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Chairman Of Ways And Means (Rulings)

Volume 656: debated on Tuesday 27 March 1962

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3.53 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House respectfully dissents from the Rulings given by the Chairman of Ways and Means whereby the only Amendment calling for a reduction on the Navy Estimates was not moved, considered or decided and declares that the right and, in appropriate circumstances, the duty of the Committee of Supply to reduce any proposed grant of money to the Crown cannot and ought not to be frustrated, abrogated or diminished in any manner by the Chair.
I wish, first, to express the thanks of my hon. Friends and myself to the Leader of the House for finding a little time to discuss the Motion. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman had no ulterior motive in mind. He knows, and I know, that the next subject to be debated is one which gives hon. Members on this side, and, I dare say, a great many hon. Members opposite, a great deal of anxiety. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not thinking of disembarrassing himself of any of the difficulties of that debate by shortening the time available to hon. Members for discussion. If the right hon. Gentleman had any such idea in mind—I am sure that he did not—I do not propose to give him any encouragement. We may be able to discuss this important Motion without impinging too much upon the time of the House in the rest of the matters which we have to discuss.

I make no apology for tabling the Motion. It is not put down, and I do not move it, in any spirit of censure of the Chairman of the Committee of Supply. Obviously, the Motion is framed in terms of censure because, however mildly one expresses it, to dissent from a Ruling of the Chair under our way of doing our business necessarily involves, at least in form, some such censure.

We have no hard feelings about it. Indeed, we are grateful to the Chairman of Supply for the patience, courtesy and consideration with which he listened to a rather prolonged argument about his Ruling at the time. Looking back on the matter and reading the debate, I am glad to see that even in the heat of the argument, I paid tribute to the Chairman of the Committee in that regard.

I make one exception to that. The argument about calling or not calling the only Amendment on the Order Paper depended simply and solely on what interpretation was put upon the relevant Standing Orders and the practice and procedure of the House. There was, however, a regrettably disorderly scene at the end of the debate arising out of something that was a little different. I refer to the failure of the Chair to call my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who would have moved the Amendment had he been called to speak in the debate. That had the effect of setting this point of view out of the debate altogether.

When the Chairman seemed to indicate in one passage of his speech that he had intended to call my hon. Friend to make a speech although not to move his Amendment, but had changed his mind because we had had be have that discussion as to whether the Amendment should be called, perhaps on reflec- tion the Chairman might himself feel that that was a little injudicious. However, I propose not to debate that aspect, but rather to deal with the only important part of it, namely, the failure to call the Amendment.

Two points are involved, one a general one and the other limited to the Committee of Supply, in which special considerations have always applied. The first is the general power of Mr. Speaker when the House is sitting, and of Mr. Deputy-Speaker in his capacity of Chairman of Ways and Means when the House is in main Committee, to select Amendments. I do not propose to take up time by reading Standing Order No. 31; I am sure that it is in everybody's mind. This is the Standing Order which reposes in the Chair the power to select Amendments.

Historically, it is not a very old power. There was no power whatever not to call an Amendment put on the Order Paper until 1909, and the new Standing Orders which appeared in 1909 gave a limited power to restrict the calling of Amendments, but only on a Motion passed ad hoc by the House of Commons itself. This was changed for the present Standing Order in 1919, so that we are not dealing with an old tradition, or an old practice or a developed procedure which it would be difficult after a long time to alter or modify. We are dealing with a comparatively recent power.

Erskine May puts the power very clearly and what it was intended to do. It may be found quoted on the occasion when the matter was originally raised on the Navy Estimates, when I raised the original point of order with the then Chairman. Erskine May puts it in this way, under the general heading "Multiplication of Amendments". on page 476 of the latest edition:
"Experience has shown that in most cases the discretion conferred on the Chair by Standing Order No. 31 to select the amendments which may be moved is the best method of securing reasonable opportunities for all varieties in opinions. This power is exercised by the Chair in such a way as to bring out the salient points of criticism, to prevent repetition and overlapping, and, where several amendments deal with the same point, to choose the more effective and the better drafted."
It is not a power to prevent the critical points at issue from being debated. It is a power to facilitate it and to regulate it, to enable it to work more efficiently. It is not a power to prevent it, and I need not take that part of the argument any higher than rely on the plain and ordinary meaning of the words themselves. To select is to choose between one thing and another, not a power to deny, not a power to prevent. It is a power to select out of a number of Amendments, to choose one or more than one rather than the others.

Where there is only one, obviously, no question arises of a power to select, unless selection, like election in some countries, means the power to choose where there is only one candidate. Where there is only one Amendment, there cannot be a choice, unless we regard it as a power to choose to call it or not to choose to call it, but that is not what Standing Order No. 31 says. It is a power to select among Amendments in order to prevent multiplication, but, where there is only one, there is no multiplication to prevent.

To see that this is the sensible and natural interpretation of the words, one only has to see what other powers the Chair has of choosing. There is, for instance, the power in the Chair to select among supplementary questions to Questions on the Order Paper, but no one has ever imagined using, and I am sure that no Speaker has ever dreamed of using, that power to prevent the only supplementary question from being asked. Or there is, perhaps, going more widely, the power, without which the House could not do its work at all, in Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, to select speakers, to select among those who desire to address the House.

No one has ever imagined that if only one Member rises to speak in a debate where the Closure has not been moved and is not moved, Mr. Speaker would have any power not to select him. Where there is only one, he does not have to select, and I say that Standing Order No. 31, which gives the Chair power to select among Amendments, cannot apply where there is only one Amendment, if, being relevant and in order, it is upon the Order Paper.

If it is not relevant, it is not called by the Chair because it is not relevant. If it is out of order, it is not called because it is out of order, but where it is relevant and in order, and it is the only one, no power of selection can arise.

I do not want to interrupt the flow of my hon. Friend's argument, but I do not agree with him. Would he be good enough to address his mind to the words in Standing Order No. 31 "if he thinks fit," relating to Mr. Speaker or the Chairman or Deputy-Chairman? It seems to me that "if he thinks fit" obviously means that he can also think that it is not fit. I should be obliged if he will address himself to these words, which seem to me to be highly relevant. The whole Standing Order reads as follows:

"In respect of any motion, or in respect of any bill under consideration either in a committee of the whole House or on report, Mr. Speaker, or in a Committee the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the Deputy Chairman, shall have power to select the new clauses or amendments to be proposed, and may, if he thinks fit, call upon any member who has given notice of an amendment to give such explanation of the object of the amendment as may enable him to form a judgment upon it."
It seems to me, therefore, that the operative words in the Standing Order are "if he thinks fit".

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend.

As I understand these words, they are there to enable Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, or Deputy-Chairman, as the case may be, to exercise the power given him properly. He has to use a discretion, and it has to be a judicial discretion, and in considering the words on the Order Paper he may not be quite sure what is the intention of a particular Amendment. If he is not quite sure, he is too wise and too discreet to decide for or against it until he is sure, so he has the power to ask the hon. Member in whose name the Amendment is placed to say what were his intentions in the matter. When the Member has explained what is the intention of the Amendment, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, then decides whether to select it or not to select it.

This undoubtedly indicates that the power to select is put down on quasi-judicial grounds. There has to be a discretion, but it arises only, and this is part of my general argument, where there is more than one Amendment on the Order Paper. Until that situation has arisen, there can be no power or right to select at all. If there is only one Amendment, as I understand Standing Order No. 31, he must call it, provided that it is relevant and that it is not on any other grounds out of order.

My hon. Friend claims that where there is only one Amendment, and, presumably, it is in order, there is no power to select, and the Chair must call it. If there are two Amendments, both in order, and the Chair has power of selection, does the Chair have to call one or need it not call either of them?

I think that was implicit in my argument, and if it was not, I would make it explicit now. If there is more than one, he has power to select. He has no power to reject, because that would be to use Standing Order No. 31 not to facilitate the debate of the various issues, but to exclude one or other of the issues raised by the Amendments.

This must be the plain meaning of Standing Order No. 31. It is not conclusive, and I am not suggesting for a moment that it is conclusive. I know very well that the power not to select a solitary Amendment has, in fact, been frequently exercised in the past. There are respectable precedents for the interpretation contrary to the one I have just given to the House, and I concede that, but I think that these decisions have not been challenged. I do not think the matter has ever been raised before. I think myself that they were wrong, and the fact that a wrong practice has been allowed to develop for want of challenge does not make it a right practice.

I should have thought that the general argument, put as Erskine May puts it—power to select Amendments to prevent multiplication of Amendments—as well as the ordinary and natural meaning of the words themselves must mean that if there is only one Amendment on the Order Paper, being relevant and in order, Standing Order No. 31 does not give the Chair power to exclude it from debate.

If I am right about that, that would dispose of the whole of the argument; but if I am wrong, one then has to consider whether the power not to select a solitary Amendment applies in Committee of Supply. In the course of the argument—I am not sure whether he would like to be held to it, because this is a matter on which he had very little opportunity for prior consideration—the Chairman of Ways and Means said that his conduct of the Committee of Supply did not differ from his conduct of any other Committee.

While this is generally true, it is not altogether true. There is ample evidence for saying that the rules in Committee of Supply are not and cannot be the same as the rules for any other Committee. I have had to equip myself with a number of authorities on this. I do not propose to talk about them for very long, but I want to refer the House, especially the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, to them, because I believe that it will be thought that they are relevant and appropriate to our discussion.

During the course of our discussion on 14th March, the Chairman of Ways and Means quoted something from a book which we all know and admire—An Introduction to the Procedure of the House of Commons, by Lord Campion. I think that the Chairman of Ways and Means did not have time to look at that quotation very carefully, because Lord Campion's references to this matter are very strongly in favour of my argument. He says:
"The rules with regard to amendments in Committee of Supply are framed so as to facilitate a constant whittling down of the Estimates. The Resolutions of the House of 1858 and 1868 (which will be referred to later) seem to contemplate the possibility of a stream of amendments directed to various portions of a vote, and give rules for deciding in what order they are to be taken."
I call special attention to those words, because if the House has laid down express rules for deciding in what order Amendments are to be taken, it is a fair inference that the Chair is bound by those rules and cannot apply some other rule, such as the power of selection.

