(by Private Notice) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has any statement to make in regard to his recent conversations with the West German Government.
On a point of order. Would you kindly advise the House, Mr. Speaker, what is the procedure when a similar Question appears on the Order Paper? I thought you ruled the other day that Private Notice Questions are not to be accepted. I do not want to prejudice the information being given, but I think we should have some consistency.
I was not aware that another Question was on the Paper; I must have overlooked it. Otherwise I should not have allowed this in the form of a Private Notice Question. I should instead have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he so desired, to make a statement. If there is another Question on the Order Paper, it is purely an oversight that the Question has been allowed in this form.
I had a series of frank and friendly discussions with the German Ministers concerned with economic and financial questions and a general conversation on the problems affecting our two countries with the Federal Chancellor. I found that the views of the German Government on these important subjects were close to our own. We were thus able to establish a basis of common interest and understanding on which to build in the future.There was full agreement between us on the objective of securing an expansion of world trade by moving forward towards a freer system of trade and payments. It was in this spirit that we reviewed the discussions that had taken place in O.E.E.C. about the extension of E.P.U. We were also able to agree in outline the bilateral arrangements under which we might settle part of our E.P.U. debt. I also hope that as a result of our exchange of views progress may very shortly be made with the removal of artificial incentives to exporters, both in the trade affecting our two countries and in the general framework of the O.E.E.C. We had a very useful discussion about the problems involved in a return to convertibility, and about the establishment of satisfactory world trading conditions on which the successful achievement of convertibility—we were fully agreed on this—must depend. These matters will, of course, be carried forward under the arrangements made at the O.E.E.C. Council for a special Ministerial Group to examine these problems and their European aspects. But I am sure that these wider discussions will be all the more fruitful if there is a common approach by Germany and the United Kingdom.
In the course of these discussions, which touched upon our debt to the European Payments Union, was there also brought into the picture the repayment of Germany's debt to us, which was negotiated under very different conditions? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether in the circumstances he now anticipates that the European Payments Union will continue with the present rules for at least another year?
The answer to the first part of the question is, "Yes, Sir," but I do not think it will be necessary to revise the terms and conditions of the London understanding of 6th December. 1951. It did, however, come fully into the discussions. The answer to the second part of the question is also, "Yes, Sir." It is almost certain—in fact, it was agreed—that the European Payments Union should be continued for another year. The reason that I do not give an absolutely final answer is that the matter was referred by Ministers of the European countries to the managing board of the official council for final ratification.
How is it proposed in the future to reduce the wide unbalance between Germany and this country? Is it proposed that Germany should import more, that a better settlement should be made of debts owing to this country on various grounds, or that a larger amount of currency should be disbursed so that these debts can not only be paid off quicker, but that the unbalance should right itself?
The unbalance refers to the wider question of West Germany's surplus within the European Payments Union in general. We heard statements from the German Ministers about their intention so to regulate their affairs that it was hoped that their surplus would not put them too much out of balance with the other countries. In this respect, the right hon. Member's reference to a greater import programme for Germany came prominently into the picture. That may be helped by the Finance Minister's recent proposals, which involve an increase in consumption within Germany. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, is on the right lines.As regards the bilateral negotiations on our debt vis-à-vis the West German Government, this must be regulated on the basis of a term of years under the O.E.E.C. general agreement, which, I hope, can be balanced in some way by the return debt which we have on the other side.
In view of the importance of maintaining employment in this country and also of maintaining employment in Germany for internal political reasons, can my right hon. Friend say whether the subject of employment was discussed in the course of the discussions on industrial policy?
It was, naturally, discussed, and in so far as our conversations may result, as I believe they will, in the removal of the export incentives which are imposed by the other side, that will improve our export chances and, therefore, our employment chances in this country.
Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer a firm assurance from the West German Government that they will cease the practice of hidden subsidies to their exporters? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot get agreement with them on these lines, how long is he to wait before he gives our own industries the like type of preference that the Germans are getting?
I cannot speak for the West German Government, who must announce their own policy; that is why I cannot go further today. But I should not have gone as far as I did in saying that we were on the eve of reaching an agreement—I hope, an agreement endorsed within the general European framework—if I were not aware that the intention of the German Government was to free rather than to restrict their export effort and to do away with these practices.
Did Dr. Erhard complain to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the difference between the prices of home-sold coal and steel and export prices? Is the right hon. Gentleman giving consideration to this matter, and what does he propose to do about it?
This subject of the alleged differentials in our coal prices was raised, including many other alleged practices within this country, but we were able to assure the West German Government that there was nothing sinister in our intentions and that we believe as much as they do in the freeing of our exports and the non-introduction of special subsidies.
Do my right hon. Friend's remarks regarding subsidies include also shipbuilding subsidies?
It depends how one defines subsidies. There is nothing in our practices that I am aware of that is unfair in regard to this matter. That, I think, was accepted after discussion by those with whom we were discussing.
Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's first statement that there is no possibility of the Germans offsetting against our E.P.U. debts the very substantial debts which they owe to us for our keeping them alive in the first years after the war?
It would be wrong to say that there was no chance of offsetting them. It may well be that when the final settlement is made, the amounts are approximately the same. That would amount to an offsetting. As the final conclusion of the agreement is not yet made, however, I could not give a final answer. I can only assure the hon. Member that this matter came prominently into the discussions.
Will the Chancellor give an assurance that he will press this matter? In the conversations, did he insist that before we reach any agreement about paying our debt to E.P.U. and, therefore, to Germany, the West Germans would, for example, speed up the repayments of their debt to us?
I could not do that without consultation with the other Governments concerned; as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the London understanding of December, 1951, was made with other Governments besides our own. It was also made upon what I think are fair terms. I am anxious to see that no undue liability is laid upon the British taxpayer. When the final arrangement is made, I think I shall certainly be able to indicate that the settlement is fair to all concerned.
Has the Chancellor made an agreement on the United Kingdom's debt to Germany more favourable to the creditor than that on the previous debt owing by Germany to the United Kingdom?
As usual, the right hon. Gentleman is rather premature in this matter.
Business Of The House
Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House)—[ The Prime Minister.]
Television Bill (Allocation Of Time)
I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining Proceedings on the Television Bill:
(1) The remaining Proceedings in Committee shall be completed in five allotted days. (2) The Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed in two allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at half-past ten o'clock on the second of those days. (3) The Business Committee shall report to the House their recommendations— (a) as to the remaining Proceedings in Committee, not later than the seventeenth day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty-four; (b) as to the Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after Whit Sunday, nineteen hundred and fifty-four. 4 No Motion shall be made to postpone any Clause, Schedule, new Clause or new Schedule, but the recommendations of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which Clauses, new Clauses, Schedules and new Schedules are to be taken in Committee. 5 On an allotted day Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) shall have effect with the substitution of references to half-past Ten of the clock for references to Ten of the clock, and Proceedings which under this Order or the Resolution of the Business Committee are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall not be interrupted under the provisions of the said Standing Order No. 1. 6 If, on any allotted day, a Motion is made under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) the last foregoing paragraph of this Order shall not apply, but— (a) any Proceedings on the Bill exempted under paragraph (2) of that Standing Order shall be so exempted for the period mentioned in that paragraph and a further half-hour; and (b) the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or under the Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day after Seven o'clock shall be deferred for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings upon the said Motion under Standing Order No. 9. 7. If, at Seven o'clock on an allotted day, any Proceedings on the Bill which, under the Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time have not been concluded, any Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) which, apart from this Order, would stand over to that time shall stand over until those Proceedings have been concluded. 8 Any Private Business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by the Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill on that day, and shall be exempted by this paragraph from the pro visions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) for a period of three-and-a-half hours or, if the Proceedings on the Bill are concluded before half-past Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill; and paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking private business) shall not apply. 9 Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business) shall not apply to any allotted day. 10 On an allotted day no dilatory Motion with respect to Proceedings on the Bill shall be made except by a Member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith without any debate. 11 When the order of the day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any Question, notwithstanding that notice of an Instruction has been given. 12 On the conclusion of Proceedings in any Committee on the Bill, including a Committee to which the Bill has been re-committed (whether as a whole or otherwise), the Chair man shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question. 13 For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by the Resolution of the Business Committee or by this Order and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall, at the time so appointed, put forthwith the Question on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and, in the case of a new Clause which has been read a second time, also the Question that the Clause be added to the Bill, and subject thereto shall proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules moved by a Member of the Government of which notice has been given (but no other Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules) and any Question necessary for the disposal of the Business to be concluded, and, in the case of any Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules moved by a Member of the Government he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made or that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
14. (a) The Proceedings on any Motion moved by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order or of the Resolution of the Business Committee shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion two hours after they have been commenced, and the last foregoing paragraph of this Order shall, so far as applicable, apply as if the Proceedings were Proceedings on the Bill:
Provided that if the Proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance), the time at which they are to be brought to a conclusion shall be deferred for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings upon the Motion for the Adjournment.
(b) If any Motion moved by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order or of the Resolution of the Business Committee is under consideration at Seven o'clock on a day on which any Private Business has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock, the Private Business shall stand over and be considered when the Proceedings on the Motion have been concluded.
15. Nothing in this Order or in the Resolution of the Business Committee shall—
(a) prevent any Proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being entered upon or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution; or (b) prevent any Business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day, in accordance with the Standing Orders, if the Proceedings which under this Order or the Resolution are to be completed on that day have already been completed.
In rising to move the Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal and myself, the first point that I want to make is that I am within the principles laid down by Opposition speakers in applying the Guillotine procedure. The first principle is a caveat as well. It is that in this field, provided that he remains in this House for about 15 years, every man is his own antidote. That was laid down by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). He put it most graphically on 3rd March, 1947, when he said16. In this Order "allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as the first Government order of the day, "the Resolution of the Business Committee" means the Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House, and references to the Proceedings on Consideration or the Proceedings on Third Reading include references to any Proceedings at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of re-committal
If anyone has troubled to read the speeches that I have made both ways on these matters, I hope that he will bear these weighty words in mind. The second principle is the need for acceleration, and I again quote the right hon. Gentleman, who said on the same occasion:"… I read through the whole of the debates which had taken place in the House since the first introduction of the Closure; and the astonishing thing I discovered was that the speech an hon. or right hon. Gentleman made depended on, which side of the House he sat. It was interesting to find how a speech that had been made by one hon. Gentleman who sat on the Opposition side, was answered by himself when he sat on the Government side, in the same terms as were used by the Member of the Government who replied to him when he was in Opposition."
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that our procedure encourages sonorous rather than supersonic deliberations. The third principle is that stultification and frustration must be avoided. I cannot express it better than in the words of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) on 22nd February of this year, when he said,"My experience of the House has been that under no Government of modern times has legislation been too swift. The danger to Parliamentary democracy in this country is not from the speed but the slowness of the forms that were used when this country was less populous than it is,… These forms are not adequate for the times in which we live."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 124–5.]
The fourth principle is that a Government must face with this weapon a declaration of war à ˇoutrance, and for authority for this I look to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South who, on 25th November, 1948, said:"I was going to take it for granted that it has been common form that, for a very long time, both parties have used the Guillotine, and that it has become necessary to use the Guillotine on certain occasions to prevent a minority in the House of Commons using the procedure of the House to frustrate the will of the majority. That has been common ground. We all know that our Parliamentary procedure cannot be carried out, and legislation can be held up, unless there is a tacit understanding that the rules of procedure shall not be carried! to the point of frustrating all the legislative processes." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 51.]
I am sure that the whole House will be relieved that on this matter the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale spoke with one voice, and both spoke on the side of the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "What Bill?"] It was the Iron and Steel Bill. I hope that by quoting these great and weighty authorities I have established that I am within the principles laid down by Opposition speakers in applying the Guillotine procedure. That is my first point. My second point is that a fair period of trial has shown that it is the intention of the Opposition unreasonably to delay this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] On Second Reading the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) said that the Bill would be opposed "line by line." If he wants to check that, he will find it in column 1546 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 25th March of this year. I am grateful to him for that statement."First of all, this is, I understand, a contentious Measure … the Opposition have declared, as is their right, that they will fight and oppose this Bill from the beginning to the end. Therefore, we have to face that position. We seek to get this Bill through. That is what it was introduced for…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1429.]
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what a Committee stage and a Report stage are for, and particularly a Committee stage, if not to examine the Bill line by line? How long has it been a Parliamentary offence to do in Committee what we are supposed to do in Committee?
If the right hon. Gentleman gives me a little time, he will find that I have several other quotations. I do not want hon. and right hon. Members opposite to get worked up too early in this debate. I shall deal with that point and show how the war-cry of the right hon. Member for Caerphilly was interpreted in the ranks behind him as they pressed on to battle. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Caerphilly for that statement and the intention which he expressed.Indeed, the speech that I have just quoted from the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South in itself would be a justification of the Guillotine procedure. We, of course, go further than that, but we make the point, a point which once again the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South made in the speech which I have just read, that no Government worthy of the name, which believed in the Bill that it was putting forward, could refuse to accept a challenge of this kind. Not only did the right hon. Gentleman say this, but in fact he has done it, and I do not blame him or the Opposition for their action. The Opposition are not doing anything wrong or unconstitutional, but certainly neither are the Government when they accept the challenge. Let us consider the position. There are 206 Amendments on the Order Paper up to date, of which 145 come from the Opposition. Nor do I imagine that the Opposition have finished yet. The Amendments now on the Order Paper in their names reach only Clause 5. There are 12 more Clauses in the Bill, and therefore there is infinite scope for further activity. But the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) gave the whole show away on 5th May when she said:
It is therefore quite clear that the object of the Opposition, although it may use legitimate forms in the Committee stage, is not to discuss the Bill as such, nor to improve it, but to bring it to nought. In other words, the hon. Lady was carrying out and interpreting what the right hon. Member for Caerphilly said. Let us look at some of the Amendments already discussed in Committee. On the first day we discussed a series of Amendments the object of which was to delay the date on which the Authority would come into being. We were told by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South that the Government were going too fast. We even had the right hon. Member deploring the effect which undue haste would have on the advertisers and on the programme companies. If those Amendments embodied a valid point, what are we to say about the next set? They urged the Government to go faster. One of them was to the effect that the new service had to cover the whole of the United Kingdom in one year. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) said:"If we could get the Minister to accept every one of these Amendments, the Bill would in reality come to nought. I say it quite openly."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1954; Vol. 527, c. 416.]
What had happened to the charges about going too fast? What concern was there at that time for the advertisers whose interests wrung the heart of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South? The next stage was even more fantastic. We had. a series of Amendments the upshot of which was that television should be extended to Scotland and Wales within six months of going on the air in England. Quite apart from the technical difficulty, what had happened to the solicitude of the Opposition for the equipment the new Authority require and which, according to the Opposition, could be obtained only at the expense of the B.B.C.? We discussed an even more extraordinary Amendment at the same time. Although Welsh and Scottish hon. Members had expressed the fear that Scotland and Wales might be disregarded altogether, we discussed a new Amendment which said that the new Authority should only operate in those parts of the country where the B.B.C. did not function. Had we accepted that, we would have excluded the greater part of England, Wales and Scotland altogether. In fact, the new Authority would be limited to a coverage of about 3 per cent, of the population in the remoter parts of the country which the B.B.C. has made no plans for covering at present."The discussions have been going on for a long time, and it is about time that we had a second television programme. We all want it; there is no difference between us on that issue."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1954; Vol. 527, c. 289.]
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman name a single hon. Member on this side of the House who discussed that Amendment?
The Amendment was called.
The Amendment was not discussed at all, except by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
If the hon. Member is so anxious to run away from the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), he can do so, but the Amendment was not withdrawn. It was before the Committee and I had to deal with it. The hon. Member can run away from it today, but the facts are on record.
It was not discussed.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Might I ask for guidance on the speech of the Home Secretary? I understood that on a Guillotine Motion one cannot discuss the merits of a Bill or Amendments. I wonder whether this is strictly in order?
It may be helpful to the House if I were to say that hon. Members on both sides should confine themselves to the Motion and pursue any argument for or against the Motion. It is very difficult for the Chair sometimes to draw a hard-and-fast line between an argument which does trench on the importance of a Bill to support an argument that it ought to get more time, and a proper argument directed to the Motion. But so long as hon. Members on both sides will observe the spirit of what: has been our practice on these occasions, I do not think we shall go far wrong.
May I get one matter clear? I take it that if in the course of his argument the Home Secretary re-argues the merits of a particular Amendment, we shall be allowed to reply?
I hope there will not be arguments as to the merits of Amendments to the Bill. I think that an argument which tends, rightly or wrongly, to try to persuade the House that arguments were used in the Committee stage which were of a delaying character and so on would be in order, but the line between that and arguments directed to the merits of particular Amendments must be observed to the best of the ability of hon. Members.
Further to that point of order. If I may respectfully say so, I entirely agree with what you last said, Mr. Speaker. May I put it to you that it is quite relevant to argue that the Guillotine is good or bad, according to the conduct of the Government and Opposition—that is quite fair—and, according to the nature of the Bill, whether there is an electoral mandate. That takes us pretty wide. But the point to which the Home Secretary has got is that of rehearsing a debate on the merits of Amendments in the Committee stage of the Bill and therefore, by reproducing the Committee stage of the Bill, continuing that debate. I want to go fairly wide, but I was not contemplating recreating the Committee stage, as has been done by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because of his apparent difficulty in making any case for the Motion at all.
