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Clause 3—(Grant And Renewal Of Licences)

Volume 529: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1954

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I beg to move, as a manuscript Amendment—

On a point of order. Are we to understand that the only Amendments to be called on Report stage are those which are in manuscript form? May I point out that we have had no notice of them?

I understood that the hon. Gentleman had been supplied with copies of these drafting Amendments by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon). They deal with purely drafting alterations. As I can explain shortly, they make no material alteration to the Bill. I thought that the hon. Gentleman had agreed to that Course.

It is true that the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) mentioned the matter to me in the Library a short time ago, but that is not the concern of the House. If the Government take the responsibility for moving manuscript Amendments they should have the courtesy, which is their bounden duty, to notify the Opposition, especially as this is the second occasion on which we have had a manuscript Amendment tonight. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to leave it to his hon. and learned Friend he should do so, but if this is a Government Amendment notice by a back bencher is surely not notice for and on behalf of the Government.

I thought that not only had the hon. Gentleman seen the Amendments, but that he understood them and agreed to them. If he objects to their being moved by the Government I have no objection to their being moved by my hon. and learned Friend. We will accept them. They are purely drafting, but if the hon. Gentleman objects I will not move them.

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that I said that I understood them. I did not say that I accepted them. I was not in a position to accept them. I said that I clearly apprehended them and that I was obliged that he had pointed out their effect. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that that courtesy was shown to me as one interested in the Report stage of the Bill who had Amendments down to it. I made it clear that I was obliged to him for giving me prior notice of his intention.

On a point of order. What is all this that is going on? We have conversations in the Library between a back bencher and an hon. Member on the Front Bench on this side of the House. We hear vague allusions to ritual slaughtering and to these conversations. Are not back benchers entitled to know what is going on? This is a curious procedure on a Bill which I understand has to be law by Saturday. The House is not being treated courteously, and we ought to know what is going on.

Before we go on, can we have an assurance from the Government Front Bench that these Amendments have been certified by the 1922 Committee? Otherwise, the House will find itself in a most undignified position. We will accept the Amendments, and then the Prime Minister will come down and say that we must go back on them. We ought to know where we stand.

I must enter a very strong protest at the way the Opposition have been treated. On Second Reading we indicated a number of points of disagreement, and we felt that it was as a result of muddle in the Government that the Bill was produced at all. Nevertheless, we realised that it had to be facilitated so that derationing and decontrol could take place on the due date. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you have ruled all our Amendments out of order, so that we cannot discuss many matters of great importance, and now we are faced with two manuscript Amendments of which no notice whatever has been given. I should have thought that the Minister of Food, who is responsible for the Bill, would have had at least the courtesy to indicate to me some of the contents of the manuscript Amendments in view of the fact that we have tried to facilitate the Bill, although we do not accept the necessity for it, for reasons which we previously gave.

I wonder whether you would accept a Motion, Mr. Speaker, "That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned." This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. It shows the complete muddle into which the Government have got. I object strongly to back benchers having conversations in the Library by chance, and then finding the Government sponsoring the result of a casual conversation. At the same time, we are well aware that that is the kind of un-business like way in which the Government have been doing their job, and I protest very strongly indeed.

I therefore beg to move, "That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned."

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman takes this attitude now, because I readily acknowledge that both he and his hon. Friends have been very helpful in getting the Bill through Committee upstairs. They have acknowledged the need for it, and I readily acknowledge the help they have given.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that no discourtesy whatever was intended by me with regard to the first Amendment in. particular. I was under the impression, quite sincerely, and until this evening, that the purpose of the Amendment to which the first manuscript Amendment was moved had nothing whatever to do with anything other than line slaughtering. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) had misgivings as to the effect it might have on certain forms of religious slaughtering, and I have done my best, as he knows, to try to get a form of words which would remove his doubts.

I was only able to get the form of words just before we came in to this discussion. I handed it in as soon as I possibly could, and I assure the House that there is no question of discourtesy. It is an attempt to meet a point which I did not think was a point of substance, but I did my best to meet it. That is the only reaso. for trying to meet a back bencher on the other side. Back benchers on this side too had a point of concern, of which, I understand, notice was given. As regards the first one, however, for which I am responsible, I do not think there is any need for me to apologise. It was a genuine attempt to meet the point raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, and that was all that I attempted to do.

With respect to the Minister, I do not think we have had an adequate reply. I do not wish to accuse the Minister of discourtesy. He has been most helpful over this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary has afforded me information on matters about which I have made inquiries. The point with which we are dealing is that the right hon. Gentleman gave an assurance that he would look into the point dealt with on the last Amendment; yet we find nothing on the Order Paper. Now, at a very late stage of the day, which is indicated by the fact that the Amendment is in manuscript form, the Minister has been convinced that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) was justified in his misgivings. Otherwise, he would not have brought forward the Amendment.