In the case of Amendments in Committee of Supply, according to these rules—and I refer now to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds)—if there are two Amendments to a particular Vote, both would have to be called, and what the rules lay down is the order of preference and what is taken into account. The rules are very precise and clear and I should have thought that if they were applied, any possibility of not calling the only Amendment would be almost specifically excluded.

I know that it can be said that these rules were devised for a different day and age and that in those days the Committee of Supply used to examine, or had the power to examine, every item with which it wished to deal. In other words, the Committee of Supply exercised a direct control of the funds which Parliament would grant to the Crown in detail and specifically—how much money and how many men, and so on, and all the rest of it.

It is said that those days have gone and that the matter is now too intricate and too complicated and that there are now too many Members of Parliament for it to be possible any longer for the Committee of Supply to exercise any direct check upon expenditure, not for any reason of order or procedure, but because of the practical difficulties. There has undoubtedly been such a tendency. But it is not a tendency which is everywhere admired, nor a tendency which is everywhere approved, and it is certainly not a tendency which ought not in any way to be extended.

What were we dealing with? I am obviously not entitled to go into the merits of any expenditure, but the Committee of Supply was dealing with the proposition that Parliament should grant to the Crown in this forthcoming financial year more than £5,000 million. Of that sum, £1,700 million was for the defence Services alone. I am not arguing whether it is right that we should grant the Crown so much money. Opinions may be different on different sides of the House. I think that on this side we are more inclined to encourage the Government to spend more on what we consider the more constructive aspects of Government policy and less on those which are purely inflationary.

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend again, but it is not true that at that point the Committee was considering £X million. We were considering numbers. We were authorising an establishment of 100,000 men. It is my difficulty about my hon. Friend's argument all the way through that we were dealing with Vote A. This was an Amendment to Vote A and not control over money.

If my hon. Friend, whose researches in these matters axe always industrious and often complete, will proceed to examine his objection to my argument, he will find that, differently from other Committees, in Committee of Supply we are entitled to be irrelevant.

In other words, when we put down an Amendment to Vote A, we are entitled to question or criticise the whole policy of the Government, and it is, therefore, immaterial whether we propose to reduce the amount by £1 million or a similar sum, or whether we move to reduce the number of men by 100. The fact is that if the Amendment is carried, in either case the Government have to start again. It is true that nowadays these Amendments are put down because hon. Members do not want to challenge the whole Vote. They want to challenge the policy—an opportunity of voting against that policy—so a token, symbolic Vote is put down.

I disagree with my hon. Friend. This is not an arid discussion. It has practical implications, for before we amended our Estimates procedure the Government had to get Vote A and we then discussed each Vote on its merits. Now we have altered this procedure. The House knew what it was doing. The Government must get Vote A, and the rest—the money Votes—fall under the Guillotine. My hon. Friend must face up to this. He must see the practical effects of this new procedure; that the Government's business is facilitated, but, at the same time, back benchers got something out of the new procedure and we should fight to protect and stand by the advantage rather than pour scorn on it and refuse to face the difficulties.

I will not go into the difficulties of the new procedure. That is a different part of my argument and perhaps my hon. Friend will help me later with that aspect, for I know that he knows as much about it as any other hon. Member.

Perhaps I can best deal with my hon. Friend's point by reading what Lord Campion said in his book under the general heading of "Relevancy". It is stated, on page 242:
"The general rule requiring relevancy to the matter contained in the Question proposed from the Chair is observed in Committee of Supply, whether that question is on a vote or an item, or other subdivision of a vote. In the case, however, of the Navy Estimates, Army Estimates and Air Estimates (which, though divided into a number of votes, yet form as a whole a single and definite subject-matter) this rule is relaxed so far as to allow a general discussion of the whole service upon the first vote proposed to the Committee, i.e. on the vote for pay and wages or on the vote for numbers of officers and men. After this vote has been disposed of, debate must be confined to each vote as it is moved."
That is what my hon. Friend had in mind. One has a general debate on Vote A, even though Vote A, only raises a specific matter, and when one comes to the separate Votes afterwards, in each case one is limited to that precise Vote. This does not apply to Vote A and, therefore, one is dealing with the whole matter.

I return to the rule which binds the Chair in the selection of Amendments, and on page 242 of Lord Campion's book it is stated:
"(1) amendments to items are taken before amendments to a vote as a whole, and when the Question for reducing the vote as a whole has been proposed, it is not in order to move an amendment to an item;
(2) amendments to items are taken in the order in which the items are printed in the Estimates, and when an item has been disposed of it is not permissible to go back to earlier items:
(3) when several amendments "—
and I especially call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this item—
"are moved to the same figure, priority is given to the amendment proposing the greatest reduction, then to that proposing the next greatest, and so on."
That seems to be almost conclusive of this question, but I have one more authority. I think that no one is more interested in Parliamentary Supply procedure than Her Majesty's Treasury and so, very wisely, long ago, Her Majesty's Treasury produced a little pamphlet on the subject, which was last revised in July, 1953. This, I am bound to say, has been done with great skill, care and lucidity and if there are hon. Members—and there may be one or two—who do not at this moment completely apprehend the whole of the technical and intricate procedure in Supply this booklet will provide the quickest and simplest means of enlightenment.

Simply "Parliamentary Supply Procedure." On page 27, paragraph 39, it states in this one of a series of Treasury pamphlets:

"Procedure for debate in Committee of Supply follows generally that in ordinary Committees of the whole House, but is subject to various special restrictions. The Committee has no power to deal with any business but the specific resolutions submitted to it and cannot postpone such resolutions."
The next part is a quotation from Erskine May, and states:
"It 'may vote or refuse a grant, or may reduce the amount thereof, either by a reduction of the whole grant, or by the emission or reduction of the items of expenditure of which the grant is composed; but the committee have no other functions'."
That is to say, the Committee has no functions beyond those there defined, and the implication is that it has all the functions that are there defined and one of them is the power to reduce the amount thereof. What would be the position if the Ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means of 14th March were correct? There was then only one Amendment on the Order Paper, an Amendment to reduce. It was not called. No other Amendment to reduce was called. There was no other that could be called. There was only the one Amendment to reduce, and one only.

If the Chair can, at its own discretion, in such circumstances, exercise under Standing Order 31, or in any other way an alleged or, I would have thought, an assumed power not to call that Amendment, what is the consequence? The consequence is that one whole function of the Committee of Supply is taken away—is "frustrated, abrogated or diminished." On Wednesday, 14th March, 1962, the effect of the Chair's decision was to deprive the Committee of Supply of any opportunity whatever of reducing the Navy Estimates. I say with respect to everyone that that just cannot be right. It is not for the Chair to do that.

Of course, the Committee can defeat the Amendment. If it thinks that the debate is going too wide or too far, I have never known the Patronage Secretary to be over-shy in claiming the right to move the Closure. He could move it almost at once if the Chair were to accept it. There is no question of depriving any other hon. Member of his rights, or of limiting the debate. All that happens is that those of us who want to exercise the Committee's right—or fulfil its duty—of reducing what we think is an excessive Estimate is abrogated not by the Committee, not by Parliament, but by an arbitrary decision of the Chairman of Ways and Means.

I am not seeking to vitiate my hon. Friend's argument, but suppose the Question is put from the Chair? It is possible to defeat the proposal without an Amendment. Is that not the case? Therefore, it is not essential to accept an Amendment in order to defeat the proposition.

My right hon. Friend, I suppose as well as any Member of this House, and better than most, understands the difference between reducing an Estimate and defeating an Estimate. If one is against an Estimate as a whole one can say, "We will give the Government no money for this purpose." It may be that one does that because one does not like the Government's policy, but one might not be prepared to go so far. The Committee might think, and has many times thought, that the Crown ought to have something, but ought not to have exactly what it is asking for. Then one can move a reduction.

The effect of not allowing the Committee to deal with the proposed reduction, for instance, by not calling the only Amendment which recommends a reduction, is to compel the Committee either to give the Government every penny for which they ask or nothing at all. That is why the Committee of Supply has as one of its inherent functions the right not merely to grant or to postpone or refuse, but the right to reduce. If there is only one Amendment which does that and it is not called, to that extent the constitutional function of the Committee of Supply is frustrated or abrogated or diminished.

Will my hon. Friend direct his mind to this matter in support of his argument? When I first came to this House there used frequently to be a statement made before we went into the Division Lobby, "We move to reduce in order to get more" when it was thought that the Estimate before us, in our view, was not sufficient for the service. We moved to reduce because we could not move to extend. If we had carried the Amendment against the Government it would have been understood by everybody that the Vote ought to have been a bigger one.

My right hon. Friend, as one would expect, is perfectly right. I was going to deal with that and will do so in a moment, but I should like to deal with a cognate point at the same time.

Hon. Members will remember that the normal way of putting the Question on an Amendment in the House is, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." It is not until we have carried such an Amendment that we can put anything in place of those words. That is the logic of it. In Committee of Supply we do not do that, precisely to ensure that the Government do get in that Vote whatever sum the Committee is prepared to give them. So, instead of the Amendment being put in the general way "That the words"—so many millions of pounds—"proposed to be left out stand part of the Question", the Question is put in this way. If the Amendment is drafted in any other way, the Chair still puts it in the way I shall recite, "That a reduced sum—of £X—shall be granted to Her Majesty…" so as to make clear the distinction between the power to reduce and the power to deny.

Then there is the very important point to which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred. A private Member has no right to move in Committee of Supply any grant of money to the Crown not contained in the Resolution before the Committee. We can move Amendments to reduce if the Chair allows, but an Amendment to increase would be out of order. Therefore, many Amendments to reduce are moved in order to argue for an increase because that is the only way in which we can argue for an increase

It operates in this way, that we move to reduce a particular Vote by a certain sum and explain in the argument that we do not think that enough is being given to old-age pensioners, or there is not enough for education, or, if hon. Members like, not enough for the defence forces. The only way in which we can give effect to that view is to move a reduction in the amount which is asked. If we carry that, the Government understand that the Committee wants more money to be granted. They take their Estimate back and come back with a bigger one, or, alternatively and preferably, resign and go to the country to ask the people what they think, which, no doubt, is the better practice of the two.