I intend to limit myself to saying that the Opposition occupied two days in moving a series of contradictory Amendments which, taken together, made complete nonsense and were deliberately advanced, as the hon. Lady said, in order to bring the Bill to naught.
On a point of order. Are not the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman a definite reflection on the Chairman of the Committee? The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well, although perhaps he was unintentionally misleading the House, that those Amendments were taken together at the suggestion of the Chair and there was no complaint from the Opposition as to the procedure. They were different Amendments dealing with different aspects of the same subject. It is grossly unfair for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to attack the Opposition when his remarks should be directed to the Chair.
I did not myself understand that any reflection on the Chair was intended, but I am in the disadvantage of not having been privileged to be a member of the Committee and to have heard what was said.
That is a pity, because you would have heard the same speech.
I hope we shall now proceed, in the light of the Rulings I have tried to give, and I hope we shall avoid unnecessary duplication of proceedings.
I am sorry that the Opposition are so touchy on this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] —because I have given a considerable number of examples of contradictory Amendments. I have quoted the point—which no hon. Member of the Opposition has tried to get out of—in the speech of the hon. Lady that the Amendments were, in her view, quite openly intended to bring the Bill to naught. Attempting to bring the Bill to naught is obstruction. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, in the first Guillotine Motion with which he dealt—I will quote the passage if necessary—showed that he had looked it up. He informed us that on a Guillotine Motion a charge of obstruction was not unparliamentary. That is what I am saying the hon. Lady confessed and hon. Members opposite cannot get away from her confession. I could go on giving examples of this for a long time, but I have indicated sufficiently how, by moving the sort of Amendments I have mentioned, the Opposition interpreted the phrase about fighting the Bill "line by line" by putting down a series of Amendments wholly inconsistent with one another and which, if accepted, would make it impossible to work the Bill at all. Although we dislike intensely interference with intra-party comment on the other side, I confess that there was sympathy on this side of the House with the remark wrung from the hon. Member (or Warrington (Dr. Morgan) who, when the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) was speaking, interjected with,
I have not the slightest objection to any hon. Member emulating Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll at an appropriate time, but I think that the hon. Member for Warrington expressed the view of a great proportion of those hon. Members who were in the Chamber at that time. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South has complained that there was no Closure Motion. But if the party opposite, as I have indicated, indulge in a sort of rhetorical "nuts in May" by themselves, pulling the same idea first one way and then to the contrary, in a number of Amendments, they really cannot complain if we say that time is wasted in that way just as much as in a way which would provoke a Closure Motion. Let me put it in a way which will assuage the somewhat touchy feelings of the right hon. Gentleman. We spent 13J hours on three subsections of the Bill, dealing with the functions and composition of the Authority, out of 11 subsections in Clause 1. Of that time, Opposition speakers took 9 hours and 50 minutes and Government speakers 3 hours and 20 minutes. The time spent by Government speakers on Amendments moved from the Government side was 35 minutes. Again, that was because the Opposition Amendments were, as I have said, a hotch-potch of time-wasting contradictions. In the circumstances, the Motion results from the necessity for the Government to carry out their duty and to solve a problem which has faced Governments of all complexions. I think that it has been said by some reflective speaker at some stage in every one of these debates that the Government and the Opposition can, of course, never agree on whether the Bill in question is a good Bill or a bad Bill. That is a subject which we cannot discuss today. But if, as on this occasion, the Government and the Opposition speakers agree that it is an important Bill, that connotes two things—that there must be reasonable time for discussion, and that the wishes of the majority of the House should not be unreasonably delayed. Broadly, however, I agree with the words of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, when he said in the last debate on a Guillotine Motion:
"Must we really listen to this nonsense?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1954; Vol. 527, c. 380.]
I accept that definition of the criterion, and, on the facts that I have mentioned, it is my justification for moving the Motion today. There are, however, many precedents which have been quoted over and over again. The form of the Motion is well-known and well-tried, and needs no detailed exposition from me.
"We all know very well that when a Motion of this kind is brought before the House, it is necessary now to establish it, not on grounds of constitutional propriety, but purely on empirical considerations; that is to say, do the circumstances of the case warrant the Motion?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 51.]
I have heard many speeches in this House, I have heard a certain number from right hon. Gentlemen who have been moving Guillotine Motions, and I have moved one myself; but I have never heard a thinner speech than that which we have heard this afternoon, nor one which was, for the greater part, more irrelevant to the issue before the House. If I do not say much about the speech, I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, but there is not much to be said about it, and it is not one which demands much notice. He could not, I think, have made a better speech, because the case behind this Motion is a thin one. I notice that when the Government have no case, the Chief Whip or the Leader of the House says, "Let us land it on the Home Secretary." That is what they have done.The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Government have no case, and I do not believe that his heart is in the Motion that he has moved. He had to fall back on two speeches that I had made, one not on a Guillotine Motion at all but on the general reform of the procedure of the House of Commons, which was unconnected with the case. He quoted my remarks on the Guillotine Motion on the Iron and Steel Bill which had some relevance, but we had a mandate from the country on that Bill. As for the observation of my right hon. Friend that we would fight this Bill line by line, I remember that I used to read that in every newspaper years ago, and if it is argued that, if the Opposition say they will fight a Bill line by line, then they will have to foe guillotined, is that not a form of slavery to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has now descended?
I have the impression that the quotation I made from the right hon. Gentleman's speech was on a Guillotine Motion. It was reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT at column 1429 of the proceedings on the Iron and Steel Bill in November, 1948.
I agree that one quotation was from a speech on a Guillotine Motion, but, if I remember rightly, there was another quotation affecting myself. If there was not, and I have made a mistake, I apologise, but I think there was and it arose in a debate on the general reform of Parliamentary procedure. If I am wrong, by all means let it go. If the House wants a good example of first-class obstruction, I need not go beyond the Gas Bill, when the Conservative Party kept a Standing Committee going through one day and night and the next day as well. But there it is. I do not think that is a relevant argument at all.The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that some of our Amendments were inconsistent. I am not sure that that is fair. Some Amendments were put down, it is true, on the assumption that they might be carried, but if they were not, then logically the Bill would have to be filled out to make it workable. In any case, these were not all Amendments that were streamlined by the Front Bench. We believe in the back benches having a good deal of initiative, and a number of Amendments were put down on backbench responsibility. I might have advised my hon. Friends at some stage not to press their Amendments and it is likely that they would not have done so. The last thing I want to do with the Opposition is that which the Government are trying to do with the House, namely, turn it into what the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister once called a sausage machine. That is what the Government are doing. As for the comment that 13¾ hours were spent on three subsections of Clause 1, I have had a good deal to do with legislation in the House and my experience is that Clause 1 is usually the most troublesome Clause in a Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not lose his patience or his temper because time is taken in dealing with Clause 1, which is usually the most important Clause of all in a Bill, and it is natural that a good deal of time is spent on the Amendments that are put down to it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman complained that most of the time was taken by the Opposition. Really, when was he born? [HON. MEMBERS: "1900."] I should have thought that it was 1800. How long has it been thought that the Government do not expect the Opposition to take most of the time in Committee on a contentious Bill? On the whole, if there is a controversial Bill the Government Chief Whip generally advises his people to keep quiet. Perhaps he will tell me whether I am right. Would he like to do so?
If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me, I would not know.
If ever a man is tempted to be unparliamentary, it is when the right hon. Gentleman says he would not know. Ft is inevitable on these matters that the Whips try to keep their people quiet. That is bound to happen.The right hon. and learned Gentleman tried to make the point that this is an urgent Bill, that the country cannot live without it, and that we cannot survive without a second programme. It will be interesting to see what kind of an outfit the second programme is anyway. I dare say there is a case for it, but to try to argue that the country cannot survive without it when we are living in such troublesome times, and assume that this is the best thing we can do with Parliamentary time, is pitiful. I have hardly ever heard a more pitiful, useless and poor speech from a Member of the Cabinet in all my life. I think that Guillotines in general are undesirable. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh at that if they like, but I shall note that laughter. They should remember that every precedent can be followed, and that laughter will be noted in HANSARD, so that future Ministers will be able to quote it. I have had my share of Guillotines and consider that they are undesirable. They inevitably mean that debate on the Bill has to be rushed and speeded up beyond the point which is reasonable. They inevitably mean that there is a remorselessness in the further consideration of the Bill irrespective of the merits of the questions before the House. It may be that there are vitally important questions which need to be adequately considered by the House, but the Guillotine forces them to come to an end. It is provided in the Motion before the House that there cannot be dilatory Motions—that is to say, that if grievances arise the Opposition will not be able to move "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," and they have, therefore, no means of ventilating what they consider to be a legitimate grievance. Many of the Amendments are slaughtered and not considered, except Government Amendments, which are protected, and it is probable that a substantial proportion of those will never be debated, and their merits cannot therefore be considered. I say again that I had my share of responsibility for Guillotines in the Labour Government. A Guillotine is the nearest—I admit that it is long way off—that the British Parliament has come to the procedure of the Nazi Reichstag. It is the nearest we get to the procedure of the Supreme Soviet. It means that what the Government say goes and that the Opposition has not any reasonable time to state its case, though that is what it is meant for. It is a procedure which, under the Labour Government, the present Prime Minister described unjustly and unfairly, when he said that we were inventing a legislative sausage machine. He either meant it or he did not. If he meant it, he ought to be ashamed of what the Government are doing at this point. If he did not mean it, he should not have said it. It is quite likely that both things are true, but it is also true that the present Government have gone Guillotine-mad. They like the Guillotine for the sake of the Guillotine. The Home Secretary believes in the Guillotine. He prefers legislation by Guillotine. He likes this method of Parliamentary procedure. It appeals to his natural legislative laziness. He knows that he can get the Bill through this way. Let me prove it. Let us compare the Guillotine history of the Labour Government with that of the present Government. I draw attention again to the fact that hon. Members opposite are laughing. They do not care. They are indifferent to the rights of the House of Commons. I compare the record of the Labour Government with that of the present Government. The Labour Government were in office from 1945 to 1951.
Six years too long.
That is a matter of opinion. I have no doubt that if the Conservative Government could carry a Guillotine for the exclusion of the Labour Party for all time, they might do so. People who will do this sort of thing will do anything. We were in office for something over six years, and during that time we had three Guillotines. They were for the Town and Country Planning Bill, the Transport Bill and the Iron and Steel Bill. I call attention to the fact that for all these Bills we had an electoral mandate. They were mentioned in our electoral programme. We were doing what we had asked the country to give us authority to do, and the country had given us the authority. There were three Guillotines in a period in excess of six years.The present Government have been in office for just over three years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two and a half."] That is better still; except that it is worse still from the other point of view. In two and a half years of this Government we have had not three Guillotines—in over six years—but six Guillotines. We have had six Guillotines in about two and a half years. That is why I say that the Government are Guillotine-mad. They had the Guillotine on the National Health Service Bill, and the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill. That was the Home Secretary's Bill. It came from the man who does not Jike the House of Commons. They had the Guillotine on the Transport Bill, from the friend of General Franco, the Minister of Transport—and that is really relevant today to his attitude to the House of Commons. There was a second Guillotine on the Transport Bill. It was called a supplementary Guillotine but it was a second one, and a more wicked one, on the Lords Amendments. There was another on the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, and now there is this one on the Television Bill. There have been six Guillotines in about two and a half years as compared with the three that we had in over six years. Three out of the six Guillotines were, in my judgment, on Bills for which there was no electoral mandate at the last Election. There was no electoral mandate for the Television Bill. There was no electoral mandate for the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill, although the Government tried to dig up an obscure observation by Lord Woolton. What that matters, I do not know. There was no real electoral mandate, either, for the National Health Service Bill.
Or for the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill.
There was a mandate for slum clearance of some sort. I want to be scrupulously fair. I think that it would be fair to say that in half these cases there was no electoral mandate.What does the claim of the Government for these Guillotines boil down to? What is their philosophy about Guillotines? For they have a philosophy; it is a semi-Nazi philosophy. That is what it is. I will repeat it: it is a semi-Nazi philosophy. What the Government say is that, mandate or no mandate, they will bring in controversial Bills, despite their small Parliamentary majority and the fact that they are here on a minority electoral vote—a vote less than the electoral vote recorded for candidates from the party on this side of the House. They say that they are going to do what they like. They are indifferent to mandates. They will not only bring in a Bill but they will bring in a Guillotine to thrust it down the throat of the House of Commons. This afternoon the Home Secretary said something of which he ought to be ashamed. There are moments when he is not a bad fellow, but he was very bad this afternoon. In effect, he says, "If the Opposition do other than go through the formal and ineffective processes of opposition, we will gag them." That is the claim. But if we do not function as an Opposition, if we will go easy and simply move a few Amendments and make a few brief and polite speeches, if we will go on our hands and knees to the Government, begging them to give us a few crumbs, then, all right, we will not have a Guillotine. But if we function, if we are critical, if we discharge the duty that rests upon a Parliamentary Opposition, if we do other than provide merely formalised opposition and make no reality out of it at all, then we will have a Guillotine. That, in effect, is what the Home Secretary said this afternoon. That is what he means; that is what he believes. I once thought that he was a good Parliamentarian. I am beginning to have doubts about it. This is a grave and wicked attitude to Parliamentary government which the Government are displaying. It really is very silly. I say it to the advertising men as well as the others. They are making precedents by one Government which can be followed by another Government.
It is to be hoped so.
I hope not, for my part. I am not anxious that they should be, because I do not like the Guillotine in itself; but what this Government do another Labour Government must be free to do if they wish to do it. Then hon. Gentlemen opposite will be in an impossible position if they wish to object.Look at the Government's record on the Bill. I do not want to go into this at great length, but I imagine that this is one of the reasons for the Guillotine. Their majority in the Committee of the whole House has been falling. It had been in the region of the twenties, it fell to 11, it fell to 10, to six, and finally it fell to three—to such an extent that at last the Leader of the House was willing to accept a Motion, "That the Chairman do Report progress and ask leave to sit again." He was quite right to do so. I have no doubt that the Chief Whip could have dialled 999 and have called up all the forces to fetch Members in. The Government's majority fell to three. Therefore, there is no enthusiasm for-the Bill on the benches opposite. That may be the reason for this Guillotine, because their theory possibly is that the fewer Divisions they have the less likely the Government are to get into trouble in the Division Lobby. It is notorious that some Members of the Cabinet do not like the Bill; quite likely a majority of them did not want it, but they were cowards and submitted to pressure from a limited number of back benchers. What are the other reasons why this Bill ought not to be Guillotined? We must take into account not only the detailed Committee points but the broad nature of the Bill—whether it is suitable for Guillotine procedure or not. Of all the Bills which it is a pity to Guillotine, of all the Bills on which there ought to be free discussion, it is a Bill about broadcasting or television, because it concerns one of those matters which are really non-party in character and which affect every member of the community; and it ought not to be dragged into politics in this violent way and the House made incapable of analysing the Bill in proper and reasonably adequate detail. We have kept the B.B.C. out of politics all these years. That is a great British achievement in which few countries could equal us. Now the Government have dragged politics in with this Bill, for which they have no mandate; and in addition they are putting a Guillotine upon it. Therefore, criticism of the Bill goes beyond party boundaries. There are many people who want this Bill to be adequately discussed without the Guillotine—many people outside the Labour Party who are alarmed at the Bill. Many people in the Conservative Party are alarmed about the Bill; countless mothers are alarmed about it; the Churches, the bishops, who are entitled to be heard, many of the Members of the House of Lords, vice-chancellors of the universities, and many newspapers, are opposed to it also. Therefore, this is a Bill of such a nature that the controversy about it goes far beyond party limits, and it ought never to have been handled as a party problem at all. It should not have been dragged into party politics. We ourselves sought to get round-table talks about it to see whether we could get agreement —
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? He is declaiming about this matter being non-political. Could he say why Transport House, which I think is an organisation of propaganda with which he has something to do, produced the most violent party pamphlets about this matter about two or three years ago?
