for a moment to consider what has been said in all quarters of the House on this matter. Not one voice in support of the Leader of the House has been heard.There is a misunderstanding both by the Leader of the House and one or two other Members in regarding this as an issue between the Government and the Opposition. It is not that at all. It is an issue between Members of the House and the Executive, and Members of the House of Commons are endeavouring to discharge their true function of keeping proper control of the Executive. Of the speeches from the other side I remember in particular the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) who endeavoured to persuade the House that he did not often speak himself and had spoken only twice this year. I know that when we start each Session we deal with a Bill which refers to persons representing two seats at once. I can only say that it seems that we have the reverse situation existing at Ipswich, which, obviously, has two Members who closely resemble each other. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) presented us with a more serious situation, because he said that he would vote against this Amendment. He endeavoured to persuade hon. Members opposite that they would be wrong to support the Amendment, and he put forward a specious argument which might well mislead hon. Members as to the true position if it were not answered. What the hon. Member said was that no one who was honest, conscientious and had a sense of responsibility could support this Amendment. I am fully alive to the fact that the hon. Member and myself may have very different ideas on what is honest, and conscientious, and what is a sense of responsibility, but I can tell him that according to my standards I have no hesitation in supporting this Amendment. The hon. Member fell back on the old technique of putting up an argument with which we are not concerned and then destroying it. The hon. Member said that we could not possibly go back to the old system which existed before the war, and then proceeded to destroy the case for going back to the old system. No one has suggested that we should go back to Wednesdays and Fridays. Various suggestions have been made, but it is not for us to decide what the procedure shall be; it is for the Government whose supporters in the majority have urged them to put up a scheme for Private Members' time.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will give way, if only to enable me to make it clear that I had no intention of questioning the good faith of any Member, whichever way he voted. My argument about consciousness and re- sponsibility depended in my view on the fact that if this Amendment were passed the effect would be to restore the old position, and that every Wednesday and Friday, up to Easter at any rate, would be lost to the Government. All I said was that no responsible Member of this House would support that.
I had not intended to give the hon. Member an opportunity to make a second speech when I gave way.
I thought I would make it all the same.
The hon. Member occupied the time of the House for a considerable time while I was waiting to make a speech. I hope that I may now conclude what I have to say. Perhaps I may reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne by pointing out that I had already answered his point before he made that interjection. The point is that we cannot bring in some new arrangement in regard to Private Members' time without first getting rid of the Government's request to occupy all the time. We want to arrive at some new arrangement to provide Private Members' time, and the first step towards that must be to prevent the Government having all the time. Clearly, if the Government have it all there is no time for Private Members. After all, the Motion before the House is a Government Motion to take up all the time. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), by his Amendment, asks that the Government should not have all the time. He says it is not our business to arrange the time of the House, but let us discuss how we can come to some arrangement whereby there can be some Private Members' time.The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has put forward a purely specious argument. We are dealing with the question of whether we are to have Private Members' time or not. That is the sole issue, and I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House will concentrate on that, voting for or against this Amendment according to whether they agree with Private Members' time or not. Hon. Members who have spoken appear to agree, and I hope therefore that everyone who has done so will have the courage to give expression to his view in the Lobby. Hon. Members have only themselves to blame if they vote against this Amend- ment and then, in due course when they go back to their constituencies, if they are asked why they have not dealt with this or that which they were requested to attend to, they have to say, "I made it impossible for myself to do so, because I voted against Private Members' time."
I wish to add my plea to the Government to give some measure of Private Members' time. I am quite sure that if we had many more Members in this House who had had experience of the days when there was Private Members' time—I do not mean to be offensive in saying that—the pressure on the Government would be very severe indeed. I am sure that all Members who, like myself, have been Members for some years will support me when I say that Wednesdays and Fridays were very valuable. I sometimes think that we shall not maintain the very essence of democracy unless we safeguard the freedom of individual Members of Parliament.It is very rarely that I find myself differing from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) but I do not accept his argument that there are plenty of opportunities for Members to show their courage and independence. There are not plenty of opportunities. Let us be perfectly frank about this. We are tied to our party. We, behind the Government, on any particular issue not only have to give consideration to its merits or demerits, but cannot vote independently of the fact that we are voting either for or against the Government. In the overwhelming majority of cases, consideration has to be given to whether or not the life of the Government is affected, in addition to the merits or demerits of the measure we are debating and voting upon. Only under conditions where a Private Member brings in a Bill is that position removed, because the fate of the Government is not involved. Over and over again, because the Government was not involved, I have seen Members independent, and bold enough to walk into a particular Lobby against the advice of the Government. I do not wish to impute motives to the Leader of the House, but Private Members' Motions and Private Members' Bills do create awkward situations for the Government of the day. Many times a Government is put in a very awkward corner, because it so happens that the majority of the House, quite independent of party, wants a particular Measure. I am wondering if that is not part of the reason why we have not had the Government meeting us in some measure as far as Private Members' time is concerned. I have heard it said today, and before, that many of those Debates were academic. I can remember Debates on Private Members' Bills. How many times, when we were in Opposition, did we, Friday after Friday, year after year, bring forward a Bill to nationalise the mines? That first Bill was a poor, reedy, thing, because of inadequate experience, but subsequent Bills were better and better and, what is more important, they educated public opinion outside. One of the functions of this House is not only to criticise the Government, to put a check on the Government, to bring forward legislation, but is to be the leader of public opinion in many respects, to show the way. The mass of our people usually want to be shown the better way. I worked in the pits for some years, and I can remember the antagonism of the miners towards pit-head baths. Miners were afraid to wash their backs more than once a week in case they caught a chill. The miners of those times were fearful of, and prejudiced against, pit-head baths. I use that illustration to drive home the point that we in this House have the function of educating the people as well as responding to the demands made upon us. There is no better way of doing this in a democracy than by the Private Members' time which we used to have on Wednesdays. Those Wednesdays were very valuable in a broad general sense, and they also provided opportunities for men now sitting on the Government Front Bench. I remember that the present Minister of Education did not make his mark so much in legislation about education, because there was not much chance, but he spoke eloquently and powerfully on Motions which came up about education from time to time.
The Home Secretary.
No, I mean the present Minister of Education. Do not stop me. I remember my right hon. Friend taking part, time and time again, in Debates on education. I beg the Government to be more flexible in this matter, to meet us in some way or other. It is essential for the life, health, and well-being of this institution, and democracy itself, that there should be some restoration of Private Members' time.
It is seldom that I find myself in agreement with anything which the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) says, and therefore it gives me real pleasure now to say that I agree with every word he has just said. This Debate has run for some three hours, and if the Government spokesman had shown the same House of Commons sense of realism as the hon. Member for Aberavon has done, I feel sure that the Home Secretary, when he comes to reply, would have been in a position to make a valuable concession. I would like to associate myself with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who paid a tribute to the speech of the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) who, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, spoke with a great sense of responsibility. The hon. Member for Newton has been a Member of this House for many years, and once had the honour of sitting where you are now sitting, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Member knows the importance of Private Members' time to the ordinary back bencher in this House, no matter where he happens to sit. He rather damned the Government with faint praise, and said that it was with great regret and several mental reservations—he did not actually say this, but it was easy to see from his embarrassment that it was what he meant—that he would support them in the Division Lobby. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman said he would do that, because he is a man who has had long experience in the Chair.This will be the tenth consecutive Session in which Private Members' time has been taken away. We are in serious danger of reaching a state of affairs where, if things go on like this, Private Members' time will fall into desuetude altogether. We are getting near the danger line; the red light is burning very brightly and vividly in this direction, and in many others which it would be out of Order to mention. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who is a very good House of Commons man in many respects, has said that he remembers only one Session—and he has been here 10 or 11 years—when he was able to take the opportunity, as a Private Member, of participating in the valuable advantages which Private Members, in the old days, used to enjoy. We were given all the Wednesdays up to Easter in an average Session, and all the Fridays up to the Whitsuntide Recess; 30 days of the ordinary Parliamentary Session were given over entirely to discussion by Private Members. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, if he will allow me to call him my hon. Friend, that the discussions and legislation proposed by Private Members were very valuable. He said that very often the legislation which was introduced by a Private Member dealt with a controversial subject. Every Member who has had experience of the old days will agree with that. That was notably the case with regard to the Matrimonial Causes Act, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert). Our post-bags, at that time, were filled with pleas from people as to how they desired us to speak and vote in regard to that legislation. It would be ridiculous for the Home Secretary to maintain that the legislation proposed in those days was not followed with the deepest interest in the country. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that it was. I am sorry that we have not had more speeches from hon. Members on the other side. I do not want to approach this matter in the spirit of Government and Opposition, and I wish that we had more Members on the Government side urging on the Government the necessity of making some kind of concession on this all-important matter. I am loath to agree, but I must agree, that perhaps it would be undesirable to restore the whole of the time. In present conditions that would probably be impracticable and even undesirable, but I think that we should have some concession, and that the Home Secretary, when he replies, should be in a position to say that he is prepared to make a concession. This is a one-sided Parliament, and it is something like the Parliament in which I first had the honour of sitting in 1931. On that occasion there were only some 52 Members in Opposition. The Home Secretary had not the advantage of sitting in that Parliament because he had suffered electoral defeat, but the new Minister for Economic Affairs will well remember the difficulties which he had as one of the leading Members of that small Opposition. Only twice in that Parliament was it found necessary to take Private Members' time, and that was owing to the great pressure of legislation necessitated by the fiscal change-over in 1931–32 and in the last Session in the autumn of 1934 when the Government of India Bill was subject to a very searching investigation in this House. There are many Members in the present House who may never sit in another Parliament and if they are not able to gain some kind of concession from their own Home Secretary this afternoon, they will go from this House for ever, when the Dissolution takes place, without having sampled the benefits and' experiences which must come from Private Members' time. I hope that the Home Secretary, having heard the views of the House in all quarters, will say on behalf of the Government that he is prepared to yield not only to the pleas of Opposition Members but to the real temper of the whole House, and to give us some restoration of the liberties which we feel we have had for too long taken away from us.
I will not keep the Home Secretary too long from his task, but I would like to point out one thing to the House. There are a good many new Members, and one thing which sticks in my memory more than anything else since I first came here in 1931, is the value set on Private Members' time in this House by men now sitting on the Government Front Bench. The Government are now asking the Private Members of this House to give up their private time. I would ask the Government to consider the way in which the Debate has gone this afternoon. Every Member who has spoken and every supporter of the Government who has spoken on this matter today has taken the Private Members' view. There is no one to my knowledge who has put forward any party view at all on this matter. I have risen to ask a question of the Home Secretary and when he replies, I hope that he will answer it. There have been many times in days gone by when I have asked questions and have been ignored. I ask the Home Secretary seriously to consider this question: Will he persuade his colleague the Lord President when this matter comes up for revision, if no concession is made now, to see that the Whips are not put on, so that his own followers for once, at any rate, may have the chance of expressing by their vote their own private opinion?
I am somewhat embarrassed by the tributes paid to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braith-waite) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in alluding to the years I spent on the back benches. I have some recollection of those days. So long ago as 1929 to 1931 when one Member of my own Font Bench came into the House On a Friday, he said, "I was not quite sure what day of the week it was until I heard you speaking." It might almost have been true of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough in those days, because if there was a Bill that his side did not like, he generally put in a few minutes—at least it only seemed a few minutes if one did not judge them by the clock because of the way in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has of dealing with a serious subject in the House—in the hope that he would reach four o'clock before the Question was put. I recollect talking out a Bill introduced by Sir Dennis Herbert, and he never bore it against me when afterwards he resumed his seat as Chairman of Ways and Means.Do not let us be under any misapprehension about one important thing that has happened today. No one has asked that we should go back to what used to be the case, and would still be the case, if the Standing Orders are not suspended in this matter. It is true that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not make his own attitude in regard to that point absolutely clear until the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but he did then seem to be agreeing that some alterations were necessary. I think we can say that, at any rate, this Debate marks the end of the old system by which so large a part of the most valuable section of the Session was given to Private Members, and that any arrangements that may be made in the future will be on a new basis. In considering that new basis the House will have the advantage of considering the Report that has been made by the Select Committee on Procedure to which reference has been made by both sides of the House. So far as the hon. Members who have been elected to support the Government are concerned, I think that they have a very easy task in front of them in deciding the attitude they should adopt. When we finish this Debate we shall resume the Debate on the Gracious Speech from the Throne; in that are set out the Measures which the Government regard as essential for the proper government of the country during the period of this present Session. I have not heard any suggestion from this side of the House that any single Measure in that Speech is unnecessary or undesirable. The Government, after most carefully calculating the time available, believe that in order to get that volume of legislation through, they will require the whole of the time of the House. It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) has a little Bill of his own and he asked me if that was on the Government programme among the Bills that are described as "if and when" Bills. May I say that in itself the Measure is not uncontroversial? I could see it arousing some considerable interest on both sides of the House, but let me say this to him, if he can give us an assurance that the people on the other side of the House interested in the matter will co-operate and that the Bill will go through "on the nod" in all its stages, then it is one of the Measures we shall see will be included.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the last sentence but not for the first, because I cannot imagine any Measure with which I am associated going through as a Measure agreed by both sides of the House. I do not think it is possible to expect that, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will try to meet me
In these matters it is a question of priority, and I could not ask my colleagues in the Cabinet or my right hon. and hon. Friends on the back benches here to regard the important Measure to which the hon. Member has alluded as having priority over Measures we have felt it necessary to include in the King's Speech.
What a pity.
Do give me time to come to them all. The hon. Burgess for Oxford University—[An HON. MEMBER: "Senior Burgess."] There was a Debate yesterday as to whether the hon. Gentleman was senior or junior Burgess or whether anyone could be senior or junior once he became a Burgess. The hon. Burgess for Oxford University who spoke in this Debate—that I hope will distinguish him from his colleague in the representation of the University—produced a Bill from his pocket which he said was on betting, and as a native of Epsom I realised the importance of betting even before I became Home Secretary. Again, I cannot suggest to my colleagues that that Bill in the present circumstances of the country, carefully as it has been linked up with those circumstances, is one that they should regard as having priority over Measures that are included in the Speech.I hope the hon. Burgess will not object to my alluding to the Divorce Reform Bill, of which he is often said to be the author. Unless my memory serves me wrongly, he did not, in fact, present it to the House. I believe it was the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) who introduced the Bill to the House. I want new Members to understand the position because it illustrates one of the points that have been made, that these Bills are sometimes not really the creation of the Member who introduces them. A Member who had a Bill to introduce would get a little group together and they would agree that if one of them came fairly high in the Ballot that Member would introduce the Bill. I am not saying there is anything wrong with it, but great point has been made today, especially at moments when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) has not been here, that as there are so many new Members in the House they do not understand the way the thing works. In case that might be true I was just trying to explain exactly what did happen in the past, and I do not think I have said anything so far which is inaccurate.
With reference to the new Members, I myself was merely referring to the lack of knowledge as to this Private Members' Bills business. As far as I am concerned, it is a matter of experience and nothing else.
That was precisely why I was mentioning the case. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said that he was very unlucky in the Ballot, and inasmuch as I cannot conceive of any other way of dealing with this matter ultimately than by a ballot I cannot see why he should expect, if he has been unlucky in the past, that his luck should turn under some new rule. The whole of this matter of Private Members' business was a matter of luck in the Ballot except for the Ten-minute Rule Bill.
I was not suggesting that we should go back to that.
With regard to the Ten-minute Rule, let us again realise exactly what happened. The Ten-minute Rule applied to the First Reading of a Bills An hon. Member would say that he had certain ideas but he thought they would be better in legislative form. He explained his Bill and he hinted it would be very interesting to read. If an hon. Member were in any doubt about the Bill, at any rate he could vote for it, and then he would have a chance of reading it. I am quite sure that hon. Members here have often heard that argument used, perhaps jocularly, on more than one occasion by Members promoting Bills under the Ten-minute Rule. There is something to be said for seeing a Bill before you vote against it. After that a Member's chance with a Bill depended on no one saying "I object" after eleven o'clock at night. The Member would then put the Bill down for Second Reading for some night and he would sit on the back bench hoping that anybody who was interested would not vote against the Bill or the Government of the day, irrespective of party, which did not want to get the Committees clogged up with Bills, would allow the Bill to go through. Anybody saying, "I object" would kill the Second Reading for that night. The Member then put it down for another night. I am speaking entirely from memory, but I can remember only one Bill under the Ten-minute Rule which ever got through and that Bill was introduced by Sir Herbert Williams to deal with a legal difficulty that arose over electricity meters, and in that case there was strong feeling on both sides of the House.