If there is only one Amendment and that Amendment is to reduce and if the Chair exercises an imagined power not—as the Chair would put it—to select the Amendment, the Committee would have no opportunity whatever of saying that the amount ought to be increased because in the general debate on the Estimates advocacy of an increase would be out of order. We can only do that by an Amendment to reduce. Therefore, it seems, on consideration, that a case against the Ruling given—I do not like to say that it is overwhelming—is surely very strong. Surely a great many consequences that the House would not like follow from its giving sanction or approval to any such Ruling.

I am very well aware that the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire wanted to move was not popular. I am very well aware that the activities of the half-dozen of us who sit on this bench are not generally popular anyhow. They represent a minority view. In our exercise of that minority view which seemed to us of importance we took action. I do not suppose any of us regrets it, but it was serious action. It was action which had serious consequences and which may have more serious consequences still. I do not mind that. I think that the line which I adopted was the only line I could adopt. I recognise that most of my right hon. and hon. Friends do not agree with me, although there are many who do.

What an irony it would be if hon. Members, on a matter of conscientious judgment, were to take action of that kind and incur willingly and voluntarily those consequences if the rules of the House were then to be so interpreted as to deprive them of recommending to the House the policies which they think are the right policies, or of representing in the House by their voice and by their vote whoever there may be outside who are of the same mind and whom we would not like to be disfranchised in a House of Commons in a representative Parliamentary democracy such as ours. It would be a strange result; it would be an odd result.

On reflection, however unpopular our activities on this side of the House may be at the moment, it would be a result of which I think few in their calmer moments would approve. So I say to the Leader of the House that I hope he will agree that, whether I am right or wrong, I have made a serious case for consideration. I hope that he might be able to accept this Motion, which is moved without any personal bitterness or malice against anybody. It is purely a question of determining what is the correct interpretation of the relevant Standing Order. I hope that he may be able to accept it, but, if he is not, either because he is not entirely convinced or because he thinks that other embarrassments might be involved, I suggest that a sufficient case has been made for further inquiry.

If the House does not proceed to commit itself finally this afternoon on this matter, can he think of, or offer, any way—by a Select Committee on Procedure or some other way—in which the serious implications of this Ruling, if it must be held to be correct in the present state of Parliamentary law, can be reviewed and reconsidered? I should be very ready to withdraw my Motion if the matter I raise, which is clearly one of some fundamental importance, can be taken into consideration in some serious and responsible way and if the House can have another opportunity of considering it when that question has been considered. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able either to accept the Motion or do what I suggest

4.40 p.m.

The wording of the Motion is courteous, and so was the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). It is an expression of dissent by some hon. Members from a Ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and so, in form, a Motion of censure. I therefore thought it right that we should discuss this matter at an early date. I can tell the hon. Member straight away that I treat this matter very seriously. It will be no part of my case that he, with his hon. Friends, was putting in that debate, or in other debates, a minority view. My case is simply that his reading of the matter is wrong.

As the hon. Member said, there are two questions to be considered, and I will come straight to them. The first is whether, in declining to select the only Amendment standing on the Order Paper on this occasion, the Chairman of Ways and Means was failing to conform to the requirements of Standing Order No. 31; in other words, that the words "power to select"—to use the words used by the hon. Member on 14th March:
"has its dictionary meaning of 'choosing among a variety of courses'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 1401.]
From that contention his argument is that if there is only one Amendment on the Order Paper no variety of courses then exists from which the Chair can choose, and that the Chair is bound, in effect, to call the solitary Amendment.

I want to pass over the question of English construction fairly quickly, because I believe that we are concerned more with the question of our procedure, but I still say that as a matter of English construction I do not believe that the hon. Member is right. I think that to choose not to choose is clearly in itself a choice. The hon. Member quoted the ordinary dictionary meaning of the words, and no doubt other quotations will be used, but there is a work called A Parliamentary Dictionary, which was published in 1956 and composed by two senior Officers of this House—Mr. Abraham and Mr. Hawtrey—on page 173 of which, under the heading, "Selection of Amendments", we find:
"In the House of Commons, the Speaker and, when the House is in Committee, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, have power to select which amendments, if any, shall be moved to the motion or bill under consideration."
I agree that none of the works quoted—not even the one quoted by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—is binding; I am merely saying that the opinion of the authors of this book expressly refutes the point made by the hon. Member.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman realises that to reach that conclusion the authors of that book had to insert into their paragraph two words that are not to be found in Standing Order No. 31—namely, the words "if any".

I understand that, but I hope to prove that those two words represent the established procedure of this House.

I need not quote examples—there are many within the recollection of all hon. Members—where a single Amendment to a Motion or Clause has not been selected by the Chair. It is important to make it clear that this practice is almost as old as the Standing Order itself, which was first made in 1919, for in December of that year the Chairman of Ways and Means, in Committee on the Government of India Bill—Mr. Whitley, who afterwards became Speaker—on Clause 8, said:
"I do not select any of the Amendments to this Clause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1919; Vol. 122, c. 688.]
No protest or comment was made.

I could give any number of examples since then, but I submit that it is quite clear—and that it is within the recollection of hon. Members—that it is the established practice of this House that in the exercise of its power of selection the Chair may decline to call all the Amendments, or a single Amendment, put down to any proposition which the House is considering.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a distinction between an Amendment to a piece of legislation and an Amendment in Committee of Supply for a reduction of a Vote?

I am coming to the second main argument, which is that even if it be granted—and I think that it is clear—that the Chairman is within his rights in not selecting a single Amendment, on this occasion he used his power of selection in such a way as to deny to the Committee of Supply the exercise of one of its constitutional functions. I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne as to the constitutional importance of our proceedings in Committee of Supply, and join with him in regretting any form of proceeding which would seem genuinely to curtail the activities of the Committee. But the hon. Member will recall that when he argued this matter at some length, and with his usual cogency, on 14th March, the Chairman of Ways and Means pointed out to him that the various functions which the Committee of Supply performs, as listed in Erskine May, are functions which the Committee may perform and not ones which it must necessarily perform on every occasion.

I can find no evidence to show that the power of the Chair in the matter of selection is any different in Committee of Supply from what it is on any other occasion. I suggest that the key to the argument is the question: how should that power be exercised? I am certain that the Chairman must have had in mind—and this has been quoted on a number of occasions—what is said on page 476 of Erskine May, namely, that he must secure reasonable opportunities for all varieties of opinion. We know that many hon. Members wanted to speak, and that not all could be called, It was in that light that he decided, in his discretion, not to call the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that the Chairman could have given no prior consideration to the matter. With respect, I am sure that that was not so.

I even disagree with "not much". Those hon. Members who have any knowledge of the Chair will support me in saying that the Chair considers with great care what is likely to arise in the course of a day's debate before that debate takes place. These are not "off-the-cuff" Rulings, but are most carefully considered in conjunction with the authorities of the House.

I am sure that Mr. Deputy-Speaker will not mind my saying that the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that in the course of our discussion, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked, on a point of order, what the Ruling of the Chair would be, the Chairman thanked him for raising that point of order and said that it was his intention to select the Amendment. That was because I had taken an opportunity of privately informing the Chairman at the Table that I intended to raise this point. At the Chairman's request I deferred raising it, so that he could consider it in the interval, when he was not in the Chair. That shows that he considered it, and that is what I had in mind when I said that he considered it, but not for long.

I understand that point, but I am sure that I am right in saying that in these matters Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Deputy-Chairman, and the Chairman of Committees upstairs study these matters before each day's debate comes on to the Floor of the House or the Floor of the Standing Committee Room. We know that these researches into precedents are not done on the spur of the moment. We know that the Journal Office is invariably consulted, staffed as it is with Clerks who have served the House for many years.

I do not think that it can be argued that the Chairman would reject or overrule the advice that he was given in order to put upon a Standing Order his own novel and unjustified interpretation. Of course it can be argued, which, in effect, is what the hon. Member is arguing, that from 1919—from the quotation from Mr. Whitley—all the Speakers, Deputy-Speakers, Chairmen of Ways and Means, Deputy-Chairmen and, presumably, the Clerks who buttress them with advice have been wrong.

Let us by all means study that proposition, if the wording of the Standing Order is as the hon. Member suggests. I would be fairly confident that it is the hon. Member himself who is wrong in his reading of these matters. I think that we can illustrate his contention very clearly from something that happened the very next day. When the hon Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) put down an Amendment to Vote I of the Navy Estimates, and this Vote was reached very late in the sitting, the hon. Member asked if the Amendment would be called. The Chairman's reply was that if there was time he would consider it. In the event, the remaining time was entirely taken up by other speakers, as the hon. Member knows.

If the contention to the House which has just been made were correct, the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire would have had to be called and he would have taken precedence over other hon. Members in the use of the very limited amount of time that remained to the Committee, and the right of the Chairman to select and to call would be very seriously diminished.

I must say to the House that I cannot believe that that is a correct reading of our practice and procedure over the last forty years, since 1919. I cannot find a single precedent that would support the case of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, but I can, as I say, find any number of cases, dozens of them if necessary, which would support the case I put before the House, which is that it is entirely in order for the Chairman of Ways and Means, as for any other occupant of the Chair, to select which Amendments if any, should be called.

If I am right in that contention—and I say with all respect that I have taken the hon. Gentleman's argument seriously, because it is a very important argument—the case that the hon. Gentleman has put so persuasively before the House this afternoon falls. I think it right, therefore, to invite the House to take the view that the Rulings given by the Chairman of Ways and Means in Committee of Supply on 14th March were correct, and, if they were correct, I hope that the hon. Member will be convinced of this and be prepared to withdraw his Motion.

I tried to intervene while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking. Would he be good enough to furnish a precedent showing that the official Opposition in Committee of Supply had moved to reduce the Vote—I am speaking of the defence Vote— either in respect of numbers or of money, and that the Amendment had been refused by the Chairman of Committee? The right hon. Gentleman referred to forty years since 1919. I cannot recall any precedent of that kind.

It seems to me that if the official Labour Party, the official Opposition, had put down an Amendment asking for a reduction of Vote A by 1,000 men, the implication of which would be a reduction in expenditure, the Chairman of Committee might very well have accepted that Amendment. What troubles me is this: if I am right in that contention that there is no precedent to the contrary, then—I say it with very great respect to the Chair—might it not be that there was some prejudice, some bias, against a minority in this House?