I do not know about two or three years ago, but as the Government all the way through have insisted on handling this as a party matter, it is inevitable that their political opponents have to function.For these reasons we asked that the Whips should be taken off; they were put on. For these reasons we asked for round-table talks; they would not be agreed to except on the Molotov-like terms that we should agree to the essentials of the Government's policy before we entered into the talks. That is why this is a Bill which is not suited for the Guillotine. It is said that we have been difficult, using up time which we need not have used. That really is not true. The Chairman of Committees of the whole House quite rightly engaged in the merging of a number of Amendments, or their consideration at the same time; and if the Chairman were here and I dared to ask him, I think he would agree that my hon. Friends have been quite co-operative in that matter. They have no obligation to be, the Chairman is master of the situation in the end, but he is helped by cooperation on the part of the Opposition. We sought to be helpful. We suggested that a number of our Amendments might be grouped together. Therefore, there is no charge against us of unreasonableness on that point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the big points on the Bill boil down to about six. That is all very well, but these big points can take time to discuss; and I say that five more days for the Committee stage—the time which is to be left by the Guillotine—is not enough. Moreover, it takes no account of the Government Amendments, which should be properly considered and debated. Therefore, I say that on the handling of Amendments we were helpful, we were co-operative with the Chair, and we were not trying to spin matters out. The speeches which we made were brief and to the point. Can anybody point to one speech which was a filibustering, long-winded speech? I do not think so. I wish to compliment my hon. Friends on the back benches on the ability and businesslike character of the speeches which they made; they were good, and they were all businesslike. No one can say that there was any silly, superficial filibustering in the speeches on this side of the House on this Bill. The debates themselves were reasonably brief, so brief that not once was the Closure moved. Why was it not moved? It was not because the Government Chief Whip would be backward in moving the Closure. I never saw a man who could get down to the far end of the Treasury Bench quicker than he can. What a pity that he has not a sense of humour. When he can sit there and enjoy a joke against himself, he will be a better Parliamentarian than he is. However, I got a giggle out of him. The right hon. Gentleman did not once move the Closure. Why was that? Because he had every reason to guess—he could not possibly know—that, in view of the fact that we had not spoken unduly, and that we had not obstructed, the Chairman would not have accepted the Motion for the Closure. Of all the conclusive evidence that we have not obstructed, it is that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) reminds me, and I expect his memory is correct—it usually is—we do not remember an occasion when a Bill has been Guillotined in circumstances in which no Closure has been moved on the proceedings of the Bill in Committee up to that point. That is a new feature which will have to be noted —[Interruption.] I hope that is not a menacing movement. I come to the conclusion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite are again scornful. They are indifferent to what is happening. Let it go on record that the Conservative Party likes this form of procedure, this form of Guillotine, despite all the circumstances to which I have drawn attention. It will go on record in HANSARD, and, who knows, it may be useful to some future Leader of the House. In my judgment, this is the worst Guillotine yet. I can recall none which was less justified than is this Guillotine. I have been responsible, to my sorrow, for one or two in my time, but this is a very bad one. It is justified neither on grounds of public policy, nor on the grounds of an electoral mandate, public opinion or Parliamentary necessity. The time given is inadequate; five days more for the Committee stage is not enough on a difficult, controversial Bill of this character: and as for the two days for Report and Third Reading—two miserable days—it really is monstrous. So I say that this Motion concerns a Guillotine which is a disgrace, and I can only hope, though I doubt it, that the Home Secretary may live to regret and be ashamed of the action which he has taken today.
Although I find myself in very strong disagreement with everything which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said, on party, on procedural and on constitutional grounds—and I will say something about that in a few minutes—I think the House will agree that on the whole his speech was bland, temperate and agreeable. There was an unfortunate passage in the middle, when he became a little austere and dragged in some terms about Hitler, Mussolini, Molotov and a few other people of that ilk, but I do not think the House was intended to absorb that as at all descriptive of our normal democratic ways. It was just the right hon. Gentleman stiffening up the tone a little when he saw that some of the amused expressions of his followers were flagging—and, of course, they were flagging a very great deal.Nothing was more remarkable, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the Guillotine Motion on 6th May, than the smiles and relief with which the announcement was received by quite a number of hon. Members opposite. The newspapers came out next day with a great cry of fury and resentment, but if they had been here to observe they would have seen that it was largely dumb show. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are here."] I am speaking of the leader writers and they do not sit in the Gallery. If we want statistical evidence of the difference between the way in which this Motion was received and the way in which a similar Motion was received on a former occasion, we have it in HANSARD. The controversial questions put to my right hon. Friend after his announcement on 6th May occupied one column in HANSARD and were confined to two comments only—by the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition; whereas on 20th November, 1952, when the announcement was made about the timetable for the Transport Bill, a very different situation arose. The controversial questions to my right hon. Friend on that occasion occupied four-and-a-half columns of HANSARD and very much more startling expressions were indulged in than were indulged in last week. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South said the Leader of the House was
The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) talked about "indecent haste" and rushing this Bill through. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said that"treating the House with the utmost discourtesy and lack of consideration."
Nothing was said like that last week. Finally, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith;, whom I am glad to see in his place—and he probably recollects this—asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House in view of the affront of the Guillotine to the "world's most democratic institution." Nothing like that took place last week, nor has it taken place today. I am very glad that the temper of the Opposition is so good today."influence could come from the Chair to stop a measure … which is more like Soviet Russia or Franco Spain."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 2044–2046.]
The reason is that we are getting so used to time-table Motions in the House that we are getting a little fed up with protesting.
I am very glad that the Opposition are getting used to time-table Motions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am going to be quite straightforward; it is exactly that atmosphere which I hope for and which, for reasons which I shall give, wish to encourage.First of all, about the Guillotine being such a violent and revolutionary affair. Of course the very word portrays the knife which is supposed to come down upon legislation, and the public outside is wont, from the use of that word, to get the idea of a violent affront to Parliamentary proceedings. But if we think of it in relation to a time-table, it becomes more normal. A time-table, so far from being revolutionary, is a thing of habit. We have a time-table for our everyday proceedings; they end at 10 o'clock in the evening. The Guillotine—that terrible word—falls at 10 o'clock in the evening, and by that means the House is enabled to shape its debates for the opener and the opposer to speak, for hon. Members from alternate sides of the House to take part in the proceedings and for the winding-up speeches to be prepared and delivered in due time before the Division takes place. In other words, by the means of a time-table which we all observe in our normal day's business, the proceedings of the House are canalised and controlled, made shapely and agreeable to people who come to listen to our debates. Our whole lives are covered by a time-table. Why do the Opposition fear the application of a time-table to these debates? People go to a railway station and take a train which departs at a normal time. Do hon. Members opposite propose that the House of Commons should conduct itself like an inane passenger who wants to have an altercation with the engine driver and the guard about what time the train should leave? How could we possibly control our lives if that principle were to run wild throughout our national affairs? The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South spoke about the inevitable silence imposed upon back benchers and accused my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip of desiring to achieve that situation. My own belief is that if a Guillotine is properly and not unjustly designed, the elements of that debate—even upon a small committee point—can be brought out and thoroughly thrashed out in the House from one side to the other. It can be a microcosm of the main debate in a way which cannot be provided by any other proceedings. I am quite certain that my right hon. and hon. Friends will welcome the Guillotine on the Amendments which are to be moved by the party opposite because it will enable us to speak. Curiously enough, on this Bill of all Bills, when a number of Amendments are being moved from this side, the application of the Guillotine will in all probability enable a number of hon. Members opposite to speak who might not otherwise be called. We are moving Amendments designed to alter the Bill presented by the Government of the day, and I should have thought that the Chairman or Deputy-Chairman was more likely to call hon. Members from this side in support of my hon. Friends, who will be moving those Amendments when the Government are opposing them, than would otherwise be the case. Hon. Members must not censure this proposal too soon. They may be very glad of the opportunity to speak under the Guillotine Motion on some of the Amendments which we are to move from this side of the House. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South said that there were few Guillotine Motions in the 1945 Parliament. Why should one have a Guillotine when one has a vast majority? If we had a vast majority now we should not require the Guillotine. When the House is in a state of balance—either in the 1950 Parliament, when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power, or now when we are in power—it is much more necessary to have the Guillotine, if legislation is to be put through. If the right hon. Gentleman had wanted his legislation in 1950 and had not been sick of the whole process by that time because of the failures which had accompanied the introduction of legislation in the previous six years, then, of course, he would have applied the Guillotine in the 1950 Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that he would have done it, for the reasons I am arguing now.
It was the deliberate policy of the Labour Government in 1950–51, with our very small majority, to face the fact that we could not handle controversial legislation. That was the decision of the people, which ought to govern the present Government, too. Is the noble Lord now arguing that the smaller the majority of a Government and the less their electoral authority— after all, we had more votes than the present Government at the last Election —the more justified is their use of the Guillotine? Is that where he has got to?
The plain fact is that we were returned to power on a programme of legislation. The right hon. Gentleman was not returned to power in 1950 on a programme of legislation. He has admitted it. Therefore, he did not need the Guillotine.I want to say something about the mandate argument. I do not think it has any relevance. All sorts of things spring up in the course of a Parliament. They have done so in the past and they continue to do so. [Interruption.] I am giving the Opposition the best of the argument. For good or for bad reasons, and mostly, from our point of view, thoroughly bad reasons, the Opposition are the party of change. They like adventurous legislation, whereas we do not like it. It is possible that in the future the party opposite will be placed in power and the country may well refuse it a large majority for such things as sweeping economic change. The country, on the other hand, may be in the mood to accept diversified but controversial legislation. That has happened in the past with small majorities, over such questions as the Prayer Book, Welsh Disestablishment, and may happen in the future on, for example, divorce law reform or capital punishment. It is not impossible. In those circumstances, the narrow majority will necessitate the Guillotine, and, of course, the party opposite will have recourse to it. There is no purpose in a Guillotine when there is a substantial majority of 100 or more, because the two sides of the House are not closely contesting for office and there is not that challenging atmosphere from day to day and from week to week. The party that introduces the legislation is there in large numbers and there is a good working majority. Legislation goes through simply by force of argument, without the necessity to apply these measures. Today, we have the opposite situation. Here I must say something with a darker motive behind it. I do not think that the public is impressed by this dumb show of opposition to the Guillotine in Parliaments with narrow majorities. The public is impressed with the great debates that take place on White Papers that precede legislation and with Second Reading debates. After that, public interest in the proceedings languishes, except possibly for the more controversial Clauses in a Bill which contains a vital point of principle.
Would the noble Lord say that the general public would not be interested in Amendments relating to advertisements of drink, or children's programmes, or Sunday advertising?
It is a question of degree. We are not allowed to talk about the contents of the Bill.In general, I do not think that the interest and approbation of the public for the Parliamentary machine extends to the minute investigation, line by line. Clause by Clause and comma by comma, of contemporary legislation. The House is exceeding its duty in these days, public interest being what it is, in continuing very detailed, lengthy and prolonged Committee investigation. We have every reason and every right to examine Bills in detail in Committee in order to save time and trouble in the courts in the future should the legal phraseology be wrong. We have every right to seize every point of principle in legislation, to debate it and decide upon it; but we have no more right to stage deliberate obstruction on the commas, the "and" and the "buts," to take them out of Bills and conjure with them, than we have to do the same thing with delegated legislation. All we can do with delegated legislation is to throw it out whole in order that it may be reintroduced in more suitable form. What difference is there between delegated legislation and the Clauses on a Bill? The public will very soon get the impression, if lengthy obstruction on Committee stages is continued, of Parliamentary fruit which is over-ripe and rotting, and of Parliamentary decadence which needs reform. I welcome very warmly the introduction of this Motion, for the reasons I have given. I am not particularly wedded to every line and comma, or even to the principles, of the Bill. There are some features of the Bill with which I disagree. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may think that that is an extraordinary thing to say. Have they seen the Amendments on the Order Paper, which demonstrate the proof of what I say? I say what I say in general about the Guillotine all the more because it is being applied to a Bill of which I am not particularly fond. I look forward to the time, very soon it is to be hoped, when all controversial Bills in Committee, in periods of narrow majority, will be automatically timetabled on the Floor of the House.
Before I deal with some of the points made by the Home Secretary, I should like to comment on the agreeable political address which we have had from the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) on the virtue of Guillotines. We have always known that the noble Lord was not predictable, and was liable to give his support to the most unpopular causes. The Cromwellian eloquence with which in the past he has attacked Guillotine Motions and limitation of debates in this House has now been conveniently forgotten, as he has evolved a new and fundamental principle of democracy.The principle appears to be that, provided one has a large majority and that the country as a whole is thoroughly in favour of a Measure, one should have unlimited discussion on it, but if there is great opposition in the country and in the House, then, at all costs, discussion must be curtailed—it must, in fact, be railroaded. The railroading legislation which the noble Lord wants is something which I really find extraordinary. Had it come from anyone else but him, I should have wondered what had happened on the benches opposite. I urge him seriously to think again. No one here can advocate a time-table Motion on any controversial Measure, especially one on which there is real disagreement in the party supporting the Government. The Government know perfectly well that had this Measure been submitted to a free vote, it would not have passed this Chamber.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that and so does the Leader of the House. Indeed, they nearly lost the Bill the other night. They were down to a majority of three. It may be that some smooth explanation has been given out that Ministers were away and that some hon. Members were sick, but the Whips know that there was a steady draining away of hon. Members opposite who were fed up with the whole thing and completely unenthusiastic. I suspect that one of the reasons for the introduction of the Guillotine is that the Government know perfectly well that, if this Bill is allowed to be debated properly and fully, they will be beaten on one or other of the Amendments on the Order Paper.The Home Secretary will acquit me of making lengthy speeches in Committee, but I must make some comments on the points he has made. He was grossly unfair here, as in Committee, in suggesting that to take together six Amendments, some of which were not mutually harmonious, showed inconsistency, irrelevance and obstruction on the part of the Opposition. He knows perfectly well that it is a custom, to which we gladly subscribe, that Amendments dealing broadly with the same subject should be debated together. To suggest that they were in some respect contradictory does not infer any lack of consistency on the part of the Opposition. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that Amendments are sometimes put down merely to test opinion. It is quite common for the Opposition to move Motions which in fact they do not even support, in order to get an opinion from the Government. That did not apply to these Amendments. They were taken together for convenience and the whole six were discussed with very considerable dispatch. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a point which I simply did not understand. He said that only 35 minutes of the time of the House—and I hope that I understood him aright—was concerned with Amendments moved by the Government side. Or did he mean a Government Amendment? I think he said that it was Amendments moved from the Government side. If so, his facts are completely incorrect. We had a completely unintelligible and pointless Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot). We had to move to report Progress to get the Home Secretary back into the House in an attempt to get a rational explanation as to why the Government accepted it. We still do not know why the Government accepted it. The Home Secretary was brought in straight from his dinner. He had been very faithful and courteous in his attendance, but he had an impossible task. We wasted one and a half hours over a footling little Amendment moved by one of his right hon. Friends. As to the time devoted to Government Amendments, we had hoped that by the time the Bill came before the House the Government would have finally decided what they hoped to put into it. Once again, we found fundamental changes of the kind that have been shown in Government policy throughout the whole controversy on the introduction of commercial television. For instance, the Government originally proposed to appropriate public funds in order, apparently, to enable the Authority, if necessary, to put on its own programmes. I think that the Assistant Postmaster-General suggested that some of the programmes might be for children. But no—pressure from behind the Government has caused them to change their minds once again. The Authority is not to be allowed to put on programmes. It has to put them out to a contractor. This, again, is the type of change in Government policy which makes it extremely difficult for this House, and for people generally, to now what exactly the Government are seeking in this Measure. In fact, in the course of these five days which are allotted to us we shall be compelled to discuss not only a number of tremendously important issues, but also the fundamental changes made by the Government since the Second Reading debate. With all respect, I would suggest that the progress we made was not too bad. The Leader of the House suggested that there might be a difference of opinion about what was reasonable or unreasonable progress, but after all, as my right hon. Friend said, we were dealing with the first Clause. There is always a tendency for debates to be rather drawn out in the early stages. I would not, of course, go so far as to say that hon. Gentlemen then make, or want to make, the speeches they failed to make on Second Reading. We were beginning to move fairly quickly. The time we were taking on individual Amendments was speeding up continually. We took a considerable time on the first Amendments, but things were moving fairly fast on the second day. If the Government had not got the wind up and been influenced by fears of what would happen, if they had not accepted my right hon. Friend's Motion to report Progress, we could that night have moved well into Clause 2. Their nerve failed them. They faced the possibility of defeat. The Home Secretary rather cheerfully and easily dismissed in five or six main headings the subjects we have still to discuss. That is the sort of verbal trick which only draws attention to the real difficulties which this Bill raises. One might just as well suggest that in the nationalisation of transport one has only to discuss one broad subject, namely, the nationalisation of transport. These broad headings, which roughly coincide with the principal controversial parts of the Bill, are related to what are essentially enabling Clauses, and it is in probing the purpose and trying to establish certain rules that the real issues between us exist. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to 200 Amendments having been put down. Those, of course, can be broken into a number of groups. Among them there may be 30 or 40 main issues, and some of those main issues are of a kind that both sides of the Committee might wish to discuss at some length. Indeed, I very much hope that some of the Amendments we shall come to will be the subject of a free vote. I do not know whether the Leader of the House has considered that, but I know that some of his hon. Friends have strong views, affecting their conscience, on some of these matters. Even if the Government are prepared to invoke the Guillotine, I hope that they will not invoke the Whips. The Amendments touch on fundamental principles, and if the Government feel that, just by putting on a time-table, they can railroad their way through, then they are making a great mistake. These are issues on which already considerable feeling is stirring in different parts of the country. I do not propose to go into the question whether or not the Government had an electoral mandate for the Bill; they know perfectly well that they did not. They will discover some of the consequences of their action when, at the next Election, they are faced with the fact that the Government decided that it was more urgent to press on with this second programme than it was to develop the educational services of the B.B.C., as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Warbey) suggested. The right hon. and learned Gentleman definitely confirmed that he preferred to see the development of an alternative programme of a commercial kind. I shall not detain the House much longer. I want only to say that the BUI is of fundamental constitutional importance. That is presumably the reason the Government decided to take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House. It may be that it was because they knew they would not get it through in a Committee upstairs, but granting that they are taking it on the Floor of the House for honourable, constitutional reasons, it is precisely the kind of Measure which ought not to be subjected to a Guillotine. Words of hatred and fury have been used by hon. Members opposite—including the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South—in regard to Guillotines introduced by the Labour Government, and cries of "low-down Fascist" were hurled at my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)—
Not by me.