I also am speaking from memory, and I would not like to be dogmatic about it, but was not a Bill of Miss Horsbrugh's about adoption which became a Statute passed under this Rule?
I thank the hon. Member, for I had forgotten that Bill. That did go through.
I believe that there have been other cases. I introduced a Bill in 1936. I asked leave to introduce it on 30th June and I went into the other place to hear it receive the Royal Assent on 30th July. It would be a simple thing to let the House have that time back.
If anything that illustrates the point I was making, that unless it was a Bill that commanded general assent the Ten-minute Rule procedure was not a very effective measure of doing more than getting a short speech made in support and then a short speech against it. I understand that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who spoke while I was having tea—it is no novelty to listen to the hon. Gentleman, so I hope he will not think I was discourteous in going out—said that he would prefer the Ten-minute Rule to be restored rather than to have the half hour on the Adjournment. I am not suggesting that they should ever be regarded as alternatives.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but what I tried to say was that I would rather have the Ten-minute Rule one day in the week for certain, and have the half hour at the end of the day upon three days a week instead of upon five days a week. That was my suggestion.
I am sorry if I have misstated what the hon. Gentleman said. He will realise that I was speaking from a report of what he said. I want to suggest to the House that when the time comes for consideration of the report of the Select Committee with regard to the restoration of the Ten-minute Rule procedure, the Debate that we have had today and the preferences expressed for the restoration of that procedure, will undoubtedly weigh with those who have to take part in the discussion.
May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman means by "when the time comes"? Does that mean that the Government propose to allocate a day or so for the discussion of that report?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that the time of the House is not allocated by me; but it is clear that a report of that importance will remain as a standing record of the views of not inexperienced Members of this House on the best way that the time can be allocated. I have no doubt that at some time or other the report will have to be debated, and the recommendations that have been made, to which I understand that in some instances the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is a consenting party, will then receive due weight in all quarters of the House.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Select Committee, when it was considering the matter, taking evidence and deciding what recommendations it would make, had regard to the conditions then obtaining, and that the report and recommendations were made in June or July, 1946, that is to say, towards the end of the Session immediately preceding the last? If, when my right hon. Friend says "when the time comes to consider that report" he is thinking of the early future, I have no complaint to make whatever. If he is thinking of an indefinite or remote future, I should think that the recommendations might be out of date by that time.
The suggestion of my hon. Friend will, I have no doubt, be borne in mind whenever the Debate takes place. The Government have placed before the House a programme that they hope to get through in the present Session. I have said earlier that I have not heard any hon. or right hon. Friend of mine make any suggestion that the programme is too big, that any of it is inopportune, or that the time of the House could be better spent than with the Measures proposed in the King's Speech. I share the view that was expressed, I think by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman when he quoted from the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) with regard to the important function of Parliament. I share the view, which I believe is the correct, historic, constitutional one, that the first function of the House of Commons is to act as a check upon the Executive and that legislation is a secondary function.I have never known any Government seriously perturbed by a Division that went against them in Private Members' time. I introduced a Private Members' Bill, which Miss Susan Lawrence, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, violently opposed. We had three Divisions before we could get that Bill on that Friday afternoon. When we went to a Division on it I managed to carry the Bill against the Government, but so far as I know that fact made no difference to the Government. I regret to say that not sufficient time was found for the Bill to go any further. [An HON. MEMBER: "What was it?"] It was a Bill for the admission of the Press to meetings of local authorities. I regarded it as very useful and the majority of the House favoured it upon the Second Reading; but it got no further. In the important task of providing a check upon the Government, Private Members' time has never been of any value. It has, on occasion, been of value in enabling people to bring forward questions that would otherwise have been shelved. In that respect it has had its value in the past. One of the objections of hon. Members opposite to the present Government is not, as I understand it, that we do too little, but that we attempt to do too much, in the way of legislation. We cannot be expected to share that view. We have most carefully con-
Division No. 1.]
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Bramall, E. A.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Alpass, J. H||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Deer, G.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Brown, T. J, (Ince)||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Bruce, Maj. D. W. T||Diamond, J.|
|Attewell, H C.||Buchanan, G.||Dobbie, W.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Burden, T. W.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Donovan, T.|
|Ayles, W. H||Chamberlain, R. A||Dumpleton, C. W.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Chater, D.||Durbin, E. F. M.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Dye, S.|
|Balfour, A.||Cluse, W. S.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Cobb, F. A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Barton, C.||Cocks, F. S.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)|
|Battley, J. R.||Coldrick, W.||Evans, A. (Islington, W.)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Collindridge, F.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)|
|Benson, G.||Collins, V. J.||Evans, John (Ogmore)|
|Berry, H.||Colman, Miss G. M.||Ewart, R.|
|Beswick, F.||Comyns, Dr. L.||Fairhurst, F.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G||Farthing, W. J|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Corlett, Dr J.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Corvedale, Viscount||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S||Fool, M. M.|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W||Daggar, G.||Forman, J. C.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Daines, P.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Gallacher, W.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Ganley, Mrs C. S|
sidered the programme for the coming Session and I say, personally, with some regret, that we have come to the conclusion which the Prime Minister announced yesterday that, in view of the legislation which must be obtained during the coming Session, it is not possible during this Session to do other than to ask the House to agree to the forfeiture of Private Members' time.
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."I do so in order that His Majesty's Government may have more time to consider their attitude and that Private Members who are interested in this matter might have more time to consider Amendments that were put in this morning——
The hon. Member has already spoken and has therefore exhausted his right to speak. He cannot address the House.
Surely, Sir, I can move a dilatory Motion.
The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.
I would like to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
The House divided: Ayes, 263; Noes, 165.
|Gibson, C. W||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham,|
|Gilzean, A||Manning, Mrs L. (Epping)||Smith, S. H (Hull, S W)|
|Glanville, J E (Consett)||Marquand, H A||Snow, Capt J W|
|Gooch, E. G.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gordon-Walker, P. C||Medland, H M||Soskice, Maj Sir F|
|Grenfell, D. R||Mellish, R. J.||Sparks, J A|
|Grey, C F||Middleton, Mrs L||Stamford, W|
|Grierson, E||Millington, Wing-Comdr E R||Steele, T|
|Griffiths, D (Rother Valley)||Mitchison, G. R||Stephen, C|
|Griffiths, Rt Hon J. (Llanelly)||Monslow, W.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Griffiths, W D. (Moss Side)||Morgan, Dr. H B||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Morley, R||Stross, Dr B|
|Guy, W. H||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)||Stubbs, A E|
|Hale, Leslie||Morrison, Rt Hon H (Lewisham, E.)||Summerskill, Dr Edith|
|Hall, Rt Hon Genvil||Moyle, A.||Swingler, S|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Nally, W||Sylvester, G. O|
|Hardy, E A.||Naylor, T E.||Symonds, A. L|
|Haworth, I||Neal, H (Claycross)||Taylor, H. B (Mansfield)|
|Herbison, Miss M||Nichol, Mrs M E (Bradford, N)||Taylor, R. J (Morpeth)|
|Hicks, G||Nicholls, H R. (Stratford)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Holman, P||Oldfield, W. H||Thomas, D E (Aberdare)|
|Holmes, H E (Hemsworth)||Oliver, G H||Thomas, I O (Wrekin)|
|House, G||Orbach, M||Thomas, John R (Dover)|
|Hoy, J||Pagel, H T||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Hubbard, T.||Palmer, A M F.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Hudson, J H. (Ealing, W)||Pargiter, G. A||Tiffany, S|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Parker, J||Timmons, J|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parkin, B I||Titterington, M. F.|
|Hughes, H D. (W'lverh'pton, W)||Pearson, A||Tolley, L.|
|Hutchinson, H L (Rusholme)||Pearl, T F||Tomlinson, Rt Hon. G|
|Hynd, H (Hackney, C.)||Perrins, W||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Hynd, J B (Attercliffe)||Piratin, P||Ungoed-Thomas L|
|Irvine, A. J (Liverpool)||Popplewell, E.||Viant, S P|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Walker, G H|
|Isaacs, Rt Hon G. A||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Wallace, G. D (Chistehurst)|
|Janner, B.||Proctor, W. T||Wallace, H W (Walthamstow E)|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Pryde, D. J.||Warbey, W N|
|Jeger, G (Winchester)||Pursey, Cmdr H||Watkins, T E|
|Jeger, Dr S W (St. Pancras, S. E)||Randall, H. E.||Watson, W M|
|Jones, D T (Hartlepools)||Ranger, J||Webb, M (Bradford, C.)|
|Jones, P Asterley (Hitchin)||Rankin, J||Wells, P L (Faversham)|
|Keenan, W||Rees-Williams, D R||Wells, W T (Walsall)|
|Kenyon, C||Reeves, J||West, D. G|
|Key, C. W||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Westwood, Rt Hon J.|
|Kinghorn, Sqn-Ldr. E||Robens, A||White, C F (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Kinley, J||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Whiteley, Rt Hon W|
|Kirkwood, D.||Robertson, J J (Berwick)||Wilkes, L|
|Lawson, Rt Hon. J J.||Rogers, G. H R||Wilkins, W A|
|Leslie, J R.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Willey, F T (Sunderland)|
|Lever, N H||Royle, C||Williams, D J (Neath)|
|Levy, B W||Scott-Elliot, W||Williams, J L (Kelvingrove)|
|Longden, F||Segal, Dr S.||Williams, W R (Heston)|
|McAdam, W||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Williamson, T.|
|McEntee, V La T||Sharp, Granville||Willis, E|
|McGhee, H G||Shawcross, C. N (Widnes)||Wills, Mrs E. A|
|McGovern, J.||Shurmer, P.||Woodburn, A|
|Mack, J D.||Silverman, J (Erdington)||Wyatt, W.|
|McKinlay, A S.||Silverman, S S (Nelson)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Maclean, N (Govan)||Simmons, C J.||Zilliacus, K|
|Macpherson, T (Romford)||Skeffington, A M|
|Mainwaring, W. H||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Mallalieu, J. P W||Skinnard, F W||Mr. Joseph Henderson and|
|Mann, Mrs. J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Mr. Hannan.|
|Agnew, Cmdr P. G.||Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J G||Digby, S W|
|Allen, Lt.-Col Sir W. (Armagh)||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Donner, Sqn -Ldr. P W|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R||Buchan-Hepburn, P G T||Drayson, G. B|
|Astor, Hon. M||Bullock, Capt. M||Duncan, Rt Hn Sir A (City of London)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Butcher, H W||Eden, Rt. Hon. A|
|Barlow, Sir J||Byers, Frank||Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E L|
|Baxter, A B||Carson, E.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V H||Channon, H||Foster, J G (Northwich)|
|Beechman, N. A||Clifton-Brown, Lt -Col G||Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)|
|Bennett, Sir P||Cole, T L.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon Sir D P M|
|Birch, Nigel||Conant, Maj R. J E||Gage, C.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col D C. (Wells)||Cooper-Key, E. M||Galbraith, Cmdr T. D|
|Boothby, R||Corbett, Lieut-Col. U (Ludlo ||Gammans, L. D|
|Bossom, A C||Cove, W G.||Gates, Maj E E|
|Bowen, R.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon H F. C||George, Lady M Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Bower, N.||Crowder, Capt. John E.||Glyn, Sir R|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Darling, Sir W Y||Grant, Lady|
|Bracken, Rt Hon. Brendan||Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Granville. E (Eye)|
|Grimston, R. V||Maitland, Comdr. J. W||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Gruffydd, Prof. W. J||Manningham-Buller, R E||Ross, Sir R D. (Londonderry)|
|Harris, H. Wilson||Marlowe, A. A H||Sanderson, Sir F|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V||Marples, A. E.||Savory, Prof. D L|
|Haughton, S G.||Marsden, Capt. A.||Scott, Lord W|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Shephard, S. (Newark)|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Medlicott, F.||Smiles, Lt-Col. Sir W.|
|Herbert, Sir A. P||Mellor, Sir J||Smith, E P (Ashford)|
|Hogg, Hon Q.||Molson, A. H. E.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Hollis, M. C||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Snadden, W. M|
|Hurd, A.||Morrison, Maj J. G. (Salisbury)||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. C. (E'b'rgh W.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'nc'ster)||Spence, H R|
|Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E||Stanley, Rt Hon. O|
|Jarvis, Sir J.||Neill, W. F (Belfast, N.)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Jennings, R.||Noble, Comdr A. H. P||Stokes, R R|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon L. W||Nutting, Anthony||Strauss, H G (English Universities)|
|Keeling, E. H||O' Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Kendall, W D.||Orr-Ewing, I L.||Sutcliffe, H|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Osborne, C.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E A. (P'dd l n, S.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C G||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Thomas, J. P. L (Hereford)|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Law, Rt. Hon R. K||Pickthorn, K||Thornton-Kemsley, C N|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj E A. H||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Thorp. Lt.-Col. R A F|
|Linstead, H N||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Touche, G. C.|
|Lipson, D L||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||Turton, R. H.|
|Lloyd, Selywn (Wirral)||Price-White, Lt.-Col D||Vane, W M F|
|Low, Brig. A R. W.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O||Walker-Smith, D|
|Lucas, Major Sir J||Raikes, H. V||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Ramsay, Maj. S.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)||Wheatley, Colonel M J|
|MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J S. C (Hillhead)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|MacDonald Sir M. (Inverness)||Renton, D.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Macdonald, Sir P (I of Wight)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Winterton, Rt. Hon Earl|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||York, C|
|Maclay, Hon. J. S||Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|MacLeod, J.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Macpherson, N (Dumfries)||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland||Mr. Drewe and Mr. Studholme|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
(1) Government business shall have precedence at every sitting;
(2) The following provisions shall have effect as respects public Bills;
(a) no Bills other than Government Bills shall be introduced; (b) whenever the House is adjourned for more than one day, notices of Amendments, new clauses or new schedules (whether they are to be moved in Committee or on Report) received by the Clerks at the Table at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on the last of the days on which the House is not sitting (excluding any Saturday or Sunday) may be accepted by them as if the House were sitting; (c) notices of Amendments, new clauses or new schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before a Bill has been read a second time;
(3) The following paragraph shall have effect in substitution for paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 7:—
'(4) Any Member who desires an oral answer to his question may distinguish it by an asterisk, but notice of any such question must appear at latest on the Notice Paper circulated two days (excluding Sunday) before that on which an answer is desired:
Provided that questions received at the Table Office on Monday and Tuesday be fore 2.30 p.m. and on Friday before 11 a m., may, if so desired by the Member, be put down for oral answer on the following Wednesday, Thursday and Monday, respectively.'
(4) Whenever the House is adjourned for more than one day, notices of questions received at the Table Office at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on either of the two last days on which the House is not sitting (excluding any Saturday or Sunday) shall be treated as if either day were a day on which the House were sitting at 4.30 p.m. and the notice had been received after 2.30 p.m., and notices of questions received at the Table Office at any time not later than 4.30 p.m. on a day before the penultimate day shall be treated as if they had been so received on the penultimate day;
(5) The following paragraph shall have effect in substitution for paragraph 12) of Standing Order No. 1:—
(2) The House shall not be adjourned except in pursuance of a resolution:
Provided that, when a substantive motion for the adjournment of the I louse has been proposed after to p.m Mr. Speaker shall, after the expiration of half an hour after that motion has been proposed, adjourn the House without question put.'
(6) The following paragraphs shall have effect in substitution for paragraphs (8) and (9) of Standing Order No. 1:—
'(8) A motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown, either with or without notice at the commencement of public business to be decided without amendment or debate, to the effect either—
(a) That the proceedings on any specified business be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of the Standing Order "Sittings of the House"; or (b) That the proceedings on any specified business be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of the Standing Order "Sittings of the House" for a specified period after the hour appointed for the interruption of business.