But legislation is not the prerogative of one of Her Majesty's Ministers. I am complaining that I, as an hon. Member of the House, have not had an opportunity fully to consider a matter which is difficult from the point of view of drafting, and about which there has not been an opportunity for consultation. There would have been plenty of opportunity for consultation if the Minister had put the Amendment on the Order Paper. The various people affected could then have consulted their advisers.

The mere fact that the Solicitor-General was prepared to move the Amendment means that he was satisfied about it. He has not had an opportunity of consulting the Government, or of consulting his colleagues. I doubt whether he has had an adequate opportunity to consult the Minister in charge of the Bill. I can only assume, from the fact that the Solicitor-General rose, that the Minister was not cognisant of the effect of this proposed Amendment, was not in a position to explain it, and left it to the Solicitor-General. However, the Solicitor-General has not the prerogative of legislation. It does not lie with him, but with the House.

It is intolerable that the Committee should not be afforded an opportunity to discuss an important point affecting a Measure which is to come into operation on Saturday. This is not a straightforward matter, for the Parliamentary Secretary will be embarrassed by the Amendment, as during the Slaughter of Animals Bill he expressed a point of view on this particular point. [Interruption.] I see that my hon. Friends do not know what it is, because they have not had the advantage of a conversation in the Library with an hon. Member from the Government benches.

If I ask him to do so, will the Parliamentary Secretary express an opinion on the Amendment? He could not. He does not know what it is. If he knew what it was he would want to consult the reports of the Slaughter of Animals Bill during its passage through the House. This is an affront to the Committee. We know that the Government are getting increasing difficulties in their ranks, and want to contain discussion. May I ask whether we can have an assurance from the Government that this will be the last manuscript Amendment that will be moved? I was given warning that there will be a further Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "oh"] I have only been notified in general terms that there might be an Amendment. I have looked at the Order Paper, and it is not down. That is why I inquired of you, Mr. Speaker, whether we have a new procedure for the purposes of the Bill, and whether we are to consider only manuscript Amendments.

12 midnight.

The Government have been criticised time after time about the Bill, not only within but without the House. The trade, the local authorities, and everybody affected have complained of the Government's not affording proper opportunity for the decontrol of meat to be carried out. In those circumstances, I should have thought it was an especial duty of the Government to ensure that there was adequate and proper notice to everyone affected. We have disagreed with the principles behind the Bill; we are most critical of the way the Government have conducted themselves. Nevertheless, we took up a public-spirited and responsible attitude, saying, "Although we criticise what you are doing, we shall do our utmost to facilitate the progress of the Bill, so that it gets on to the Statute Book in good time."

It is intolerable therefore for the Government to come here with a succession of manuscript Amendments without consultation. On matters on which the Government promised reconsideration, they have done nothing. There may be adequate reasons for doing nothing. I have complimented the Minister on his courtesy and help on many matters, but the Government have not consulted us on this matter, and we do not know whether they have consulted the local authorities, the butchers and others affected in the trade. We are kept in a state of complete ignorance. The least the Government could do would be to accept the request made by my right hon. Friend and to say, "We are awfully sorry. We have made a mess of this matter. We shall adjourn, and start again after we have had discussions on the Bill."

I support the Motion to adjourn consideration of the Bill to consider the position. On the back benches here we should like to know exactly what we are discussing. We hastened through the Finance Bill, and through very important parts of it, so as to get time on a Bill which we understand is of vital importance and which should be law by Saturday next. It is just turned midnight, and I sit here listening carefully about a farmer who sold a cow for £100 to somebody who found out that it had pimples and ought not to have been sold. The farmer has walked away with a hundred quid, and the taxpayer pays the difference.

Then we had a difference of opinion between two hon. Members on the other side of the House. Then we had the story that the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) had had a quiet word with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), and that as a result the latter has asked the Government whether it will be quite all right if something goes into the Bill. That appears to be the situation.

I am not at all surprised that people think that the Members on the Government side are not worth more than £1,000 a year, if that is the way they conduct their business. We are entitled to have the constitutional practice followed, be it ever so bad.

May I call attention to the fact that the Chairman of the 1922 Committee is not present. Perhaps if he were, he could clear up the position.

If the Chairman of that Committee were brought into the picture he, at his worst, could not have made a bigger bungle than the Government have made of this business. He has been very busy making sure that people of our type should not be here to correct people of that type. Let us be kind and not bring him into the picture.

Seriously, this is a question of constitutional procedure. Are Members of this House to be expected at midnight to accept without demur or objection manuscript Amendments so that the law can be anything and we do not voice our opinion on it? I protest against that on behalf of the back benchers. On behalf of the back benchers, I raise my appeal most strongly.

I want to supplement the request that we sit again and that we go home now and think again on this present position. I want to call the attention of the House to the fact that this Bill went into Committee on 11th May. We finalised the Committee stage on 18th May. From 18th May, we have heard nothing more about this Bill until three days before it is actually to apply in the country. Questions were raised in the Committee stages and when this Bill was first brought to the House.