Those words were used by an unsuccessful ex-Minister of this Government. It was the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir H. Mackeson) who used those words. Now, having heard the suave and smooth defence of the limitation of discussion by the hon. Member for Dorset, South, I can only say that in their period of Government hon. Members opposite have sacrificed many of those principles to which they paid such a noisy allegiance in the days when they were in Opposition. I only hope that in this House, in another place, and in the country, the Government will see the consequences of the very evil thing which they are doing today.
This is the first time I have taken part in a debate on a time-table Motion, and I hope I shall not be accused of adding words of hatred and malice to the discussion. I think we all intensely dislike the Guillotine procedure, but if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that when we work under such a procedure speeches are kept much more to the point and the debate is much more objective. I do not think that anybody would deny that proposition.I have always marvelled at the inconsistency of hon. Members on both sides of the House on the question of timekeeping. On the last occasion, when the Government wanted to get this Bill through as quickly as possible and could be excused if they wanted to curtail the time, they moved to suspend the Ten o'Clook Rule, and the Opposition, who wanted more time to discuss the Measure, then proceeded to vote against the suspension of the Rule, in order to give themselves less time to discuss the Measure. If we go back in Parliamentary history we find that during discussions on Finance Bills everybody wants to go home at two or three o'clock in the morning, but the leaders on both sides of the House indulge in shadow-boxing for about half an hour, the net result of which is to keep us all out of bed for still longer. The way we conduct our business in these circumstances brings the whole of our Parliamentary procedure into disrepute. This should be like a business house, and we should conduct our affairs on business-like lines. Instead of that we sometimes have to listen to wearisome speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. No party is immune from that sort of thing. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said that the speeches made by his hon. Friends were very business-like and objective. Did he listen to some of the speeches made by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer)? He moved a very small Amendment, which was seconded, and the two speeches took more than one hour. All the hon. Member for Deptford talked about was Lady Maxwell Fyfe and Mrs. Butler. He said that we should be seeing commercial television programmes about the lives of these ladies. That was his objective contribution to the debate. However, he might have pointed out that we could have a third programme, called "The mystery of the missing groundnut," or "The awful story of Leslie Plummer," for, which the nation paid £36 million for the serial rights. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South endeavoured to pour a great deal of scorn upon the Home Secretary for the contents of his speech this afternoon but all we had from the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South was hyperbole upon hyperbole, to give verisimilitude to a very dubious case. He made a very cheap attempt to imply some kind of relationship between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and General Franco. I suppose he would take it very unkindly if we referred to a photograph of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition giving the Communist salute and called him a friend of Stalin. I am sure he would object to that sort of thing. Let us cut out the shadow-boxing and see what it is we are trying to do. It is no secret that some of my hon. Friends have misgivings about the Bill. I spoke against it in the debate on the White Paper, and I still have doubts about some of its aspects. I believe that the Government have made two mistakes so far. The first was in taking this Bill on the Floor of the House. It could easily have been taken upstairs. We have taken far more controversial Bills upstairs during this session, including the Landlord and Tenant Bill. More time is available and a more objective discussion takes place there. The second mistake is shown by the fact that we have already wasted three Parliamentary days, including today, on discussion. We are taking another five days to complete the Committee stage, and two more for the Report stage and Third Reading, making 10 days in all. I dislike the Guillotine procedure, but it was quite obvious from the start, by the clutter of Amendments put down, that it was the deliberate intention of the Opposition to filibuster as long as it could. Knowing that, it was the duty of the Government, after the Bill had been given a Second Reading and it had been decided to take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, to introduce a time-table Motion before we even started the next stage. I make no apologies for saying that. We have now lost three Parliamentary days. The inconsistency in the Amendments of hon. Members opposite is obvious if they will study them. The first collection of Amendments decried the virtues of the Bill, and implied that it was bad in every particular. The next section, which took up the best part of a day, allowed hon. Members representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies to take part in the debate.
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain in more detail what those Amendments were that criticised the Bill in detail? I do not know to what he is referring.
I think it would be out of order for me to discuss those Amendments in detail. The first group of the Amendments, over which we took the best part of a day, were condemnatory of the new organisation to be set up. The Opposition divided upon those Amendments—I forget how many times.
On a point of order. Would you rule, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is allowed to explain his remark by referring to the Amendments? He has said that he is debarred from referring to them by the rules of order. I understood from the example of the Home Secretary, who dealt in great detail with certain Amendments, that it would be reasonable if the hon. and gallant Gentleman were to tell us which Amendments were, and why they were, as he says, condemnatory of the Bill.
I think it would be in order for the hon. and gallant Member, since he says that time was wasted, to say how.
I have already attempted to explain. The first group of the Amendments were condemnatory of the organisation to be set up. If the phrasing of the Amendments was not, the manner in which the Amendments were propounded by hon. Gentlemen opposite was. I think they will recall that Amendments were discussed at great length on the question of good taste. That is one example that occurs to me. It was said we could not possibly rely on the Authority to bring forward programmes which were in good taste, and that there must be Amendments to circumscribe the Authority very severely.
We have not reached that yet.
Having decided against those Amendments we spent a long time considering Amendments that were said to ensure that Scotland and Wales got the benefit of this proposed second programme as quickly as possible. Hon. Members from Scotland and Wales took part in the debate on that subject. One of the Amendments, I remember, laid it down that the London area should not have a second commercial programme until areas outside the London area received the first. So it is of no use for hon. Gentlemen opposite to deny that their Amendments were wholly inconsistent with each other.I have been in this House for nearly four years.
Four years too long.
The member of the Labour Party who represented my constituency before me was a Member of the House for nearly six years. I well remember that after he had been here about three months he made a speech in Ilford in which he said that a great deal of time was wasted in this House and that we should have to organise our time better if we were to discuss the business of the nation properly. One has very great respect and reverence for the traditions of this place and of Parliamentary Government, but, without doubt, we do waste a very great deal of time.The time is not far distant when we shall have to appoint either a Royal Commission or a Select Committee to consider the whole working of our Parliamentary machine. For, if the House is to be so nearly equally divided for a number of years, the whole of our Parliamentary life will become so burdensome that the time may come when we shall have difficulty in finding people to fill the honourable position of Members of this House of Parliament.
I differ from the Home Secretary and from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) in taking this matter seriously. There seemed to be nothing whatever in the speech of either of them that gave the faintest indication that they realised that a Guillotine Motion in the circumstances is a serious matter.I have listened very carefully to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper). He was, he told us—or so I gathered—an authority on good taste. I can only leave that to him, but he was so keen on it as to think that an Amendment about it was a hindrance to the progress of the Bill. However, I do not recall any such Amendment during the two days when the Bill was being discussed in Committee. As for his criticism about inconsistency of the Amendments, I should value his opinion more if I had seen him here more often, or if he had read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debates more carefully. However, the Home Secretary is another person, and his argument is that he found that certain Amendments, in the niceties of his mind, were inconsistent, so that he found himself justified in bringing in and supporting, with his unmatched forensic eloquence, a case for a Guillotine. I should have thought that the first answer to him was that perfect consistency has not that singular value, and that the second answer to him was that he seemed to be much more inconsistent than the Amendments to which he objected. The right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to consider that it was inconsistent to object to the Television Authority's being constituted so soon and, at the same time, to wish that it should do its job promptly and well when it was constituted. Let us apply that argument to the Home Secretary. I object strongly to a person of his political views being Home Secretary, but when he is Home Secretary I would rather he did his job well and promptly than that he did nothing at all. That is the substance of the Amendments to which he objected. There have been two days' discussion in Committee on the Bill, and there are certain points about the Bill at which one has to look, not only, as my right hon. Friend was able to do, by the light of pure reason but by the light of a singular form of applied reason of hon. Members opposite, the most notable being that of the noble Lord and of the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South. They both of them seemed to me to put for-word, one more clearly than the other, the following argument, and I call their attention once more to it. It is this: the less popular support there is for a Measure the less popular support there is for the party that brings the Measure forward; the smaller its majority is, the greater the justification for a Parliamentary Guillotine. I would remind them that at the moment what we are talking about is guillotining a Bill. If that is a right and proper view of the Parliamentary use of the Guillotine in a democracy, then in the world in which we live we are one stage nearer to the genuine article, the guillotine that cut off a good many heads in France at the end of the 18th century, and its more modern equivalents. Our duty in this place—and so far I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South—is to vindicate the principles of parliamentary democracy which, in the world as it is at present, to the East and to the West of us, needs vindication, and vindication in practice by what goes on in this House, which is, after all, the oldest and, in many ways, the most honourable form of democracy in the world. When hon. Members opposite seriously say what they said just now, that the less the popular support for a Measure the less the popular support for the party that puts it forward, and the narrower its majority in an elected House the more justification there is for a Parliamentary Guillotine, I say to them that they are themselves leading this country down the path that leads to the destruction of democracy and to the kind of violence some countries have chosen to substitute for it. I ask the Home Secretary, does he realise that what he is doing is a serious thing? Does he realise that the Opposition can say that in the course of half their time in Parliament this Government have had twice as many Guillotines, and half of them over Measures of which they gave the electors no previous indication whatever? When the Opposition can say that, it is not a question of whether the Guillotine is right on this occasion; it becomes a question of whether the philosophy and the practice of the party opposite is not so dangerous to the principles of Parliamentary democracy as we know them, that it be- comes a menace to the world instead of merely a menace to this country. I was shocked, not so much at the calibre of the argument, not so much at the absence of the high moral tone in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman so often specialises—even he could hardly have applied it here—as at the levity of the proceedings, the slight-ness of the arguments about it. That has been continued in both the speeches which we have since heard from hon. Members opposite. Let us see what has happened. We have had two days' debate. Suppose some of the debates were protracted; suppose the Home Secretary attaches the importance which he sought to attach to a single remark by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison); suppose the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South was right in thinking that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) had said something too much or something too little and, therefore, it was a suitable occasion for making a few cheap jibes about groundnuts; suppose all that; is that a reason for introducing a Guillotine on this Bill—a Bill which everybody knows has certain very peculiar features? I will not go into them in detail, but I must point out one or two of them. The first is the obvious feature that not only has there been no mention of the Bill to the electorate beforehand but that when it has been put before the country it has aroused not only opposition but opposition of a very responsible character. It has raised opposition from all those who are seriously interested in religion and education. I do not believe that is putting it too high—and it ought to make us think a bit. After that, it aroused opposition from people who wanted to be quite certain that the organisation which was being set up would be clean and would be kept clean; and by "clean," I mean that it would not be a mere device by which the legislature was to be used to forward certain commercial interests. That, too. is a serious matter. Again, take the Parliamentary position. It is perfectly well known to the Government that this Bill, the White Paper and their proposals in one form or another— because they have altered them considerably from time to time—have met with very reasoned, serious and weighty opposition from their own highly-distinguished supporters in another place, that there is a volume of serious opposition among their supporters in this House, and that by and large it is fair to say that Conservative opinion in the country is as completely divided over this as it ever was divided over India in the old days, to take something quite different. This is, of course, a very serious business. We are responsible to the electorate not only for the public money which is to be used in the Bill, but also for protecting them against the kind of thing which is obviously threatened by the Bill, with all its apparatus of programme contractors, advertisers, big business and the rest of it. To use the Guillotine after only two days' discussion and to be able to rely on nothing better than the finicky arguments about the course the debate was taking, and to choose the number of Amendments as a good argument—was there ever anything thinner, anything less substantial, upon which to found a case of that sort? As to the number of the Amendments—and I know fairly well what I am talking about when we discuss the Opposition Amendments—every single one of them or every group of Amendments—we cannot do it by counting— has a substantial point behind it. The reasons for their number are very simple. First of all, the Bill seeks to dp a new, untried and very difficult thing, and obviously it is what we expect it to be— a Bill which is feeling its way, which is grouping, and which needs, quite literally, looking at line by line. Secondly, it is a rotten Bill by the form in which it is drafted. It contains bits of verbiage which ought never to appear in a statute; and heaven alone knows how they got there. I said to myself, when I looked at the Bill, "I never knew before what a programme contractor was. No doubt it must have been one of those strange fellows, or perhaps an advertising agent, who drafted the Bill." The Bill speaks of "the main streams of religious thought," and of "predominantly British" in tone and style. Was ever such bunk put in a statute before?
The last phrase comes straight out of the B.B.C. Charter.
But the B.B.C. Charter is not a statute. It is an entirely different matter.Unlike the hon. Member, I have nothing to do with advertisements. I am a mere lawyer, and I like my Acts of Parliament to be moderately tidy, moderately sensible and moderately clear. I think it is the job of the Opposition to tidy up a Bill of this sort, and when the Government put forward a lot of woolly mush, it is because they do not know what they mean or what they are talking about; and it is the business of the Opposition to get the Government to the point, to make them say what they mean and, if possible, to put it in clearer and better language. For all those reasons, I say that the Opposition have nothing about which to apologise over this Bill—neither about the Amendments which they put down nor about the two days' debate we have already had. It is a shame and a scandal to put on a Guillotine after so short a discussion on a Bill which raises issues of this kind and to do it deliberately, as some hon. Members opposite have said, because they know how scanty is the support for the Bill in the country and how scanty is the support for their own party.
It is refreshing, at any rate, to hear a lawyer ask for an Act of Parliament to be written in clear language. My experience of lawyers is that the less clear the language can be, the more pleased they are.This is the first time I have taken part in a debate on a Guillotine Motion. Although my record is clear and nothing can be quoted against me on this subject, from my days in opposition, I have to tread very carefully in view of the precedents which I may be establishing for a future occasion. Up to now I have always felt a little nervous about Guillotine Motions, in view of the fact that the Guillotine procedure, and indeed the Closure, were first introduced to deal with the Irish Party in the last century. We therefore have some degree of culpability in the matter and we must be careful in what we say. I did not entirely agree with my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) in his defence of the Guillotine procedure. Broadly speaking, I think that the procedure is undesirable, but, undoubtedly, there are times when it is a necessity. I must confess that I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) that debates which I have heard in the House, in the few short months during which I havse been here, under a Guillotine procedure or in Committee, have been better debates because of the time-table procedure. The arguments have always been addressed to the point in a way which is not always followed when there is no time-table Motion on the Paper. Generally speaking, they are better debates. The case for a Guillotine on this Bill is absolutely overwhelming apart from the arguments advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and others; apart from the arguments about the conduct of the Opposition during the early stages of the Bill; apart from the arguments about the incongruous nature of the Amendments and the inconsistencies between them. One example springs to my mind immediately—if all the Opposition Amendments had, in fact, been carried, we should have reached the position of having an Independant Television Authority, which was not to be constituted until 1962. having to provide programmes within one year of the passing of the Bill.
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is mistaken. The Amendment was not that the Authority should not be constituted until 1962. That was the date on which the Charter should expire. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is mixing up one thing with another. There were Amendments which attempted to start the Authority in 1956, and not 1962.
I do not accept that for a moment. But even were one to accept that argument, the position would be that an Authority which was not to be constituted until 1956 would have to provide programmes by the autumn of 1955. It is still the same sort of inconsistency. But it was not my intention to pursue that argument, which has been developed by the Home Secretary.The point I wish to make is that the attitude of the Opposition to this Bill, to the idea propounded in the White Paper and to this Motion has been an act of the basest ingratitude, because in point of fact the Bill was unnecessary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—yes, it was unnecessary. From the very beginning there was nothing whatever to prevent the Post master-General, without reference to any body, from licensing a television station to operate in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester or anywhere else under his own authority. He could have done it under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1904, or, had he laid the necessary Orders, under the Wireless Telegraphy (Explanation) Act, 1949. He had no need to produce a White Paper or a Bill at all. It was only —
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman has something else in mind. If the Postmaster-General wishes to get a couple of million pounds for his friends he must come to this House. If he wishes to give £750,000 to some of his friends he must come to this House. That is what this Bill does.
I am glad that the right hon. Member has raised that point. He knows only too well that my attitude in this matter has been absolutely consistent. I think that no money should ever have been given either for capital or for revenue. Indeed, there was no need for it. The Postmaster-General could have found persons, perfectly able, fit, willing and responsible people, who did not want anything from the public purse, and who were quite prepared to put on programmes in London, good programmes—probably better than we may get under these provisions, with their restrictions and inhibitions.The Postmaster-General could easily have put on programmes in London, Birmingham, Manchester or anywhere else without a Bill at all. The only reason —
On a point of order. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has any interest in this matter should not he declare it?
No, but I think he should attempt to get back to discussion of the Motion, and not discuss legislation.
