§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I beg to move,That the Committee stage (including any Motion for an Instruction), the Report stage, and Third Reading of the Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill shall be proceeded with as follows:
§ (1) Committee Stage.
§ Five allotted days shall be given to the Committee stage of the Bill, and the proceedings in Committee on each allotted day shall be as shown in the second column of the following Table; and those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at the time shown in the third column of that Table.
|TABLE I.—Committee Stage.|
|Allotted Day.||Proceedings.||Time for bringing Proceedings to a conclusion.|
|Third||Clauses 4 and 5||7.30|
|Fourth||Clauses 7 to 9||7.30|
|Fifth||Now Clauses, New Schedules, and any other matter necessary to bring the Committee stage to a conclusion||7.30|
§ (2) Report Stage and Third Reading.
§ Three allotted days shall be given to the Report stage and Third Reading, and the proceedings on each of those allotted days shall be those shown in the following Table, and those proceedings, if not previously brought to a conclusion, shall be brought to a conclusion at the times shown in the third column of that Table.
|TABLE II.—Report Stage and Third Reading.|
|Allotted Day.||Proceedings.||Time for bringing Proceedings to a conclusion.|
|First||New Clauses and Clauses 1 to 4||10.30|
|Second||Rest of Bill and any other matter necessary to bring the Report Stage to a conclusion||10.30|
§ On the conclusion of the Committee stage of the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without Question put.
§ After this Order comes into operation, any day after the day on which this Order is passed shall be considered an allotted day for the purposes of this Order on which the Bill is put down as the first Order of the Day, and the Bill may be put down as the first Order of the Day on any Thursday, notwithstanding anything in any Standing Orders of the House relating to the Business of Supply.
§ Provided that where an allotted day is a Friday this Order shall have effect as if for reference to 7.30 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. there were respectively substituted references to 1 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.
§ For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion on an allotted day and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall, at the time appointed under this Order for the conclusion of those proceedings, put forthwith the Question on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall next proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments, new Clauses, or Schedules moved by the Government of which notice has been given, but no other Amendments, new Clauses, or Schedules, and on any Question necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded, and, in the case of Government. Amendments or of Government new Clauses or Schedules, he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made or that the Clauses or Schedules be added to the Bill, as the case may be.
§ Any Private Business which is set down for consideration at 7.30 p.m., and any Motion for Adjournment under Standing Order No. 10, on an allotted day shall, on that day, instead of being taken as provided by the Standing Orders, be taken after the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or under this Order for that day, and any Private Business or Motion for Adjournment so taken may be proceeded with, though opposed, notwithstanding any Standing Orders relating to the Sittings of the House.
§ On a day on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, proceedings for that purpose shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.
§ On a day on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, no dilatory Motion with respect to those proceedings, nor Motion that the Chairman do report Progress or do leave the Chair, nor Motion to postpone a Clause, nor Motion to re-commit the Bill, shall be received unless moved by the Government, and the Question on such Motion, if moved by the Government, shall be put forthwith without any Debate.231
§ Nothing in this Order shall—
- (a) prevent any proceedings which under this Order are to be concluded on any particular day being concluded on any other day, or necessitate any particular day or part of a particular day being given to any such proceedings if those proceedings have been otherwise disposed of; or
- (b) prevent any other business being proceeded with on any particular day, or part of a particular day, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, after any proceedings to be concluded under this Order on that particular day, or part of a particular day, have been disposed of."
§ Everyone who has introduced what is commonly called a Guillotine Resolution previously has felt it necessary to offer an apology. We have all apologised so often, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, and myself, that. I think it is time we stopped the apologies and said quite candidly that, with the work this House has to do, and the great capacity enjoyed by a good many Members of the House for prolonged Debate, no large and important Measure can go through without some form of Closure. The only thing that whoever is in my position ought to do is to construct a table which will provide time for fair discussion and enable Members on all side of the House to put the case for and against the various Clauses of the Bill and then allow a decision to be taken in the usual way in the Division Lobby. I think this table is pretty fair in that respect.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not want to say it is too generous, but I think it is fair. When the announcement was made by the Government on the 26th of last month that the Reform Bill would have to be put through under the Guillotine, the right hon. Gentleman opposite at once protested and said he did not know of any Franchise Bill that had been so used before. I see to-day he has a very forthright Amendment on the Paper. If he has put it down under the impression that he was right, I hope to convince him that he was quite wrong. As a matter of fact, there was a Guillotine Motion carried for a Franchise Bill in this House. It was in 1913.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It does not matter what happened. The right hon. Gentleman is always raising false issues. I will put the question to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), who, I suppose, will follow. Is it true, or is it not true, that the House of Commons passed a Guillotine Resolution relating to a Franchise Bill? That is the point with which I am concerned. In 1913 the House, on Mr. Asquith's Motion, carried a Guillotine Resolution, and, if the Bill was not proceeded with, it was not on account of the Guillotine Resolution. It was on account of a Ruling which was given by your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. It was a Ruling which upset the whole of the Bill and compelled the Government of the day to withdraw the Bill. We have taken precautions so that that cannot happen on this occasion.
It is also interesting, from the point of view of what may be said later on, to examine the two Bills. The Bill of 1913 broadened, or lowered, the qualification of the Parliamentary franchise, and raised thereby a very important principle of democratic government. It also dealt with local government, with registration, and with alternative and successive qualifications, which was a point which had been the subject of very heated discussion in preceding years. It imposed a penalty for voting in more than one constituency. It contained provisions as to the existing incapacities to vote, raising very important issues, and it proposed the abolition of University constituencies. It was upon that Bill that the Guillotine was imposed.