(9) If a motion made under the preceding paragraph be agreed to, the business so specified shall not be interrupted if it is under discussion at the hour appointed for the interruption of business, may be entered upon at any hour although opposed, and, if under discussion when the business is postponed under the provisions of any Standing Order, may be resumed and proceeded with though opposed, after the interruption of business:
Provided that business exempted for a specified period shall not be entered upon, or be resumed after the expiration of that period, and, if not concluded earlier, shall be interrupted at the end of that period, and the relevant provisions of paragraphs (3) and (4) of this Standing Order shall then apply.
(10) Provided always that not more than one motion under paragraph (8) may be made at any one sitting, and that, after any business exempted from the operation of the order is disposed of after 10 p.m., the remaining business of the sitting shall be dealt with according to the provisions applicable to business taken after the hour appointed for the interruption of business.'
Orders Of The Day
Debate On The Address
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [21st October]:
"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Blyton.]
Question again proposed.
The Debate on the Gracious Speech from the Throne gives us an opportunity not only to examine the legislation before the House for the coming Session, but to review the year of Parliament that has gone by, and to examine it against the background of what has been done during the past two years. At this time, when we are admittedly slipping into ruin, the Gracious Speech and the legislation before the House appears to many of us on these benches as but a hotch-potch of nationalisation mixed up with a tinkering with the Constitution. Above all, if I may say so with respect, there is a weakness and a lack of leadership that are terrible to see.Unlike the hon. Lady who seconded the Address yesterday there are many of us on these benches who, on our travels round the country, have not found that the people of the country are wholeheartedly behind this Government, nor do they feel more secure than they ever have before. It is indeed this search for a stronger lead that is felt everywhere in the country today, with whomever we may speak, in whatever walk of life, whether it be industrialists, ex-Service men starting up business, young people searching for opportunity or, perhaps above all, the women of this country whom this crisis hits more hardly than any other sections of the community. Everywhere we will find this yearning for statesmanship in our affairs. When speaking of this question of leadership, what is it that we look for? Surely it must be that there should be confidence by those who are led, in the ability of those at their head; confidence in the achievements of the past two years, confidence in their judgment to forecast future events, and confidence in their wisdom to deal with the unexpected, which must always arise however carefully plans are made. And I suggest to this House that there can be but little confidence in the country in this Government's past two years of achievement, when we remember the flush of promises at the General Election and we realise that to-day we face economic disaster. Nor can there be much confidence in this Government's ability to forecast future events when we recall scores of contradictory utterances, not least those of the late Minister of Fuel. Nor can there be much confidence in this Government's ability to deal with the unexpected when we remember with only too much familiarity the break-down of our productive industries last winter, when winter is an annual event. Even in the face of the unexpected, the rise in prices in America, and thus the obvious quickening of exhaustion of the dollar loan, we find that the Government did nothing to stem disaster until it was upon us. Above all, surely there can be little confidence in leaders where it is suspected that they have not got confidence either in themselves or in their own expert advisers; because we remember that last summer this House was told that there was an irreducible minimum for the period of conscription and, a few days later, apparently in answer to protests by the Government back-benchers, that "irreducible minimum" was reduced still further. It set the country wondering on that score. Nor, surely, can confidence be greatly reposed in leaders where there is a suspicion of divided command, and also the existence of some outside body that can bring pressure to override their decisions. The T.U.C. has vital, valuable industrial functions to perform but it has at no time had any mandate for the government of this country. Its advice is essential to any Government, but if it should sway the Government's decision, then, surely, Parliamentary democracy as we know it, has, to a great extent, become a farce. I suggest, too, that the leadership of our country at this time in the face of tremendous events cannot in any case be successful unless the people who are led are fully united. Therefore, may I, with great respect, suggest that this is not the time for a continual appeal to only a section of the community, because then there will always be only sectional support. Those who represent us at the international council boards and refer to this country as "Socialist Britain" might surely bear this well in mind. The unity of this country has been proved in two wars in this century, and right back in wars and crises deep in history, and without it we cannot possibly hope to overcome our present difficulties. Yet even now we find that there are some who set one section of the community against the other, and I suggest that they are guilty of a direct act of sabotage against their country. In that connection, I would remind the House of a publication that appeared only two or three weeks ago, a Government-sponsored publication entitled "The A.B.C. of the Crisis," in which an attack of misrepresentation of the Tories was delivered which, I suggest, was quite unsuitable to the responsibility of a national appeal. In any case, surely, at this time it is not only leadership at the head of affairs which we seek, because even a great leader possessed of all the qualities of statesmanship can have no enduring influence unless he receives from the people an active response. That we are now, to a large extent, a nation of passive citizens is due to the system of government which is imposed upon us at this time, because we find that nationalisation has had the effect of putting the fortunes of a whole trade or, indeed, of a whole country, such as Scotland, at the mercy of the foresight and judgment of one single centre of decision. Quite apart from the fact that it is dangerous always to give power to the few—they are, after all, only fallible men—it always vitiates any possibility of delegation of authority. Therefore, we find, all over the country, lack of leadership in every sphere because, with no incentive of gain or of personal responsibility, the response to exhortation to work is passive to a degree. Nevertheless, with the Gracious Speech before us, it is imperative that every one of us should make the nature of the crisis clearly understood to all the people of this country. There are a great number who do not understand its meaning as yet, perhaps because our economy in this country is so highly geared that we can carry on far longer than Continental countries which in similar circumstances would have collapsed long ago. It now behoves us to explain the nature of the crisis without misrepresentation; otherwise we shall never get a response to appeals to work harder, and it will only be a source of grievance if directed to workers who have neither the tools nor the materials to do the job. I wish to repudiate the suggestion that hon. Members on these benches have no confidence in the ability of this country to weather the tremendous events that are before us. We all remember the great Roman leader Fabius Maximus—a name with cherished significance to hon. Members opposite. It was said of him by his grateful fellow-countrymen that "he never despaired of the Republic. "None of us despairs of this country's ability to recover her prestige, but it is idle to hope for success without not only a coherent plan of action, but inspired leadership to give it life. It is not only a desirable objective, it is the price of our survival. I, therefore, suggest that in the face of the admitted economic disaster that is before us, the task of His Majesty's Government now is not to try to create greatness in the people of Britain, but to inspire it, because the greatness is already there.
I hope the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) will not mind if I do not follow the course she has taken. During the Debate yesterday, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made certain comments to which I would like to make reference. He said that the international situation at the present time is indeed a sombre one. He bemoaned—and I agree entirely with him—that the relationships between Eastern Europe and the West are not so good as they were. But then he went on to refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) and hon. Friends who accompanied us on a visit to Eastern Europe during the past month. We have heard from time to time in this House a great deal about the "iron curtain," and it astonished me that the right hon. Gentle- man, who is usually so fair and courteous in his statements, should be so anxious to seek to discredit hon. Members before their stories could be heard. Apparently, to travel to America is quite all right; to travel to France is quite all right, but merely to visit Eastern Europe is in the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman an offence in itself. An hon. Member opposite says "Hear, hear." Why should we bemoan the lack of information from Eastern Europe, if at the same time we seek to cast venomous scorn on hon. Members who go there to see how people are living?
I do not wish that there should be any misunderstanding. I do not think that could have been put on record. I never suggested that hon. Members should not go to Eastern Europe. I have been there a good many times, and I think it a very good thing that hon. Members should go. What I was objecting to was the use made in Warsaw by foreign Press agencies of an attack on His Majesty's Government by hon. Members who are supporters of the Government.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making his position clear, but he did say that we were Communist in all but name. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement, and I suggest it would be quite as realistic, and quite as courteous, for me to refer to some of his hon. Friends, not as Communists, but by a far more ugly name in the minds of the people of this country. I think no advantage is gained by seeking to adopt that line.During our visit to Eastern Europe eight Members of this House were privileged to meet four Prime Ministers, to meet the heads of the trade union movement, to meet Foreign Secretaries, and to meet people with whom it is important that this country should have an understanding. Have we now reached a position when relationships between Eastern Europe and Great Britain are so bad that for an hon. Member merely to visit there, and to say what he has seen, becomes a crime? So much for the love of freedom of speech and movement, of which we hear so much. The outstanding features of Eastern Europe as I saw them were, first, that there is a tremendous enthusiasm for reconstruction. When we realise that we are dealing with a people who suffered destruction on a scale far greater than anything we had, fortunately, in this country, and when we realise that they suffered Auschwitz, Belsen and Buchenweld——
And the Soviet.
I do not see the point of the interruption, but this much is true, I hope—that no one in any part of this House will seek to take away from what was done by any of our honourable allies during the war. I am not seeking to take away the credit of anyone. We are dealing with people who suffered deep wounds and whose economic life was entirely destroyed, but they have somehow managed to find among their people an enthusiasm which we would welcome among our working people in this country. I believe it is fair to say that without American dollars, without aid at all, they are getting on with the job, and the humblest worker in Europe knows his plan, and this is where we, too, might gain advantage from looking at Eastern Europe. Whilst this little island country has given much to the world in other days, she too can learn much from other countries that have experienced this rebirth of spirit, as it were, on the Continent of Europe I believe we ought to learn from them the lesson that every worker in every factory ought to know what his part of the plan is, and he ought to be given his target. In the whole of industrial activity a target should be set and general enthusiasm aimed toward that end.Another outstanding feature I found in Eastern Europe was that amongst people everywhere there is a deep and anxious fear concerning the possibility of another war. I found it among the ordinary folk. I found a fear due to Press reports which they read, and Press cuttings from abroad. We are sometimes told in this country that the people there cannot find out what is happening beyond the iron curtain. My hon. Friends and I were kept well in touch with what was happening outside merely by reading the Press. One of my hon. Friends could read in each of the Slav languages; I could not, but I trust my hon. Friend. In the Slav papers there were reported all the important events of the world outside. There is a tremendous fear in Europe about Germany being strengthened at the expense of the victorious countries, which in their victory lost almost everything except their spirit. We were reminded that the average income for Europe as a whole is 450 dollars per head per year; for Poland it is 250 dollars per head; but the proposed income for Germany under the American proposals for reconstruction there would be 650 dollars per head per year, which would give to her a surplus of which she would have to get rid. The great question over there is whether we should once again allow that country so to establish her industrial and economic machine that she can be a menace to the nations that are around her. We might regard that question as rather pedantic in view of the state of desolation in Germany at the present time, but if we had had our 4½ millions lost in Auschwitz alone, and if we were living next door to Germany, I suggest that we might take a more realistic view of that question. All of us are anxious at this time not only about the international situation but about our economic affairs at home, and I am convinced that the international deterioration finds adequate reflection in our economic crisis here at home, that there is a link between the two, for Eastern Europe can provide much of what we need, without any dollars having to be paid. The trade agreement which was in a state of negotiation between Soviet Russia and ourselves broke down, and both Governments have now expressed their earnest desire for the resumption of those negotiations. How crazy it is that when both countries stand to gain, and both Governments say quite openly that they want to resume negotiations, that some formula should not be devised. I believe that we have a right to ask His Majesty's Government if indeed in the negotiations with the Soviet Union it was possible for us to obtain timber and grain without having to provide dollars, and, if there is a difficulty that with our less planned economy we are unable to provide definite dates for delivering our equipment, whether there should not be a tightening up of controls and a greater measure of planning in order that we, too, might meet our side of any agreement which might be entered into. I am convinced that the way for this Government to tread at this time of crisis is not to have less Socialism, but more. I believe that our economy needs far greater planning, for it is pathetic if we are sending our experts to negotiate with other countries only to find that they are unable to give specific dates for delivery when other countries can put their finger on definite dates and definite quantities. We could be having grain, lumber and tobacco without any attempt being made to dictate to us our internal domestic policy here at home, without any attempt to control the way of life of Britain, or to say that steel should not be nationalised, or any other issue of that sort, but on a basis of mutual understanding. I am convinced that it is possible now for us to reach an agreement. I am bound to refer to the war of nerves to which this nation has been subjected in connection with the Marshall plan. We have had dangled before us like a carrot the promise of help, only to have it disappear every now and then, and then it is brought back, and we are told "You must take the report back, alter it, improve it." All this tends to reduce our prestige in the eyes of the world to that of a very small Power indeed. I am one who believes that this nation must realise that whilst co-operation with America is highly desirable and necessary, co-operation with Eastern Europe is equally desirable and equally necessary to our own survival. We cannot allow political prejudices of any sort or personal bias to stand in the way of assistance to our nation at the present time. I believe that if a real gesture is made now, the way of life for our people can be made easier and the standard of life might be more assured, because it is possible—I reiterate that it is possible—for us to have from over there things of which we stand badly in need. The capital goods which we make we cannot sell to America; they are ready to sell to us. The only market we can find is either our great Empire or Eastern Europe. I advise His Majesty's Government to look there. I cannot sit down tonight, in this Debate on the Address, without a reference to my Socialist comrades in Greece. At the present time while we here, and His Majesty's Government, are in friendly relationship with the Government in Greece, thousands upon thousands of people are exiled to the Ægean Sea, to the little islands there. People are dying—465 political executions have taken place, women as well as men amongst them. Numbers of people in Greece are being sentenced without trial, and though their name be not Petkov, surely their lives are just as precious? I do not want so say anything about the Petkov trial. I am not trying to be unreasonable about that. If he did not have a fair trial, I am sorry I do not know enough about it, but I do know something about what is happening in Greece. I know that although they are about 2,000 miles away from us, they are human beings. They fought with us, and it is those who were on our side during the war who are now in the prison camps, and those who collaborated, not all, it is true, but there are known collaborators with the Nazis, who are in power at the present time. What a farce we make of democracy if we say that we are supporting democracy by supporting what is happening in Greece today. It is a slur upon our national name that we, with a rich tradition for helping democracy everywhere, with our care for humble people, should today turn our backs upon our friends and take the bloodstained hand of some people who in the days of the war were prepared to work with the security battalions of the Hitler regime. I trust that in this coming year we may look to His Majesty's Government for words about what is happening in Greece as strong as they have used about Petkov. If we are to be indignant, let us be indignant for small people as well as for the leaders of great parties. Let us realise that this House can give to the world a moral tone by denouncing the awful tyranny, the secret arrests, the beatings up, and the judicial murders that are taking place in Greece. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that these murders cannot even be called judicial murders, for they have nothing about them that smacks of a fair judicial trial. I know that I have spoken with some feeling. The reason is that I have seen what has happened to comrades in Greece. Almost every person who gave me any hospitality or who had any dealings with me in Greece has suffered. Within a month of my departure from that country, they were away in exile or fleeing from the hands of the gendarmerie. [An HON. MEMBER: "I am not surprised."] I am not surprised that the hon. Member does not seem to be disturbed. When I think of those people, I think of family people. I sat at the family table with them and they discussed the glories of English history. They were friendly towards us. They spoke with pride of Byron and of Gladstone. We cannot let these people down. I say to His Majesty's Government that we should recognise that our Imperial position and our strategic routes are better protected by a friendship with the great mass of the common people than they can be by a friendship with the handful who hold power at the moment simply because the American and British Governments are behind them. If the support of America and Britain were withdrawn, the Government in Greece would not last for a fortnight, and the whole world knows it. So much for this Government which is said to represent the free people of Greece. I leave these suggestions to the House, and I earnestly trust that His Majesty's Government will bear in mind that at this critical time in our economic distress we can find a way of regaining our strength, keeping our independence and freeing ourselves from a state of being pensioner upon another great country in the world, by looking to the common peoples of Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) has made his apologia. I know him sufficiently well to be satisfied of his good intentions in visiting Eastern Europe, but I do not think he has met the point that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). If the purpose of these visits was to acquaint the people of this country with conditions there, and to try to secure understanding, co-operation and good will between them and us on an honourable and just basis, without any offensive references to other countries with whom we want to be on friendly terms, we should all welcome it. I feel, however, with the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant), that it is necessary that there should be much more national unity if we are to get out of our economic troubles. Therefore, whether the abuse comes from the Left or the Right, I deprecate that we should introduce into party politics in this country some of the venom und bitterness which unfortunately exist in other countries and that we should accuse those from whom we differ of being either Communists or Fascists. The over- whelming majority of our people are neither one nor the other.In view of the economic crisis, this Session is bound to be a critical one for the people and for the Government. I am not one of those who blame the Government for the existence of this crisis. The Government, in my view rightly, will be judged by the way in which they handle it. The country is in a jam. It is the duty and responsibility of the Government, by the right kind of leadership, by wise policy and sound administration to enable us to get out of our economic troubles. If the Government fail in this, they will fail in all the other things they hope to do. The country is not likely either to forget or to forgive easily. I regret that the Government have not begun this Session very well. It is no use appealing for the co-operation of everybody and then attempting to play the party game. I feel very strongly that in proposing to amend the Parliament Act. 1911, and to nationalise the gas industry, the Government are doing that. I ask them to consider very seriously what possible contribution to our economic recovery can be made by either of those Measures. Can the Government honestly say that either of these Measures is really necessary at this time? What the nation requires is that the Government should concentrate all their energies on trying to help the country to recover her prosperity. What do the people want? They want a secure job, they want food, houses, and the reasonable amenities of life. They look to the Government to frame such a policy as will give them these things in the shortest possible time. Neither of the Measures which I have mentioned will help in any way to bring these things about. Rather they will impede our recovery because they will tend to split the nation at a time when we ought to be united It is not that the proposal to reduce the veto from two years to one is in itself an unreasonable thing or, in view of the Hey-worth Report, that there is not a great deal to be said for the nationalisation of the gas industry. The point is that the Government ought to view these proposals in the light of the economic situation. I say without hesitation that the harm which will be done to national unity will far outweigh any good which may be achieved by passing these Measures. In his speech yesterday the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made some debating points in regard to the reduction of the veto, but really in these days arguments of that kind do not cut a great deal of ice. The Government want to impress upon the people the urgency of the economic situation. It is wrong to seek to put off the people on a wild goose chase of this kind and to divert their attention from the real critical issues of our time. For a Government who call themselves progressive, they are amazingly out of date. Do they not realise that the people are no longer interested in this constitutional question? There was a time when they thought their salvation was to be found by settling constitutional questions and that they were of first importance. The time may come again, but I do not believe that at present there is the slightest interest in the country in this issue. As has been generally assumed, it can only have been introduced as a result of a deal between two sections of the Government. That is a fact which does not reflect any credit upon them at all. I regret, too, that the Gracious Speech has nothing to say about the reduction in Government expenditure, except in so far as there is a reference to the reductions in the Armed Forces, due to the fact that we are cutting our commitments and are no longer required to maintain troops in India, and also I hope that, in a very short time, they will have gone from Palestine. Rut if the Government want to appeal to the people of this country and to our local authorities to cut expenditure, they ought, in my opinion, to set an example, and I think they ought to say what contribution they are prepared to make from their administrative machine to provide the men whom the country needs for essential occupations. I thought the Prime Minister yesterday was very uncommunicative about the things which the people want to know. For instance, we have read in the Press and have been told by Ministers during the Recess that it is the policy of the Government to try to prevent any increase in wages. There is a great deal to be said for that, in view of the fact that any increase in wages not accompanied by an increase in production is bound to make it more difficult to sell our goods abroad, which, of course, we must do, but if that is the Government's policy, they must make it perfectly clear that they will see there is no increase in the cost of living. They cannot, at the same time, allow the cost of living to rise and expect wages to remain the same. We all know what happened in France when an attempt was made to do this sort of thing, and I am sure the Government do not want to have, added to their other difficulties, all the industrial strife and official strikes from which, happily, we have been free during the past two years. Therefore, I hope that it is not the Government's intention, and I hope that the people will be told so at an early date, to interfere with the subsidies on food. We are told that at present there is a great surplus of purchasing power, and that one way of meeting that difficulty is to remove the subsidies. We know how that will work out in practice. For a household of four, it will mean, in effect, that the housewife, when she goes shopping, will find that it costs her 14s. more a week to provide food for her family, and that will inevitably result in a request for increased wages to meet it. Where this surplus purchasing power exists, I do not know. I do not find that the great majority of my constituents have any money to spare in existing conditions, but if there is an excess of purchasing power, as we are told, the proper way to deal with it is not to increase the cost of living, but to take away the labour and materials from those luxury industries which constitute a serious danger of inflation. We have to realise that at present it pays a great many manufacturers to provide goods for the home market because they can sell them more easily than they can by exporting them, and very often make bigger profits. The only way to deal with that is for the Government to withdraw labour and materials drastically from those industries so that their goods shall not be available. I feel that, in all the Measures they propose, the Government must realise not only what the economists tell them is necessary, but also what is politically practicable. They must take into account the effect on the people of this country of any Measures introduced. I believe that the present Government's damping down of the housing programme will have a most depressing effect, and I believe it will affect production. In my own constituency, for instance, though, for- tunately, we suffered very little from bomb damage, we still have over 3,000 families that need houses, and I know from my own experience of the terrible conditions under which they are living. This is bound to have its effect upon their work. Even at the present slow rate of house-building, it is a gloomy prospect, in view of the long time they will have to wait before they get a house. If they are told that there is to be a slowing down still further, I am afraid the position will be very serious indeed. I feel that some lack of consideration of the reaction of the public was also shown in the abolition of the basic petrol ration. I do not subscribe to a great deal of the exaggeration which has been used with regard to this matter, but it is a fact that it has appeared to a great many people to be most unfair to decide on the complete abolition of the basic ration. I would also like to say that I do not think that the giving of a supplementary ration is a fair substitute, because, in point of fact, there is a great deal of inequality in the conditions under which supplementary rations are given. In some cases it may be that the regional controller is a little more generous than in other areas, and even in the same area some people can get supplementary rations while others cannot. The fairest way is that what is available should be shared equally among all who need it, and I believe that, if only in a reduced form, the basic ration should be maintained. I think that, if the Government could agree to allow the basic ration to revert to one unit without the 50 per cent. addition and make the coupons available for two months instead of one, there will be such a feeling of relief and satisfaction among the people that it would be reflected in production, because the incentive provided would be something worth while. I am also concerned about the threat of inflation by the abolition of the basic ration. It means that people will have to lay up their cars, and that the money they have been spending on maintaining their cars will be available as surplus purchasing power. How the Government propose to deal with that, I do not know, but it is a fact of which the Government should take account. We are told that the real reason is the abolition of he black market, and that the only way to deal with the black market is to abolish the basic ration I do not think it is fair to punish all owners and users of cars because a certain number resort to the black market. Personally, I believe that the Government will be driving people into the black market. I would give short shrift to anybody found guilty of dealings in the black market, and I think that if offenders' cars were confiscated and they were told that they would not be able to drive a car for 10 years, that in itself would be a sufficient deterrent. Anyhow, I should try it, and trust the people. I appeal to the Government to put first things first, and to realise that their prime duty now is to get this country out of its economic troubles, and that they will do it best and most effectively if they can win the support of the overwhelming majority of the nation. But they must make the gesture. They are the Government, and it is no good their blaming the Opposition because, so far, they have not, apparently, done what the Government think they should have done to make this possible. I realise that a National Government is not possible, but I believe that national co-operation is, and I really believe that if the Government would hold up their party legislation—because there is a great deal in the Gracious Speech about social proposals which are admirable, and a great deal of legislation that could be passed by this Parliament which would benefit the people of the country—they could win that support without stirring up a great deal of party hatred and disturbing national unity. I ask the Government to concentrate on these things. Never mind what the Opposition are doing; I am concerned with what the Government ought to do. I appeal to them, even now, to do everything they can to preserve national unity, and so help us to get out of our critical situation.
My main criticism of the King's Speech is its failure to present us with a promise to nationalise the steel industry. For that, the Communists cannot be blamed, although, according to the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, they are responsible for every other evil in the world. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for a great many years. His speech yesterday was a woeful and melancholy effort; it was the speech of a mendicant. It is amazing how rapidly dollar diplomacy can change the faith of man. The right hon. Gentleman and others, used to say that Britain stood between two extremes—the extreme of Soviet Communism, on the one side, and unbridled private enterprise in the Western hemisphere, on the other. But now the right hon. Gentleman has joined the mad witch dance of the un-American Committee that is giving such an exhibition of freedom of opinion, tolerance and democracy to a blaze of floodlights reminiscent of the Kroll Opera House.According to the right hon. Gentleman, one is either against the Communists or one is a Communist. That is how he put it—the Communists of Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe against the Western European and American democracies. It is a nice way of putting it, if there was any truth in it. He, a Tory, a defender of the robber landlords and capitalists, is a democrat, while I, a proletarian who has been fighting all his life to put an end to the exploitation of his fellow men, am an enemy of democracy. No, the correct way would be to say that the countries of Eastern Europe are carrying on their reconstruction on the basis of Socialist economy, attacked by the jaundiced, vicious hatred of the remnants of decrepit capitalism, whose only hope for survival is dollars from the monopoly capitalists of America. I challenge him, or anyone else in this House, to dare to get up and say that, if America were put out of the picture, capitalism in Europe would continue to live. Put America out of the picture, and within six months capitalism would be out of existence in every country, including this.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one question? If Russia were put out of the picture, how long would Communism last?
There is not an idea, a revolutionary slogan, or a revolutionary symbol existing in Russia, or any of the European countries which, in the first place, was not exported from this country. As long as there is the exploitation of men by robber landlords and capitalists we shall have to fight for the realisation of Communism. Even if Russia were out of the picture, I would still be fighting for Communism, and more and more of the masses of the workers would listen to my plea for the support of Communism. Put America out of the picture, and capitalism would vanish from Western Europe. I would ask hon. Members on this side not to have any illusions because in the un-American Committee it has been laid down that un-Americanism is holding opinions against capitalism and private enterprise.Take Germany. We find that in Germany the British and the American zones are united. Then, there is the Soviet zone. What is the issue there? Is it Communism in the Soviet zone versus democracy in the British and American zones? Will any hon. Member say it is? No, in the Soviet zone it is Socialist economy, and in the British and American zones it is capitalist economy. That is the division. Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that?
It is up to the hon. Gentleman's Government.
No, I am asking the right hon. Gentleman. The division is Socialist economy in the Soviet zone—and I recommend him to read the articles in "The Times"—and capitalist economy under the control of America, because, unfortunately, our people in Germany and other places have been very subservient to America. But the right hon. Gentleman says that the Communists in France and Italy use the same language against the Marshall plan. That is a terrible indictment. He forgot to mention that Britain and the other countries in Western Europe use the same language in support of the Marshall Plan, and it is American language. Has the right hon. Gentleman, or any of the other Marshallites, ever mentioned the fact that America has put us on the means test? Has he ever mentioned the fact that any number of means test inspectors have been sent to this country and other countries in Europe, both officially and unofficially, to examine our position, and to find out whether we have any furniture which is not actually necessary, and which we are able to dispose of? The whole Paris meeting was based on a means test, and the whole attitude of America towards us is that of means test officials. It is an abominable position in which to place this country. A theme song ran right through the right hon. Gentleman's speech—as it runs through a lot of the speeches which we hear. It goes something like this:
"We once were great, mighty and strong;
We built an Empire that spread around the world.
Now we are down and cannot get up.
Is it necessary that we should have to undergo such humiliation? No, it is not. Everybody ought to have understood that we were bound to be faced with an adverse balance of trade because most of our goods had to come from America and are needed by us, whereas America does not need ours. Therefore, we should have been looking around for other sources of supply on the basis of goods for goods. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) was correct when he said, "Trade for trade, goods for goods." That is how to solve the crisis, how to put an end to the gap which has brought it about. The other week the "leader of the economic orchestra" struck up a march. It was not, "We are marching to Zion—beautiful, beautiful Zion"; it was a paraphrase of the "Dead March in Saul." He told us that unless we got dollars immediately, all kinds of evil would come upon us, leading to economic strangulation. Why did he want the dollars? He wanted the dollars from America to pay them back to America because it is from America that the stranglehold comes, and he is pleading with America to loosen the stranglehold. That is not the spirit of this country. The spirit of this country is to call upon the workers to break the stranglehold. The Minister of Food was at Liverpool the same day meeting a consignment of Soviet tinned salmon and crab, and he and his wife had a very good diet. He said, "We sent the tins, they filled them up. That is how to do business." Yes, it is a good way of doing business—by sending empty tins and getting them back full. But he went on to say that it is also possible to get grain and timber from the Soviet Union—the timber which we need so badly for houses and pit props—and they will take our machinery in return. Surely, he added, it is not beyond the wit of man to make a trade agreement. I hope it is not beyond the wit of this Government. We should be looking to the Soviet Union and to the food-producing countries of Eastern Europe, helping them to recover so that more goods can come from there on the basis of goods for goods. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has "adopted" the Minister of State. Apparently he is a good lad. I have watched and waited and searched the records, and I have never found the Minister of State or any of the other members of the Government saying one word in criticism of anything that has been done by America. The Minister of State said by way of admonition to the Soviet delegates, "No country has a monopoly of truth." Why did he not say that here? When have we ever had anything but truth on our side? We have never been in error; truth has always been with us. It is always the other fellow who is wrong. It is a very smart trick to accuse the other fellow of doing what you are doing yourself. That is an old game. We had something of that kind before Parliament went into Recess. I hope that none of the hon. Members opposite will be prepared to make any speeches or take any action in connection with that affair, because at Brighton the right hon. Gentleman and his friends made an attack on the Communists, and said that they were out to oppose subversive Communist activities. We had an exposure of subversive activity in this country not so long ago. We read in the newspapers of case after case of the most wicked subversive activity. I refer to those people who were dealing with Max Intrator and who were sabotaging the economic and financial stability of this country. Who were they? Were they Harry Pollitt or the hon. Member for West Fife? No, it was a bunch of Tories. That is where you get subversive activity. The right hon. Gentleman talked about Petkov, and used very extravagant language. He seemed to be deeply affected by it. Was he affected by the case of Sacco and Vanzetti in America, or of Joe Hillstrom, or the hundreds of others who have been done to death there by "frame-ups"? Does he get indignant when he reads about the lynching of the Negro citizens of America and the horrible treatment that they get? Why is it that everything that is done by these countries in Eastern Europe, who are laying down the foundations of Socialism, is wrong, and everything that America does is right? It is no credit to the right hon. Gentleman to take that line. I would like him to develop a more sympathetic attitude towards Communism, and he will find that Communism has the solution for all the worst ills of humanity. There is no question about it. I am very sorry that the Government accepted the proposals of the Federation of British Industries. That is a tragedy from the point of view of the great Labour movement. Here let me say again that for a long time I have been a member of the Labour Party; I have loyally paid my dues and will continue to do so. I consider it is a tragedy from the point of view of the Labour movement that the proposal of the Federation of British Industries was accepted. The decision to cut capital expenditure is all wrong. It means the cutting down of schools, hospitals and homes, and what we want more than anything else is to solve the housing problem. In the early days of the Labour Government we were told time and time again that the Government would stand or fall by its solution of the housing problem. They should never have accepted those proposals of the F.B.I. As one who wants to see the Labour movement and the Government prospering in the great cause of Socialism, I say to the Government: Cut down profits to zero, cut down the Armed Forces, build homes and more homes for the people, keep up wages, keep down prices, give the workers a real say in the control of industry. Above all, hit the Tories and those whom they represent. Hit them hard, and the harder you hit them, the greater the response will be from the workers of this country.Buddy, can you spare a dime? "
We always enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I think this evening he has given us a most brilliant resume of the Moscow radio in the last few weeks. I can always get on with Communists because I always know where I stand with them. I always assume that the first loyalty of every Communist is to Russia.
That is wrong. It is shameful that anything like that should be said about a Member of this House. I have been loyal to my class in this country all the years of my life, since before there was a Russian Revolution, and I could never possibly be loyal to people outside the country if I were not, in the first place, loyal to my own people in the country.
I am glad to hear this new interpretation of Communism.
It is no new interpretation.