If I had any interest whatever in the provision of television programmes I should have declared it.I was arguing that one of the reasons why this Guillotine procedure is justified is because the very fact that we have a Bill and that the Government have produced a White Paper represents a concession to the opponents of competitive and commercial television. Therefore, it is an act of the basest ingratitude on the part of the Opposition to oppose reasonable procedure upon it and to endeavour to delay it. The sooner we can get the new programme on the air, which the people want, the better. We should not waste too much time, because there is a very good political reason for it as well. Hon. Members opposite know—and this is really what is behind their attitude—that if they can delay the provision of the new service, if they can delay the coming into operation of competitive television stations, they will be able to go round the country raising scares and saying, "Look what you are going to get. These things will debase public morals and standards and all the rest of it"—just as they did with their war-mongering scare. They know only too well that once these stations get on the air all those kind of arguments will be useless. They are afraid of the potential popularity of these programmes, which they realise will be so good and so popular. All the scares that hon. Members opposite are raising about these programmes are utterly unjustified. That is why they wish to delay the passage of this Bill, and the moral and high-minded indignation of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering is addressed only to that end.
If the sort of speeches which we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite are an indication of the way in which the Government Members propose to support their own Motion it bodes ill for the Government. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) who has not been here throughout the whole of the debate, turned up today to make some remarks about Guillotines in general, to philosophise, and to give us the justification for Guillotines ad lib.The noble Lord was followed by the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) who spoke during the Second Reading debate against the Bill, and who had the gravest doubts about it. Today, he said very little, other than that, at this late stage, he felt that he could give it some support. Now we have heard the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) who has been present throughout the whole of our debates and who, at any rate, has been consistent in that he sees no purpose at all in the Bill. We have had three speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite which could hardly have comforted the Home Secretary. No one wanted the Bill and no one has spoken very much about all the things which have been debated in this Chamber—
I do not think the hon. Member intended to misrepresent me, but I did not say that there was no purpose in the Bill. I said that the Bill was unnecessary for the provision of commercial television and that the purpose of introducing it was to make a concession to the hon. Member, and people like him, who oppose commercial television.
I cannot follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in that argument. He has admitted my text, which is that he did not want the Bill and I do not find much else in the speeches of his hon. Friends.I wish to deal with one of the charges made by the Home Secretary. He said that there were two sets of Amendments which were totally inconsistent and contradictory. I know the Amendments to which he was referring, and under your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think I may refer to them in a little detail. The Amendments which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said were inconsistent were those which first tried to postpone the coming into being of the Authority for at least one year, and another set which proposed that the Authority should do, within one year, everything which it was being set up to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that, on the one hand, we were trying to delay the coming into operation of the Authority and, on the other, that we were trying to push it on as fast as possible once it did come into operation. He says that that is inconsistent. Broadly speaking, one might admit inconsistency, but what the right hon. and learned Gentleman must realise is that the second set of Amendments was thoroughly justified because of speeches made by his hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General. The Committee stage of a Bill is used to find out what is behind every word and every substantial point. We had from the Assistant Postmaster-General throughout debates on this BUI and on the White Paper which preceded it a statement that commercial television could do now—and these were almost his words—all the things that the B.B.C. would take about 10 years to do. We were quite justified in putting these Amendments on the Order Paper, not in the hope that they would be carried, but to probe the mind of the Assistant Postmaster-General, to find out the justification for his remarks, to find out how quickly the Authority would work, or to find out what we on this side of the House suspected, that the Assistant Postmaster-General had put himself in a very sticky position and could not really justify his claims when he came to the later stages of the debate. We all know that the Assistant Postmaster-General had put his foot in it in making those remarks and it is quite legitimate on the Committee stage of a Bill to bring a Minister to book, to ask him to explain his promises and, in this instance, to explain something, upon which he justified the general basis of the Bill, and which we have since proved to be palpably false. This complaint about our inconsistency falls completely to the ground. If one considers the use of the Committee stage and the remarks of the Assistant Postmaster-General one sees that we were quite justified in pursuing him in the hope of getting him either to retract or to justify the promises that he had made. This is no contradiction on our part, but a very legitimate use of the Committee stage of the Bill. My second point is that I am very strongly against the use of a Guillotine on this Bill on grounds additional to those that have been mentioned already from this side of the House. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), as a legal practitioner, has said that he likes a Bill to be tidy, with every phrase in it capable of clear legal interpretation. I am very anxious that this Bill should be clear, not so much on legal grounds but because it concerns an organ which will affect public opinion in this country very greatly. It is a very dangerous matter indeed if a Bill which has great powers of control over men's minds, over public taste and over all sorts of standards of conduct should have slipshod phrases in it. The Committee stage should be used to probe such slipshod phraseology as there is in it, to consider those phrases at length if necessary, and to find out what is the Government's intention behind the phraseology. I have taken as an example three or four pages of this Bill and I want to repeat to the Home Secretary some of the phrases which I submit could legitimately take up half a day's debate each. First, on page 2, line 30, the Bill states: that a member of the Authority
What does that mean? Surely it is legitimate to have two, three or four hours' debate on what other interests will affect prejudicially the conduct of members of the Authority. For example, does that include advertisers or does it only mean that a man must not have a direct interest in an advertising company. Or could an Authority member be a director of a firm of detergent manufacturers, for example? That is a phrase of which no one knows the meaning and about which we do not know the intentions of the Government. Page 5 of the Bill contains phrases that are capable of endless meanings. It is stated, for example, that"… will have no such financial or other interest. … as is likely to affect prejudicially the discharge by him of his functions as member of the Authority…"
I should like to know what is meant by"It shall be the duty of the Authority to secure that, so far as possible, the programmes broadcast by the Authority comply.…"
What would justify failure by the Authority to live up to that standard?"… so far as possible…"
I really think that this is a matter which should be dealt with on the Committee stage.
We shall not have a chance to do that.
I am not going into the merits of these phrases, but merely saying that time is needed to debate and examine them. We should have time to discover when the Authority would be justified in not living up to the standard set down by the' Government in the words
Then the programmes are to be"… so far as possible…"
We could have hours of debate on that alone. These things will affect the taste and outlook of many people and we want to know what the Government believes to be the standard in these matters. In page 5, line 12 of the Bill, the Authority is enjoined to secure"… predominantly British.…"
in something or other. What does that mean? What do the Government regard as a proper balance? I do not object to the phrase being used as long as it is on Parliamentary record that we have something to indicate the mind or intention of the Government."that the programmes maintain a proper balance. …"
That will not help.
Perhaps it does not help in legal interpretation, but it lays down a code of conduct which the Authority would have to bear in mind in carrying out the will of Parliament.
It is no good saying in the courts, "This is what the Minister in charge of the Bill said or somebody on the Opposition side said." The judges will say that they are concerned with the wording of the Bill and that is why I support the line that my hon. Friend is adopting in criticising the Motion.
Far be it from me to refuse support, though my right hon. Friend is not precisely on my point. I am not speaking about legal interpretations in the courts. I say that the nature of the Bill is such that it is more important that the Authority should have knowledge of what Parliament thinks is a proper balance. In that sense the Authority can then take the words of the Government and of the sponsors of the Bill as its guide.Page 5, line 16 of the Bill refers to
being of British origin."… a proper proportion of the films and other recorded matter. …"
I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to give several examples to show why, in his opinion, more time should be spent on the Bill but he must not go on indefinitely giving examples.
I have taken examples mainly from page 5, which could be repeated throughout the Bill. The substance of my case is that it is quite wrong to stint time on this Bill. If it is impossible to express our views in legal binding phraseology, at least from the consensus of opinion in this House members of the Authority should have guidance in practice. It is quite wrong that we should be placed in a position in which it is most likely that these phrases can never even be called for discussion. The impact of this Bill on public opinion may be quite different from what the sponsors of the Bill intended.I come now to the essence of the case against a Guillotine on this Bill. In a sense this is a hybrid Bill. It is not a clear nationalisation Measure or something of that kind in which business is involved and in which legal and financial phraseology can be clearly used. It is a Bill in which there cannot be precise legal definitions. It is a Bill affecting the broadcasting of opinions, of taste, of the conduct of people and of the kind of thing that programmes ought or ought not to contain. That is quite different from the businesslike way in which a nationalisation Measure can be drafted. The subject does not lend itself to those precise definitions. That is why Parliament needs special extra time to probe the intentions behind these phrases. I have a great deal of sympathy with what some hon. Members opposite have said about the use of the Guillotine—not those who have sought to justify it and the philosophy behind it, but hon. Members who have said how dangerous it is that we are developing the use of the Guillotine more and more every year. The figures given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) are very important—two or three times in six years and then six times in two-and-a-half years. This is a very dangerous thing for Parliament. We have reached a stage in which when we come to the spring and summer of a Parliamentary year it is almost impossible to get much legislation through Parliament. It is a fact that if we have a complicated Budget we may have a Finance Bill of 100 pages and there is a definite number of Supply days which must be accorded between April and the end of July. The Finance Bill itself may not only be complicated, but has to be got through by a certain date early in July. If we add one or two other essentials in legislation we have a situation in which it is almost impossible to take highly controversial legislation in the spring or summer without the Guillotine. [An HON. MEMBER: "It always was so."] Someone says that it always was so, but that was in the more leisurely days when matters of controversy and great matters involving large-scale interference with private affairs and the regulation of life more generally were not happening. Today, under any Government, the sphere of legislation and of setting the standard in all kinds of things is increasing and, therefore, the importance of getting legislation through increases. In this sort of thing we are in a dead season in which it is almost impossible to push legislation through without the Guillotine. I should like to see some investigation into the use of Parliamentary time on the Floor of the House. I am perhaps in a minority in this and do not take the same view as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South. I should like to have seen the Bill taken upstairs because I think we could have had the kind of debate for which I was hoping in the earlier part of my speech. My right hon. Friend considers that an important constitutional Measure should be taken on the Floor of the House. Which view should have precedence? Can we have Committees of greater importance which could examine Bills of great moment while the present Standing Committee system was left to deal with minor Bills? I do not know the answer, but, quite clearly, we ought not to face calmly the continual increase in the use of the Guillotine and the continual difficulty of getting important Bills through. Every Thursday, at the end of Question Time, hon. Members raise matters which need discussion in this House and the answer is that it is impossible to reach them. The pace of these things is increasing and increasingly Parliament is unable to discuss important things without being faced with the necessity of guillotining the discussion on them, especially in this closed season. I oppose the Guillotine generally on this Bill simply because it is wrong to guillotine a Measure which will have control over public opinion and taste and which, therefore, needs most thorough discussion. But, equally, I oppose it because we want a thorough investigation into the use of the Guillotine, the use of Parliamentary time, the use of Standing Committees and the use of the Floor of the House for Committee stages of Bills. We want an investigation into the problem which a modern legislature has to face of getting through much more legislation than formerly had to be faced. I hope that out of these proceedings—evil though today's may be and evil though others which have to follow may be before we reach a decision on the matter —nevertheless we shall evolve machinery which can deal with the core of this problem.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) in his rather wide request for a general inquiry into Parliamentary procedure and the use of Parliamentary time, although there is much to be said for what he and hon. Members on this side of the House have said in support of such a proposal. I very much fear that so long as all hon. Members want to speak on a particular subject no solution can be found.I want to come back to the question of whether the Guillotine should be applied to this Television Bill. The hon. Member and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) referred to this as a highly controversial Measure. Who made it a highly controversial Measure? Who voted on Second Reading that the people should not have a second programme produced by an independent Authority. It was Members opposite. Many Bills are introduced against which the Opposition say they will not vote but will put down Amendments in Committee to improve them, although they do agree in principle. In this case, they say they do not agree in principle that the people should have a television service provided by an independent Authority.
Surely the hon. and learned Member will agree that long before Second Reading in this House there was controversy in another place on this Bill in which noble Lords, members of his own party, voted against the Government.
On any subject there may be controversy and I want to make it clear that hon. Members can certainly choose any matter which they wish to bring into controversy. But I also want to make quite clear that they have brought into controversy the question of people having the kind of television Authority to be set up under this Measure. That being so, they have done everything they could to stop the Bill going through.I come back to the question of whether or not the Guillotine should be applied to the remaining stages of this Bill. I say at once, whatever might have been said in any part of the House, that I do not like guillotining. I believe, and always shall believe, that all hon. Members, whether they represent the Government, Opposition, or small parties, should say what they like, when they like—though always within the rules of order. But on the question of whether the Guillotine should be applied to the remaining stages of this Bill, I wonder whether, in saying that it should not be applied, hon. Members opposite have considered the Amendments already put down. There are already seven double pages of Amendments, printed on both sides of the page, and one single page, printed on both sides.
Not more than that?
No more at present, but we believe that there would be more as part of the policy of the Opposition.The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to the vindication of Parliamentary democracy, but how can we vindicate that when people are saying—as undoubtedly they are, whatever their views for or against an independent television Authority may be—" Let us have a look at it. We will soon tell you whether we should have it or not, and whether you were right to pass the Bill." They will tell us that very quickly. If the public learn that month after month we were sitting here discussing words and phrases, discussing whether one word should go out of the Bill and a certain word should come in, they will say that we have not vindicated Parliamentary democracy and that we have not given them, the people who are to receive this instrument, the chance of deciding whether they like it or not. That is the ultimate test, whatever our political views and opinions in the House may be.
Following that line of argument, if the people do not like the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, are the Government prepared to withdraw it?
That is an entirely different subject. The people, who realise the cost of house repairs and maintenance, not only will like the Bill, but will welcome it. I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her intervention.
I should not have intervened except for the most interesting and rather novel constitutional doctrine that the hon. and learned Member appears to be recommending to the House. I do not want to debate it with him—that would be quite wrong in an intervention—but I want to know how far he intends to go. That is why I thought that my hon. Friend's question was worthy of perhaps a little more detailed answer than the hon. and learned Member gave it.Is the hon. and learned Member really saying that whenever a controversial Bill is introduced into the House, what we ought to do is not to debate it properly in Committee or in the other Parliamentary stages, but to submit it to the views of the electorate outside? Is that his proposition?
I am astonished chat the hon. Member, who, whatever may be his other faults, certainly has a clear brain, should make such a suggestion or put such meaning into my words. I never said anything of the sort, nor did I mean anything of the sort; nor could I be understood to have meant anything of the sort by anybody who had listened to my words. I will repeat, for the hon Member's benefit, what I said. The public is waiting for its television to see whether it likes it. We are holding it up. Therefore, we should not sit here month after month holding it up when the people are waiting for it. That, shortly, is my argument.The Amendments that have been put down might have taken us all through July and August. Are we to put to one side the Finance Bill and other important legislation while we discuss the Television Bill and nothing else? I am certain that in voting for the Guillotine we are dealing fairly and honourably with the Bill. Apart from the debate on the White Paper and apart from the Second Reading of the Bill, we have already given two days to the Amendments, and we did not get very far. It is our duty to get the Bill through and as, obviously, the only manner in which we can get it through is by applying the Guillotine, I shall vote with a perfectly clear conscience for the Guillotine if the Motion is taken to a Division.
The hon. Member will have to vote for it. The Whips will see to that.
If my conscience were the other way round, I should not obey the Whips. Had the Guillotine been put in the wrong way and at the wrong time, not only myself, but a great many hon. Members on this side also, would certainly not vote for it. [Laughter.] I appreciate the laughter of hon. Members opposite, who have different views upon the subject and who, of course, follow their Whips like the sheep that they are.
What was the last occasion on which the hon. and learned Member did not vote when the Whips were on?
There was no such occasion because, fortunately, on no occasion has my conscience in any way troubled me, particularly with the Bill. That is an unfortunate subject to mention from the right hon. Gentleman's party.That being so, and since the people of the country are waiting for their second television programme and since hon. Members opposite are trying to hold it up, I shall not hold up the House any longer and I conclude my remarks by saying that I hope the Guillotine will be applied on this Measure and that we get the Bill through in the near future.
I should not have had the temerity to intervene in this debate but for the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), a speech from which I am pleased to see, as the debate has proceeded, some of the Members on the other side have dissociated themselves.Debates on the Guillotine are largely matters for ancient Parliament men, for Members of the Front Bench particularly, and for those who are primarily interested in the Bill which it is sought to Guillotine. Most Members of the House regard the Guillotine as a regrettable necessity of a Government. In the last resort a Government must govern, for if powers like the Guillotine did not exist there would be government by the minority. As the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) reminded us, the Guillotine first came into operation because of the efforts of a small but determined Irish minority in the House to obstruct the Government and to prevent the majority from carrying on. One would respect the deep national convictions which moved them into the actions they took, but the Government of the day eventually had to seek new powers, and those powers were taken. A Government spokesman usually introduces a Guillotine with apologies to the House and expressions of regret, and I am sorry that when the Home Secretary spoke this afternoon he gave no such indications. The arguments for the Guillotine are usually on the amount of resistance which the Opposition has shown to Government measures, the state of the Government's time-table, with the kind of statistical comparisons in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) delights and which the Leader of the House delights in answering, and with a battle of quotations and counter-quotations from old Parliament men, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), a great Parliament man and one whose wise humour leaves him open to the enemy in matters of quotations. So true is our objection to curtailing free debate that the Government have to waste a day in debating the Guillotine, and the debate on the Guillotine itself is unlimited. I hope that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South will correct me if I misinterpret him, but I understood him to say that he looks forward to seeing the Guillotine as a normal part of Parliamentary Government. "After all, "he said," the Guillotine is not a fearsome, bloody weapon; it is merely a timetable." It is, he said, something like a railway time-table. But here, something more important is involved than catching a train. When catching a train we know where the train is going. If we were not certain where it was going, a long debate and argument with the engine driver might be of importance. And the implications of a Bill are far-reaching, and need careful examination. The noble Lord then went on to say that the smaller the Government majority, the more justifiable the Guillotine. It is true that towards the end of his speech he made the proviso that the kind of Bill that should be guillotined was one to which he was not opposed. I regard the noble Lord's speech this afternoon as the negation of Parliamentary democracy. He might very well have ended it by calling in his henchmen, as Cromwell did, to carry the Mace out of the House. Why do we hate the Guillotine? Why do some of us regard debate under the Guillotine, not as a much improved form of debate, but as a most depressing form of debate? We are certain that in the debates on this Bill under the Guillotine vital matters will not be discussed. Under the time-table the Opposition will have to arrange a set of priorities for discussion and will be found to cut out some things they regard as vitally important. Even the items which are discussed are discussed inadequately under the Guillotine, and after the point of view has been put by the chief Opposition spokesman any back-bencher who dares, to intervene is frowned upon. The Government's own supporters, who have been checked in other debates in the Bill, can now debate at length and rob the Opposition even of some of the limited time available to them under the Guillotine. In Parliamentary debates it is surely important that the Opposition should have adequate opportunity of expressing itself, as compared with supporters of the Government, who in any case are getting their Bill. Above all, the atmosphere of a Guillotine debate changes from the free cut and thrust battle to an almost formalised debate, where even when the Opposition divides against a section of the Bill it has to be carefully calculated whether it can afford to sacrifice time to divide. If the Bill is of profound significance—and we regard this Bill of profound significance—it is indeed a very serious question whether we should adopt a Guillotine Motion. As for the noble Lord's argument that the small majority of the Government justifies the Guillotine, I would suggest that if anything the truth is the reverse.