The Guillotine that was then proposed provided for eight days in Committee, one day on Report, and one day on Third Reading. It was a Guillotine with which can be compared, certainly not unfavourably, the Resolution which I am now moving. But what is more important still, if the eight days proposed for that Bill are seized upon, three of the eight days were to be devoted to a discussion of women suffrage, and, when that fact is left out, the proposal of that Guillotine was five days for Committee, one day for Report, and one day for the Third Reading, a total of seven days. Considering the contents of the present Bill and that there is nothing in it which has not been the subject of Debates in this 233 House again and again, the time proposed by the Government in this Resolution is very fair indeed in order to enable the House to discuss the Bill and to come to conclusions upon it.
I see from certain newspapers that we are establishing a precedent, a very bad one, in guillotining a constitutional Bill. That is not so. The Parliament Bill of 1911, it is quite true, was started as a Bill open to discussion. What was the experience? That Bill because it was an open Bill was delayed and delayed to such an extent that the Government of the day rightly made up their mind that the later stages should be made subject to a Guillotine Resolution. The Government of Ireland Bill, surely a constitutional Bill, was put through under the Guillotine. The Established Church (Wales) Bill, surely a constitutional Bill, in 1912, was the subject of the Guillotine. Bills which were considered to be important and which it was necessary to get through have been put through under the Guillotine. The Franchise Registration Bill of 1913 was put through under the Guillotine. Therefore, following the good Conservative principle—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will contain himself for a minute I will complete the circle. I am following precedent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley, in moving one of these Motions on the 11th December, 1928, quoted Mr. Asquith as having said:I have said over and over again, in the years when I was responsible for the conduct of the business of the House, that we shall not be able to carry on the complicated Parliamentary machine unless we adopt in some form or other the time-table system. It is a necessary incident of Parliamentary life.Having quoted those words from Mr. Asquith, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley added his own contribution, and said:I think there will he agreement with the gist of this statement on all sides of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1928; col. 1954, Vol. 223.]4.0 p.m.
I can hardly hope that that agreement will be demonstrated in the Lobby, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if he comes again to stand by this box and to produce a Bill contain- 234 ing a considerable number of Clauses, each Clause capable of innumerable Amendments, and each Amendment capable of being talked about—I do not say discussed—for half hour after half hour, he will begin the consideration of his Bill by moving a Guillotine Resolution. If his Bill happens to be a constitutional Bill he will have no scruples whatever in applying the Guillotine to such a Bill. It does not matter where one may be in tune to come, here, or there, or over there, there is no right hon. Member of the House who may be responsible for the business of the House who, in time to come, will be able to pilot through a large and controversial Bill, which from its very nature must include a miscellaneous lot of Clauses without a Guillotine Resolution. We can sit an extraordinarily long time. What is to be the use of it all? What is the use from the Parliamentary point of view, quite apart from party and the public outside, of sitting day after day, after the gist of the arguments has been reviewed, after every consideration germane to the points brought before the House has been undertaken, of going round and round, hon. Members here and there getting up to talk and talk—I say that to do that is bringing this House into contempt. Hon. Members know it perfectly well. Yet we get month by month, and quarter by quarter, certain records of the number of columns reported in Debate. What does it all amount to? Jealous as I am of private Members' time, I would far rather see this House err on the side of rapid efficiency, than dawdling, listless talk, talk after everything has been said which can properly be said. Therefore, I move this Motion.
§ Mr. STANLEY BALDWIN
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to assent to the arbitrary curtailment of debate upon a Measure of first-class importance vitally affecting the representation of the people.I rise with great pleasure to move this Amendment, which stands in my name and the names of some of my right hon. Friends. Once more I have to complain of encroachment upon the rights of private Members of this House, and when 235 I am finished I shall certainly have shown that I have some right to make that complaint. I accept a great deal of what the Prime Minister has said, but there is a fundamental difference between us. In the process of evolution from 1914 to the present year, the Prime Minister has passed, in his own words, from being a very strong opponent of what is known as closure by compartment, to one who believes that all Bills taken on the Floor of the House should be subject to the Guillotine. I hope to show before I have finished that that transformation in his character was due to his association with hon. Members below the Gangway with whom the Guillotine has been a favourite weapon. Mr. Asquith spoke of the Guillotine being an incident. I quite agree, but when you are speaking of something being an incident, you are speaking of something that is endemic, not epidemic. I object to it as a common practice.
I do not accept the view of the Prime Minister. I take this view—and I think that my action in office will bear out what I am saying now—that the Guillotine is necessary at times, and is defensible, but you want one of three circumstances to justify it to the House of Commons. It may be justified when an important Bill has to be got through, and there is great congestion of business. I think it is justified when there are such circumstances as require the passage of a Bill within a limited space of time for some good or specific reason. I think also that it is justified when the Government are being troubled by definitely obstructive tactics on the part of the Opposition. Each of those three cases justify, and, indeed, make necessary the Guillotine. Everybody, I think, will agree with that, but no one can say at this moment there is anything approaching to a state of congested business. It is a matter of common knowledge in the House that the Government have been hard put to it to find business for the House in the past week.