I have always understood—and we have plenty of evidence to support it—that the first loyalty of Communists throughout the world is to Russia. They may have a secondary loyalty to the country in which they happened to be born, but, on the whole, they manage to disguise it pretty well. What the hon. Gentleman said with regard to America is interesting. He apparently thinks that we do not need any help from the United States, and, what is more, he thinks we did not need it in the past. May I suggest to him that for a short time he might do without all those rations which come from the American Continent, and live solely on those rations which come from the Soviet Union? He might then realize the exact meaning of what he is suggesting.I can understand the Communists. The people I do not understand are the neo-Communists and the crypto-Communists. Where do they stand? Where stands, for example, the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas), who I am sorry is not here now? I think he misunderstood us just now when he thought that we were objecting to his going to Russia. We do not object to his going to Russia. We envy him in being able to go there. I only wish someone would come along and offer to pay my fare to Russia. I would willingly go. What strikes us about these visits to Russia is how selective the Russians are in the people whom they invite. Apparently, the Russians read HANSARD and the effusions in our Press very carefully before they invite them. I would be obliged if the hon. Gentleman could tell me how I can get an invitation to go to Russia free of cost. The point I want to mention tonight, so far as I know, is absolutely non-controversial, and I am sure hon. Members opposite will be glad to hear that. I want to make this one point. I regret very much that in the Gracious Speech there is no reference to any suggestion of an amendment of the law on rent restriction. So far as I know, that is not controversial, unless two Ministers of the Crown are going to swallow what they said two years ago. May I remind the House of the situation? In 1945 an interdepartmental committee, under Lord Ridley, made certain recommendations. On that Committee were the present Minister of Pensions and the present Minister of Works, and both those Ministers assented to those recommendations. I think most hon. Members know the absolutely chaotic condition of the Rent Restriction Acts. A learned judge said the other day:
A county court judge put it rather more picturesquely when he said:"The Rent Restriction Acts are as difficult and complicated as any on the Statute Book."
This matter was raised in the last Session by hon. Members in all parts of the House. It was raised by the hon. Members for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett), the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) and by others. In another place Lord Ammon, speaking on behalf of the Government, said:"I think King Solomon had much to be thankful for that he had not the Rent Restriction Acts to deal with."
The Minister of Health did not deny that there was a case for revising these Acts. He merely said that in the last Session there was not enough time. The last Session is over, and what I am dis-appointed to know is that, apparently, the Government have not found time in this Session. May I remind the House that there are three very serious anomalies at present? There is the anomaly of houses of the same size in the same street which carry rents which may differ by as much as 50 per cent., and some of them more, merely because they happen to be controlled by different Acts of Parliament. The second problem is that of the deteriorating position regarding the repairs of houses. Two years ago the Ridley Report said that on a reasonable estimate, the increase in the cost of repairs had already risen by between 50 and 75 per. cent., and since that time, of course, it has increased still more. What they recommended—and I hope that whoever answers on behalf of the Government will reply to this point—was that a technical committee should be set up to advise the Government on the question of the cost of repairs. That technical committee requires no Act of Parliament, and I should like to know why it has not been set up, because the problem which faces us is this: unless we repair our existing houses, they will fall down quicker than the present Minister of Health can build new ones, and we shall soon find large areas in this country becoming virtual slums. If that happens, nobody gains—neither the tenants, property owners, nor the country generally. What strikes me as being so anomalous about the whole position is that local authorities all over the country are increasing rents of council houses in order to meet the increased cost of repairs. Tenants of those houses have no protection whatever against these rises, and they have no means of knowing whether the extra money they are compelled to pay is used for the repairs or not. The third and last point is this. It is a rather technical point, concerning a limited class of property, namely, those blocks of flats the rents of which carry an obligation to provide services—such services as lifts, porters, hot water, central heating, and so on. The Ridley Committee were satisfied that the cost of providing these services had risen very considerably. If it was obligatory on the landlord to go on providing the services, it was reasonable that the tenant should pay for them. They went further than that, and said that consideration of this particular case should be given high priority. I cannot, perhaps, give a better illustration of what is the anomalous and ridiculous present law than this. If one is living in a block of flats and the landlord brings up one's shaving water in a tin mug, that constitutes service for which he can charge; but if the hot water is supplied through a tap, that does not constitute service within the meaning of the law. That is the utterly anomalous position of the law at present. What is the remedy? No one in his right senses wants to abolish rent restriction when houses are in short supply. No one wants to allow rents to rocket up according to the law of supply and demand. The Ridley Committee did make recommendations. What they recommended was that rent tribunals should be established to fix fair rents. We have had experience of rent tribunals in the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. So far as I know, the Minister of Health is reasonably satisfied that they are working well. Why cannot we get over this admittedly anomalous and deteriorating position by having tribunals for unfurnished houses as well? As far as the cost of repairs is concerned, the recommendation of the Ridley Committee was a technical committee. Why not set it up? It does not require any legislation. With regard to services, that anomaly can be remedied by amending Section 7 of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. I must apologise to the House for bringing up this one rather technical matter when there are so many other questions to be considered, but I should be glad to know if something can be done in the present Session either partly or wholly to remedy a state of affairs which, I think, is deplored on all sides of the House."The matter seems to be one of great urgency."
It was inevitable that we should find in the very forefront of the Gracious Speech some reference to the economic crisis, the inexorable aftermath of modern warfare in which there are no victors, and which has caught the whole of Europe in this great crisis which we are now facing. The Government have set their course. I think it is a wise course, although it is a very austere one; I am not sure that in some respects it is not altogether too austere. However, they have set their course with great courage, and I know our people will give all the resolution and fortitude they can in carrying out that difficult programme. But I think it is important that the Government should make it known, and make it known emphatically, that not for the first time in the history of our island our people must look to themselves; that it must be by their own fortitude, their own resolution, and their own endeavours that we shall overcome the difficulties we are now facing.Nevertheless I was one of those people, one of many, who in June this year, after reading the speech of Mr. Marshall, felt a lift" of the heart. I thought here, at last, we were back in the days of Mr. Roosevelt. I thought here, perhaps, was another Lend-Lease, another gift from America. Because I do not believe that loans are either acceptable or of any value whatsoever at the present time. I do not believe—and I think we should say so quite definitely—that we shall ever be in a position to repay such loans. Therefore, when I read that speech I was heartened because I thought we were back again in the days of the New Deal, in the days of Roosevelt and the days of Lend-Lease. But, like many other people, I have had time for reflection, the more careful as a result of the seven weeks I have just spent in the United States of America—seven weeks in which I travelled from one end of the Continent to the other, in which I met the common people of America, and found out what they were thinking and talking about, and was at the same time able to read in the Press the reports that came from the many fact-finding Congressmen and Senators roaming over Europe at the expense of Congress to find out what our difficulties are all about. I think it is necessary for the Government to give the most careful consideration to the social and economic situation in America today. I am not referring here to witch hunts. Red scares, war hysteria, and loss of civil liberty—of which there is quite enough in America today—making the people of that country extremely apprehensive. I am referring to the cold finger of fear reaching down to the heart of every American man and every American woman, the fear of a future depression. Those who fall from the greatest heights fall the hardest. There is in America today an assembly of all those factors which were present when, in 1931 and 1932, America had her last depression. They have rising prices. In every American city I visited there were processions of women with empty baskets. Do not let us think that every American lives high, wide and handsome. There are as many hungry people there as there are in every other part of the world. There are as many women there who cannot buy meat more than one day of the week as there are in other parts of the world. Nevertheless there is enough wasted in America to feed the whole of this country. In every city I went to I saw those great processions of women who were unable to buy the food in the shops because of the enormously soaring prices, prices which had gone up ever since they were so foolish as to discard price control and to discard rationing. I saw rent strikes as a protest against the 15 per cent. rent increases which are now being fixed in every city; these protests are made by all sections of the community, by Democrats, by Republicans, by everybody who is hit by the possibility of a 15 per cent. rise in rents. I saw in California people in the dry food industry and in the moving picture industry and friends of mine who are tobacco growers; all of them are deeply worried at the loss of markets in this country. There is a situation in America today, as I have said, where all the factors leading to depression are present—rising prices, unemployment, inflation, and, what affects us more than anything else, a growing stagnant pool of idle investment capital. The American people are looking round today for places where they can invest their capital. They look round and see Europe as, in the days when we had capital to invest we looked at China and other so-called backward countries and thought, "Here is a place we can exploit; here is where we can put our capital, take out the profits and bring them back to our own country." Those who talk about a lowering in the standards of life have to remember that our high standards of life in the past were largely due to the exploitation of people who could not help themselves, by taking from those countries and living ourselves on riches which rightfully belonged to them. Do not let America do the same by us and by Europe. We do not want to become an American colony. I should be very surprised to find any Member of the Opposition who would dare to go down to his constituency and make any such suggestion. So I think we have to look at the situation in America. We have to look not only at the people who are generous, hospitable, and kindly; who are so anxious for the success of a Socialist Government in this country, and generally glad when they know how far we have gone in building a Socialist Britain, difficult as it is for them to get at the facts. It is not those people who will make the decisions and lend the money. It will be the kind of Congressmen who make speeches on their return about the necessity for investing in the Ruhr and in Europe generally, the money which they and their friends in Wall Street and in the banks have accumulated. The only thing I think we have any right to take if we are to set Europe on the road to recovery, is a free gift from America itself administered by Europe, in Europe for Europe; and not the kind of investment which can lead to operations such as have just been disclosed in trials in Germany. These have shown what happened between American industry and their opposite numbers, I.G. Farben, which starved our airmen of the magnesium so necessary for them because of the restrictions of output in America, whilst in Germany their opposite numbers could build up as much magnesium as they wanted and put it in boxes labelled "textiles." We have to be careful that that kind of situation does not arise in the Ruhr again, as might happen if we allow private capital investments to come from America into the Ruhr instead of controlling for the good of Europe, such moneys as we had expected from the Marshall plan. I want to ask the Government what picture of our assets have they drawn to the Government of America? What bargaining power does America think we possess? Are they allowing America to think that we are a down-at-heel nation, on the way out? Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not a nation that stands alone. We are part of a great Commonwealth. [Interruption.] I am surprised to see the amusement which arises among the Opposition when anyone from these Benches dares to lay claim to the usual Tory idea.
All that I meant was that the hon. Lady might spare us the story of her conversion.
I do not know that the hon. Gentleman has known me long enough to decide whether it is a conversion or not. In these days it is the delight of the Opposition, and especially of the Leader of the Opposition, to represent us in America as a down-at-heel country on our way out; to denigrate this Government, to speak as if we were a people who do not know exactly where we stand or what exactly we intend to do. I would ask the Government if they have made it perfectly clear to America that in the 16 nations that went to Paris there is a greater pool of manpower and skill than exists in the whole of the Americas; that in our Commonwealth, especially as a result of the great Colonial Development Schemes which this Government have announced, and which, in all the years of their power, the Opposition never dreamed to put into operation in our Colonies and Empire, is all the raw material we need. To them the Empire was either an occasion for flag wagging or an opportunity for exploitation. When did they ever try to raise the standard of life of the native peoples? It was all right to pour in investment money and carry away the wealth of the Colonies. But what more? Have our Government ever explained to the American Government that we have in our Commonwealth the raw materials we need, and that with the 16 nations that came together in Paris, given enough time, we can carry through schemes which will lead towards the recovery and rehabilitation of Europe.I am not particularly in favour of a customs union among the nations of Western Europe. I do not want anything which makes it impossible for us to stretch out beyond a Western economic bloc for further trade agreements with Eastern Europe. I am not in favour of anything which divides Europe into two blocs, but I see no reason why we should not have arrangements, preference schemes perhaps, with our nearest neighbours. I should not like to see political strings attached to any loan given to us, making it impossible to carry on the preferences we have with our Colonies. This is the most likely way to maintain our independence and help to build up Europe. I know that these are long-term policies which cannot be put into operation in the next few months. On the other hand, to tide us over until these schemes develop I am sure that many Americans who are very frightened at the loss of their markets, may think it would be a good thing, not only for us but for America, to make an outright gift to enable us to buy from them and prevent the unemployment and depression which must surely come to America if something of that kind is not arranged. In the same connection, I wish to say something in regard to the Ruhr. Some time ago the Foreign Secretary told us very definitely that he intended to socialise the basic industries in the Ruhr. He told us that the people of Germany were anxious to have that socialisation. I remember him saying that we would supervise the factories of the Ruhr in such a way that unfinished machinery could be produced there and then sent to Eastern Europe for finishing. In that way there would be no danger of Germany building up a war potential. I should have thought, in our own difficult situation, that instead of pulling down the great factories of the Ruhr some of this unfinished machinery could come to this country. We could do with the machinery just as much as Eastern Europe. I want to know what has happened to that plan—has it got lost on the way?—and whether the Foreign Secretary has forgotten the statement he made in the House of Commons only a few months ago, or whether some pressure has been put on the Foreign Secretary by America to make him drop the scheme? It would be far safer to see the basic industries of the Ruhr socialised, to help Germany on the way to recovery and also help the recovery of this country, than to allow American industrial capital to be poured into the Ruhr and again as in 1932, to build up Germany's war potential. I ask the Government whether they are putting forward a picture of this kind, and whether they are using our great material wealth, in manpower, in raw materials and in the skill of our people, as a counter to the Marshall Plan, or whether at some time we are going to allow ourselves to become a new American colony. I hope that in the course of this Debate we shall get somewhere from the Government Front Bench an English declaration of independence.
It may be necessary for me to delay the House at little greater length than usual, because I feel there are certain things to be said and matters to be dealt with which have not hitherto been mentioned. I hope before I sit down to say a word or two in reference to the interesting speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). I will begin with the Gracious Speech on the Prorogation, for in it I find this remarkable passage:
In the Gracious Speech for this Session there is no mention made of this subject, nor is there any mention made of the prolongation of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act which is due to expire on 31st December, 1947. It is not surprising that these things should be omitted. Some of us have not forgotten the boastful observations made by the Minister of Health on 13th November, 1945, when introducing that Measure. He said:"My Ministers are acutely aware of the distress caused by the housing shortage. They have continued to regard the provision of houses as a matter of the utmost urgency and have made substantial progress with their -programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 164.]
We know that that Measure must be prolonged. On the other hand, I know why it has not been mentioned in the Gracious Speech. It is because it would be reminding Members of the devastating failure of the Minister of Health, when it would be so much pleasanter that he should leave that painful subject and devote himself to attacks on another place. I feel it my duty to bring to the notice of the House the sort of things which occur in my own city, which I think are typical. Not only is there a large waiting list, and not only is the housing situation progressing, if anything, backwards, but we have been informed of late that private building is forbidden, at any rate for the time being, and that sanctions for further council house schemes will not be permitted. That must inevitably mean, if long continued, the complete cessation of building in the city and the breakdown of the building industry. To his credit, the Socialist chairman of the housing committee preferred the city to party. He said that in plain language, and for his pains he was rebuked by a junior Whip, the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Simmons), chiefly because he Lad the temerity to say it at an inopportune time before the civic elections——"The House will note that, at the end of 1947, the Measure will die. This is my own estimate—perhaps vague—of the period when the worst housing stringency will have ceased to exist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 1945.]
Is it not a fact that both my hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Simmons) and I received a letter from the Minister of Health stating that the chairman of the Birmingham public works committee had misrepresented the facts?
Yes, that is a fact. The hon. Member and his hon. Friend received the usual half-hearted official denial, but great care was taken by the Minister of Health not to say what the facts were. I said—and I mean it—that it is the intention of this Government to get away from their social failures on to what is more interesting ground for some of their followers—pure political controversy. I want to say a word or two on the related topics of the Parliament Act and franchise and boundary reforms. History is edifying. I cannot get extraordinarily excited about the proposals to amend the Parliament Act. I have seen a little too much of the world to be excited now. I am not trembling at the possible feudal tyranny of the noble Lords in another place; I am much more alarmed at the present tyranny of Limehouse, which with an electorate of 16,000 returned the Prime Minister to this House. It takes an electorate of 57,000 people to return me. Such a state of affairs as this was felt to be a grievance and the Government set the Boundary Commission to work.Half way through the Boundary Commission's researches the distressing discovery was made that if the Commission proceeded along the lines they were on, the Socialists would lose a great many seats. Promptly, the Commission's terms of reference were altered. By a strange coincidence, the Government made the discovery that the time was not opportune to estimate the populations in various areas because the country had not recovered from the war. I believe that that view was a sound one, but I have my doubts as to the motives which prompted the Government to take that view. All the evidence I have goes to show that little difference has been made by the selection of the later date. It was generally understood last summer that the Boundary Commission would be reporting by September. I have inquired at the Vote Office, and find that no such report is available. When it is I shall be extremely interested to find how long it has been in the hands of the Government. The Government were placed in the position that if they did not legislate after altering the terms of reference of the Commission, they would be marked as the "rotten borough" Government. Naturally, they cast around to see what else could be done to soothe their supporters and mitigate any serious electoral losses. They said, "Let us tinker with the franchise. Let us pick a quarrel with another place. That will have several advantages. First, it will mollify our Leftwing supporters. They can be fobbed off by a declaration that we shall nationalise iron and steel during this Parliament only if we can keep them quiet by promising them a first-class row and attack on the other place. Even better. Suppose there were a chance of picking a first-class quarrel, and getting a Dissolution before the Boundary Commission's proposals take effect, how lovely that would be"——
Do not put things into our heads.