I understand the point. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that it is extremely likely, let us put it like that, that such an Amendment as he suggests would be put. It is not part of my case, as I made absolutely clear in my opening sentences, to argue that because the point of view which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends wish to express was a minority one, or an unpopular one, that alters their rights. It does not.

The hon. Member will recall that this was the third of a series of Service Estimates and that in each case an Amendment had been moved. In the first two cases, the Chair, acting in its discretion, called the Amendments. In the third case, the Chair, in its discretion, did not, because the Chairman thought that in that way he could on that day secure an opportunity for wider expression of opinions. I am saying that in the case of the Amendments that he called, and in the case of the Amendment he did not call, the Chair was entirely within its rights and in accordance with the procedure of the House.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any precedent in the history of this House where an Amendment to reduce the number of men for the Armed Forces has ever been turned down by the Chair?

It depends on what is meant by "turned down". In 1960, there was an Amendment exactly of this sort to Vote A put down by the hon. Member to each of the Service Estimates. The hon. Member was called in each debate, but he did not move his Amendment and there was no Division. In 1961, it was moved in the case of the Navy and Air Estimates and not in the case of the Army Estimates, and there was one Division. In 1962, two Amendments were called, on the Army and Air, but not on the Navy. It is quite clear, in my view, that the Chairman was entirely right in what he did.

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He said that there were abundant precedents. It is conceded that there are many precedents outside the Committee of Supply, but what has been asked is: does he know of any precedents where an Amendment to reduce the Vote has been specifically refused selection by the Chair?

No, of course not. I do not agree that there are no precedents. As I argued, and as the book shows, there is, in fact, no difference between procedure in relation to selection in Committee of Supply from any other.

4.58 p.m.

I had no doubt in my mind when this question first came up on the evening of 14th March, any more than I have now, that the Chair was absolutely right in exercising selection. I want to say very kindly to my hon. Friend—

My hon. Friend has made his own speech and I will make mine in the way I want to. I want to say in the kindest way that I had sympathy for his views and for his position, although he is in a minority, because I hold radical views just as he does. I want, therefore, to speak with all deference to the sincerity of his views. But I think that he does his own case an ill-service by pressing it much too hard.

If one reads Standing Order No. 31, it is clear that the Chairman or the Speaker shall have the power to select. In an earlier intervention, the right hon. Gentleman made the point that if the Chairman thinks fit he can call on the hon. Member in whose name the Amendment is down to explain its purpose. If he has that power, clearly he is bound to be influenced in that way in forming a judgment. If the Standing Order gives him power to form a judgment, he can say "yes" or "no" and decline if he wishes, as he has done in this case. It is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that the Chairman was within his rights. I said so then, and I repeat it now.

In his anxiety to come to intellectual grips with and to repudiate the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, the Leader of the House has forgotten the short history of the procedure which we are discussing. We modified our procedure as a result of the Select Committee which was set up in 1952 and in which I played some small part. Later, in 1955, we put forward a revised procedure for considering the Army Act. It so happens that this argument has started on the Navy Estimates, which does not present as good a case as if it were on the Army Estimates.

Under the old procedure, the Government allowed a discussion on Vote A and conceded to the House that they would never move the Closure on that discussion. Invariably the debate on Vote A proceeded into the early hours and sometimes it continued into the next day. The Government had to get Vote A. Afterwards they could introduce the Army Bill. There was also a discussion on the various Votes.

Under the new procedure recommended by the Select Committee, this situation no longer applies, and new procedure was also authorised for the Committee stage of the Money Votes. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne fogs the issue when he says that while there is a general discussion on Vote A, we are also discussing the money. The money part is not discussed except on Committee stage, and it falls on the Guillotine.

This is where the Leader of the House shares with the occupant of the Chair the duty of protecting the rights of back-benchers. We are discussing a procedure which goes back over three hundred years and which involves the right of the House to control the size of the standing Army, a right which was in the Bill of Rights. It was not something small which back-bench Members gave to the Government when they adopted the new procedure. But the House accepted the Select Committee's recommendation. Let me in all honesty say that we got something out of it—and I say that as a permanent back-bench Member; we got an extra day out of it. When we were discussing this matter on a point of order on 14th March I made a slight mistake, for I said that the selection of Votes on the Committee stage was made by the Opposition. To that extent I maligned my right hon. Friends, because the selection is made by the Government, and what the Opposition Front Bench does is to choose the order of batting—in other words, which should come first, the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. I want to put that error right.

The trouble about the reforms instituted by the Select Committee in 1952 was that they did not go far enough. It is true, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, that we are dealing with procedures for a situation which was comparatively simple and which has become incredibly complex. Because of the intense international situation, there are things which even the Minister on Supply would like to say but cannot say because he is inhibited by a sense of security. I have pleaded, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), that after the debate on Vote A, which is a Second Reading debate, the Estimates should be sent to a Committee upstairs. I consulted Sir Edward Fellowes, when he was Clerk of the House, on how this could be handled. It is clear that without changing Standing Orders the House could have a Committee of Secrecy which could be a Select Committee; by Resolution, the numbers could be more than fifteen and the Committee could include hon. Members from all parts of the House, indeed all hon. Members who want to have their say.

When it comes to a question of security, which must worry the Government, the point is that any hon. Member who went outside the House and blabbed to the Press, as Members blab when they want to leak what has been said at a party meeting, would come up against, not the Official Secrets Act, but the gravest breach of privilege. I have pleaded on many occasions for both Front Benches to look at this procedure in the interests of the Services and in the interests of back-bench Members on all sides of the House. I think that an investigation into this point would be good for the Services. After all, a Minister cannot know all that is going on, and if Ministers were kept on their toes as a result of a procedure of this kind it would mean that the point of view of hon. Members who reflect a minority point of view but who want to put it would be seriously examined. At the same time, Government business would not be held up.

I think that there is an important difference between the history of procedures on Vote A and that of procedures when dealing with money, and I feel that we have gone only three-quarters of the way in tackling the problem. We ought to finish the job and to make a workmanlike examination of our procedures, in the interests of hon. Members in all parts of the House, whether they speak only for themselves or for large groups, and also in the interests of the fighting Services.

5.6 p.m.

We are dealing this afternoon with one of the things which throughout the ages has given the House cause for grave concern—the size of the Armed Forces. This House was hesitant for years to allow a standing Army at all. In this respect it is not true that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) interfered with historic procedure. It was only with great difficulty on occasion that the Government obtained power to discipline the forces which had been raised. The Army Act was an annual Act until my hon. Friend, for whom on most matters I have the highest admiration, hinted that it was a mere matter of formality.

That is quite untrue. In the debates in the Select Committee we treated these as matters of the utmost seriousness. It was pointed out in the Memorandum which the Select Committee considered that we were amending the Bill of Rights. This right was not put aside lightly. But my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was in the House for many years before I came here, must face the fact that the Army Act was nearly a hundred years out of date.

I am well aware of all that. My hon. Friend did a great service in having the Army Act brought up to date, but in my view the great disservice which he did was in arranging the procedure of the House so that in future he had that kind of debate only once every five years.

Although, after what the Leader of the House said, I do not feel that we can regard everything in the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) as being acceptable, I regret that, once again, we are accepting a fresh authority on the Standing Orders of the House. To prove his case the right hon. Gentleman produced a book by two people who have studied the House of Commons and its procedure. When dealing with the point raised by my hon. Friend they inserted two words—"if any". In addition to Erskine May, who, after all, was only a human being, and Lord Campion, we are asked to accept two new authorities to guide us in the way in which we should conduct our procedure. That is very dangerous. I recollect that Colonel Spender-Clay, who was Member for Tonbridge, when proposing a Motion in connection with the election of Mr. Speaker, said that what we needed was a man who knew thoroughly two things—the Standing Orders and the Practice of the House. He said that the unfortunate thing is that we need a man of great ability, because quite frequently these two things are contradictory.

They have become contradictory because of our acceptance of the inspiration, as though it were divine, of Erskine May and Lord Campion, and now two people whose names I had not previously heard. Really, we do get into grave difficulties. It is for this House, having passed its Standing Orders, to insist on the interpretation of them resting with the House.

The right hon. Gentleman will say, "I ask you to accept these two gentlemen not merely because they have published a book, but because I think that what they wrote is right." I have always had great difficulty in dealing with matters of verbal inspiration. After all, great wars have been fought on that, and countless thousands of people have gone to the stake and have suffered other indignities because they have been unable to accept the verbal inspiration of a volume which has a very respectable history.

We come to this House as individuals. I had something to do with the Representation of the People Act. I remember that people wanted to insert on the Ballot Paper the name of the party to which a candidate belonged. The answer of this House has always been that we know nothing of parties at that stage. Men come here as individuals. They have individual responsibilities to discharge. In fact, the Committee originally of this House was the individual Member to whom a Bill was committed for consideration and report to the House.

I know that my hon. Friends sitting below me are sometimes regarded as not respectable and I am doubtful whether I remain respectable in so far as I regard them as my hon. Friends. But I admit that they are my hon. Friends. Yet my hon. Friends are very annoying people. They are not ashamed of that. I rather gather that they glory in it on occasions. However, they come here with individual duties to respond to as most of us do. Some of us find it comparatively easy to accept the guidance which we get from persons of experience within the party who have been chosen to guide less experienced mortals. My hon. Friends, for conscientious reasons, do not find themselves always able to do that.

I sometimes wish that I had the same pluck as they have. I found it difficult to play truant from school, even on sunny days when I wished I did not have to go. These hon. Friends of ours have minority points of view. They have stated them with fervour, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged this afternoon, in this particularly delicate debate. The Motion was moved in a speech whose terms no one could complain of. It was responded to by the right hon. Gentleman, who tried to quote authorities which we recognise.