The Government have no idea what the strength of opposition is to a Bill until they bring the Bill into Committee of the House of Commons. They should make that test before they impose their Guillotine. That is my view, and I hope to show later on that I have always taken 236 that view in asking the House to assent to the infliction of the Guillotine in the case of any Bills for which I have been responsible. I have observed that it was a favourite weapon of the Liberal party. During those years of their great ascendency, beginning in 1906, throughout the whole term of their office, they used the Guillotine on an average four times every year, but in the Coalition, when, it may be remembered, the beneficient tyranny of the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway was tempered by the milder Conservative support, it was only applied rather less than once each year. When I had the honour of being the head of the Government we applied it just under once a year on the average. I applied it on the Trade Disputes Bill in 1927. How did that come in my category? The slow progress of the Bill in Committee, which sat 18 hours and only succeeded in passing the first seven words of the Bill. That is a form of obstruction where, I think, the Guillotine should be applied. What did a leader of the Labour party, the present Home Secretary, say when we made it? He used these words, which I commend to the House:We have once sat on that side of the House; we shall be there again, and we, therefore, enter our protest against this policy of 'gag' and of bullying, but we leave the House at this moment"—We are not going to do that—with the consciousness that before very long we shall come back with a majority which shall be used more fairly and reasonably than the majority of the present Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1927; cols. 944–5, Vol. 206.]Then we used the Guillotine a second time on the Unemployment Insurance Bill in December of that year. Christmas was near which made the urgency of the date, but also, it must be remembered, that Bill was in Committee the equivalent in hours of 7½ ordinary days, and only five Clauses were passed. The Guillotine, therefore, became a necessity. Then, on the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Bill, in June, 1928, we had the summer prorogation in front of us when we started in Committee, and Clause 1 took nearly two whole days. The Guillotine was used for the fourth and last time on the Local Government Bill, and there we had a justification which the right hon. Gentleman has not got now—the proximity of a General Election.
237 The right hon. Gentleman spoke of Mr. Asquith bringing in a Guillotine Resolution on a Franchise Bill. That is perfectly true. It was an urgent Bill from his point of view, because at that time the Suffragist movement was at its height, and it was important, for many reasons, to give satisfaction to that movement. I understand that he desired to get the enfranchisement of women through as soon as he could, and not unreasonably, in the circumstances, he took every precaution to do it, but, of course, the Bill broke down. The Prime Minister has just told us that he does not mean this Bill to break down, which was a very interesting piece of information for us, and it is interesting to remember that when Mr. Asquith moved his Resolution on the Franchise Bill that Bill was doomed to an early demise.
The Prime Minister used the phrase that he asked for the Bill in the special circumstances of the time. What are the special circumstances of the time? Does anyone know? I do not. I have said that the Prime Minister has been converted to this procedure through his association with the Liberal party, and I have shown that the Liberal party have been much more keen in the exercise of this particular form of Parliamentary procedure than any other party. It, is very interesting to consider for a moment why this is the case. I have been at some pains to get at the bottom of it, because Liberalism stands for freedom of speech, and the Guillotine certainly does not. But I have got to the bottom of it. In the Liberal claim for freedom of speech there has always run through the ages a very strong phase of humanitarianism. The guillotine owed its origin to humanitarians in Paris in 1789, the desire being to use a more humane method than the slow process of execution then in use. The humanitarian side of Liberalism said, "What a slow and gradual process is this constant debate with its repetition of arguments! Let us have a humane method of execution, and support it to the full extent of our power." I believe that was the origin of it, and I feel much more satisfied, now that I have found that it did not really come from any opposition to that freedom of speech which is so much on the lips of Liberals.
238 One cannot help asking at this moment why it is, seeing that there exist none of the reasons which, in my view, ought to exist for the Guillotine, the Government propose to guillotine this particular Measure? I should have said that, of course, it was a deal between the Government and the benches below the Gangway, but I cannot say that, because the Prime Minister has said that there is no deal of any kind—no understanding. I accept it from him, but it reminds me very much of the position of a couple in Worcestershire, in the hop gardens. One day when a young hop-worker brought a reluctant lady and introduced her to a friend of mine, he said, "This is my young woman. We are not exactly married, but we have been co-operating for two years." I quite accept the word of the Prime Minister that there is no marriage of true hearts, but there has been, and is, co-operation, and, in any case, I would say that this Bill, and the Bill with which we are familiar upstairs, are in the position of the Siamese Twins. They are going to live together or they are going to die together; their fates are bound inextricably together.
We oppose the Prime Minister's Motion because we believe that none of the circumstances which justify the Guillotine exist in the case of this Bill. We believe that it is an attempt to stifle Debate on a very important Bill. We believe that it is the result of some kind of understanding which we do not think redounds to the credit of the House of Commons, and that that is the impression in the country is shown by the declining polls at the by-elections. We shall give our vote against the Motion in full confidence that we are supporting the dignity and freedom of the House of Commons.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) spoke of the Siamese twins, meaning that, when one was separated from the other, both died. I think his history is at fault. One of the Siamese twins got married, and that twin had a very large progeny. I do not see the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) in his place, but I have heard talk not of what the right hon. Gentleman delicately called co-operation but some form of loose alliance with him. I oppose the Amend 239 ment of the right hon. Gentleman. I consider that the Government have been far too generous. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is always generous on these occasions. He has been generous with our time, with his own time, and with the Government's time. Five days are being given to the Committee stage. Those are days absolutely wasted.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. Member for Ilford (Sir G. Hamilton) had better wait until I have finished what I was going to say. There is no reason why the Bill should not have been sent upstairs for its Committee stage. We have much more important work to do on the Floor of the House. The people outside are becoming thoroughly disgusted with the attitude of the House of Commons. I would ask hon. Members to consider the business on which we have been engaged during the last few days. Last week the whole of our time was taken up with Supplementary Estimates. That was pure waste of time as regards checking expenditure. It could be far better dealt with by a Select Committee, without the time of the House being occupied with it. We spent time on ancient monuments, relics of the British Museum, the grey seal, and now a whole day will be taken up for this Guillotine Motion and Supplementary Estimates. At the end of the Session we shall be told that all kinds of things that do not matter have to be squeezed out. The slaughter of the innocents will take place, not by the humane guillotine of the right hon. Member for Bewdley, but by strangulation at birth.