I should be sorry to corrupt the innocence of my old friend. With my experience of the world I am not surprised at what naughty ideas do get into the heads of Governments, and I can hardly be blamed if I am a little suspicious now. I do not think that the greatest enemy of the Leader of the House would accuse him of lack of knowledge of electoral matters and tactics. I am told that a Measure is coming along to implement the report of the Boundary Commission. I shall believe it when I see it, when it is forced through Parliament. At the moment, I regard it as a piece of window dressing, an astute piece of political campaigning.I feel I must say a few words on what may be called the crisis, and the references which have been made to it. This crisis is the direct result of the gross ineptitude of Labour Ministers in 1945. We were hit by it on 24th August, 1945, when President Truman suddenly cut off Lend-Lease. That matter was not debated until an announcement was made on the evening of 7th December, 1945, as to what was to be done. What was to be done? It was that on the strength of a two days' Debate, in which the Prime Minister refused to take off the Government Whips, we were to be tied to the Bretton Woods Agreement, to the terms of the Loan Agreement, and to a commercial treaty which provided for the nullification of preferences and the reduction of tariffs. The incompetence of the Government to deal with the situation is shown by the admission made on 6th December, 1945, by the Leader of the House when, referring to the Bretton Woods Agreement, he said:
That was an argument for closing discussion and forcing this matter through on a two days' Debate. Did anyone hear of such gross incompetence on the part of the Deputy Prime Minister as to say that he had not made himself master of an Agreement on which the future and life of this country and Empire depended? That, I think, was a scandalous admission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer took no advice from anybody on the terms of the Agreement. Not he. He knew it all. So, with a certain number of us, and, I am proud to say, a certain number on the other side of the House, as dissentients, these transactions were forced through. In particular, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was himself solemnly warned of the effect of the convertibility clause. Now what has happened? The worst predictions have been fulfilled. A greater part of that loan has simply gone into the sand. It would not be so bad if we had had goods or services from it, but it is estimated that a good half or more of it vanished in a few days when the convertibility clause came in. I am asked to have confidence in the restoration of the country with such men at the head of the Government. I dare say that a good many of us have read an article by Professor Robbins in the "Lloyds Bank Review." He is a Professor at the London School of Economics, and disregarding the verbosity which seems inseparable from that seat of learning, and cutting out half of the article and its trimmings and getting down to the common sense of it, it amounts to this: either the Government proposed convertibility proposals that would not work, or they grossly failed in administration to work them. My own belief is that the limitation of convertibility to current transactions was hopelessly impossible from the beginning from the administrative point of view, and there we are. There we are, I say, but that is not where the Left Wing people are. They have awakened to the reality of life about two years too late, and they are now avenging themselves for their own follies by insulting the Americans. The "New Statesman" on the 23rd August, 1947, stated:"I have read the Agreement, but not with that fullness that I ought to have, I admit, but I have heard of the Bretton Woods Agreement for some time, and, therefore, the subject has been known."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1945; Vol. 416, c. 2681.]
That is exactly what the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) told this House in December, 1945, but his advice was not taken. The Government, with their large, newly-acquired majority, took to the Lobbies, and we were defeated. Now I refer to something which happened in August of this year. Convertibility was stopped and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a speech, which many of us welcomed, in which he indicated that he was, in fact, turning his back on the bad past and endeavouring to help the Empire and Commonwealth. May I say a word on the party sid3 of it? I belong to a party which fought and lost three Elections on Imperial Preference, in each of which we had the unrelenting opposition of the Literal Party and of the growing Labour Party, and in each of which the cry "dearer food" was worked for all it was worth-When, therefore, it is charged upon me and my party that we have not cared for the Empire, I say that we have cared for it enough to risk our electoral fortunes three times."The dollar area is not the only market in the world, and if such a desperate choice has to be made, the British people would prefer to go hungry and work out their own salvation, rather than live on American charity with such strings attached to it."
And robbed it quite a bit.
We have not been assisted, by a united nation but thwarted repeatedly by brilliant Left Wing intellects, who, at long last, are realising that there may be something in our viewpoint. That does, not debar me from expressing sympathy with and admiration of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). I believe that if it were possible to break away from this miserable circle in which we are involved, much might be done along those lines.I have one thing more to say. Negotiations are proceeding, as to which we are told very little, with a view not to implementing the policy adumbrated by the Foreign Secretary but of whittling down preferences and doing our best to stultify any unification. If the Government could be induced to do the right thing and take a wider vision, I for one would support them. The country is greater than party, but it will be difficult indeed to rally the country under inept leadership such as we have had. I say that, whether or not I care for those who govern us, whatever may be my opinion of their capacity, if they can rise superior to party and act for the country and the Commonwealth, then I shall be proud to support them and proud to do it at this late day when I recall that the cause of this country and this Empire is one for which the greatest of my fellow citizens, Joseph Chamberlain, gave his life.
I rise in this House, stung by the speech which we have just heard by the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. Roberts). He recalled the events of 1945 when the American loan became an issue in this House. What he did not tell the House was that the official Opposition on that occasion had not the courage to take a definite point of view, and most of the Party opposite, including the leaders of that Party, sat on the fence and refused to go into the Division Lobby. If ever there was an exhibition of political cowardice, it was on the part of the Opposition then. Now the hon. Member for Handsworth has had the audacity to use the phrase "inept leadership" as applied to His Majesty's Government. It was he who reminded the House that in 1945 President Truman discontinued Lease-Lend—a calamity for this country, a body blow if ever there was one, and I suppose the most grievous blow ever dealt by one ally against another. At whose door are we to lay the blame for that blow? That blow was the direct consequence of the appalling leadership of the wartime Prime Minister.After America came into the war we agreed, and rightly so, with the United States that the joint war effort entailed the abandonment by this country of the production of export goods which might be sunk in the Western Approaches by Hitler's submarines. It was agreed that we should change over from the manufacture of export goods to the manufacture of munitions of war; and quite rightly so, because the submarines were not infesting the approaches to the American coast. The wartime Prime Minister, in making that very sensible arrangement with the President of the United States, omitted to get from the President what the Presi- dent in the circumstances of that time could not have refused, namely, a guarantee that once the war was over Lease-Lend should be continued for a sufficiently long period to enable us to regain the export trade that we then forfeited as our part of the general war effort. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has as much of the blame to bear as any living man for the plight in which this country finds itself today. How history will assess his war leadership I do not know; but of this I am certain; the present generation has greatly over-rated that leadership, and the most egregious failure of the right hon. Member for Woodford during the war was his complete omission to get from the President the guarantee to which we were entitled. The hon. Member for Handsworth dared to say that the plight in which this country finds itself today was the result of the alleged incompetence of His Majesty's Government. Nobody better than the hon. Gentleman knows that the causes of the present gap in the overseas payments have been building themselves up for as long as I have lived, and that is 57 years. He dares to do here what Conservatives are doing everywhere throughout the country, denigrate and defame His Majesty's Government; and then they come to the House and complain because we will not take them into a Coalition. I spent my recent holiday in a farming area in Wiltshire, which returns Conservative Members of Parliament, and I was appalled at the denigration and defamation of the Government going on there. Conservative speakers and their newspapers have dared to take the line which the hon. Member for Handsworth has taken here tonight—that this crisis has arisen because of things which this Government either has or has not done. If they want the facts, they should go back to 1936, 1937 and 1938. Over those three years there was, in fact, a deficit in the balance of payments of £40 million per annum, the inevitable consequence not of a Labour Government, because there was no Labour Government, but of the Capitalist system, which denies to the home market the purchasing power enabling the workers to buy back the things which the workers produce. The so-called favourable balance of trade before then, in fact, consisted in giving away to foreigners the products of British industry in exchange for nothing more substantial than I.O.U.s, the title deeds of our overseas investments. Ever since I was born in 1890, capitalism in this country has been investing overseas, which has enabled our former customers to become competitors. The Tory Party say they want this country to export more coal. Every time we export coal we enable an overseas customer to set factories working and to generate electricity wherewith to make the goods which we should like to supply. This is not a crisis of the Labour Government. It is a crisis of the capitalist system. No one knows that better than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Handsworth. All that the war did was to bring to a head a crisis which has been developing for more than half a century. World War 11 did three things. It deprived us of shipping which was sunk, shipping which used to earn us foreign currency It deprived us of overseas investments which we sold, before America came into the war, to pay for munitions. It deprived us of export markets, due to the arrangement to which I have referred and for which the Leader of the Opposition was responsible. It was a good arrangement in the circumstances of that time, but he clean forgot to take the necessary post-war precaution That was the same sort of statesmanship as was displayed by the right hon. Member for Woodford in 1925, when he accepted, as he afterwards admitted himself, the advice of alleged experts on something which he did not understand, and put this country back on to the 1914 gold parity with disastrous consequences, described eloquently in the report of the MacMillan Commission on Trade and Industry, published in 1931, consequences which in the homes of the people I represent meant continued misery and long drawn-out poverty. These things were the direct consequence of downright ineptitude on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, the present Leader of the Opposition. It disgusted me to hear him interrupt my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last night and impute to my right hon. Friend the very ineptitude of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford is the unparalleled practitioner. I am sick of the hypocrisy of the Conservative Party. They know very well what are the causes of our present plight; but they will not admit one thing, and that is that it is their capitalist system which is to blame. The hon. Member for Handsworth challenged hon. Members on this side of the House to defend the Government's policy. No one criticised the Government at the time of the American Loan more than I did, but I am going to say this, that the policy of His Majesty's Government ever since the Election of 1945 has mostly been a revolutionary policy and a correct policy, it can be summed up in one word—output, just that. What a difference from the condition of things that prevailed under the party opposite in the 1920's and 1930's. when idle men existed side by side with idle factories while there were unused land and unused coal mines for no better reason than this, that the owners could no' get the money wherewith to finance production. In the 1920's and 1930's, productive resources were not being used in this country. I quote a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) which he made in London in 1943 to the Institute of Chemical Engineers and which was reported in only one newspaper, "The Financial News." In that speech he said that the condemnation of the prewar system was that it allowed resources to be unemployed. His Majesty's Government have not allowed resources to be unemployed. We have got as near to full employment since 1945 as it is possible to get. Having nationalised the Bank of England and removed the financial obstacle, we have gone ahead. I recall the ignorant parrot-cry which used to be raised at my meetings when I was the unsuccessful Labour candidate for a Kent constituency. My opponents used to come to my meetings and ask: "Where is the money to come from?" Poor, stupid creatures! They did not know that the banks create money out of nothing. It is perfectly easy to find money. The essential thing to do is to set people to work to produce. That is what His Majesty's Government do, in striking contrast with what the Opposition did. Between the wars, the other side allowed their financial prejudices to prevent idle men being set to work upon idle resources. We have got of the financial bottleneck, only to get up against a more formidable bottleneck, when we were facing a shortage of fuel. We live in a technological age, when the measure of production is no longer the labour output of working men, but is the unit of energy, such as the kilowatt. We find ourselves short of fuel. The basic industries had been let down between the wars, precisely because of the capitalist system. The railways and the mines were let down because the business of the railway owners and of the mineowners was not to deliver transport or fuel to the nation, but to produce a financial result. If they were to be able to pay their shareholders, they could not at the same time keep their properties in repair, still less mechanise, modernise and bring them up-to-date, as they should have been. In my constituency there is one coal mine, the Clifton Pit, which was going to shut down in 1941 because it was working at a loss. What a mess it was in. It happened to owe money to the banks. The mortgagees had not to suffer, the banks had to have their money. The colliery was nationalised. The new management proceeded to instal up-to-date haulage machinery in the pit, which to-day is a flourishing concern. I do not blame the former mineowners. Their job was to produce a financial result. They could not at one and the same time reward their shareholders and spend money on development. When we nationalised the mines in 1946, the other side had the audacity to accuse us of being animated by no better motive than ideological prejudice. That was a whole lot of humbug. We had to nationalise the pits for the same reason that we had to nationalise the railways. If we had not nationalised the pits, they would have become decrepit; and if we had not nationalised the railways, they would have become dilapidated. We do not nationalise because we are crazy Socialists with a bee in our bonnets, but because only by so doing can we get our basic industries geared up to abundant production. His Majesty's Government have deserved well of the people. They have done the only possible thing to meet this crisis, namely, to increase physical output and to concentrate upon modernisation of the basic industries and the key services, without which abundance is forever unobtainable. The party opposite neglected that job between the wars. It would have been so easy in the 1930's, when men were unemployed and materials were abundant, and we had only to tell Montagu Norman at the Bank of England to create money; it would have been so easy in those days to spend money and labour in developing the railways and modernising the pits. It was not done. When Labour came in, Labour changed the gear from the scarcity of the inter-war period to the abundant production that we have now. It is not sufficiently abundant, but it is far more abundant now than it was then. The proof of that is that more coal is being used in our power stations, our gas works and on the railways than was used then. When the result of the poll was declared in 1945, I walked out of the polling station with my wife knowing that I had a big majority. I said to her: "We don't know what has happened elsewhere," but we very soon learned. When I heard that there was going to be a majority Labour Government, I said: "We are in for a thick time this next few years." My wife asked me "Why? and I replied: "Because we have inherited a production equipment, which, so far as basic industry and key services are concerned, has been let down by capitalism." Somehow or other we have to change up the gear from the scarcity production which satisfied the party opposite to the abundant production which alone can, in the first place, enable us to meet our overseas deficit of payments, and in the second place get the output, which alone can yield a high standard of living. I heartily defend His Majesty's Government in what they have so far done. If I have any suggestion to offer as to where we go from here, it is that we have to learn that this is a little island whose assets are not sufficient in the modern world. Those assets consist only in a fertile soil, coal mines which have been let down, and a very fine people with skill, courage, intelligence, and initiative. This little Island is not a sufficiently big economic unit to function satisfactorily in a world where power production demands, under modern technological conditions, an immense scale of output. America, with 139 million people, is a satisfactory technological economic unit. Russia, with, I believe, 180 million, is a satisfactory technological unit. Somehow or other we have to integrate this little island with those great Dominions, mention of which has been made tonight, and many of which, I am happy to say, have Labour Governments. Somehow or other, Statute of Westminster or no Statute of Westminster, it has to be done. There is no other way I hope that His Majesty's Ministers, however much they may be counting on the Marshall Plan, will in all their long-term dispositions keep close together with the Dominions and Colonies to ensure that we shall in future be working on a very much larger scale as an economic unit of organisation. I believe that to be necessary, and not only for economic reasons. Mention has been made in this House tonight of the U.S.S.R. It grieved me very much yesterday in this House to hear the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who rightly enjoys the esteem of all parties for his admirable personal qualities, referring to the United States- and taking it for granted by implication that we must of necessity line up with the United States against the U.S.S.R. From that point of view I dissent entirely. Nobody dislikes more than I the totalitarian set-up in Eastern Europe. To me, the one-party State sustained by a political police is a damnable and abominable thing. I should hate to live under it, and 99 out of every 100 of my constituents would also hate to live in a totalitarian set-up. I am under no illusions. If there are fanatical extremists cherishing out-of-date Marxist notions—Marx died seven years before I was born—who are under the impression that sooner or later Russia has to fight America; and if there are hard-headed business men in America, devoted to the ideal of business for its own sake, who think that America has to fight Russia, I say let them go on holding their views. I am an Englishman. I believe in the decency of my fellow countrymen. I believe in trying to combine in this country the ideal of social justice with individual freedom. I believe that the future peace of the world depends upon the creation and the maintenance of a political entity in the world which shall not be Communist or capitalist, but shall be Social Democratic. It shall combine all that is best in our British political traditions with all that we can achieve with our great technological skill and our scientific resources.
The hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Norman Smith) is right in stressing technological considerations but I think he is making too much of them. I have heard on good authority that there are mines in this country where, in spite of the fact that a very large and uneconomic sum of money has been spent on mechanisation, the same or a comparable output is resulting. I know at first-hand of certain industries of which I have some inside knowledge where, owing to the scarcity of labour in the war, a considerable degree of mechanisation has been effected and technology has played its part to the utmost, and there is a slightly greater production but not very much so. There is the point. The skilled artisan, the machine minder, the labourer has a history behind him of having been hard-worked, even over-worked, and he has a propaganda over 40 or 50 years telling him that if only a political change took place to the Left, if only the Labour Party came into power, then all would be well and he could do less and get more. That may or may not be true in the long run, but it is certainly not true now after the exhausting period of war we have been through. I am convinced that while we wait for technological advance to help us get greater production with less work, we must, somehow or other, induce the great mass of our working wage earners to give us more work.I approach this matter without heat, without prejudice I hope, and utterly calmly, to see if we cannot get down to the bottom of it. It seems to me that we have taken away all the incentives which used to induce a man to work exceptionally hard or even moderately hard. We have taken away any incentive to stay in his job because he can so readily get another job. That has changed for the better in the last few weeks since the standstill order came into force. Everybody will know—older men on the railways and in other industries have told me—that the young men who came back from the war were extremely restless No body blames them for this—I, particularly, do not, for they are my friends. They were extremely restless, and if a foreman suggested that there was a certain authority in his office as foreman and that a fellow who was not doing the work quite right or not as accurately as he ought, should do it differently, the young fellow rebelled against the authority and said, "Very well, I will walk out and get another job." As long as the incentive to stay in the job is missing, we must replace it by something else. What can replace it? Look at the other incentives which have been taken away. It used to be the ambition of some to save enough money to send their children to a better school. Many worked extremely hard for that in the old days. The State now pays out many more scholarships and makes it so much easier. That incentive has gone. I do not regret that in itself. I want to see the bright and able children better educated and I think it is to the nation's advantage that the nation as a whole should pay for it. I am only pointing out that that incentive has gone. It used to be possible for a man to buy his house. He cannot do that now. That was one of the greatest incentives. A substantial percentage of workmen stayed in their jobs for a long period of time, served faithfully, took their orders with grace, worked hard and saved their money because they were buying a house. Now that incentive has gone. I do deplore that one because I think the ownership of your own house is very near to the human heart and is in itself a good thing, apart from the incentive and the effect which it has on production and on staying on the job. There are not goods to buy. That may not be wholly the fault of the Government, I do not say that it is, but consumption goods are not available in abundance. Travel is not available, petrol is cut, films are made less attractive, everything that makes it worth while working has been taken away. Even Income Tax in its incidence now demonstrates itself to fall upon the last pound of the £5 or £6 or £7; it does not appear to fall on the whole income but only on the last pound, and it makes that last pound so much less worth earning. When you have been accustomed to fighting battles and going on strike, at great sacrifice to yourself and the penury of your family; when you have been taught to do that for 50 years in order to insist that overtime shall reward you one and a half times, it is only natural that, when you find it is only rewarding you three quarters or a half, you will say that it is not worth doing. And so the incentive of anxiety to keep your job has gone, the incentive of reward which will enable you to gain something for your children or a house for yourself or some little luxury that you desire, has gone because they are not to be had. The only thing that is put in its place is the oft-repeated theme that you must now work for the State and for the people. Now if that was a new idea to be planted in barren minds, intelligent but untutored, it might bear fruit because it is a noble idea to which I pay tribute. Any man who devotes his life and his time to working for the State with not a hope of great reward but a modest one; any of our civil servants who chooses that career instead of the adventurous, more interesting and the more profitable career of commerce, any such man is to be admired, and if large numbers of our working people could have something of the missionary spirit and zeal which, for example, carries forward our colonial servants in their task, it would be a noble thing. However, you cannot change mankind in a year or two, and particularly if your propaganda over the previous 50 years has been utterly misleading. My charge is not that the Labour Party is not aiming at good things but that, having regard to the misleading propaganda in which it has indulged, and the unacceptable and impossible promises it has made, it deserves all the difficulties which it is now facing. They arise out of the facts of this case, not out of the bungling of particular Ministers, though that is deplorable enough, but out of the facts which I have tried to recite. It seems to me that there is no way out of this dilemma except to give people incentives. Now we see Ministers timidly coming forward one after the other, edging an idea into their followers' ears, hoping that one or two will pass it on, that somehow or other it will gain acceptance, the idea that there must be incentive payments. We see them introduced in the building industry after two years have been wasted. It might well have been done two years ago. If it is bad now, it was bad then; if it is good now, it would have been good then and it would have helped us very materially. We see them trying to carry out two contradictory policies: to give these incentives for more earnings and, simultaneously, to take away the things which the people could buy with the earnings. Let them change this policy by recognising quite honestly that it is incompatible with the teaching which they have put forth over the last 50 years. Let them encourage people to buy their houses. What better way to induce a man to save his money? The Chancellor wants money saved but he does not give anyone any inducement. There is no inducement to buy a piece of paper, the value of which is unpredictable, but a house is a house and a roof over your head is something. Let them think seriously about this, not as a political point, but as a real human point. Let them bring more goods that are of use to, and are needed by, housewives and families into the home market, not to deprive the export market, but to encourage production which can fill the export market. I wish to deal with the question of petrol, particularly as it affects the rural areas. At the same time that the Government want more production, they take away for the sake of a few dollars one of the great incentives to endeavour and production. The little man who has saved up to buy his car and is relying on having one or two gallons of petrol so that he can use it, will work all the harder if he can buy that car. It is the fact that he wants the car that makes him work harder, and if he can save up money and coupons in order to use the car for a holiday, he will work the harder. I prophesy that in the month before Christmas the miners will work harder. They always do, not because of any Saturdays or half hour extra, but because they want a little extra money for Christmas. I think that if the figures are looked up it will be found that over the last 20 years that has always been so. By taking away the little man's incentive to buy a car or to use it, we are hampering his incentive to get something which he wants. There are a great many even now who own a little car—their number is legion. The petrol cut has another most serious effect in that it immobilises a very large part of the countryside. The farmer is handicapped, yet we must rely on him as per- haps the greatest contributor towards saving dollars. It is all very well to say that he gets essential petrol; a large part of the rural population does not, but it contributes to farming. If the petrol cut is essential, I ask that rural districts should have special consideration, because the burden falls on them much more than on the towns. Consideration should also be given to disabled ex-Service men ox ex-Service men who have recently set up in business. I wish to take up the theme of the hon. Member for South Nottingham about my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and Mr. Roosevelt. The hon. Member for South Nottingham said that if only my right hon. Friend, when bargaining with Mr. Roosevelt for Lend-Lease had made a condition that after the war Lend-Lease would go on for a certain time, how different it would have been, and that because my right hon. Friend did not do that, he was gravely at fault, and on his shoulders must be placed the burden of responsibility for our present troubles. I think I have fairly summarised the charges made by the hon. Member.
I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent me. The specific case I was careful to make was that this was a question, quite rightly in the circumstances of that time, of diverting British industry and labour from the production of export goods to the production of munitions, leaving to the Americans the job of producing for export. My case was that in those precise circumstances we were surely throwing away export connections. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), then Prime Minister, could have got, what the President should not have refused, a guarantee that after the war Lend-Lease should be continued long enough to enable us to restore our export position.
I knew all that. I think I was not misrepresenting it, but I am glad to have had it made so clear. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Leader of the Opposition was to blame then for not having made such a bargain with Mr. Roosevelt. I do not remember whether the hon. Member was in this House to hear the Secret Session speeches which my right hon. Friend made from the Front Bench opposite before America came into the war.
I wonder if ha really knows what he is talking about, or whether he is not making a party point which is untrue in fact and unfair in its irrelevance. Hon. Members on both sides of this House will know the anxiety as to what American action would be, the anxiety about Lend-Lease and the perilous situation in which we were. All these factors would have made it utterly impossible for my right hon. Friend to have said to his friend and our friend, President Roosevelt, who had held out this hand of friendship—before they were attacked, remember—what the hon. Member suggested. Would it have been possible for my right hon. Friend to have made a bargain? One cannot make a bargain with a man who is saving one from drowning. One has to accept with grace the help which comes from him.
Who saved whom?
I believe that this country will get aid from the United States. I have just returned from a trip there, and I have taken all the pains I could to observe the sentiments of that people. It is very hard to analyse the feelings of a great people or even of an individual, but I would summarise them in a few sentences. First of all, there is the view: "We will not lend any dollars to Britain because she has a Socialist Government, and we Republicans unanimously dislike Socialism and we Democrats dislike it as to 90 per cent. of us. We will, therefore, not lend any dollars to Britain." That view prevails among some people all the time and amongst all the people some of the time. There is another view: "We will lend dollars to Britain, because if we do not, Communism will spread over Europe and even into Britain. We dislike Communism and fear it, and will, therefore, lend dollars to Britain." That is a motive in the minds of some Americans all the time and of all Americans some of the time.
Will not the hon. Member and his associates assist me, in view of the statement he has made, in getting a few more Communists into this House? That will mean a few more dollars from America.
That argument shows that even dollars can be had at too high a price. Then some Americans say, "The British are attacking Jews." One finds this in New York particularly, and as the House knows, the New York vote is largely controlled by Jewish people, and greatly influences the Presidential election. This argument is "The British are attacking the Jews, and we will not lend them dollars." A more unfair statement could not be made about the country, which has done more for the Jewish people than has any other country, but it is a factor which I am reporting. There is still one more secondary theme, namely, "We will lend dollars to Britain, because if we do not we will lose our best market." That is a factor in many minds." If we are Democrats we will lend dollars to Britain, because, if we do not, we will lose the next general election." All these thoughts run through American minds. I hope that behind them all there is another one—"Whether we like Britain or not, they are a people who stood up to the dictators, and, though we may not say this because we are Americans, we feel it. They stood up to them while we were making up our minds. They stood alone. They stand for freedom and for personal liberty, things which we cherish."It is incumbent upon us that we should show the Americans one or two things. One is that we really stand for personal liberty and that we are not going to whittle it away. There are signs that Government policy is moving in that direction. Another point is that we are determined to reconstruct our own country and build up our wealth once again by hard work. I know that trade unions are not responsible in the short run for the unofficial strikes which the Americans call "wild cat" strikes. They are not responsible and I grant that trade union leaders as well as Ministers do their best to avoid them. But some Ministers have lost the faith of the people and some of the younger trade union leaders try to push themselves forward and stir up trouble. Unless we can show our people that their very life depends upon avoiding the cutting off of coal and meat supplies, unless we can show them that that is a mistake, and unless we can do it with good will and without hostility, we are not going to survive here and we are not going to convince the Americans that we mean to survive. The Americans like success and they are not quite sure that Britain is going to be successful. We must adopt one or two very simple rules of life which this Government is departing from at their peril. One rule is that we must not buy what we cannot afford. That is another way of saying that we must not spend more than we have got. Second, we must not borrow unless we can see our way to pay back. These simple rules of life should guide us. I earnestly hope that the Chancellor's decision to have a Budget before Christmas is based upon the fact that he has re-learned those rules. I will not suggest that he has learned them for the first time because I cannot believe that even he did not learn them with his mother's milk. We must come back to some of these simple rules of life and make it worth while for a man to make money. Let him who works hard have more and him who works less have less. These are good rules. If His Majesty's Government alter the basis of their policy which is wholly contrary to these instincts of man they will draw out of our people the enormous reserve of power which they have always shown themselves to have in times of crisis. I believe that the people of our country which, in spite of the Labour Government has made a remarkable recovery from war fatigue can make a great contribution to the wisdom and to the wealth of the world.
I am going to raise a question which may give rise to a certain amount of controversy. The Gracious Speech says:
I have been in every country on the West-European seaboard within the last six months and I have found that every one of those countries has the idea that their existence depends upon expanding exports. Wherever one goes one finds the countries are depriving themselves of their own production for the sake of expanding exports. This theory of expanding exports sooner or later must lead to disaster. If we are to survive the impending disaster we must find a different way of saving our nation. Now, I firmly believe, and an earlier speaker has touched upon this subject, that the only way we are going to save ourselves is by full-scale Imperial integration. When I say full-scale Imperial integration, I do not want the House to misunderstand me. I am not merely toying with Empire free trade, nor with a customs union. That may be a good kicking-off point, but what I want is 100 per cent. Imperial integration, because only by that are we going to save ourselves as a nation. The official census for Great Britain in June, 1938, showed a population of 46,200,000, and the extension of our territory as 228 square kilometres. As against this, France has two and a quarter times our extension of territory, with only about 40 million inhabitants. So, today, we have a rising population towards 50 million, France has a descending population towards 40 million, with two and a quarter times our territory. It is going to be impossible in the long run for these islands to maintain this tremendous population. France can barely do it, with a very fertile territory and everything else one could desire. These islands could feed safely 35 million inhabitants, and what I think would be necessary towards full Imperial intention is for us to take up the scale of emigration where it left off in 1914. From 1900 to 1914, emigration from these Islands was at the rate of a quarter of a million yearly. These people went out to our Dominions, to a very large extent, and if the Board of Trade would study their figures, they would find that the only certain markets that we possess in the world today are those markets formerly built up by this earlier emigration. Therefore, if we can emigrate again to our great Dominions on a similar scale, so that our large population will come down to about 35 million, and build up our Imperial population, we shall not only be able to feed our own inhabitants in these Islands, but we shall have very great and assured markets in our Empire. I make a very clear distinction between the Commonwealth and Empire. For me, the Commonwealth is composed of the self-governing Dominions in their relations with Britain, whereas the Empire is Britain in relation to the Colonies, as governed from Whitehall. If we are going to have full Imperial integration, then the self-governing Dominions must be as responsible for the colonies as we are in this country. Not only that, but every part of the Empire should be fully integrated, whether it be a colony or a partly self-governing or fully self-governing Dominion. We should not be afraid of this word "Empire." There is nothing to be ashamed of in the Empire. It is a great concern. I have travelled the Empire, and I know the feeling in the Empire towards the mother country. There is nothing of shame in that. Do the Soviets—I beg the pardon of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher)—feel any shame for building up a great Empire? Do they feel any shame about integrating within that Empire the other Slav States? Does America feel ashamed about taking over other States? It may not be generally known to this House, but in the years from 1889 to 1912 the United States integrated 10 complete States, some of them half as big as Great Britain. Two states, Arizona and New Mexico, were integrated in 1912. If neither the Soviet Union nor the United States should be ashamed of its Imperial destiny, why should this country be ashamed of its Imperial future? It ought to be entirely indifferent to us whether the inhabitants of the British Empire are situated in Britain, in Australia, or in New Zealand, or whatever the case may be, so long as they remain British within the Empire, and work for it. If we do that, the future, not only of this country, but of the whole Empire is assured. We are assured of being able to feed our nation, which we are not assured of doing at present, and which, the way things are going, we shall never be assured of doing in the future. We shall have great markets for our nation built up by the population that will be emigrating from this country into the Dominions. Though Australia set her face against immigration from 1919 onwards, there is no fear that in the future she will set her face against our population going out there to take over settlements. The Australians know only too well how near they came to disaster in 1942 when they could not defend themselves; if it had not been for the Americans coming to their rescue in the battles of Guadalcanal, Okinawa and the Coral Seas, they know quite well that they would have been occupied by the Japanese. Australia has to build up a population of at least 20 million, and we ought to see that a large part of that number comes from these islands. If we do not, we are looking, not only for the ruin of our own country, but probably for the ruin of the Empire as well. I think that, as far as our future is concerned, Imperial integration will not only solve our own difficulties, our Imperial future, but will build up a balance of the world for the advantage of other peoples. At present, we have the extreme Left idealism in Russia embracing, I must say, a certain amount of tyranny, which I have seen for myself in these very recent weeks, and in America we have a greatly over-developed capitalist system, which also provides a certain amount of tyranny, and, acting as a balance between these two extremes, we have a Commonwealth built up from the Mother Country with the ideas, the systems and the organisation of Great Britain. It is our destiny to look after the world by looking after our own household. If we do that we may possibly see an era of peace in this world for a good many decades to come. If we do not do that, we shall be faced sooner or later with the fear of ruin; the Empire may be split up, and war between the two extremes will undoubtedly come to a head. Therefore, my last word is that if this country goes over to Imperial integration it will not only be for our own benefit and for our Imperial benefit, but it will be of benefit to the whole of humanity. It will be an example to the whole world how to balance a nation's welfare and how to look after its interests."The first aim of My Ministers will be to redress the adverse balance of payments, particularly by expanding exports."