I think that on a matter like the size of the Armed Forces, in view of its historic position in the growth of the power of this House and of the responsibilities this House has always assumed with regard to it, it is a very serious thing to say that an Amendment to reduce the Armed Forces of the Crown need not be put when we are in Committee of Supply. I say that with the utmost respect to the two hon. Members who are now responsible in Committee of Supply. I am quite certain that they were convinced in their own minds, when they did refuse to call the Amendment, that they were right, but I think that it is a tremendous step for this House to take to accept that as a principle of interpretation of Standing Order No. 31.

I take the hint.

If my hon. Friend goes to a Division on his Motion, because I regard the matter of such importance in the history of the House and in the maintenance of its traditions I shall feel obliged to vote with him, but I want to make it quite clear, as I was saying in what so many hon. Members regarded as my peroration, that I do it with no feeling of personal animosity towards either of the occupants of the Chair. They have their duty to discharge, and they do it according to their own conscience. I am quite sure that every Member of the House, on a matter of this kind, should similarly have regard to his own conscience and discharge his duty as he sees it in that light.

5.16 p.m.

I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has come to that conclusion, particularly after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. This is a Motion of censure of the Chairman of Ways and Means, however courteous the language in which it has been couched. We have had one of these already in this Parliament, and it has not done Parliament any good. So old a Member of the House of Commons as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields is would, I should have thought, have had a greater respect for Parliament than to lend himself to a Motion of this kind.

I hope I made it quite plain that I did it because I had great respect for Parliament and its tradition in this particular matter.

I cannot give way to the hon. Member at the moment. I cannot deal with two interruptions at once.

The right hon. Gentleman should have listened more carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I hope that deals with that interruption.

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that he is putting a quite impossible proposition? The Chair frequently reminds us, and correctly, that we cannot challenge the Chair's Ruling at the moment when it is given. The only way it can be challenged is by a Motion of this kind. If what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that respect for Parliament requires us never to put down such a Motion as this, then what he is really saying is that the House is never entitled to consider or disagree with any Ruling which any Chairman or Speaker might ever give. That surely would be wrong.

In making my speech I was attempting to be very short. If I have got to answer every interruption it will be much longer.

There are two points which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) put in his speech. One was that the word "select" meant choose. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the word "select" does not mean to choose: it means call. To put it another way, it means to choose whether to call or not. In my view, Standing Order No. 31 makes that perfectly clear. The right hon. Member for South Shields was in the House with Mr. Whitley in 1919. He will probably recollect the Ruling Mr. Whitley gave on 4th December, 1919. Mr. Whitley decided, and announced his decision at the time, not to call any Amendment to one Clause of the India Bill. His decision was freely accepted. No argument arose.

Merely for the purposes of accuracy, I am not as antique as all that. I did not enter the House until 1923, when Mr. Whitley was Speaker of the House of Commons. I had great respect for him, but he was human like the rest of us.

I mentioned the right hon. Gentleman's age only because I myself am getting old. I was right in thinking that the right hon. Gentleman was in the House with Mr. Whitley, although not when Mr. Whitley was Chairman of Ways and Means but when he was Mr. Speaker. I have mentioned Mr. Whitley because his was the first Ruling after the new Standing Order No. 31 was approved by the House. There have been frequent occasions when that sort of thing has happened.

Let me deal with one point at a time. I am not a lawyer. I do not pretend to be an expert on Standing Orders. Procedure in Committee of Supply is very technical. It is probably beyond my capacity to give a technical explanation.

I ask hon. Members to reflect on what happened in the debates on the Service Estimates this year. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was right in saying that we now have a new procedure, which means that the debate comes to an end at a certain hour—I think midnight. The Chairman of Ways and Means has to try to satisfy all hon. Members who wish to speak. This year he was faced on all three occasions with the same Amendment—namely, to reduce the Air Force, the Army and the Navy by so many men. On the first occasion he accepted the Amendment and allowed one hon. Member of the group—I think it was the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—to speak and to vote.

At any rate, it was one of the group. On the second occasion the same thing happened. The Division in each case took place at midnight. On the first occasion there were no less than three Divisions. On each occasion only two Members supported the Tellers against 240 on the opposite side. It may not be a good argument to say that the Chairman of Ways and Means on that ground thought it unwise in his discretion—I have already tried to prove that he had a discretion—not to call an hon. Member from the group on the Navy Estimates.

The right hon. Member for South Shields talked about minorities. I have much sympathy for minorities. I was in a minority of thirteen in a Division in the House last week. I have every sympathy with minorities. I want them to get fair treatment. However, a large number of hon. Members wanted to speak in the debates on the Service Estimates, particularly in the debate on the Navy Estimates. There was limited time. The group had a jolly good run on the Air Force Estimates and on the Army Estimates.

Never mind. They had a very good run. In view of the large number of hon. Members who wanted to speak on the Navy Estimates, was it right for a member of the group to have preference over other hon. Members and be called to speak, whether or not he moved the Amendment?

The hon. Member may not be aware of it, but he is making a grave attack on the Chair.

On both occasions practically no one on this side wanted to speak. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Chairman of Ways and Means did not call the Amendment in order to facilitate speakers from the Government side of the House.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has to call speakers from either side of the House.

That makes me think that the hon. Baronet was not here, because nobody on this side wanted to speak.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, because in fact I was one of the Temporary Chairmen on that day. I took the Chair for part of the time. Hon. Gentlemen should let me make my speech without any more interruptions.

In these circumstances, was it right—I put this as a practical point, not as a legal one—that the Chairman of Ways and Means should be bound to call the Amendment and bound to call the hon. Member to make a speech, which in these cases is always long? I again remind hon. Members of the limited time available, because of the reform made with the help of the hon. Member for Dudley. Was it right that the group should have preference over other hon. Members—I do not mind which side they were on—who wanted to make a speech in that limited time?

The hon. Member is being a little unfair. We did not then claim and do not now claim any priority of any sort. If the result of our argument is that we would be called and others would not be called, that is the result of the fact that we tabled an Amendment and nobody else did. Anybody can table an Amendment and then the conditions in which the Chair exercises the power to select arise. We are saying that they do not arise when there is only one Amendment.

I have tried to deal with that argument, because the hon. Member's first point was that the Chairman had no power to select. I say that he has. So does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

From the practical, non-legal and non-technical point of view, I say as a layman, although a layman of long experience, that under our new procedure the Chairman of Ways and Means must have the right to select the speaker, to select the Amendment to be called and, if there is only one Amendment, to select it or not to select it according to his discretion. That is the only way we can get on under the new procedure.

The group, if I may again use that expression, still had the right to vote against the Estimates. If they had been so inclined, they had the right to vote against the Navy as a whole. I agree that that is not quite what they wanted, but these are practical matters.

They did not do it in fact. These are practical matters. Under our new procedure, with a time limit and many hon. Members wishing to speak, if an Amendment is not selected and hon. Members want to protest against the size of the Navy, the number of men, or the amount of money spent, surely they should exercise that right in a different way, namely, by voting against the Vote under discussion, which in this case was vote A as a whole? I believe that the Chairman of Ways and Means was quite within his rights, in accordance with plain English, whatever the legal and technical jargon may be. I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw the Motion, because as long as it stays, especially if it is voted on, it will remain as a stigma on the Chairman of Ways and Means, who in my view does not deserve it.

5.29 p.m.

I shall follow the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) in only one respect—I shall make a short speech. The hon. Member should have declared an interest. He belongs to the Chairman's club. I have a great respect for the Chairman, the Deputy-Chairman and all the Temporary Chairmen, but, after all, the hon. Member has an interest in this matter. By saying that it is quite improper for there to be a Motion of censure on the Chair, he evinces his lack of knowledge of the history of Parliament. It has been done over and over again.

Surely the right hon. Member does not expect me to declare an interest as a Temporary Chairman when it has been on the record, and on the Votes and Proceedings of the House?

The hon. Member is much too naïve. I would have expected an old Member to be more mature.

I confess right away that I have never read Erskine May and I have not even read Lord Campion's book. Nor have I read the writings of those gentlemen of more recent knowledge of Parliament. Over the years I have managed to get through by trial and error. I know nothing about dictionary definitions of "select" or "choose" or "pick" and all the rest. I am concerned with only one consideration, and I ventured to put it when I interjected as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was about to resume his seat.

As far as I know, there is no precedent in my time or in the period occupied in the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), for the Chairman in Committee of Supply refusing to accept an Amendment which sought either to reduce numbers or to reduce money. I know of none. This is the vital consideration in this discussion. I do not know what reason animated the Chairman of Ways and Means to refuse the Amendment. At least I did not know until the Leader of the House furnished the information himself.

Hon. Members should note what the Leader of the House said towards the end of his speech. He said that my hon. Friends below the Gangway had had two previous incursions into the Service debates and when the third came round the Chairman was fully supplied with information about their intentions. That is what he meant. That is my interpretation of what the Leader of the House said. I suppose that what the right hon. Gentleman really means by that is that if an Amendment is presented by the official Opposition it is all right—and, of course it is all right. Why not? But if it is put down on the Order Paper by hon. Members who wish to argue its contents and who are regarded as a bit of a nuisance it is all wrong. That will not do. It will not do at all.

Quite a number of hon. and right hon. Members not now present but who occasionally occupy the Treasury Bench made a proper nuisance of themselves in the past. A few moments ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) vacated his seat in the Chamber. We are always glad to see him here. I am sure that that sentiment is shared by everybody in the House. I was in the House before the war, in those ten years when the right hon. Member for Woodford was in the wilderness. I remember those behind him jeering and sneering at him. He was making a proper nuisance of himself, but in the end he was proved right.

I am not suggesting that my hon. Friends below the Gangway will be proved right on that Amendment. I am not sure about the merits of the question. If I had been sure, I would have supported them. Perhaps their tactics are wrong. Never mind the merits of the question, except to say that I would not vote against Service Estimates. I do not think that it does any good, although there may be substantial reason why there should be an Amendment now and again to reduce the Vote.

We are entitled to do that by way of Amendment, but I say sincerely that I am really worried about what the Leader of the House said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). If the trouble is that my hon. Friends are in the minority or are regarded as something of a nuisance, there is no use indulging in any lip-service any longer to the rights of minorities here. I am concerned about the rights of the minority because I have always been in a minority, and naturally I declare my interest right away.