The Bills that we need are Bills which will do something for the masses of the people, who are looking to this House. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite want to waste more time on the Floor of the House by extending the Guillotine Motion or by refusing the Guillotine Motion. The object of the Opposition is not to prevent useful Measures from going through but to prevent any Measures from going through, by the steady drip of their talk: useless and ineffective talk. The business that is waiting to be done by this House is 240 urgent. I am glad to see the Home Secretary present. When are we going to have the Factory Bill introduced? When are we to have a Washington Eight Hours Bill, a Workmen's Compensation Bill, a Land Valuation Bill? Will hon. Members opposite help us there? Those are matters on which hon. Members below the Gangway opposite will help us. We have a majority for all those Measures.
Let us look at the Motion which the Prime Minister has introduced and which the Leader of the Opposition opposes. Five whole Parliamentary days are to be given to this Bill, although, as the Prime Minister said, every one of the Clauses has been discussed over and over again. We all know their merits and the details. The question of motor cars at elections and the university vote have been discussed. We have had several private Members' Bills during the time that I have been in this House dealing with the question of motor cars. The question of Parliamentary franchise has been discussed in previous Parliaments. The question of the abolition of the plural vote has also been discussed. The alternative vote has been debated and rejected by every party in turn for years. It is being brought in as a compromise. In politics we live on compromise. Every party does it.
I regret very much that we are giving one single day to the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House. We need the time for really important Measures. I regret that the Government have introduced a Guillotine Motion in which they propose five days for the Committee stage and three days for the remaining stages, making eight days in all. I submit that four days would have been ample. If necessary, we could have suspended the Eleven o'Clock Rule. A couple of all-night sittings would have got rid of the Committee stage. We on these benches are prepared to support the Prime Minister in such a course. On these Guillotine Motions we get the old battledore and shuttlecock between the two Front benches, which is sickening the people of this country; the democracy which had its birth here. It is bringing the Parliamentary system, as my right hon. Friend said, into contempt. We want Measures that the people are looking 241 for, Measures to which we are pledged. For these reasons, I support the Prime Minister with the greatest pleasure in his Guillotine Motion, in order to get this Measure through.
I ask my hon. Friends on this side not to give way to the seductive pipings of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He talked about the invention of the Guillotine. When the guillotine was in operation in France there were certain old ladies, known as the tricotines, who used to sit round the the guillotine, knitting. They knitted garments, stockings and so forth, and took delight in the fall of the heads of the aristocrats. We see on the Opposition benches the old ladies, the knitters—I do not want to make any offensive remarks, and I am only using this as an illustration—who enjoy the spectacle of the time of the people and of this House being taken by the removal of opportunities for bringing in Measures that will help the people. If that is the only contribution that the Opposition have to make to the solution of the very serious problems that confront this House, the sooner they take the opportunity of seeking the suffrages of the electors the better. They do not seem to be in any hurry to seek the suffrages of the electors of a Division only a short distance away from this House. I have heard it said that the Leader of the Opposition is thinking of contesting the seat himself. Will he fight on the question of whether Parliament should be used as a time-wasting device? Parliament should not be a time-wasting device, but it should be used for bringing in useful Measures. I support the Prime Minister, although I think he has been over-generous. I do not wish to play into the hands of hon. Members apposite, whose only wish is to obstruct.
The Prime Minister said that he was not going to make the usual apology to my right hon. Friend. It is possible that that apology was not necessary, because the two Front Benches are more or less tarred with the same brush. The people to whom the apology is due are the back benchers, because it is our rights that are being affected and our activities that are being curtailed. No back bencher can welcome a Resolution of this kind because it still further curtails his rights. We are per- 242 fectly prepared to admit that on some occasions the Guillotine is an absolutely essential part of our Parliamentary machinery. Of course, whenever it is introduced by any Government the Opposition will always oppose it, not necessarily because they are opposed to the Guillotine, but because they are opposed to the Bill for which the particular Resolution has been introduced. It is much more to the manner in which and the reason for which the Guillotine Motion is introduced that we take exception.
We recognise that it is the duty of every Government to govern and to get through their business. If Governments would do a little more of that, we should be the better pleased. We admit that this machinery is necessary to overcome deliberate obstruction, but until you have tried it you do not know whether the opposition that you are going to get is going to be obstructive or constructive. On many occasions we find that had it not been for an exhaustive Committee stage a Bill would never have appeared at the end in a workable condition. As my right hon. Friend said, until you have made the trial and you know what the opposition is going to be, you cannot tell whether they are simply out to obstruct or simply to make a bad Bill into a better one. It must be recognised that the Guillotine weapon is a weapon of defence and not of offence, and you must he very careful to see that you only bring it into operation when you are not getting fair play at the hands of the Opposition, and not simply to stifle the natural desires of the Opposition to debate an extremely important Measure.
I do not think that this Resolution can come under the category of those occasions on which a Guillotine Motion is really necessary. This Bill affects very closely the interests of every single. Member of this House. There are many Bills and many Resolutions which are debated in this House which can be left to learned counsel. They raise legal questions and we are prepared for the legal experts on both sides to argue the case for us. There are other Bills that are highly technical, and we are prepared to allow the people in our party who happen to be experts on that subject to argue the case for us. This Bill is different. It affects every Member of 243 this House, and we have a right to speak on a Measure which affects us so intimately.
I disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in regard to the question of time. I do not agree that the time which has been allotted to the Committee stage is out of all proportion to its importance. The Government have only allowed five days for the Committee stage. During that time we have to discuss, apart from minor questions, six matters of important principle and of the greatest general importance. The Government have no mandate for this Bill. If they thought it was of such tremendous importance why did not the Prime Minister mention it in his election address? It may have been mentioned in one or two speeches by hon. Members opposite, but no one can say that it was put in the forefront of their programme at the last election or that they got any votes at all on this ground. Hon. Members opposite may say that we never mentioned the Trade Disputes Act in our election address. We hoped that such a contingency would never arise, and we had to introduce the Measure to meet a great national emergency. It was introduced with the general approval of the country.
Then, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, what on earth is the hurry and pressure of business? If we were near the end of a Session I admit that we might have to use machinery of this kind to get business through, but there is no hurry now. What is the pressure of business? We have been able to relieve the Government of a good deal of their business and perhaps we shall be only too happy to relieve them of a good deal more, to the general benefit and welfare of the community. If, on the other hand, the Government are anxious to get this Bill through because a General Election is imminent, we should be the more ready to co-operate and get the business over as soon as possible. No words of mine can better explain the reasons why we think this Motion inopportune as those which I found when looking through an old copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT the other day. Some hon. Members of the House may recognise them. The quotation is: 244We say that a Motion like this ought not to be tabled, because there is no urgency for the Bill; there is no demand for the Bill; there are no circumstances in relation to our national life, our trade, our business, or our prospects in any sense making any claim for this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1027; col. 942, Vol. 206.]That is what the Home Secretary said when he opposed the Guillotine Motion on the Trade Disputes Act. This Bill answers all the questions which the Home Secretary put in the negative, and unless we are very careful we may get another resignation from the Socialist Cabinet, because, obviously, the Prime Minister has moved this Motion in opposition to the wishes of the Home Secretary, unless the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind as to the occasion on which the Guillotine ought to be used. The Home Secretary went on to indicate that if the Socialist party ever came into power they would not use their majority so as to gag and bully the Opposition. They have not come back with a majority, but they have been able to use their minority, with their allies to assist them, to bully and gag the Opposition, though whether those allies are going to be considered worthy of their hire remains to be seen. I do not wish to take up the time by discussing general principles as there are many details of great importance to be discussed, but I want to enter a protest, as the first back bencher who has spoken on this particular occasion, not against the general use of the Guillotine but against this particular use of it. Its application is untimely and unfair, and on this occasion it is a very definite restriction on the rights of private Members.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I wish to enter my protest against the Motion made by the Prime Minister, and I do not want to give a silent vote on this occasion. I do not like the sort of thing by which we on this side of the House are led into the Lobby strongly protesting against a Motion like this being carried through in this tyrannical manner, and then when we occupy the other side of the House take up the hypocritical attitude that the Government are bringing the proceedings of Parliament into contempt. There is certainly contempt arising in the country, but from quite another standpoint. The serious issue before the country at the moment is to find work 245 for those who cannot get it, and if a Measure of that kind was brought in I should be prepared to support a Guillotine Motion if there was unscrupulous opposition from the other side of the House. But in regard to this Bill, it is well understood in the country that if there has not been a deal between the Government and hon. Members of the Liberal party there is unquestionably an understanding, and that if it had not been for the strong pressure from Liberal benches on the Leader of the House this Measure would not have been brought before Parliament at all. It is also somewhat strange and, to my mind, must cause serious reflections among the trade union elements in the country, that while the Liberal party have stabbed to the heart the Bill with which they are supposed to be sincerely concerned, trade union Members are now to be led into the Lobby to support a Bill which has been introduced at the request of the Liberal party. I do not want to play any game of that kind, and I am going into the Lobby against the Motion.
§ Lord ERSKINE
No one could have put the case against this Motion better than it has been put by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour). It is refreshing to hear an hon. Member standing up for the rights of private Members. I want to say a word about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). It is always pleasant to see Satan rebuking sin. Anyone who has been in the House for any length of time will remember that when the hon. and gallant Member was in opposition we spent many long, I will not say weary, hours listening to him on all sorts of subjects, and I should like to pay him the compliment that he was one of the best obstructors the Labour party, and the Liberal party originally, possessed. I do not often speak in this House, but it seems to be my fate to follow an hon. Member who has made what I think is a most uncomfortable speech from the point of view of his Government. On the last occasion, when a Motion of this kind was debated, I followed an hon. Member who took the same line as the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, who in his speech went through a list of Bills which he thought would do a great deal of good to the country. He said, why 246 not bring in these Bills now instead of bringing in a Measure for which the Government have never had a mandate. I do not think the Prime Minister will say that the hon. and gallant Member's speech was very helpful.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure the Noble Lord does not wish to misrepresent me. My speech was strongly in support of the Prime Minister's Motion and, indeed, blamed him for his generosity.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I realise that the hon. and gallant Member supported the Motion—and why? In order that this unwanted Bill should be got out of the way as soon as possible so that other Measures might be brought before the House. I do not think the Prime Minister will be very pleased with the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member; they were hardly of any assistance to him. The Prime Minister said that he was not prepared to offer any apology for this Motion. It is true that all Governments have moved Guillotine Motions, but the real case was put by the Leader of the Opposition when he said that in the main a Guillotine Motion is desired because the Government were pressed with business, or because we were nearing the end of the Session, or because we were approaching an election when it was essential to get the business through. No hon. Member, no matter in what quarter of the House they may sit, will say that on no occasion is it right or proper to have a Guillotine Motion, but, on the other hand, we say that when there is no urgency, when the decks are clear, when for the last week we have seen the Government producing very little business, there is no necessity for this type of Resolution. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull said that we were considering Supplementary Estimates all last week. May I point out that on two days the Government did not even suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule, which shows that they were not in any hurry to get those Estimates through.