I am sure the House has welcomed the very strong Imperialistic speech which has come from the opposite side of the House. We are very interested in many of the points which the hon. Member for Lough-borough (Mr. Follick) put forward. I quite agree with him on the question of the population of this country. I do not think we can maintain a population of 47 million people in this country on the standard of life which we used to have in the old days. Anyone here who may be alive 30 or 40 years from now, may see the population of this country reduced to 35 million, with a greater preponderance of British people in the Commonwealth.In the meantime, we have to keep 47 million people going. I am very glad to notice on the Front Bench tonight the right hon. and learned Gentleman who, at the moment, is probably the main pivot in trying to keep us going. I refer to the Minister for Economic Affairs. I am sure we all congratulate him upon his very important, onerous and difficult appointment. Everyone in this country, whatever point of view he may hold, would wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman the utmost success, and certainly if it depended entirely on nothing but his ability, power, momentum and drive, he would deserve every success. But it will not depend entirely on that alone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government must have the support of the whole people of the country if they are to be successful. One point in the Gracious Speech gave me considerable disappointment. The Prime Minister yesterday almost casually mentioned the question of the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry in this country, and said it in a tone almost as if he were giving an assurance to industry generally that this was going to be brought about, in the lifetime of the present Parliament. As a matter of fact, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could have said anything which would have convinced the people of this country more that the Government as a whole are still prepared to put political expediency before the real welfare of industry. I do not take the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hands worth (Mr. H. Roberts). I wish he were right, in a way. In his opinion, the reference of the Prime Minister to the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry was purely a red herring, as it were, in order to bring about the other intention of the Government to have a first-class row with another place, and go to the country and have an Election before there is any possibility of the question of the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry being considered. I should prefer that to the suggestion that the Government mean to go on with this most complicated, difficult and baffling problem. To a layman like myself, so far as industry is concerned, it would appear to be the most intricate and baffling industry that any Government could ever hope successfully to nationalise. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman even new, in the interests of the country, will have the courage to go back on that decision and tell the country that the whole matter has been reconsidered and that the Government are not in a position to go on with it. No Single piece of information could give industry greater reassurance than that. I would like to emphasise the appeal made to the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on the question of the abolition of the basic petrol ration. It seems to me that for the amount of saving in dollars that it represents, it is a very great hardship on the people of the country. It is a great mistake for anyone to think that it will affect only one class of the population. The abolition of the basic petrol ration is probably the greatest single hardship that has been inflicted even by this Government on the people in the last two years in which they have been in office. It is going to make people's lives in many areas extremely difficult. It will make greater difficulties in the agricultural industry than are really necessary. I trust the Government may even now reconsider the whole matter and decide that, at all events, some proportion of the basic ration may be allowed. In His Majesty's Gracious Speech there was an allusion to the social services. Naturally, one did not expect a great deal in the Speech on that particular question. Reference was made to those branches of the social services which were dealt with by this House last year, but which have not yet come into fruition. On this point I should like to ask the Government a question. I understand that on 1st July next all the population of this country—everybody—will be insured, and will be paying contributions on health, on danger of unemployment, and so on. Are the Government in a position to say they will be able to bring that piece of legislation into fruition oh 1st July next? I do not believe for a moment that they are in the position to carry it out. In regard to the health services alone, it seems to me completely impossible, with the lack of accommodation in hospitals, with the lack of personnel, medical and nursing, with the lack of equipment, to bring about the scheme which is supposed to guarantee to every individual, man, woman and child, of this country expert medical attention, nursing, dental services, and so on. In the circumstances, if the Government are not in a position to bring that about, it would be very much better for the Government to be quite frank with the people, and say to them, "In the circumstances of the present time, we are not in a position to carry out this scheme, and it should be postponed until such time as we are able to deliver to the people the goods which we promised to deliver." Finally, I should like to say that everybody in this House, on both sides of the House, naturally would wish the Government to succeed in their efforts to bring about a better state than that in which we are at the present time. The national situation is steadily deteriorating. From whatever angle of life we look at it, whether on the basis of food, or the basis of travel, or the basis of accommodation, the standard of living of the people generally is steadily deteriorating. In my judgment there is not a great deal of marginal room for very much more deterioration in the standard of living of the people of this country, or it will be completely impossible to carry out the programme which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested they should carry put. I suggest to the Government, that in order to succeed, they must get complete national co-operation, and that they will not get that while Ministers of this Government are constantly preaching class warfare. I suggest to them that if they mean business in this matter, they must learn that particular lesson, because they cannot have it both ways. It is impossible, on the one hand, to ask for co-operation, and, at the same time, to preach class warfare and class distinction.
Time being very short, I shall try to condense what I have to say as much as possible. At least, I have the advantage of being able to talk about a subject of which I know a great deal, and that advantage is intensified by the fact that most people in this House know very little about it, namely, the state of Eastern Europe and, In particular, Bul- garia. In talking on this subject I do so not for the purpose of engendering heat, but for the purpose of making a fair valuation of the situation as it exists there today. With my colleagues on these Benches I have been a loyal supporter—and will continue to be a loyal supporter—of this Government. Indeed, the Government are to be congratulated upon the harmonious spirit established amongst their supporters. It is an amazing fact that nearly 400 of us, despite some misgivings about certain aspects of foreign policy, have been able to give the Government the support they require.But I am gravely disturbed about some aspects of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government. I have been to Bulgaria recently, as my hon. Friends know. Of course, I have been jeered and taunted, good humouredly in some cases, by hon. Members, but at least I have enjoyed experiences which were unparalleled in the history of the Balkans by receiving the greatest national demonstration of welcome by the people there to an obscure and humble Member of this House. I want to say a word about Petkov. Early in 1946 I saw Petkov, and spent a lot of time with him. I was convinced that the attitude he was taking was against the wellbeing of his country. I have no sympathy with Petkov. I believe in my heart, very sincerely, that Petkov was a guilty man, guilty of great crimes. His trial was an open trial. The Press of all countries, including Britain, were admitted. He was accused of organising a military, Fascist coup d'état against the State by encouraging sabotage and assisting foreign intervention, and, what is most important, inciting revolt in the Army against the Bulgarian Government.
Is the hon. Member now suggesting that the action taken by the Foreign Minister in regard to the Petkov trial was completely unwarranted?
I am making no suggestions one way or the other. I am merely saying that there was an indictment against him before the People's Court of Bulgaria, and that by a free and open trial he was found guilty of those foul crimes. When this matter went before the Supreme Court of Cassation, which is the supervisory Court, it confirmed his guilt. My point is that no matter what individuals may honestly think about it, the fact remains that a country has a perfect right to judge one of its own nationals before one of its own courts. We, apart from protests as a result of an honest misunderstanding, have no right whatever to interfere or cast foul aspersions against a Government, such as we have done in the case of Bulgaria. Nevertheless, on my own volition I did try to intervene, and the House should be made aware of it.I went to see the Provincial President of the Republic Kolarov, together with the acting Prime Minister Traicho kostov, and spent two hours in close discussion. I pleaded for the life of Petkov, and did so on the following grounds. One was that after all Russia had abolished the death penalty for political crimes. The second reason was that it coincided with the ratification of the peace treaty in Bulgaria, and that it would have been a strategical time and a psychological time to show clemency. The third was that Bulgaria had, on 9th September, their great national day of liberation, released thousands of their political prisoners, and in point of fact very few prisoners in Bulgaria are today in prison. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are dead."] They are not. May I say, in parenthesis, that I hope to show in the few minutes at my disposal, that the standard of morality of the Bulgarians is very high indeed, and could with advantage be copied by some hon. Members and many people in other parts of the world? Again, I pointed out that the temperature which had been generated as a result of the Petkov trial was high, and that a gesture by the Bulgarian Government might do a lot to relieve it. I was shown great courtesy by Kolarov and Rostov, both honourable men, who themselves have spent years in prison, and suffered torture and agony when fighting against the Fascists. They said, with the greatest possible respect, that much as they appreciated the fact that I was their first friend since the war, and much as they respected the integrity of my intentions, nevertheless, they could not accede because of certain factors, one of which was, the strongest possible threat of pressure which had been brought to bear upon the Bulgarian Government. The Bulgarians are a proud people, and feel most rightly that they are not en- titled to be dictated to in this matter, particularly when they are sincerely——
I will not give way because I am fighting against time. [Interruption.] I am perfectly prepared to give way on the understanding that I can continue my speech tomorrow, but, with very great respect, Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to incur your displeasure, so I am trying to condense my remarks as much as possible.
May I ask one question about Petkov?
I am not giving way.
The hon. Member is afraid to give way.
Let me say this about the Bulgarian people. Everyone knows this, and I defy any hon. Member to deny what I am going to say, that no man has shown more respect for his country than I have, and no man—and I say this from the bottom of my heart, because I am at least sincere, even if hon. Members think I am wrong—has done more to raise the prestige of Britain in the Balkans than myself. That is admitted on all sides. Let me give a practical illustration. When I went to Bulgaria I asked that no criticism should be made against this country, directly or indirectly, in the Press or otherwise. Every speech that I made in Bulgaria praised and glorified the effort of this little island, not merely the Government, but also the fact that we had stood alone in the war, that we had given to the world the first trade unions and the first co-operatives, that we had given the world its greatest language in literature, a great Parliamentary system, and we were a friendly country of good and courageous people who did not want a war.In every town to which I went the Union Jack was displayed—a remarkable sight in Bulgaria. The British National Anthem was played and at times the chorus was played six times over and on all sides one could hear voices—"Long Live the Democratic British Workers" and on 9th September, in Sofia half a million voices saying, "We want friendship with Great Britain." There is no man who dared deny that Reports, I think, had been sent to the Foreign Office confirming it through representatives there. [Interruption.] I am not giving way. I am making a pro-British speech. If that incites the antipathy of hon. Members opposite I am sorry but I cannot help it. I will still make it. What have the Bulgarians done that they should be hated and misrepresented? They have done some most remarkable deeds which are a great credit to their nation. They have fed their people in spite of three successive years of drought; their love and care for their children are second to none. I would only be too glad if hon. Members on either side of the House would come with me on a future occasion to see this beautiful country for themselves, so that they could go wherever they want, ask whatever questions they like. The Bulgarian people have their faults like everyone else, and they are the first to admit it, but they are decent and honourable people with warm hearts who only want friendship with Britain. I say to our own Government, with great respect, that we have to understand them better and fight for friendship which means commerce and trade, food and exchange of commodities, which both our country and Bulgaria so strongly desire. At any rate, it was a great Englishman, Gladstone, who in 1875 stood in this House as the great champion of the Bulgarian cause. It was Bouchier, "The Times" correspondent, who achieved great fame in Bulgaria because he had the courage to stick up for that brave little country. I do not attempt in any way to be placed in that exalted category, but, nevertheless, in my own little way, having received from them the greatest kindness, I would say to Britain, "Extend the hand of friendship to Bulgaria, try to understand them, show a spirit of decency, as I am sure the Government intend and want to do, and you will receive from the Bulgarian people the true breath of friendship and the love and respect that the working people of that part of the world want to extend to the workers of this great country of ours." The spirit of Bulgaria glows like a brilliant flame. It will never be extinguished. I am proud to be the friend of that wonderful people. Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Snow.] Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Snow.]
I beg the leave of the House to raise a question of great importance to this country—the abolition of basic petrol. It is a matter which concerns the rural constituencies, one of which I represent, to a very large degree——It being Ten o'clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Snow.]
At the outset I should like to say that I fully appreciate that a reduction in the consumption of petrol is necessary. I do not believe that the finances of the nation are in a condition to permit of the consumption of the amount of petrol which was being consumed in recent times. We have arrived at this difficulty very largely because of the procrastination and muddle of the Government. They should have seen where we were being led some time ago, and if they had done so, such drastic remedies would not have been necessary now. By doing away with the basic ration they are causing hardship to one section of the community. I do not agree with the suggestions that have been made that they could have done away with one-half of the basic ration. Halving the basic ration would have meant that a basic gallon would have gone 200 instead of 100 miles, it would have increased the black market in petrol, and it is not the right way to ration petrol. The way to ration petrol is the way in which rationing of many other commodities should be undertaken, namely, by price.It would have been fairer to have raised the price of petrol to such a figure that people who wanted to take a ride, whether for pleasure or business, would have considered seriously whether the journey was really necessary. It would have meant that neighbours who wanted to make a journey would double up for that journey. It might mean that someone contemplating a journey would hesitate and do two jobs the next week, thus restricting the use of petrol all round. Doing away with the basic ration hits the country community to a very great extent. Several speakers in the Debate today have mentioned that aspect and I want to emphasise it. In a town or in the suburbs of a town where there are trams, railways and buses, the hardship is not so apparent, but to the people living in remote country districts it is going to cause extreme hardship. They have not got the facilities of road transport and they do not get easily to railway stations. The result is that they are isolated from their friends during the whole of the long winter, and in view of the volume of protests which have been made up and down the country, I trust the Government will reconsider their decision to restrict the consumption of petrol by abolishing the basic ration, and thus causing hardship to one section of the community. Let us all share the hardship evenly. I appeal to the Government to reconsider the matter from this point of view. I have nothing further to say. I got up on the spur of the moment to deal with this point, and I hope other Members on both sides of the House who feel with me on this matter will voice their opinion.
I should like to take this opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Minister the effect of the cut in the basic petrol ration on rural communities. I know that this matter will be raised on a future occasion, and we just want to ask the Government tonight a number of questions as to why they suddenly decided to impose this drastic cut on this particular section of the community. I should like to point out tonight that once again the hardship will fall on people living in remote country districts, and I hope the Government will take the opportunity of thinking this matter over. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will not be able to give an authoritative reply, but this Debate does give the Government the opportunity of thinking this matter over to see if they will alter their decision. Many more powerful voices and arguments than I can advance tonight have been brought to bear on this problem already, and I am sure that the Government are convinced that they have made a mistake. The country are looking to them to see if they are really big enough to acknowledge the fact that they have made a mistake and will alter this decision.As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has said perhaps one of the best ways of dealing with a commodity in short supply, if it is not a completely essential commodity—and in this respect, of course, there are supplementary allowances for those essential users of petrol—is through the price of the commodity. One of the things I should like the Government to tell us is what is going to be the precise saving in dollars through this move that they have taken. Would it not be possible for them to consider that people should have an option of using the dollars for the purchase of tobacco or for petrol? I can think of many people who would be prepared to give up a packet or two of cigarettes if they could get a gallon or two of petrol. I know many people who would be prepared to pay three shillings, four shillings or five shillings a gallon for their petrol, and it would not be an exorbitant price at the present day when one considers what one has to pay for a large number of other pleasures and articles. I ask the Government to reconsider this decision in view of the hardship to rural communities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said this evening, it is not necessarily only the farmers in the rural districts who are the most consistent users of motor transport. All those who can contribute in any small way to the life of the rural communities should be given full consideration. I was talking to a constituent of mine in Yorkshire the other day and he told me that when he wrote to the local petroleum officer and told him he has to go 30 miles to do his shopping, he was not believed. Nevertheless, in some of the remote districts of Yorkshire that is most certainly a fact.