I have never believed in the Establishment. I believe in being loyal to principles. I believe in sometimes being loyal to policies and sometimes loyal to declarations which are contradictory, but sometimes it is the right of a Member of Parliament, elected by his constituents, within the body of principles which he accepts, to express his principles in the House.

If as a result of some trouble or of a crisis in a party—as it has happened in the party opposite and it happens on this side now and again—a number of hon. Members constitute themselves into a kind of group and decide to put Amendments on the Order Paper which are regarded as unpopular, I do not regard that as sufficient reason why a Chairman of Committee should refuse to accept the propositions. They can be defeated, and, indeed, my hon. Friends' propositions were defeated. That is all we need to say about it.

I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields who said that if there is a Division he will vote in favour of my hon. Friends. I am not at all sure that these tactics are right. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne made a remarkable speech, eloquent, cogent and obviously very sincere. He is a great Parliamentarian, and so are some of his hon. Friends who sit beside him, but sometimes there is much to be said for putting a case and then leaving it where it is. I hope that this matter will not go to a Division. If it does, I should like to abstain from voting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is that regarded as cowardly? Of course it is not. I decide for myself what I shall do, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields is wrong on this occasion.

I fully understand the position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), but he will remember that at the end of my speech I suggested that there is no need to put this matter to a vote. There is obviously something here to inquire into, and if the Leader of the House will promise us some sort of further consideration I will be quite prepared to withdraw my Motion.

I doubt whether the Leader of the House will agree to an inquiry. Leaders of the House very seldom agree to that sort of thing. The case has been made so ably and the arguments have been so cogent that I doubt whether anybody in the House, even though a little prejudiced against my hon. Friend, would demur. The case has been so well presented that I doubt whether any Chairman in future in similar circumstances will refuse to accept an Amendment of the kind rejected on that occasion, and for me that is ample. I repeat that what we must seek to do in the House is to conserve the rights of minorities, even when we disagree with them.

5.39 p.m.

Precedents have been mentioned a great deal in the debate, but the Leader of the House failed to quote any precedent where the Chairman of Ways and Means had definitely refused to call an Amendment to reduce the number of men required for the Navy. I put down an Amendment, as I did in previous years, because I am greatly alarmed at the large increase in Government expenditure, especially on the defence Services. Year after year, sometimes with support and sometimes without it, I have persisted, on every possible occasion, in calling attention to the very large sums of money which this House has voted for the Service Estimates.

My alarm is now being expressed in many other quarters. Indeed, the Leader of the House was rebuked yesterday by "Peterborough" of the Daily Telegraph, who said that the right hon. Gentleman did not pay enough attention to the enormous rise in the Civil Estimates, and commented:
"What interests the electors rather more than rhetoric about faceless men and pedlars of politics is the enormous rise in the Civil Estimates and the decline of the industrial production index figure to the lowest for two years."
I am interested in the enormous rise in the so-called defence Estimates, and I have used every possible Parliamentary opportunity to try to prevent hon. Members from voting what I have considered to be excessive sums for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

The tabling of an Amendment to reduce a service by 1,000 men is a very well-known and ancient Parliamentary custom. Indeed, it is a custom which has caused some of the gravest constitutional conflicts in the history of Parliament. Upstairs, there is a picture of the five Members. By coincidence, we happen to be a group of five. It may be that we are following the precedent of Pym, Hampden, Hasilrigge, Holies and Strode, who got into trouble with authority of that day because they objected to the King's extravagance on the Navy. It was a controversy about Ship Money.

The King came down to the House of Commons with his sword and soldiers and asked for the arrest of the five Members but was told that they had fled to the City—the birds had flown. We cannot fly to the City. I do not think that we would get much support there. But we do maintain the right of hon. Members to protest most strongly when they believe that the Crown is asking for excessive sums of money.

At a time when the Government are being severely criticised, even in the City, even by the bankers, even by the Chairman of the Stock Exchange, for their excessive expenditure of public money, I submit that we are entitled to put our views before the House in Committee and to ask for its consideration of our Amendment. If it is in order to move that the Army be reduced, and that is acceptable to the Chair, and if it is in order to move to reduce the number of men in the Air Force, and that too is acceptable to the Chair, I fail to see why the Navy should be regarded as sacred and the Committee be told, "I am not calling the Amendment to reduce the number of men in the Navy."

There are many precedents for our action. I have consulted the authorities, and I have more precedents than the Leader of the House. But I will content myself with giving an example from a couple of centuries later than the five Members. There sat in this House a very energetic Member for Aberdeen who, in debate after debate on the Army and Navy, persistently put on the Order Paper Amendments similar to those we put down in the recent debates. He was Mr. Joseph Hume, a Radical. He spelt his name "Hume" and pronounced it "Hume"—not, as some modern Minis-terms do, spelling it "Home" and pronouncing it "Hume". He was a persistent critic of the expenditure on the Services in his day and repeatedly moved Amendments to reduce the number of men in the Army and in the Navy. The only reason that he did not move to reduce the number of men in the Air Force at that time was that the Air Force had not come into existence. So I maintain that Hume was right and that Hughes is only carrying out the precedent of Hume.

The Leader of the House said that the various points of view were entitled to be taken into consideration. I agree with him. We were not entitled to rule out other hon. Members who wished to speak in these debates, but that was not the case. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman talk about the Conservative Party being, above all things, in favour of opportunity. We believe in opportunity in the Parliamentary sense. That is why we are here.

When the opportunity came to us to speak on the Army and Air Force Estimates we saw the opportunity and took it. But we did not get any special privilege from the Chair. We rose in our places and were called only because no other hon. Member on this side rose to speak. Thus I maintain that we did not stake out any particular privilege for ourselves and did not intend to claim any. It must be quite clear that our point of view was one of far more drastic criticism of the Navy Estimates—as it was of the other Estimates—than was the point of view of the official Opposition, because—and this was well known—the official Opposition had decided not to vote against the Service Estimates.

We took the view that the issues at stake were so deep and profound that it was our duty to divide the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that we could have used the opportunity to vote against the Navy Estimates—as we did. But we were also entitled to ask the Committee to approve a reduction of the Estimates. We believe that we were entitled to ask for such a reduction in the Navy Estimates from one particular point of view—"Polaris", a name which frequently cropped up during that debate.

Hon. Members opposite urged the Government to embark upon a programme of building Polaris submarines. We were against them, and in that were expressing the point of view of the majority of the Labour Party, of the Trades Union Congress, and of the overwhelming majority of the Labour movement in Scotland. That view was not expressed in the debate. None of us who strongly believe that the Polaris strategy is specially dangerous to this country were allowed to put our point of view. Only the people who are in favour of Polaris submarines were able to express their point of view in that debate.

That is a negation of democracy. There are a very large number of people in this House who believe that this is a discredited and tottering Government. The people outside will have contempt for this House if they believe that the Opposition to such a discredited and tottering Government is only made by a "phoney" Opposition. We are, therefore, entitled to have our point of view expressed. There is a sharp conflict of opinion involved here. In our wish to criticise the Polaris submarines, we believe that the point of view of the very large number of our people against these submarines and the strategy involved with them should be expressed in debate on the Floor of this House.

In the debate on the Navy Estimates, the Government were asking for approval of the initial stages in the designing of aircraft carriers which might have cost the country £50 million. Had my Amendment been in order and called, we believe that there would have been hon. Members who, while not wanting to vote against the full Estimates, would have been prepared to vote against the Polaris submarine policy and against the idea of embarking upon the building of a new aircraft carrier.

Some of us believe that we should have greater opportunity of discussing the whole of the Navy Estimates in much more detail. It was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who made what is, in my recollection in Parliament, the most damaging attack ever delivered in this House upon the Admiralty and its set-up and establishment. It was he who went to the Dispatch Box during the time of the Labour Government and delivered the biggest broadside against the Admiralty that I have ever heard. The right hon. Gentleman said that the people at the Admiralty sat there making jobs for themselves and for their successors and that it was the duty of any House of Commons that was worthy of its name to scrub and cleanse the Estimates with great care.

The Leader of the House has referred to the debate when I tabled an Amendment for a reduction of £100, but he knows quite well that the Chairman refused to declare that one out of order. What he said was, "We will see how we get on." Had the right hon. Gentleman looked up the time, he would have known that it was twenty minutes to twelve and, of course, we did not get on. So the whole of the detailed Navy Estimates, amounting to over £420 million, has not received the consideration that the House is entitled to give to Estimates at a time when there is such great criticism of national expenditure.

In the Estimates, we were asked to vote £20 million for the scientific services of the Navy. We did not have a minute or even a second to discuss the granting of this large sum for the scientific purposes of the Navy. The Navy is to get £20 million without question, but the Coal Board is to get only £5 million. Representing a mining constituency, I was entitled to say that the Government are not right in coming here to ask for £20 million for research in the Navy when they are prepared to give only £5 million to developing the resources of one of the nation's basic industries.

I do not care about the injustice to myself—I am used to the turmoil of Parliamentary debate—but I would hate it to go out to the country that the Navy Estimates can go through the House of Commons without criticism, because I believe that at the Admiralty is one of the biggest, most powerful, traditional vested interests in the country. If this House pushes these Estimates through without discussion and if the other Services similarly ask for more, the sum total of Government expenditure will be increased.

Last year, we tried to find out from the Opposition Front Bench the purpose of this immense expenditure on the Navy. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was asked what the Navy would do in the event of another war. He replied that in the event of a nuclear war the signal to the Navy would be, "Go to hell out of this." We are asked to provide without discussion £420 million for a Navy which cannot protect the country in the event of war.

In previous debates, we have heard the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who is now a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport concerned with shipping. As one who had commanded a great aircraft carrier, the hon. and gallant Member gave a damaging account of the expenditure of the Admiralty. Therefore, as a matter of right for the people of the country, we are entitled to challenge the Estimates. It is our duty on behalf of ourselves and of our constituents. It is a most important duty of this House to protest against what we regard as extravagant expenditure. That is What we were trying to do, but we were frustrated from doing so by the Ruling of the Chair.

5.56 p.m.

I would not seek to intervene at this stage of the debate, knowing that we are under considerable pressure for the important business which is to follow, if I did not regard the problem that is before us as of major importance. The problem that we are discussing belongs to the mainstream of British democratic Parliamentary history.