The hon. Member has completely ignored the main purpose in my speech which was designed to cut out the purely obstructionist technique of the Opposition in interfering with the passage of Bills lines by line and comma by comma. I only suggested it should work under a narrow majority which I conceived to be Parliamentary decadence in that regard.
Quite seriously, I had not thought it worth while dealing with the noble Lord's point in which he poured contempt upon the whole process of Committee work, which is an examination of a Bill line by line, Clause by Clause, comma by comma and which is a precious feature of legislating. If there is a large majority behind the Government, surely it is usually because there is a large majority behind it in the country, and that the Measures which the Government are proposing to the House are Measures on which they can command a large majority in the country, and if there is anything in his charge of obstruction, then the charge could be levelled against a small Opposition when it was using Parliamentary time to check and impede the will of a Government which commanded a massive majority in the country. But if there is a small majority in the House, then it does mean that the country is almost evenly divided on the merits of the Measures which the Government are likely to bring in.It was in such a state of affairs in the last Parliament that we believed that it was the Government's job to carry on the administrative work of governing rather than to use their chancy and microscopic majority to carry through bitterly contested legislation. If that is tree generally, it is even more true under a Government like this one, which have not even got a majority of the electors on their side. As to his final point, it simply means he wants a Guillotine for every Measure which he supports, but does not really want it to be used if the Government were doing something he was deeply and conscientiously opposed to. One of the real troubles is that apparently there are Conservatives in the House, and certainly in the country, who do not believe in democracy unless it is working in their favour. Someone had to fight for the franchise; someone had to fight to win political freedom for everyone; someone had to fight for the right of trade unions to organise; and someone had to fight to destroy the corrupt oligarchy which ran Parliament throughout the 18th century. Those fighters were largely the ancestors of people on this side of the House. I do not usually blame modern Conservatives for the sins of their ancestors, but I do seriously say that we have had this afternoon a "true blue" speech from the noble Lord, worthy of those who represented the country here some 150 years ago. Some cynics may say that the noble Lord has had the courage to say openly what many of his colleagues would like to say. I do not believe that. I believe the best elements of the Tory Party have changed and that the speeches which Conservative spokesmen in this debate have made since this intervention show that what I said about democracy., about the rights of minorities, and about regretting the use of the Guillotine, is the view of most people on both sides. The Guillotine ought not to be used until the Government can place their hands on their heart and say that they have honestly tried to get a Measure through Parliament, that they have been seriously and obstructively impeded in every step by the Opposition, and that they have now come to the conclusion that there is no other way in which they can carry on without using this power which they regret. But that is certainly not true in this case. It is patently not true to say that they have had anything like obstruction from the Opposition in debates so far on the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has said, no one has been called to order in the debates, and at no time has the Government been forced to closure a debate. I shall therefore vote against this Motion, not because a Guillotine is never justified, but because of all the times it has been used by this Government— except for the Health Bill—its use now is the most shameful one of the whole group introduced during this Parliament.
I could not quite follow the hon. Member's argument that in a Bill, which I feel should never really have been as controversial as it has become, only Opposition speakers should be allowed to make speeches and put forward points. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I definitely heard his words that we were robbing the Opposition of time if we intervened in the debates.
Only if there is a Guillotine.
We welcome the intervention of Government supporters in the ordinary way, and it is quite right that there should be broadly a 50–50 basis, but once there is a Guillotine where we are being choked it would be too bad if Government supporters over-spoke.
We must wait and see how the debates are conducted by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, but we hope that when the various Clauses are considered there will not be too much talking on the earlier Clauses to the exclusion of discussion later of more important ones. I feel that this Motion is the obvious and ultimate conclusion of a campaign which has been run consistently in an effort to defeat the principles in the Bill and to uphold the principle of monopoly in broadcasting and television. The right hon. Gentleman for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) referred to his worries and disappointment that the matter had become one of party controversy. He cannot be entirely blameless. I have in my hand a publication put out by Transport House, and dated 28th June, 1952, which tears asunder the principle of breaking the monopoly and goes on to quote the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South speaking on 18th June.It is clear that even at that stage the party opposite were seeking to band together opinion and to fight for the principle of a monopoly in broadcasting. This campaign grew in momentum after the Coronation broadcast of 2nd June, 1953. It was only two days after that broadcast that a letter appeared in "The Times," which has never hidden the part it has played in the campaign, asking for the launching of a campaign to fight for the upholding of the broadcasting monopoly. That letter appeared with five very distinguished signatures, but perhaps it would have borne even more weight if four of the gentlemen concerned had not been so very closely allied to the B.B.C. itself, either as Governors or as members of the B.B.C. General Advisory Council. That asked for the formation—Smeant to be spontaneous—of the National Television Council which has fought a magnificent campaign, and everyone would give it credit for the propaganda it has put out to try to uphold the monopoly. The National Television Council would have carried more weight if it had not been so well larded by members who had special interest. It has already been pointed out that the honorary secretary—Mr. Lewis—of this Council was on loan from the film industry. There could obviously be no person who had a greater interest in stopping the progress of television than one interested in the film industry.
On a point of order. I do not mind how wide the debate goes, but is discussion of the correspondence in "The Times," a year ago or more, relevant to the Motion that we are now discussing?
I have not seen that correspondence myself, but I gather that the hon. Member's argument, as far as I was able to follow it, was that there was declared opposition to the Bill on the part of the Opposition a long time ago. I presume that the hon. Gentleman intended to found upon that some argument in favour of the Motion before the House.
I was about to point out that not only were there interested parties on the National Television Council, but there were many personages closely allied with the B.B.C. and there were hon. Members opposite who have led the campaign. The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. May hew) are both members of this important Council, and they sought to influence the campaign which has led to the Guillotine Motion.It is a shame that we should be having this debate. It is almost like Hamlet without the Prince, because the hon. Member for Woolwich, East has apparently been struck down by influenza and has been unable to attend here last week or this.
On a point of order. It appears to me that some sort of personal attack upon my integrity has been made because I happen to be a member of the Council and because there happens for once to be two or three Labour supporters on a national body. To suggest that I have led a campaign on a body in which there are a large number of Conservative peers is, I think, extremely doubtful, and I do not see what it has to do with the Guillotine Motion.
I did not understand the hon. Member in that sense. I have no doubt that if he feels that any offence has been given by his words the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) will make his intention clear.
Will it be in order for hon. Members on this side of the House to discuss the history of the campaign conducted by hon. Members opposite? That would only be fair in view of the remarks already made.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Hendon, North has put himself out of order yet, but he should remember what I said earlier, which was that speeches should be confined to the merits of the Motion before the House and not to the merits of the Bill. The Bill has nothing to do with the Motion, really.
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. If I have offended the hon. Member for Preston, South by associating his name with the campaign, I withdraw the remark. Perhaps although his name is on the letter-head he took no part at all.This question has driven the party opposite to make one or two statements which now are rather deeply regretted. Therefore, the only tactics which can be allowed are delaying tactics. If they can prevent the people seeing the television resulting from this Bill, then perhaps some of their propaganda may be believed. If once the people who are in the majority in wanting this service, in spite of the campaign—the Gallup polls have consistently shown that more people want to break the monopoly—can see what can be offered, much of the propaganda conducted by hon. Gentlemen opposite will immediately fall to the ground. Therefore, I suggest that the Motion is a complete and logical outcome of two and a half years of debate on the principles contained in the Bill. We remember very well how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South has skilfully directed the propaganda of the Labour Party. We remember very well the war-monger campaign. We remember the forecast of one million unemployed and the forecast of the Is. egg. All these fell to the ground only when they were proved to be absolutely and palpably untrue. I cannot help feeling that we are debating a Guillotine Motion today simply because after 20 days of Parliamentary time on this matter—20 days spread over the House of Commons and the House of Lords since July, 1951—the public are beginning to be tired of continual debate and want to see us get on with the job.
Is that why the hon. Gentleman has put down Amendments to the Bill?
I have put down Amendments to try to improve the Bill. I take it that that is why the right hon. Gentleman has put down Amendments. I merely ask that the filibustering which clearly has been going on should come to an end.We all heard the cri de cœur which came from an hon. Member during the Committee stage when he asked, "Must we go on listening to this nonsense?" Those of us who have listened must admit that some of the speeches contained a certain degree of filibustering. We have already had quoted from the Government Front Bench the speech of an hon. Lady who said that if an Amendment were carried it would be a wrecking Amendment which would bring the Bill to naught. In these circumstances, I shall support the Government, because reluctantly they have had to bring in a Guillotine Motion. In the long run, it is the people who will judge the merits of this Bill. It is they who on their television sets will "suck it and see."
Mr. Speaker, I am glad that I caught your eye at this juncture, because the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) has misinterpreted the statement asking whether we must listen to this nonsense. That statement did not refer either to the Amendment under discussion or to the mover of the Amendment, but to some discussion in regard to the antics of one of the cast in a B.B.C. play.We are confronted with a very wicked proposal. I do not know who is responsible for it. There have been enough Amendments to the Bill of such a nature as to melt the heart of the Abominable Snowman. And yet those gentlemen sat absolutely unmoved; not a flicker of any expression of any kind crossed their faces. They think it is wrong of us—one of them has just said so—to put seven pages of Amendments down to a Bill which is so highly controversial that the Government had great difficulty in getting a majority of three. Surely it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, and to put down as many Amendments as they think fit. My people in Coatbridge instructed me on what they wished me to do about this Bill. I told them that I could not do as they wished, that I was being guillotined. They said, "Who do they think you are, Marie Antoinette or Mary Queen of Scots?" I explained that it was a proposal, newly made by the Government, to cover up their misdeeds, because Scotland does think that the Government have been guilty of misdeeds. Did we not hear a Member opposite say that we ought to get this Bill on the Statute Book as quickly as possible, and that the people would say, "We will tell you whether we like it or not?" That completely excludes Scotland; it excludes Wales; it excludes all the regions, which cannot say whether they like it or not because all they are to get is the privilege of paying for it. They are to pay for something which they cannot say whether they like or not. We are to be prevented from objecting to paying. We have heard right hon. Gentlemen opposite explaining how difficult it is to get all the regions going at once. I wondered what they would say if they came to the House and explained that Christmas cards could not be delivered at Christmas time in Scotland because it was impossible; or that the railways would not be run up North be cause they must serve the congested areas where the biggest profit could be made. Such an argument would not be listened to. I am convinced that the reason—
But is it not correct that television was not introduced into Scotland, under the old system, until long after it started in England, and that no objection was made to that, so far as I am aware, by the hon. Lady?
Oh, yes, there was. I must correct the hon. Member. I have constantly raised these points at Questions. Indeed, I think I suggested that one reason why Scotland was having to pay and not getting the service was that the service was deemed to be of such a poor nature that it was worth paying a £1 extra not to see it. We know that we cannot now say anything further about the payment that the Scots and the people in the other regions must make because that issue is closed as we have already voted on that particular part of the Bill.I wish to point out a number of detailed items in these Amendments to which we shall not be able to refer. I am convinced that housewives are paying much more than they should pay for a great number of items which are at present being advertised from Radio Luxemburg. I have a suspicion that the charges are being kept high because there will be a switch of advertising to television. For example, it has been asked why free gift schemes are in operation in connection with certain commodities— a 6d. free coupon, a set of Apostle spoons, two tea towels and other gifts. Why, instead of reducing the price of the commodities themselves at once, are these free gift schemes in operation? I think that the price of those commodities is being kept static so that when this Bill is rushed through, with undue haste, as it is being rushed through, the static price can remain and the free gift schemes be dropped. I therefore think, in short, that Daz, Tide, Surf and the other detergents are running free gift schemes and keeping the price at 1s. 11d. with the intention of dropping those schemes as soon as this Bill can be raced through the House. That is one of the reasons why the Government are trying to get us to swallow these proposals in as quick a gulp as we should swallow ice cream in a heat wave.
The hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman), in what seemed to me to be a very thoughtful speech, said that the effect of the Guillotine Motion would be to prevent certain Amendments to which the Opposition attached great importance from being discussed. With great respect, I think that the hon. Member for Northfield, or anyone else who uses that argument, rather overlooks the whole purpose of Standing Order No. 41, under which a business committee is set up. I understand the whole object of that Standing Order to be to enable the Opposition to make representations as to what part of the Bill they regard as most important. It is something of an exaggeration to say that, with five more days allotted for the Committee stage, there will be any major matters on which the Opposition really feel strongly which will not be discussed at all.The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King), in a speech to which I listened with great attention, said that the effect of the Guillotine might be that Government back benchers would take an undue share of the time during the remaining five days. I am bound to say that I have never known that happen when a Guillotine has been in operation during the present Parliament. I would remind the hon. Member that when we were discussing the Transport Bill, on the first allotted day, we reached a point on one Amendment at which the Opposition thought that the discussion had gone far enough. At that moment one of my hon. Friends got up to continue the discussion, and someone on the Opposition Front Bench moved the Closure, which was accepted by the Chair. There was no Division. It is fair to say that if the Opposition really want a discussion on a particular Amendment to be concluded, and if an hon. Member on this side of the Chamber only rises to continue the debate, there is a very good chance indeed that the Chair will, in those circumstances, accept a Motion for the Closure. The only other point I wish to make is that when one takes into account the present state of the Parliamentary Session, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Government could not reasonably have been expected to give more than five days for the rest of the Committee stage of the Bill and two days for Report and Third Reading. According to my calculations, from the Monday of this week, leaving out the two Recess Adjournment days, there will be 48 sitting days before the Summer Recess, apart from Private Member's time. Of those 48 sitting days, five will be Government Fridays, when it is not customary to take controversial legislation, or legislation of the very first importance. That brings us down to 43. From this Monday there were 12 Supply Days to run and also two days for the Consolidated Fund Appropriation Bill, which are to all intents and purposes Supply Days. That brings us down to 29. It is highly unlikely that the Committee and remaining stages of the Finance Bill will occupy less than eight days of Parliamentary time. That makes 21. The Government have already agreed to give one day for the Adjournment debate on Thursday, and I am sure they will give at any rate one day for a debate on the Geneva Conference. It is safe to say that on the Monday of this week there were to be less than 20 Parliamentary days for the discussion of Government legislation before the House rose for the Summer Recess. When one considers the amount of important legislation which it will be necessary to obtain before the Summer Recess, I do not think the Government could reasonably have been expected to grant more than seven more days for this Bill. Quite a number of Bills which are now going through the House are quite uncontroversial, and hon. Members on both sides want to see them reach the Statute Book. In those circumstances, the amount of time which the Government are giving for the discussion of the further stages of this Bill is perfectly reasonable. Whatever the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) may have said this afternoon about there having been no obstruction and about Nazis, Fascists and General Franco, he knew perfectly well, and so did his supporters, that if more progress was not made on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week there was certain to be a time-table Motion down this week Whatever may be the opinion of hon. Members opposite, it is interesting to notice that "The Economist," which has not always supported my right hon. Friend on points of procedure, is completely behind him in having moved this time-table Motion. They say, in this week's number, which I have here, that nothing is more stupid than spending two days on discussing a few Amendments of one Clause and then not perhaps having quite sufficient time to discuss all the remaining Clauses of the Bill thoroughly. I put it in all seriousness to the House that it is far more satisfactory, when we are having a controversial Bill, if there can be some voluntary time table agreement between the two sides of the House. That worked perfectly well for the Iron and Steel Bill and the country will not understand why it could not have worked equally well for this Bill.