The Minister, who has de-rationed meat and de-controlled meat, came here hot and bothered because, after doing that, he realised that he had not the time to put the Bill through. Then, after a hurried Committee stage, five weeks elapsed before we finalise the Bill and bring it before this House. Then he wants to say, in effect, that he has not had time to deal with the whole of the matter. For what else does this mean, except a confession of inability to deal with the provisions of the Bill in that time?

I suggest that we on the back benches want to consider this matter. There are some things we would like to ask the Minister, things he promised to answer, but there has been no report of them—such as the relationship between the trade unions and the employers in regard to wages and conditions which were applied; we do not know even now if they are going to apply—important matters concerning the application of the Bill.

Instead of that, by backdoor methods, the Minister brings along manuscript Amendments, about which we have had no time to consult our colleagues, about which we know nothing. It would be only decent and honest for the Government to accept my right hon. Friend's Motion.

I hope the House will not create a turmoil about this rather small matter. As I understand the situation, it is this: that the Bill as it is now before us makes it quite clear that there is an unfettered right of appeal in this matter. But, somebody raised the question as to whether another form of words might not make it more abundantly obvious. My advice is that as it now stands it is quite clear but that it was out of a superabundance of caution, as I think is the word, that a slight change, which is nothing more than a drafting Amendment—

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me? I appreciate that he has not had advice from Parliamentary draftsmen on this and is at a disadvantage. I assume that is the case, because I think he would have expressed himself more lucidly if he had had advice from Parliamentary draftsmen.

Surely he would agree this is more than a point of drafting. There is a substantial difference—one can take one view or another—between the words "if they are not satisfied," that is to say if the local authorities are not satisfied—the Solicitor-General knows this point well enough—and the words "It does not appear." That is a point which is argued repeatedly.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating the discussion on the Amendment.

The hon. Gentleman has really only reinforced my point that the object which my right hon. Friend had in mind was to make it a little more clear than it now is. When one uses the word "drafting," it does not mean that one just changes half a sentence or a comma, but that the same intention is made more clear in other language. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen to me, because he personally was made aware of this point earlier on.

However, it is not a matter of any great substance. We are quite satisfied that the words in the Bill are adequate, and, as I say, it was only a superabundance of caution that made it possibly desirable to change it in this way. But, as the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends take exception to that, we do not propose to move the manuscript Amendment, because we are satisfied that the original drafting carried out the purpose we had in mind.

On a point of order. The Leader of the House says that he has no intention of moving the Amendment, but I understood that it had been moved.

Therefore, as I say, we are quite satisfied that the original drafting of the Bill carries out the intention, but, someone having suggested that it might be better to put in other words, we thought that the House would like to accept the alternative. However, that not being agreeable, we do not want to waste time on the matter, and therefore I hope that this Motion can now be withdrawn so that we can get on with the business, because the reason for moving the Motion to adjourn the House does not now exist. We do not propose to move the manuscript Amendment.

The Leader of the House is an exceptionally busy person running between Committee Rooms and this Chamber and the Cabinet Room, and I want to recall one or two things to him, because he has obviously not been fully informed. In the first place, whether the manuscript Amendments are moved or not is of no interest to us whatever, because they are to meet the wishes of Tory back benchers and not of hon. Members on this side of the House. What we object to is the fact that manuscript Amendments should be introduced as though it were a paper chase.

The point I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman is that this was really a back-door method on the part of the Government to introduce these Amendments because they were only put down yesterday by two back bench Members of the party opposite. They are starred on the Order Paper. Mr. Speaker has ruled that all the Amendments which we put down are out of order, and, therefore, he would have been compelled to rule that the Amendments put down by the two hon. Members opposite were also out of order. But in an endeavour to put them in order, the Minister or his legal hon. Friend decided to move them so that they might be got through in the guise of Government Amendments. That was a deliberate attempt to mislead the House.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House can leave his couch where he has been sleeping peacefully for the last two hours in order to put this matter right, and can then tell us—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is apparent that hon. Members on the Government benches are a little tired and strained—from their faces one can see that they are in a ferocious mood—but I want to continue my point.

12.15 a.m.

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, performing his duty of looking after the interests of all hon. Members, is now brought from his room to tell us that the Amendments to be moved by his legal Friend are now to be withdrawn. If the Government were not interested in these Amendments—not anxious about them—why did they take the responsibility from their backbenchers and waste the time of this House? [Interruption.] Why drag the Leader of the House into the Chamber when he has so many other things to do, and why keep us all out of bed for all this time when, in fact, there is apparently no interest on the other side?

I say that this was to be a back-door method of getting these Amendments through, because it is perfectly clear that these Amendments having previously been discussed, could not have been moved in this House except through Government channels. It is another example of the inefficiency and muddle of the Government, and of their policy of not letting their left hand know what their right hand is doing. Here they are, after all this time, now calmly coming to tell us that they do not want to move the manuscript Amendments—after we have protested. It is a condemnation of the way in which the whole process has been run. It would have been very much better if the Bill had been left to the Minister of Food and to his Parliamentary Secretary, who certainly know how to handle this very much better than the legal adviser they have been using.

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question he now put," put, and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, and negatived.