It would be a much duller House of Commons if we did not have our contemporary edition of the five unruly Members. If five Members, or even one Member, belonging to the benches opposite, just as much as to the benches on this side, were setting out a minority view and warning us of the dangers of ignoring a minority point of view, I would feel compelled to take my stand.

Never in the history of the British House of Commons have we had political parties as all-powerful as they are today. The very power of the two great parties ought to make all of us individually, not only as Front Benchers, but back benchers also, both Government and Opposition, doubly on our guard to preserve the rights of minorities in this House.

I am glad that the point has been made that we cannot take cover behind Erskine May, Lord Campion, or any other authority in interpreting the rules of the House. Nor can we accept the doctrine of the infallibility of the occupants of the Chair, no matter how distinguished they are. We know that it is Parliamentary procedure that in one sense today's Motion is a Motion of censure. It is Parliamentary procedure with a certain meaning, in the same way as when we move to reduce a Minister's salary by £5, the Minister concerned knows well that it is not the £5 that we are after, but that that is the formula by which a point of view is stated. I hope, therefore, that no one in the House will sidestep the real issue by saying that this is a Motion of censure on the Chair and that we cannot have it. It is not a Motion of censure in the sense that we are questioning the honour or integrity of the Chair.

It is only the House of Commons collectively which can decide whether a correct Ruling has been given, and we have to think not only in terms of the contemporary situation, but of future situations. We have to be very much on our guard in case we create precedents today that may be used even more disastrously in future situations. I do not like a House of Commons in which the debate between the two main parties is so groomed or presented that all the rough corners vanish. Like my hon. Friend, I am not going into the merits of this issue, but when the stronger tides of Opposition are pushed back, it is not the rebel or the individual excluded who suffers; it is the House of Commons as an institution.

The House has already lost a great deal of its vitality. It is obvious from what has been said already and from our knowledge of what happened that those debates took place, in the main, to empty benches. My hon. Friends said that one reason why it was easy to be called was that there were so few Members in the House. I want to see the benches of the House much more fully occupied, and the debates much freer and more far-ranging.

The last point I want to make is that if we have a Parliamentary situation in which the two main parties agree we have a monolithic situation. If a strong current of agreement between the two parties leads to the suppression of even a lone voice taking another point of view, the House takes one step nearer to being the kind of farcical, controlled House that we have seen in other parts of the world. It will not be the free, proud, House of Commons that wants to make quite certain that even though there is only one Member who seeks to move an Amendment where Supply is concerned—and this is doubly important, because both Supply and defence are at stake—he shall be given that opportunity.

I hope that the Government will agree that we should not force this matter to a sharp decision today, but that the whole question should be looked at again, and that for the sake of the House of Commons as a whole, and not for any individual or any group in it, we shall treat very respectfully indeed the traditional rights of minorities to express their point of view.

6.4 p.m.

I did not intend to take part in the debate, as I was almost tempted to do by the intervention of the Leader of the House, who, I think, was not at his happiest by any means, but I was certainly roused to get to my feet by what I think were the singularly unfortunate observations of the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan). I do not doubt that he put his view with absolute sincerity and honesty, but it was singularly unfortunate that he should have disclosed that some of these views are held by someone who is charged with the occupancy of the Chair.

The question whether the hon. Member should have taken part in the debate at all when, on his own admission, he was in the Chair for part of the time and thereby had a responsibility for Rulings on procedure, is a matter for his judgment and not for me. I have a full-time job in looking after my own vices. I am not out to criticise other people's, but on this issue of the House and the position of the Chair it is not possible for some of these observations to pass without comment.

We are getting rather mealy-mouthed in these days. Nowadays, when we look back on Gilbert and Sullivan and realise how they played the fool with the monarchy, the House of Lords, the judges, the Lord Chancellor and almost every authority in the country, to the infinite delight of almost everybody, and not to the depreciation of the standards of any, I find it astonishing that now, when we mention a judge or Mr. Speaker, we go into all sorts of lavish and insincere praises which do more harm than good.

It has never been the duty of a Speaker of this House to be impartial, and I hope that it never will be. His most important duty is to be partial, serving the House of Commons in combats with the Crown, in combats with another place, in asserting our rights and following our directions. It has never been the duty of Mr. Speaker to interpret our rules by any sort of method except that adopted in the courts, or that which, at least, the courts keep telling us they try to adopt—judging the real meaning of the words.

The hon. Member for South Angus made an astonishing proposition. He said that "select" means to call. The Leader of the House said that "select" means to choose. I accept that, except that he said that it does not mean that one has to choose, but that one can choose not to choose. That is rather a surprising statement. The hon. Member for South Angus said that "select" means to call. I do not want to go into the rather technical nature of the word "call" in our modern conditions, which would mean that a Select Committee was something which demanded the urgent attention of the Home Secretary in his position as guardian of the Wolfenden Report, but I would be open to the word in its Biblical sense. One of the best-known texts in St. Matthew is:
"many be called, but few chosen."
It comes out of the verse:
"So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."

It is not for the hon. Member, who often sits in the Chair, and who must be careful about what he is saying, to make these observations, and I say that for his advice and encouragement. If he makes too many bad rulings from the back benches, while expressing a view on the duties of the Chair, we should find ourselves confronted with another difficulty.

While my hon. Friends were speaking, thought I was reluctant to deprive myself of the chance of listening, I darted out to consult the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, and I find there one of the shortest definitions that one can find even in that dictionary. Therein is this definition:
"Select: verb, to choose or pick out, in preference to another or other."
I should have thought that the House makes the rules, and that it is advised by a Select Committee. I must not invest it with any form of collective wisdom, because I was a member of the Committee, but there are wise men who were members of it and who are acquainted with the procedure of the House. The Leader of the House, I think, may have learned from his predecessor that sometimes it is wise to indicate that, while attempting to present a straight bat, one is conscious of the fact that one is playing on a sticky wicket. It may be that that was his raison d'être.

The right hon. Gentleman said, "I do not say that Erskine May is infallible and that Lord Campion is infallible, but I produce some authorites which contradict them." This was a popular dictionary of Parliament, written by two people who, as far as I know, are not Members of Parliament. I confess that I am not fully acquainted with the book. He said that what these learned gentlemen have produced, as a result of their elaborate researches into Parliamentary procedure, in order to produce a single item in a popular dictionary of 700 pages, was "if any." He asked us to attribute some recondite importance to these words "if any." It seems to me that they are right. Of course, how can one select an Amendment if there are not any?

What is more, it cannot be said that the Chair need not select an Amendment by ruling that all the Amendments on the Order Paper are out of order, still "if any". Furthermore, the rule specially provides that if the Chair is in any doubt about an Amendment it can call upon the hon. Member concerned to make a short explanation of what the Amendment is intended to mean and then say, "No. After hearing the hon. Member's explanation, this Amendment is not in order, and therefore, it will not be called."—but still "if any." I cannot feel that those two short words have any relevance at all to the point under discussion.

We then come to an extremely difficult matter. Here, I want to speak quite frankly and forthrightly. Personally, I have often deprecated, and am on record as having deprecated, the fact that in our discussions of the procedure of the House in the light of any recent event we have to table something which is referred to in our normal Parliamentary language as a "Motion of censure". In fact, in Parliamentary language the word "censure" has a special connotation, and even some of those Motions which are classed as Motions of censure on a party basis are really only technically Motions of censure which are designed to raise a specific or limited issue.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) sat down, I thought that the whole of that illusion had been dissipated and that on this the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was equally convincing and that everyone appreciated that, even in its technical or academic sense, this Motion of censure was in no way an attempt to reflect upon the occupant of the Chair.

Then, unhappily, the hon. Member for South Angus rose and said that if this issue went to a Division this would be a case of the scarlet letter—he used the word "stigma", which means precisely that. It is to be regretted that a Member who occupies the Chair should say that if, on any future occasion, any hon. Member, in pursuance of the rules of the House which permit no alternative, tables a Motion to raise a question of current procedure in the course of a current Session, it must not be voted upon because it would impose a stigma. Until that was said no one had suggested such a thing, and I am perfectly certain that no one believes it.

If I may commit myself to one sentence which may appear to be irrelevant, but which I feel is relevant—and it will be only one sentence—I have been impressed in the extraordinary complex of Trafalgar Square by one statement. People who have come from abroad have said, "Whatever you think of Lord Russell, or of the Commissioner of Police, or of the wisdom of their actions, and so on, nowhere but in Britain could this demonstration have taken place with such decency, good humour and tolerance." People from all over Europe have said that if it had happened somewhere else it might have led to the use of machine guns.

Until the hon. Member for South Angus rose, we might have said, "Rarely does the House of Commons present a more impressive spectacle than when it is able for some hours to discuss what in academic terms is a Motion of censure on a Ruling of importance"—a Ruling which has party implications in the sense that whatever party is in opposition is deeply and especially concerned with it, the debate being presided over in perfectly good temper and moderation by a distinguished Deputy-Speaker who has only recently been elected to office, a considerable demonstration of the confidence which is reposed in him. I think that if foreign journalists were here today they would say that that was the point.

Having said that, I want now to say that I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in hoping that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will intervene again in the debate and give some assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne which would prevent a Division. I agree with my right hon. Friend that if there is a Division one must express one's view, because this is a matter which concerns those of us who claim to be pacifists. This was an important debate, for these debates on Vote A on the Service Estimates are the only opportunities for those of us who are in a minority to intervene. In general, I have not sought to intervene on this subject. I have expressed my views in the past and I do not believe that I am serving the House by continually expressing them, unless new matters arise. But that is very different from saying that I should forfeit my right to express them.

I could understand the difficulty of the Leader of the House when he rose to speak. I do not want to be discourteous, because on the only occasion on which I had to approach the right hon. Gentleman he received me with exceptional courtesy, which I appreciated, and I am trying to phrase an unprepared observation in terms which are completely free from offence. But there were some sentences in which he seemed to think that part of his duty as Leader of the House was to protect the Chair. The Chair can always protect itself. The Chair enjoys immense respect in the House.

The only disservice to the Chair which I have known in the years that I have been in the House was when an absent-minded Leader of the House issued a three-line Whip on the election of the occupant of the Chair, and thus gave temporary ground for saying that the election had been a matter for the Government and not for hon. Members as a whole, for every hon. Member with or without the Whip.