The hon. Member for Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle) always makes a fresh contribution to a debate in which he takes part, and he has done so on this occasion. Of course, the price which he has to pay for his freshness is that he differs from all the other speakers on his side of the House.The hon. Member has given two reasons for supporting the Motion. The first, I think, is fairly summarised by saying that it will not do much harm. All the first part of his speech was devoted to contesting the view that the operation of the Guillotine would prevent or curtail discussion of any important part of the Bill. In other words, what he said was that under the arrangements contemplated by the Motion the Committee would be able to deal as well and as fully with all the important parts of the Bill as though there had been no Guillotine. This is a very negative argument, because if it is right it means that the Guillotine Motion makes no difference and therefore is unnecessary. If the hon. Baronet is right, the Guillotine will save no time. If the Guillotine will save no time, why have it? Everyone who intends to support the Motion says he supports it with reluctance. Why support, even reluctantly, a Measure which they believe has no effect? The hon. Baronet's first argument in supporting the Motion appears on examination to be a much better argument for opposing it. The hon. Baronet does not seem to differ from me; at any rate he would not dispute that I have stated his argument fairly, whether he would draw the same conclusion from it or not.
I do not draw the same conclusion as does the hon. Member. He is making me say more than I have said. He has been able to draw a conclusion which did not follow from what I said.
That may well be so. It may well be that I am completely mistaken in what I thought the hon. Baronet said, but, if I am, he ought in fairness to face the perfectly simple question, does he think that the Guillotine Motion will restrict discussion or does he think it will not? I thought that the first part of his argument was that he thought it will not, and I am saying that if the Guillotine does not restrict discussion, it seems to have no purpose at all; and, therefore, those who are reluctantly supporting it might with great enthusiasm oppose it.But that was not the whole of the hon. Baronet's argument, because in the second part of his speech he went on to a more positive argument. He said that the real reason for the Guillotine was that the Government had only a limited number of days in order to get on with important business and therefore ought not to waste time over unimportant business. I hope I have put that argument correctly. He said—I do not know whether he is right—that the Government have only 20 days more, that they have a lot of important things to do in those 20 days and that therefore they ought to keep the 20 days clear for these important things and not give more than five days for this presumably unimportant legislation.
I never said anything which implied that I thought this Bill was unimportant.
I am sure the hon. Baronet did not say so, and if he says he never thought it, either, I accept what he says; but, nevertheless, it is implicit in his argument. He was saying, in so many words, that the Government had only 20 days left and that during the 20 days they had very important things to do; that these things had to be done and that time for doing those important things ought not to be curtailed by giving more than five days to this Bill. That was the argument. If that did not mean that the other things were more important than this, then I fail to understand why the hon. Baronet used the argument.
If I may say so, this is legal quibbling at its worst. Merely because I said that there were certain other important Bills which had to be considered, it does not follow in the slightest degree that I implied that this was an unimportant Measure.
I am very much obliged. The hon. Member is now making it very clear that this Bill is just as important as any of the other matters which the Government will have to do in the 20 working days. He cannot have it both ways. Either it is not as important or it is equally as important. Which is it? If the hon. Baronet is now saying that he did not intend it to be understood that the Bill was less important than the important business which the Government had to do in the 20 remaining days, why should the time on the Bill be sacrificed in order to provide more time for Bills which, the hon. Baronet says, are no more important?
I have never before had the experience of being cross-examined by the hon. Member.
I will undertake to offer the opportunity to the hon. Baronet on any occasion when Mr. Speaker thinks it is right that I should have it. Let the hon. Gentleman make the most of the present opportunity.He must try to make up his mind what his argument is. When we examine it, we see that the hon. Baronet was trying to make the best of all worlds, which is not what one would have expected from him; at any rate, it is not what those of us who have been in debates with him before would have expected him to do. When he relates that argument to all that has gone before in the debate, the hon. Baronet will see how much he differs from the others. All the others have said that the real reason why they supported the Guillotine Motion was that they wanted to restrict discussion on the Bill, and they said it in some cases in so many words. An hon. Gentleman who spoke from a back bench said that the discussion had gone on for too long, even before the Bill was introduced. He wanted the Committee stage of the Bill to be guillotined because of the campaign that one of my hon. Friends began against the Bill in the columns of "The Times" before the Bill was introduced at all. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) wanted the Guillotine Motion to be passed because he thought that if the thing was in dispute the country ought to have the benefit of it so that the country could decide whether it wanted to have it or not.
The House will recollect that I said nothing of the sort. When the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) interrupted me in the course of my speech, I reminded him, and I am glad of the opportunity of reminding him again, that the country was the final arbiter of whether the proposed Television Authority was to be a success, and that the longer the debate goes on the longer the country will be prevented from coming to a conclusion on the matter.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will no doubt find that that is true of all Bills and all legislation. It is true of every Motion that has ever been introduced in this House from the beginning of Parliament until today. Unless the hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that it is true of the Bill in a special sense, it is difficult to understand why the argument was introduced.
Whether the last point of the hon. Member is correct or not, I interrupt him to point out that he has quoted something which I have not said at all.
I was only trying to see the effect of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument upon the matter under discussion and not to discuss some academic view of constitutional practice. If what the hon. and learned Gentleman meant to say was that when a Bill becomes law the people will ultimately have the opportunity of expressing their opinion on it, I agree with him, but that would be equally true whether there was a Guillotine Motion or not. Therefore this argument is irrelevant to the discussion whether the Committee stage should or should not have a Guillotine Motion.
What I meant and what I in fact said was not whether the Bill was good or not, because that comment would have been out of order, but whether a second programme provided by the proposed Authority would be popular with the country or not. That, and no more, I said.
A little more. The hon. and learned Gentleman certainly said that, but he went on to say that the only way in which the country was being offered any alternative television programme was by means of the Bill and that therefore we ought to have a Guillotine Motion so as to give it to the country in this form, unamended, as quickly as possible. Is that it?
Then what I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman is exactly what I said before, that that would equally be true whether we had a Guillotine Motion or whether we had not. Therefore, the argument, even though a good one—and I do not think it is—is totally irrelevant to the discussion, which is only whether the Committee stage should be shortened by the Guillotine Motion or not.There was a very remarkable argument by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) which was an astonishing performance. For nearly nine years in this House we have listened to the noble Lord and his hon. Friends attacking the principle of delegated legislation which they said was wrong, and contrary to true democratic principles and to the proper procedure of this House. To do the noble Lord justice, I must say that he has always recognised that there has to be delegated legislation. What he and many of us have been trying to do is to have it without the House of Commons abdicating all authority in the matter in which delegated legislation was being proposed. What proposal was the noble Lord supporting today? Precisely that we should have a Committee stage in delegated legislation. [An HON. MEMBER: "No"] Certainly. The proposal has been made time after time, and the noble Lord has supported it time after time, that there ought to be a possibility of praying against delegated legislation not in the the only form in which we can do it, by taking it lock, stock and barrel, but that the House of Commons should have some opportunity of amending it.
I have never been associated with any such proposals.
The noble Lord uses the word "associated" I do not know what he means. Does he mean that he does not agree with such a proposal? If he does not mean that, his intervention seems to have been unnecessary. At any rate, what we are dealing with is not delegated legislation at all but with a Bill with a Committee stage. The noble Lord was proposing that we should treat the Committee stage as though it were delegated legislation and that we should accept or reject it lock, stock and barrel and not have a Committee stage at all.
That was the effect of the noble Lord's argument, which has been repeated and referred to by other hon. Members since, and the noble Lord has not rejected it before. He said: "Don't bother with alterations of detail. Never mind the machinery or proposals to alter this, that or the other aspect of the way the thing is to work. The House has accepted it in principle; let us not waste time in considering Amendments to it and dealing with the machinery bit by bit."
The hon. Gentleman is a very good controversialist and he does not usually get people wrong. I do not think he was in the Chamber when I made my speech, and I did not say what he attributes to me that we should suppress the Committee stage altogether. I said that in the present state of narrow majority we ought to diminish obstruction as far as possible and get on with the business of the House, and that the Guillotine procedure should apply to the Committee stage.
And the noble Lord will admit that he did say that it should be treated in the same way as delegated legislation. He actually mentioned that in the course of his speech, and used the phrase that it should be on the same principle of take it or leave it.
In other words, my summary of the noble Lord's argument was not really unfair.Even if right on some Measures, the noble Lord would be quite wrong on this. This is a Measure which has certainly always been controversial, but it has never been a Measure in which the controversy has run along party lines. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East said—I am sure quite correctly—that if a thing were against his conscience he would not vote for it. We all know that if on Second Reading all hon. and right hon. Members on that side of the House who in conscience were against this Measure had voted according to their conscience instead of obeying their Whips, the Bill would not have had a Second Reading. The controversy has not been merely in this House and in another place, but has run up and down the country. It has been fiercely and very sincerely contested on both sides. The divisions of opinion are not the normal party divisions. In such circumstances, the debate really ought to be allowed to continue not merely in this House but in the country until opinion has crystallised much more clearly than it has at present. The Government have not introduced this Measure because of any obstruction. They have their remedies against that. If talk goes on too long they can move the Closure. There was never the necessity for that. If Amendments are irrelevant, Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of Committee have the right to select which shall be called, so there is no grievance about that. The real reason is that the Government felt that the longer the debate continued the more opinion was crystallising against them. They are anxious to face this thing through, to force the Bill down the throats of the people before the argument can continue sufficiently long or become sufficiently clear to make it absolutely certain that they are doing this only at the behest of a small group of people who hope to profit by it.
I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has missed his true vocation. He should have been a juggler or a conjuror. He juggles with words in a most mystifying way, and pulls out of people's pockets arguments which they themselves did not put there. To the skill of prestidigitation he professes to add clairvoyance, and knows what happens in our consciences. His, I think, was not a very serious contribution to the debate, but certainly a very amusing one.I know other hon. Members have said the same thing, but I, too, must say that I shall vote for this Guillotine Motion with great reluctance. I hate voting for Guillotine Motions, and love voting against them. I approach the subject of today's debate not really from the point of view of a particular Bill, however important, but from the point of view of the development of Parliamentary practice. I believe that Guillotines are most dangerous, that they strike at the very root of Parliamentary democracy, at the efficiency of debate, and at everything for which this House stands. Sooner or later, Parliament will have to face the fact that the Guillotine is making a mockery of Parliament. That means a change of heart and of approach on the part of us all. It is incontestable that Government business must be got through, and that it is in the hands of the Opposition of the day whether that is done by reason and restraint, and with sensible debate, or by force. I believe that the rapid succession of Guillotines in the last two years teaches us the lesson that Oppositions of whatever party should learn self-discipline. I am not referring here to this present Opposition any more than to my own party when it was or will be in Opposition. All Oppositions should learn self-discipline and should recognise that, after adequate debate, they have just as much a duty to get Government business through as have the Government themselves.
The hon. Member has said that from the frequent use of Guillotines we should learn that the Opposition should have a sense of responsibility and self-discipline. Surely the same moral responsibility is laid on the Government in the use of the Guillotine.
I think the hon. Member has missed the point. Governments do not use the Guillotine just for fun. It is in the Government's interest to get their business through as expeditiously as possible. It is in the hands of the Oppotion whether that business is got through quickly enough to avoid force.There is too much business before Parliament these days. It is like trying to get a quart into a pint pot. Unless the Opposition realises that there is this high pressure, this great quantity of business coming before Parliament which renders the role of the Opposition infinitely more important and responsible than ever it was in the past, the Government is faced with the problem of getting the business through by force, by the Guillotine—by dragooning. I would strike a warning note. If Guillotines continue to be imposed it is the end of Parliamentary government. Unless the House as a whole exercises sufficient self-control and recognises that every hon. Member has it as his ultimate duty to see that Government business is got through, Guillotines will continue to be imposed. This House can only work on a basis of common sense. If it wished, any Opposition could make this House a nonsense. It could prevent any Government business being dealt with except by force. We recognise that in much else in Parliamentary government. We do not seem to recognise it when it comes to the Committee Stage of controversial Bills. I say again that I am not attacking the present Opposition any more than my own party when it was in Opposition or when it will be in Opposition again. The Opposition must get away from the idea that its only duty is to oppose. Its first duty is certainly to oppose but not to carry it so far that the Government are forced to adopt dragooning Measures. The hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) suggested that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the matter. A Select Committee cannot produce such results—it must mean a change of approach in our minds.
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) has, if I may say so, made a sensible speech. It is time someone on the Government side of the House sounded such a warning note about where the Government may be going with their succession of Guillotine Motions. If the hon. Member's vote followed his argument he would be in our Lobby tonight. There is no doubt that he deplores this Motion.The hon. Member said that the Opposition's role was, in effect, that they should participate in. legislation and not just oppose all legislation. I wish that the hon. Member would now follow his remarks by looking at the proceedings in Committtee. He would find that on that occasion we went out of our way to take the Amendments not one by one but in groups, so as to shorten the discussion. The thanks which we get from the Home Secretary is the kind of speech we had today, in which he plays the game of comparing one Amendment with another and saying that they cancel one another out when he knows quite well that if, for once, he were honest in this matter— [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I say "for once," because the speech we heard today was the speech which we got from him on the second day of last week's Committee proceedings. The seriousness with which he takes this Measure, whose gravity has been expounded by one of his hon. Friends, is shown by the fact that he has not even considered it worth while to think up a new speech. He said that one Amendment contradicted another, but he knows quite well that a group of Amendments was taken to suit the convenience of the Committee. The one about which he spoke so much today was not even mentioned by my hon. Friends, because the Member in whose name it appeared was away ill. It is most unfair for him to base his argument for introducing a Guillotine on that consideration, and it is completely unworthy of him. I was looking forward to hearing him on this matter, because if there is one attribute he possesses it is that of sounding honest, sincere and very righteous. I look forward to hearing him today in the role of a true-blue incorruptible, urging on the Assembly the use of the Guillotine. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is ' sea green,' not ' true-blue '."] I know that. Perhaps I may be given credit for a little education. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was one which we had already heard. He sounded rather jaded, as though he was sick of the whole business, as he probably is. This is just another step in the bungling way in which this matter has been handled. I am sure that many Members of the Cabinet regret having given way to the pressure which was brought to bear upon their ranks, at a time when they required unity, to allow this sordid Measure to go on to the Statute Book. Hon. Members may give all kinds of reasons for introducing the Guillotine, but one faot that was undoubtedly taken into consideration was that on the last Division in Committee the Government's majority was only three. It was because defections were already evident that this Motion was introduced. We cannot consider whether or not a Guillotine should be introduced during a Committee stage without considering the importance of the Measure with which it is concerned. It is most unfair to say, "We have only 20 more days, and we have other important Bills coming along. "The amount of time ought to be determined not by the number of other Bills which have to be introduced, but by the importance of the Bill with which we are dealing. The Bill is controversial, not in the ordinary party sense but in a way which cuts right across parties. There are divisions of opinion on this matter throughout the country. Some hon. Members opposite have no desire to see the Bill go through, but they are being dragooned into it. The party aspect of the controversy was brought in by the Government themselves. I can remember my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition offering to allow the matter to be decided by a free vote, but the Government had not the courage to allow such a vote on this matter, which is eminently one for a free vote. From that first wrong step they have blundered and staggered along to the Parliamentary offence of introducing a Guillotine. The Bill is not a mere taxing Measure, like something in a Budget, which will affect only one section of the community. More and more people will gradually be affected by its consequences, and the people concerned will be those not just of one but of three nations. I introduce the word "nations" deliberately, because the Bill will affect taste, life and culture —things about which the people feel very strongly. This is the last kind of Bill which should be guillotined. I can remember a debate which lasted all day, at the end of which a free vote was allowed. It was one of the finest debates we have had, but according to the time-table which the Home Secretary paraded before us today it should have lasted only five minutes. It concerned the question whether or not the Festival Gardens at Battersea should be opened on Sundays. What are hon. Members opposite going to say about religious broadcasting under a commercial set-up? Shall we have one day to discuss that? Is that to be one of the five days allotted, or has the Home Secretary forgotten his upbringing, and the extent to which Scottish feeling can be roused on matters like this? What about the question of advertising on Sundays? Shall we discuss and decide how many minutes shall be allotted to that? I wish he would take this matter a little more seriously than he has done up to now. Indeed, if his feeling is what I think it is, I wish he had put up a stronger fight in the Cabinet to get rid of the Bill. It is a shabby Bill, and hon. Members opposite should be ashamed to vote for the Guillotine tonight.
I hope that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I say that he exhibits the worst of the Scottish characteristics. He is sour, self-assured and hectoring. If he would show a little of the kindliness, friendliness and tolerance which some of his race show, his contributions would be listened to with greater pleasure.
Nothing could be more intolerant than a Guillotine.
With due respect to you, Mr. Speaker, even as a Scotsman the hon. Member could have made his speech in a more pleasant way. He is made of the sort of stuff from which dictators come. The question is whether we agree with the time-table Motion, and not whether we agree with what is in the Bill.I agree profoundly with much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson). In principle, I do not like Guillotines. The modern tendency is for executives to grow in power and to exercise more and more control, so that the power of back benchers diminishes, which is a bad thing for Parliamentary Government. But for hon. Members to chide us with doing what they did reduces this debate to the most fiddling matter. It is an absolute waste of time. It is shadow-boxing at its very worst. If right hon. Members opposite were in power, and had set their hearts on a certain Bill—good, bad or indifferent—their back benchers would have to accept what their Cabinet decided, whether or not they liked it. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows full well that if he were Leader of the House again he would make the most convincing speeches in arguing that what he proposed was perfectly in order and for the good of the nation.