What has been happening upstairs? Day after day, hour after hour, we have been discussing Clause 1 of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill, and it was left to the Opposition to move the Closure. The Government have not armed the Chairman up there with special power to select Amendments. It is 247 obvious that the Government have been obstructing their own Bill, at any rate, not worrying at all how far they got with it, and now they come down, when they have not even suspended the Eleven o'Clock Rule on the consideration of the Estimates, and have obviously been wasting their own time upstairs, and ask us to agree to a Guillotine Motion on a Measure which contains far reaching constitutional changes for which there has been no mandate from the country. I wonder what hon. Members opposite would have said if we had produced this Motion on a Measure of this character and magnitude, and had moved it before we knew whether there was to be any obstruction or not. The Leader of the Opposition reminded the House that when the last Government moved the Guillotine on the Trades Dispute Bill the Opposition walked out. I never thought that was an efficient protest, and we are not going to follow their example, but if we had moved a Motion of this kind on this type of Bill there is nothing which Labour Members would not say about gagging discussion and treating the House in a way it should never be treated.
Let us see what this particular Measure contains. It contains the Alternative Vote; and the Government are allowing one day for its consideration. Every Member of this House has qualms as to whether this method of election is good for the country or not. I will not go into that matter because I should be out of order, but there is no doubt that it would be a great constitutional change, and should be fully discussed. It is not a simple Measure, because there are variants of the Alternative Vote. It will be in order for us, on Clause 1, to move Amendments for the inclusion of these variations. On a very important constitutional change the Government are really playing with the House of Commons. Then we have the abolition of the university constituencies, a matter on which a great many people feel deeply and a matter which was gone into on Second Reading to a certain extent. But there will be many Amendments moved to that Clause. Yet the Government are giving only half a day to Clause 4. That means that they are giving only two hours to the representation of learning, although they are quite 248 prepared to spend days and days upstairs in obstructing their own Trade Unions Bill.
For what does the House really exist? Of late years the Executive has treated the House as if it were its handmaiden. This House does not exist merely to register the decrees of the Executive Government, but as we go on and the more democratic the Government gets the more inclined is the Government to treat the House merely as a registering authority. This House has never been in that position before. The purpose of this House is to control the Executive, to discuss legislation, and to see, if possible, that Measures are passed only after they have been thoroughly discussed. Of late years we have had complaints from the courts by learned judges about various Acts. This House has been accused of slipshod legislation. The courts have found it extremely difficult to interpret Acts, and interpretations have been given, on the wording which we have passed, which are entirely at variance with the intentions of the Government and of the House. The only way to avoid slipshod legislation is to have thorough discussion of all Measures.
We all know what happens when a Guillotine Motion is produced. Suppose that there are two Clauses to be discussed, and the first Clause takes a very long time, or there is moved some Amendment upon which a real discussion takes place. We are apt to get the Second Clause passed without any discussion at all. Great chunks of legislation which have never been discussed are forced through under the Guillotine. I believe that before the War, when guillotines were in operation, it was very often the fact that the Opposition and the Press referred in their propaganda to the number of lines of a Bill which had been discussed, and the vastly greater number of lines which had had no discussion at all. I do not believe that that is a proper method of legislating. There should be no Guillotine unless it has been shown that the Opposition really intend to obstruct a Measure. For these reasons I oppose the Motion before the House. There has been one omission from our proceedings to-day. We have had a speech from the Treasury Bench and from the Opposition Front Bench, but we have not yet had a speech from the real author 249 of this particular Guillotine. As I see the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is now engaged in taking notes, I have no doubt that shortly we shall have his contribution to the discussion. But the right hon. Gentleman does not appear for the time being to be very strongly backed up by his own party; they do not seem to have very much interest in this Guillotine. Perhaps they are having a party meeting to decide on their course of action in connection with the Trade Unions Bill.
At the present moment we have a Government which is a minority Government. In the past there have been Governments with very strong majorities in this House, but they have never yet treated the House in the way that this minority Government has treated it. It will be a great temptation to a succeeding strong Government to follow in their footsteps and to take this Motion as a precedent. I do not know how the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs would like it if we were to put a strict Guillotine on a Bill for imposing a general tariff, though I have no doubt that he would make a very strong protest. On the other hand, by his action in supporting the Government on this Guillotine, he has certainly given us an ample precedent for adopting the Guillotine the next time we are in power.
It seems to me that this particular Government is not mindful of the rights of private Members. In the "Times" this morning I read a long statement by the Chief Whip. He wanted to bring about some very revolutionary reforms. Among other things he desired that there should he no private Members' Bills and no private Members' time. Surely when we get the Chief Whip of the Government advocating such changes as that, it is time that even his own hack-benchers woke up. I do not believe that anyone in the House desires that the time of private Members should be taken away or their rights removed. The Government are really getting more and more autocratic. As we go on and democracy becomes more powerful, we get in this House Governments which desire to dictate, which desire that the House should he used merely as a registering assembly. They do not desire criticism, but rather to stifle discussion and to 250 closure Debate, and in the end we have the Chief Whip saying that really private Members' time is of no use any more. For all these reasons I believe that the use of the Guillotine on this occasion does not redound to the credit of the House, and in the Division to be taken later I hope that more hon. Members like the hon. Member for Dundee will he found to stand up for the rights of private Members.