There is another point of great importance. I do not know whether Whips are being restored, or whether more Whips will be taken away. Perhaps this is a matter on which I should declare my interest for the future. When the Whip-is withdrawn from an hon. Member, for whatever reason, that is to limit the number of Members who, under our present procedure, have normal access to channels of information. They are not informed about meetings or foreign trips or delegations being received, or even about the allocation of offices in the House of Commons. They have to operate at a distinct disadvantage.

I was saying, Mr. Speaker, before you came into the Chair, and I hope that it was not improper of me, that it is not always the duty of the Chair to be impartial, because the Chair is the servant of the House in many of its partial exercises. In the seventeenth century it was as the partial servant of the House that the Chair won some of our great battles.

Those of us who study procedure recognise that the duty of the Chair is to balance a series of extremely difficult and conflicting principles. One of those is not to be impartial, but to be fair in the elimination of a considerable number of conflicting difficulties. I should have thought that it could not be disputed that it was the duty of the Chair, to some extent, to see that Government business went through, although with appropriate protection for minorities.

I was delighted to observe in a recent book on Questions in the House a clear assertion of something which we have always understood—that the Table has always had a view against the Government and that in the tabling of Questions the Table has a slight balance in favour of the Member who seeks to ask the Question. The Table is there to administer the rules, but it does—and we are extremely grateful to it—go out of its way, as do most occupants of the Chair, to give all the information that it can to the Member concerned, and sometimes to help him to find a way to deal with a matter which is not apparent and obvious.

Those are the general principles. That is why I say that the Motion is not a censure of the Chair, except in the academic sense; but that is why I also say that in the protection of the rights of minorities, which is one of the great duties laid on the Chair, it is not the function of the Chair to give offhand interpretations of words which differ from the procedure of the House for many years.

There was one thing which the hon. Member for South Angus made clear, and it was on this that I have my greatest quarrel with him. He said that some of the hon. Members concerned on this occasion had had rather more than their fair share of the debate, and he said that this was a matter to which the Chair should have regard in its selection of speakers. But in the selection of Amendments the Chair should not have regard to the fact that an hon. Member has spoken many times, ox to the amount of time he has occupied. When there is only one Amendment, it is a clear meaning of the words that it must be selected if it is in order. Neither in the terms of the Standing Order, nor in any observation about it, is there anything to suggest the contrary.

6.20 p.m.

I know that the House wants to proceed with the extremely important debate that follows and I shall not detain hon. Members for long. I thought that the Leader of the House, whatever he may have said earlier, would, after having listened to the other speeches that have been made, have considered it right to intervene again. I hope that he will do so and that, even at this late stage, he will say that he is willing to consider the matter further. If he will do that I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will be willing to withdraw the Motion.

The right hon. Gentleman should be willing to do this partly in view of the debate we have had, because, apart from the speech of the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), there has not been any support for the view held by the Leader of the House. There have been speeches from hon. Members and I hope that the Leader of the House will take the remarks that have been made into account when he finally decides what the House should do.

It has emerged clearly from the debate that there is no precedent whatever in the history of Parliament for what was done on 14th March. The Leader of the House said that this question had been put to him on a number of occasions—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and others—and, of course, the Leader of the House could produce many precedents for dealing with the first leg of the argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne about the meaning of the word "select".

But if one disposes of that part of the argument, one is still left with the fact that the sort of thing that happened on 14th March had never happened before in the House of Commons. For that reason my hon. Friends and I tabled the Motion. We examined the matter. Had we discovered that there was a series of precedents, we would have thought of another way of dealing with the matter. When we discovered that, in Committee of Supply, there was not a single precedent for this, we said, "If we do not put down a Motion we shall be accepting the introduction of a new procedure without any controversy. Not only that, it will mean a new limitation."

We thought that that would be wrong, particularly in view of what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). Of course, there have been new procedures, but they, to some extent, have limited the rights of hon. Members to debate the Estimates. We used to have all-night sittings and there was a diminution of those rights as a result of the new procedures. It now appears, as a result of the decision of the Chair, that a fresh diminution is now possible in debating the Service Estimates. For that reason we tabled the Motion.

We are now told by the Leader of the House that this has nothing to do with precedent, even though he cannot find a single precedent to support his argument. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman backs the decision of the Chair. He said that the Chair must make decisions which secure reasonable opportunities for all varieties of opinion to be expressed. That was the whole basis of the right hon. Gentleman's case in defence of the action of the Chair. He said that the Chair was trying to secure reasonable opportunities for all varieties of opinion to be expressed.

According to the normal meaning of those words, I cannot see how that defence stands because the decision of the Chair—taken, I am sure, in all sincerity—secured exactly the opposite result. The result which derived from the Chairman's decision was that one important view about the Estimates did not have an opportunity of being expressed. Thus it achieved the exact opposite result of that which the Leader of the House said was the justification for the decision which the Chairman took.

I realise that the right hon. Gentleman may say that we were only a small number. The Leader of the House says at one moment that that is not supposed to count although, apparently, it does count to some extent. Was this not the complaint of the Opposition Front Bench, who have not intervened in the debate today to give the weight of their view? After all, it was my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench who argued that this small number of hon. Members had secured much more time in the Service debates than had some other hon. Members.

One of the reasons why we secured more time in the earlier debates was that we were here almost all the time. We were entitled to do so, since we looked for the Parliamentary opportunity of stating our views on the Army and Air Estimates. Does that mean that we must be denied an opportunity of expressing our views on the Navy Estimates? If so, it seems totally illogical.

Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will take into account not only some of the speeches that have been made, but all of them, because some of them were made by hon. Members with long experience in the House. We have had a debate in which opinion has been 95 per cent. against that expressed by the Leader of the House; surely he should take that into account.

It was not my arrangement which declared which debate was to follow. This Motion for debate was set down and I am speaking to it.

My hon. Friend is saying that a contrary view to his has not been expressed. A large number of hon. Members consider that we have wasted enough time already and want to get on with the next debate.

My hon. Friend has plenty of time. He made the same complaint in the Navy Estimates debate.

We are now debating a question concerning the whole future of the way we discuss Estimates in this House and apparently my hon. Friend is saying that he does not wish to contribute to the debate because he wants to get on with the next subject. That is not an adequate excuse for his not contributing to a discussion on a subject which will decide not merely our rights in years to come, but which will also decide the rights of Oppositions in the future. This also affects the rights of my hon. Friend.

I urge the Leader of the House not to allow this matter to be settled here and now by a vote. That is not the right way to find the right verdict on how these matters should be conducted for many years ahead. I urge him to be prepared to reconsider the matter—through the usual channels and the others—and make a statement to the House later after considering whether there should be a fresh Motion. Perhaps he will say that he still holds to the same view as the one he has at present, but, nevertheless, my request is not an illegitimate one.

If the right hon. Gentleman refuses to do so, and says that this matter must be settled here and now, those of us who feel strongly about this will have to proceed to a vote and ask hon. Members, after considering the merits of the arguments that have been adduced, to vote with us.

6.27 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I will make a few observations.

I realise that hon. Members are anxious to get on with the enormously important matters we must discuss. Nevertheless, we have also been discussing a matter of fundamental importance to us all.

With respect, I do not think that anyone can complain that a Motion like this appears on the Order Paper, for the occupants of the Chair frequently invite those who find themselves in conflict with the Chair to take action in such a way.

Equally, of course, one hopes that a Motion like this is not carried to the Division Lobby.

I have tried to put the case, not from the point of view of protecting the Chair, but, with respect to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hade), because my study of this matter convinced me that the Chair was right. It is, therefore, my duty to put that case to the House. Equally, I accept absolutely that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) probably believes that my argument is wrong; and those who have listened to the two arguments must take their decision between them.

I want to make a point in response to what was said by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I am not arguing that fresh authority should be substituted in any way, although I quoted the Principal Clerk of Committees and the Clerk of the Journals in a book that they have compiled. What I asked the House was to go back to the first known Ruling on this matter, which was by Mr. Speaker Whitley in 1919. I basically concede the point—perhaps I should have made it clear earlier—in response to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), that so far as I know there is no direct precedent at all for what happened on 14th March. If I did not make that clear then. I make it clear now.

The basis of my argument is that Standing Order No. 31 does not differentiate in this way and, therefore, in deciding in two of the three debates to select an Amendment and not to select on the third occasion, the Chair was entirely within its rights and was correct. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who spoke earlier in the discussion, said—if I may paraphrase his argument—that on the whole he probably agreed with my interpretation of Standing Order No. 31. He, however, saw some difficulties which had arisen as a result of the new procedure to which the House agreed and in which he played a leading part as architect some years ago. By all means let us discuss that matter.

In reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, may I say that I would be very ready to discuss these matters and everything that has been said in the debate today. I hope that the hon. Member will be content with that and that the matter will not be taken to a Division, but I must make this point absolutely clear and I am doing it in fairness to the House perhaps rather more than to the Chairman of Ways and Means. I sincerely believe, and I have done my best so to argue, that the case I have put today is the right one, that in what the Chairman of Ways and Means did and did not do in those debates he was fully supported by the procedures of the House, and that his action was correct throughout.

I do not want anything I have said about consideration—which I mean and will stand by—to take away from my conviction, which I have the right to put to the House, that what was done was correct. I am equally prepared to consider that if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne believes that what I have said is wrong, for, if I may quote the words with which I think the Chairman of Ways and Means ended the discussion on 14th March:
"I, too, am a seeker after truth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 1410.]
I will study all these matters in the light of the discussions that we have had. In view of that, I hope that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who is a great parliamentarian, will feel able to withdraw his Motion.

We are all very grateful to the Leader of the House for what he has said. I appreciate, and I am sure all my hon. Friends do, that the right hon. Gentleman sincerely believes that the decision of the Chairman of Ways and Means was right. He knows that I sincerely believe, and so do many others, that it was wrong, but, whoever is right or wrong about this, the debate has disclosed a real difficulty. If the decisions are wrong we can say so, and if they are right we would still have to consider the consequent situation.

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's willingness, and his offer to do that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.