When I was Leader of the House we did not have a Guillotine.
If his Prime Minister, with the support of his Cabinet, decided that a Guillotine was necessary, the right hon. Gentleman would put it through with all the smoothness and ease which his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock so badly lacks. This seems to me such an utter waste of time. To spend the whole day haggling in this silly, foolish, childish way over a decision we know we cannot alter seems such a complete waste of time. I put this as a serious suggestion to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede): in future, whether he and his party are in power or we are, if a Guillotine is necessary, why not in the name of commonsense get the usual channels together and let the Government party say, "We are going to have a Guillotine Motion on the Bill, and whether you like it or not it is going through, for we have the power to drive it through"? The result would be that instead of wasting a whole day, as we have today, discussing whether there should be a Guillotine or not, the Opposition would have that whole day to discuss the Bill.
Surely the hon. Gentleman must see that that argument leads to this: "We all know that under the present arrangements with regard to Whips the Government will get their way on everything. Therefore, why have any discussion at all?" Why not say, "We know what is going to happen. Let us go to the Oval?"
The right hon. Gentleman has been in this House long enough to know that that is not a valid and reasonable argument. He knows that the day-to-day business of the House is arranged through the usual channels and that there is give and take in the working of the usual channels, and he knows full well that, as far as criticism of the Bill is concerned, today has been completely wasted.
I hope my party will publicise the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), which was by no means a waste of time from our point of view.
We have from Ebbw Vale arguments we can place in the scales, too. Why cannot the usual channels get together and the Government say, "We are going to drive a Guillotine Motion through"? Then, instead of our wasting a whole day arguing about the Guillotine Motion, we should have an extra day in which to debate the Clauses that matter in the Bill? The Opposition could have spent the whole day dealing with certain clauses of the Bill to which they have every right to object. Instead, we are using arguments on this side that the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite used when they sat here, and they are using just the same silly arguments we used when we sat over there.
We note the arguments to which the adjective "silly" is applied by the hon. Gentleman.
They were silly on both sides of the House. If we ran commercial business in this way we should "go broke," and deserve to. As a man who normally has to work in business. I am astonished that this House wastes its time as we have wasted it today, and I protest against it. I would ask the Whips on both sides, and all those who control the day-to-day management of our affairs, to get together to see whether this sort of thing can be avoided in the future.
I am comparatively a newcomer to this House, and this is the first time I have spoken on a Guillotine Motion. I recollect that the very first day I arrived here —when, incidentally, I had my first experience of the Chief Opposition Whip, for I was rushed here after a by-election to cast my vote—we were debating a Guillotine Motion, and the Home Secretary was sitting just where he is today. I had not the slightest idea, during that first day in the House, what was going on around me. If I know just a little more now than I did then what a Guillotine is, it is not due to any of the arguments that have been advanced by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite today. I have seldom heard such a confusion of suggestions as theirs.I always listen with great interest and, indeed, respect to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), whose independence of mind I greatly like, and I find myself agreeing with some of his arguments today, but not with his conclusions. It is curious that he should say that it is we on this side who are wasting time, for the responsibility for that rests with the Government and not with the Opposition, because the Government have introduced the Motion. At mid night one day last week we on this side were quite prepared to spend, many more hours of the night in Committee on the Bill when, suddenly, the Leader of the House came along with a completely new-found feeling for the convenience of the staff of the House of Commons and decided—
The hon. Member must not make statements that are not time. The request that we should report Progress was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who was the chief spokesman on that occasion for his side. If the hon. Gentleman studies the speech of his right hon. Friend he wall see that he said that it would be very much better if he went home.
I concede the point the hon. Gentleman has made, but the responsibility for the Committee's agreeing to report Progress rests not with the Opposition but with the Government, and had the Government been willing to spend more time on the Bill that night we could have gone on during the early hours and have had another day today for the Committee on the Bill.There is a great deal of humbug among hon. Members opposite in talking about the Guillotine. I have been surprised at the number of hon. Members opposite, of whom the hon. Member for Louth is one and the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) is another, who have said how much they abhor the Guillotine and how reluctantly they contemplate it, and who express opinions very different from the opinions expressed on their behalf from their Front Bench. There is a lack of unanimity in the views expressed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I have no doubt that there will be remarkable unanimity among them when the Vote takes place. There is a lot of hyprocrisy about this. A Government are bound to use the Guillotine on certain occasions to get their governmental and party policies through. The Opposition is equally bound to resist the imposition of the Guillotine. It is a battle for Parliamentary time, but, surely, the fundamental question about the imposition of the Guillotine is the nature of the Bill to which the Guillotine is to be applied. The real question is whether this is the sort of BUI to which the Guillotine may be applied? A number of considerations apply. First, we have to ask whether it is really necessary for the Government to introduce the Guillotine on this Bill. The Government's judgment on the introduction of the Guillotine is not one for which we can have any respect. The last time, only a little while ago, there was a Guillotine, it was on the English Measure, the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. Though the Government put the Guillotine on that Bill the Scottish Measure, the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Bill, went through Committee without a Guillotine. The fact that it did made nonsense of the Government's action in the other case. Moreover, the Government, in half the lifetime of the previous Administration, have brought in the Guillotine twice as many times as the previous Administration, and their argument that it is really necessary we can, therefore, reject. I think the second test which we must apply is as to whether the Bill which is being Guillotined is a matter of urgency, and here again we are bound to reject the case. Surely if there ever was a Bill before the House which was not urgent in the sense that it should be passed in the present Session, it is this Bill; because if ever there was a Bill which ought to be put to the test of an Election—and this has not been put to that test—it is this Bill. I have taken part in an election perhaps more recently than some hon. Members, and while I agree that this is a very important Bill—perhaps the most important piece of domestic legislation of Her Majesty's Government—and while I believe that many people are deeply concerned about it, I cannot say that I found a very strong public opinion behind the Government in pushing the Bill through. I cannot remember a single instance in that Election campaign in which my opponent put forward commercial television as a part of his party policy, and I cannot remember a single question being asked of me about commercial television. I do not think there is a public opinion behind the Bill.
Can the hon. Member say whether, in the course of his campaign, he made it a plank of his platform to maintain the B.B.C. monopoly?
I have always said, on broadcasting in general and on television in particular, that I am in favour of an alternative programme on public service principles, and the question of whether it should be run through the B.B.C. or through another public corporation can well be argued in the House. It is a matter on which there could be a common body of agreement. But that is not the proposition which is being put forward.What I am saying is that the Government cannot plead urgency for this Bill. This is the kind of legislation which, if it is difficult to get through the normal Parliamentary processes, obviously ought to be put before the people to see whether a mandate can be obtained. At the moment the Government have no mandate for it. There is an even more important reason than any of these for rejecting the time-table Motion, and it is that the Bill presents what seems to be a unique Parliamentary conflict. My experience of these things is very limited, but that is how it seems to me. It is true that we are discussing commercial television across the Floor of the House, that commercial television is being presented as Government policy, and that the Opposition are opposing it, but, of course, while conflict is taking place here on party lines, we all know that in the country the differences of opinion cut clean across party lines. There must be many Labour voters who are listeners to Radio Luxembourg and who feel that on this issue the Conservative Party speaks for them rather than the Labour Party. It is equally true that there are many distinguished and influential Conservatives, some of them sitting as members of the party in another place and many occupying leading positions in churches, in universities and in education in the country, who must feel that my right hon. Friend, and not the Home Secretary is speaking for them. This is one of the greatest non-party issues which has been presented to the House in recent years. It is at least equal to, and it seems to me possibly of greater importance than, such an issue as the death penalty. It will shape the future of one of the most important media of education and of entertainment in the country. We have every right to be proud of our party system in this country, and I do not agree with those who express disapproval of our party discipline as a method of getting on to the statute book party policies which have been put before the electorate. But if we are to preserve the strength and vitality of our Parliamentary democracy, then it is important, when we come to a non-party issue, that we should consider it in the House in a non-party manner. That is the gravamen of the charge which we make against the Government. Here, above all, is an issue which ought to be treated in the House on non-party lines, yet it is being treated with the Whips on at the Government initiative, with the Guillotine dropping and with the full and free debate which ought to take place on this sort of subject greatly restricted and, indeed, silenced. We have to appreciate that the processes of debating in the House an issue like this are part of the procedure of public education, and on such an issue, which greatly concerns thinking people throughout the country, it is important that the fullest and freest discussion should take place. I think the Government will one day greatly regret the action which they are taking. I want to add a few words about the effect of this Guillotine on the Bill as it affects Scotland. During the Committee stage of the Bill, earlier in the week, we had before us a number of Amendments affecting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and one of the most surprising things about the discussion was that when the Government replied to the Amendments, suggesting advisory committees, there was not a single Scottish Minister on the Treasury Bench representing the Government, and Scotland in that debate was treated as if it were a sort of super-Bechuanaland because the Under Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations spoke from the Front Bench. Now, as a result of the Guillotine, opportunities for Scottish Ministers to speak on what they feel are Scottish views on the Bill will be even more seriously limited. Many things lie ahead, in the Amendments still to be reached, which greatly affect Scotland and Wales as well as the country as a whole. There is, for in-stance, the question of Sunday television, when it reaches Scotland, and whether we should have liquor and gambling advertisements in Scotland and Wales on a Sunday. These are very serious matters, of the greatest concern to those whom we represent—and I mean that in the general sense and not in the party sense. The discussion of them in the House will be very seriously restricted by the Guillotine. The hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) quoted the "Economist" He said that the "Economist" often disagreed with the Government on questions of detail, but had supported the Government on this occasion. I might have said that it was only in questions of detail that we found the "Economist" normally disagreeing with the Government. May I draw the Government's attention to the very critical Press which they have had for the Motion introducing the Guillotine? I want to quote the words of the "News Chronicle" the morning after the Leader of the House made his announcement. The "News Chronicle" is not normally a supporter of my party and I think that on this issue it speaks for people of no particular party affiliation. The Government must face the general public opinion and concern about their actions on this matter. The "News Chronicle" editorial was headed by the words "Shame." It went on; to say:
I commend that advice to the Government. I think the Government will find that, among many people whose opinions matter a great deal in our community, their decision to go through with this Motion will redound greatly lo their damage and their discredit in the future. If the Government cannot listen to that sort of advice, I make a sincere plea to those hon. Members opposite who, I know, have conscientious scruples about the Bill and about this method of putting it. through the House. There was some talk earlier in our discussions today about the question of conscience, and there was some of the usual party cross-talk which takes place in this Chamber. Whatever may be said about the party on this side of the House, a lack of conscience has never been one of its defects. When there are conscientious scruples on this side of the House the public see them recorded in the Division Lobbies. Hon. Members opposite who have scruples about the Bill and the use of the Guillotine have a duty to Parliament and to the people to go into the Division Lobby tonight on the side of what they believe and not on the side of what the Whips tell them to believe."It can easily be understood that the Government, ashamed of this monster that they have conjured up out of party politics and private interests, should be impatient to have done with it…. Whatever else may go by default, the T.V. Bill should be discussed to the bitter end."
I listened with respect to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson). I should like to take up with him a point which he has raised, and which has been raised throughout the debate on the subject of the difference of public opinion on this matter, the cross-party division which, he states, exists, and the intense public interest which, the hon. Member asserts, exists. That is germane to the argument on the Guillotine, because if all these things exist the hon. Member's case, which he put very equitably, is much stronger.He said that this is an issue which divides the country on a non-party basis, but I have yet to hear a speech from any leading member of the Socialist Party in support of the proposals contained in the Bill. It has been correctly pointed out that many distinguished members of this party in another place have come out against the Bill, and we on this side, who respect them, bear them no malice for the views they have expressed. But to my knowledge no hon. Member of the Socialist Party in the House has yet made a statement giving the Government my support whatever for the Bill. Therefore, if this is an issue which cuts across all party loyalties, how is it that these people have not spoken up?
It would be better to face the fact honestly, and I am glad that the hon. Member has raised it. On this side there is general agreement among the Parliamentary representatives of the Labour Party in favour of the case against commercial television. The point I was making was that while we as a party are generally agreed I would say—and I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree—that among our supporters in the country and those who vote for us, there must be people who listen to Radio Luxembourg and who feel that they would like to have advertising as a means of providing them with an alternative programme. But we believe they are wrong, and credit should be given to the fact that we express that point of view even though we know that some of our supporters may be divided on it.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for that admission, for it indicates that the representation of the Socialist Party in the House is not truly representative of the opinion of the party in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] We are told that large numbers of people who are members of the Labour Party are opposed to the Bill, yet no single representative of the party in the House will speak up for them.
I do not wish the hon. Member to misrepresent me. I was trying to face the issue as frankly and fairly as I could. We on this side believe that the majority of public opinion is opposed to the Government's proposals, but we concede that this is a non-party issue.
It seems to me that both sides are straying a little far from the Motion.
I instantly accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.At the same time, the argument was that the Guillotine should not be applied upon an issue which is non-party. The hon. Member for Dundee, East has fairly said that for once the Parliamentary Labour Party is completely united. Therefore, it is easy for them to demand a non-party vote, because they are assured that whatever happens, all the Members of their party in the House will go into the Lobby against the Bill. Although the argument in principle may have some cogency, hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that what would happen in practice would be that with those of my hon. Friends who might have scruples and who might not vote, the result would be a victory for the opponents of the Government. We must face the reality of that situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have never been afraid of facing up to that. This afternoon the debate began in a very highminded way with a speech from the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who propounded a magnificent new Parliamentary doctrine to the effect that we were producing a neo-Nazi procedure. That was received with great applause from hon. Members behind him, and the right hon. Member then said that it would create a splendid precedent for any future Labour Government which came into power. It is a very odd approach for the representative of a democratic party that if he sincerely believes—I am sure that anything the right hon. Gentleman says is said with the utmost sincerity, particularly after his speech this afternoon—that the procedures we are propounding are neo-Nazi, he should recommend that any Labour Government which might come in should adopt them. In view of the likely complexion of any Government of that sort it is not improbable that it might do that and that the right hon. Member might not be consulted, but it would be out of order to discuss that now. I now turn—
You had better turn.
I have a great temptation to turn, but I turn now to the argument which was produced by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who arrived to regale us for the first and last time in our discussions, on the subject of public opinion crystallising. I am glad that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) has again emerged. We all regret his indisposition last week and his absence earlier today.Public opinion can only crystallise on any subject if it has an opportunity of judging it [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful to hon. Members opposite for their support. One cannot judge a subject unless one experiences it. Commercial, competitive or independent television, whichever one likes to call it, cannot be judged until one has seen it.
Would that be true also of capital punishment?
I should be very much out of order in embarking on an argument about capital punishment.If we were to follow the suggestions of hon. Members opposite, the public would never have the opportunity of seeing commercial television unless the Bill goes through. Despite the assurances given by the hon. Member for Dundee, East, we have seen already that the intention of the Opposition is to prolong these proceedings as much as possible.
Perhaps I may refer to the statement of the hon. Member for Dundee, East about our proceedings the other night, when matters became a little close. It was a proposal by the hon. Member's leaders that proceedings should be terminated, and we conceded to that out of consideration to hon. Members opposite. It was a reasonable concession. It had no bearing, however, upon the decision that has subsequently been made—I think, rightly made—by my right hon. Friends to proceed with this matter with expedition.In the Bill there are only a few really important issues. On a time-table arrangement such as is envisaged, those issues can be dealt with expeditiously if the House so wishes. The principles involved in the Bill have been discussed practically ad nauseam.
The hon. Member has made an accusation that we on this side intend to delay the passing of the Bill. He knows very well that if that is the case, it is within the province of the Chief Whip to move the Closure. Why was the Closure not moved the other night?
It is not for me to tell anybody why a Chief Whip does anything. I am not in his confidence to that extent, but I suggest that the Chief Whip was anxious to see how matters proceeded first and that as a result of the exhibition to which he was treated he very wisely decided to advise the Leader of the House to adopt the procedure which we are now adopting.I have not experienced any sensation of intense excitement in the country on this issue. I realise that some hon. Members who have experienced that intense sensation have been deeply involved in this issue. This is an issue on which the country will be able to judge when people see these programmes. I take the view that when people see them they will applaud them. Reference has been made to the country reversing a decision. The country, of course, can reverse a decision at a General Election. It has done so in the past.
The country was never asked to make the decision in favour of this proposal at the last General Election
The hon. and gallant Member must realise that this proposal is in line with the Conservative Party principle of breaking the monopoly and control over thought and communication which is inherent in the present position of the B.B.C.
I remind hon. Members that discussion of the Bill is not in order on this Motion.
The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) is so persuasive that for a moment I had to follow along his path.Hon. Members opposite have talked about my making up my mind. I humbly submit that it would be a good thing if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite made up their minds about their approach to this Bill. One set of hon. Members, who clearly have not been within the confidence of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) called it a deeply important Bill, but the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South has called it a silly Bill. How can one have a deeply important Bill which is at the same time a silly Bill?
Surely one can have an extremely silly Bill on a highly important subject.