§ Sir HUGH O'NEILL
The Prime Minister when he was giving evidence before the Committee, of which I am a member—the Committee which is examining the procedure of Parliament—stated that he thought that the Guillotine should become the normal method on the Floor of the House in respect of all Government Bills, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was inclined to agree that that would be necessary. But the Prime Minister made one very important qualification. He stated that before introducing the Guillotine a Government ought to try to get an arrangement through the usual channels, and that if the Government could not do that, the Guillotine should always be settled, as regards its different parts, by some body of Members other than the Government, and he suggested the Chairmen's Panel.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Not to settle, but to be consulted. The last word would be with the Government.
§ Sir H. O'NEILL
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that some body, such as the Chairmen's Panel, should be consulted and should at any rate have a considerable say as to the form that the Guillotine should take. Now that we have the first Guillotine Motion since the Prime Minister gave that very important evidence, we can say that it would have been desirable if he had adopted the method of consulting some independent body of Members of the House, such as the Chairmen's Panel. Then, if they had proposed what was held generally to be a reasonable allocation of time, there would not have been the opposition that there is to-day to this particular Motion. Yesterday, as has been stated, the Chief Whip of the Government gave some equally interesting and rather remarkable evidence before the same Committee. He 251 said that the time of Parliament was largely being wasted, that Members were terribly obstructive, that obstruction should be prevented at all costs, and that there should be no private Members' time at all; and he made various other suggestions, the effect of which, as far as I can see, would be to withdraw from the Floor of the House a very large measure of discussion of anything at all important—it was all to go to Committees sitting upstairs.
However, that is not germane to this particular Motion, except to show that the whole tendency of the present Government is to try to curtail and baulk discussion, and to prevent legitimate criticism by the Opposition. As I am later to move an Amendment with regard to the details of the Motion, I will not detain the House longer now. It is, however, very essential that on an important Bill of this kind the Guillotine Motion, if it is to be moved, should not be moved at this stage unless some such suggestion as the Prime Minister put forward, for consulting independent Members of the House, has been adopted.
§ Mr. OLIVER STANLEY
I understood the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) claimed that the Prime Minister had every reason to be grateful to him for his speech. It is probably true that during the wearing time of the last two years the Prime Minister has learned to be grateful for very small mercies, but even so I can hardly imagine him being grateful for a speech which resembled perhaps even more the open foe than the candid friend. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument, in the main, was directed to the point that in this country Parliamentary institutions have sunk to a depth of public indifference which they have never reached before, and he presumed that the kind of discussion which would take place on this Bill—discussion which he had not had the chance of judging—would be the kind of discussion which had led Parliamentary institutions to sink. I think he touched on the real reason for the degradation of Parliament in public estimation to-day when he contrasted the comparative importance of the Bills which year by year his right hon. Friends are enabled to find time to introduce into this House, and the Bill 252 for the discussion of which the Prime Minister is allowing only five days.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that the Motion itself originated in scandal. We shall have the spectacle of the House day by day discussing a proposal to increase the electoral chances of two of the three parties in the House of Commons. I agree it is a scandal that we should have to discuss this Bill, a Bill of which the main features are wanted by none, and of which the minor features are wanted only by those who wish for some profit from it. But because it is a bad Bill there is no reason why it should not be properly discussed. You are not going to whittle away the scandal of the Bill itself by the added scandal of baulked discussion and a bullied Opposition. It has always been a principle common to all parties that the Guillotine has been regarded as a weapon to be used only in the last resort, and that the Guillotine Motion is one which the Government bring forward with some hesitation and in the expectation of a certain amount of criticism and resentment. It is true, as the Leader of the Opposition told us, that in the days before the War the Liberal party had shown rather a greater tendency than others to its use. I think probably we can explain that. The trouble is that the Liberals are very good people, and they want other people to be very good, too, and, when you get very good people wanting to make other people very good, they are apt to go beyond limits which rather bad people would never seek to do. That perhaps explains why the Liberals to-day are equally ready to use the Guillotine for the necks of their enemies or for the backs of their friends. But they must not allow those blood-lusts to run away with them.
It is clear from the records of this party in the last Parliament that we resorted to the Guillotine Resolution only in special circumstances and under carefully-defined rules. On two occasions we resorted to it on complicated Bills, only after the course of several days' discussion had shown an obstructive tendency in the Opposition. On the other two occasions there were reasons of time and urgency which made it necessary to introduce the Guillotine. I think that up to 253 now right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have shared the same view of the Guillotine, that it is a necessary part of our Parliamentary procedure, that there are occasions when it must be used, but that those occasions should be limited as far as possible, and that it should never be allowed to grow into a permanent custom.
It is really difficult to reconcile the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on the occasion of the Trade Disputes Bill and the speech which has just been made by the Prime Minister. It is a terrible dilemma in which we are placed. If we take those two speeches side by side and read them together, we are forced to the conclusion that either the speech of the Home Secretary three years ago was humbug or that the speech of the Prime Minister to-day was humbug—or both. The Motion and the circumstances in which the Motion has been introduced to-day show an astounding change from the spirit in which the Motion, introduced under far less rigorous conditions, was opposed by the Home Secretary only three or four years ago.
