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Business Of The House

Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 28 July 1954

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May I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he has a statement to make on an alteration of business?

Yes, Sir. It has been arranged through the usual channels for a debate to take place on Egypt tomorrow. It will arise on a Government Motion, and it is hoped to conclude the debate by about 7 p.m. Afterwards we shall proceed with the Committee and remaining stages of the Appropriation Bill. I understand that representations will be made to Mr. Speaker for time to be earmarked on Friday for a debate on disarmament. If, Mr. Speaker, you are able to fall in with this suggestion, then the Government would propose, with the agreement of the House, to suspend the rule for two hours, which would mean that the House would sit until 6.30 p.m. on Friday instead of 4.30 p.m.

Is not this another example of how the Government are taking away the time of back benchers? Would not the right hon. Gentleman think it far more dignified if we were to meet on Saturday or next week and thus provide more time for debate and so preserve the rights of back benchers? Mr. Speaker, I would ask you this question. Have you fallen in with the Government's plans in this matter?

Having regard to the fact that we have been 72 years in Egypt, and whatever view may be taken of the agreement that has been arrived at, is it not rather a pity that only half a day should be allotted to the discussion of this extremely important departure? I do not know whether the responsibility for the allocation of time in this instance lies with the Leader of the House or with the party opposite. It is a matter for the usual channels, I think, but I ask the Leader of the House to consider making the debate a full day's debate.

I think it is very good of the Opposition to make it possible for us to have this important debate tomorrow. With regard to the question of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), this proposal does not interfere with private Members' rights because, unlike today's Motion, the Motion will come before the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Would the right hon. Gentleman make it plain to his hon. Friends that a day on Appropriation is always a matter for the Opposition, and that we have, in fact, departed from custom in order to give the Government an opportunity of making a statement on Egypt and the House an opportunity of considering it? The reason it is proposed that the debate should be terminated at about seven o'clock is that it is right to preserve the rights of private Members who have constituency points which they wish to raise. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make it plain that, when we return after the Recess, the Government will make up for the time which the Opposition have so graciously conceded to them?

It is because I appreciated the right hon. Gentleman's solicitude in this matter that I expressed my thanks to him for his co-operation in helping us to have a debate which all the House wants as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker, you will remember that a few days ago I raised with you as a matter of order discussions between the usual channels and agreements reached whereby the time and the rights of private Members were sacrificed. The point I raised with you had regard to the very Bill that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, which is down for Second Reading today, the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. Since then a large number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have pursued the point further with you.

I think that it would be right to say that a great deal of anxiety has been disclosed about the limitation of the rights of private Members on an occasion which is traditionally and by custom of this House theirs. What we are told today is that, in order to enable part of the Conservative Party to pursue peaceful coexistence with the other part, the rest of us who are private Members in the House are to sacrifice still another large portion of these two days which are by custom ours.

I do suggest to you that, whatever the practice may be about agreements being reached between the usual channels for the convenience of official groups and official Members, it ought not to be operated in such a way as to take away from the ordinary private back-bench Member probably the only opportunity that he has throughout the year of raising questions that cannot otherwise be raised. I suggest to you, therefore, that it is quite wrong that this practice should come to be abused, and that private Members are entitled to your protection.

It is my recollection of the last 25 years as a Member of this House that very frequently the Consolidated Fund Bill has been chosen by the Opposition as an occasion to raise a major topic. I think that has been the practice during all my time. We remember debates on foreign affairs and various other things taking place on this very Bill. I see nothing new or revolutionary in the idea that the Opposition should use the debate on this Bill as an occasion for raising some major topic which they wish to raise. That is in accordance with the practice of the House.

As regards what I have just heard about tomorrow's business, the arrangement of business on the Order Paper is a prerogative of the Government, a1nd if they put down a Motion on Egypt as the first Order and the Bill next, that is quite in order, and no point arises for me to rule upon.

I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether you have observed the consequential loss of private Members' time resultant from these arrangements. My right hon. Friends had a subject for discussion for the first part of tomorrow to which they attached, and in my opinion correctly attached, very considerable importance. The result of the rearrangement is to transfer that debate to Friday. Friday is the very last opportunity this Session for private Members to deal with matters which they wish to raise and of which they have given notice. By the custom of the last three or four years the allocation of time on an Adjournment day has been left to you. As I understand it the time for that day has already been allotted. The result of these arrangements was first that we would lose half of today, but now, in addition, we shall lose half of tomorrow and then half of Friday, the Adjournment day. I should say that if you take all the facts together, they will show that this is becoming an absolute abuse and invasion of the rights of private Members.

If I understand correctly what has just been suggested by the right bon. Gentleman, all that will happen is that, instead of having a debate from 3.30 —or whenever we are allowed to get on with business—until 7 o'clock tomorrow, we are to have a two-hour debate on Friday. That debate, if I understand the matter correctly, is to take place after the private Members who have subjects on the Adjournment have had their say. So the total loss is an hour or an hour and a half of the time that had been allotted for the debate on disarmament.

There is one further point, Mr. Speaker. It must be a matter of very great importance that of the short time allocated, from about 3.30 until 7, probably two-thirds will be occupied by Privy Councillors. May I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the debate on Egypt should continue so as to provide back benchers with some opportunity to take part in it? Then if there are matters to be debated of less general importance, although of great importance to the individual Members concerned, they can be debated on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, and the debate on that Bill can continue until 11 o'clock on Friday morning.

That plea is quite correctly made to me but the power of satisfying it does not rest with me.

Further to the question of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), would it be possible for the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will make no effort to move the Closure on what is obviously one of the most important debates of this Session?

It is not in order to ask the Government when they propose to move the Closure.

Surely it is perfectly in order for an hon. Member, when the subject of the business for the week is under discussion, to ask the Government what are their intentions in respect of a particular debate? All I am asking, in the interests of hon. Members on the back benches on both sides, is that there shall be no effort on the part of the Government further to curtail the amount of time at the disposal of Private Members.

Further to that point of order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Under the very difficult circumstances, is it not possible for the Leader of the House and his right hon. Friends in the Government to recognise the difficulty in which the House finds itself? There is insufficient time to accommodate either the Government or the back benchers. Cannot this difficulty be overcome? Surely the importance of the Suez Canal and the other matters to be discussed are such that we ought not to go on holiday next week. Why cannot we meet next week?

I have had a lot of questions addressed to me in the guise of points of order which were not points of order. I hope that this is a point of order to which I can give a reply.

I am raising an additional point of order—namely, to ask whether any of the rearrangements of the timetable which were announced will in your view impede the rights of Members to oppose the Motion for the Adjournment for the Summer Recess?

That is a debatable Motion and I do not see that any statement on business can change a debatable Motion into one which is undebatable.

May I, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, ask the Leader of the House whether he will reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) about meeting next week? All hon. Members on this side of the House are willing to meet next week.