Do not let us forget that, in this Motion to-day, the Government have broken with precedent. Hon. Members opposite may well think that that is a matter for congratulation, because the Government have shown no tendency to break with precedent up to now. They have shown us rather a "tram" than a "'bus" mentality, a desire to move along precedent grooves. What really frightens me about the Motion is the circumstances under which it is made. The lack of any attempt to see whether obstruction is likely to be made to this Bill, and the complete absence of any apology with which the Prime Minister moved this Resolution only goes to carry out that advice which he gave to the Committee upstairs the other day, the advice that Guillotine procedure should not be a rare procedure reserved for occasions of great emergency or to beat down unreasonable obstruction, but should be the normal method under which this House of Commons should discuss any legislative proposal.
The great safety of the Opposition up to now, even under a Guillotine Motion, has lain in the exceptional character of that form of procedure and the fact that 254 the Government dislike bringing it in. The Opposition is usually treated very fairly in the allocation of time, but, if this is to be treated as an ordinary matter of course, if every Bill is going to be preceded by a Guillotine Motion, if it becomes a commonplace of the Chief Whip's arrangement of Government business, you will see that generosity towards the Opposition gradually whittled down. The Prime Minister thinks that he has been fair in the allocation of time which he has made to us in this matter. The Noble Lord who preceded me pointed out that in his opinion it gave inadequate time, but the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) thought that the Prime Minister had gone much too far and that the time should have been cut down by half.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Yes; or if the Bill were left on the Floor of the House the Eve days allocated to it would be excessive. Hon. Members have to look forward to a time when the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be changing places, when a similar Guillotine Motion will be introduced by him, and when, therefore, his ideas of generosity will be applied to a reluctant Opposition. I do feel that, if the House of Commons is to drift into an attitude when the Guillotine Motion is to be the normal method of procedure, then some such suggestion as was put forward by the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) will have to be adopted and the time-table for the Guillotine Motion will, to some extent, have to be taken out of the hands of the Leader of the House and placed in the power of some neutral body who will be able to preserve the rights of the Opposition from a new procedure which may well grow into a real danger.
I was hoping that the Prime Minister, after the words which he used to the Committee, would have shown some signs of accommodation, that he would have done what he said ought to be done, and that he would have taken the advice of an independent body. But I hope the House of Commons, if it is going to follow the precedent which has to-day been established, will see that the rights 255 of the Opposition are preserved by some independent body of that kind. Finally, do not let us think that a Motion of this sort is going to restore the prestige and the power of Parliament, that merely curtailing the opportunities of back bench Members to discuss legislation is going to restore the faith of this country in the House of Commons. It wants something a great deal more vital than that. First it wants vital and important Bills, not merely huckstering arrangements between political parties. It means that the Government, in the words of one of its own supporters, will have to show either the inward and invisible signs of strength to govern or the outward and visible signs of grace which will allow it to resign.
§ Sir WILLIAM MITCHELL-THOMSON
I should like to intervene only a few moments in this discussion because, as ane who is now a pretty old Member of the House of Commons, I feel that the two speeches which have been made in support of this Motion have put forward some contentions which are so extraordinary and indeed so dissonant with the facts and so inconsistent with logic that one cannot forbear from a word or two of comment. The Prime Minister—and this was indeed the foundation of his case—opened with the statement that no large Measure could, under present conditions, go through this House without some form of Closure, and he added,it therefore only remains for me to discuss the form of time-table which the House desires.That contains two complete fallacies in logic. The first of these statements is completely inconsistent with the facts. On the contrary, it is not more than four years ago, and I rather think only three years ago, that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) got the whole of a large Finance Bill through the House without ever moving the ordinary Closure once. As for saying that a large and fiercely-contested Measure necessarily involves the use of the Guillotine, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman—and I should have reminded the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) if he were here—that he got the whole of his 1909 Budget without resorting to the Guillotine after 109 days of discussion. That goes far to show that 256 the statement of the Prime Minister is not consistent with facts.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL - THOMSON
Would the hon. and gallant Member rather have had the Trade Disputes Bill on the Floor of this House than this Bill? Why did he vote for sending that Bill upstairs? The hon. and gallant Gentleman must make up which horse he is riding.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wanted both Bills sent upstairs, both this Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill, and I want all Bills to be sent upstairs. My objection to the long time taken, the 109 days which have been mentioned, is that that might have been all very well for the slow old Governments before the War, but it meant that no other legislation was got through during the Session.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman desires to send all Bills upstairs, what does he want the House of Commons to occupy itself with?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
In other words, we are to spend our time in this House in shovelling Bills through in order that Committees upstairs may incinerate them. I confess that that is not my idea of the functions of the House of Commons and I shall be surprised to hear that it is the idea of the majority of Members of the House of Commons. The next step in the Prime Minister's argument was equally faulty in logic. Having said that some form of Closure was necessary he led the House to assume that the Guillotine is the only form of Closure which remains. That is quite a new view for the Prime Minister to hold. It is not the view which he used to hold. It is not the view which he held when the Kangaroo Closure was first introduced. It was pressed on the attention of the House as being most reasonable, because it would be, in large measure, a substitute for the use of the Guillotine and that was the Prime Minister's view then. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of evidence 257 which he gave before a Committee on Procedure—not the other day, but on a previous occasion:I have come to be a very strong opponent of what is known as closure by departments. I think it is the very worst form of closure. On the other hand, I have come to be a very strong supporter of what is known as the Kangaroo Closure.At all events I am justified in saying that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his views since those days.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
In those days I regarded this as a necessity—a painful necessity—and I have not changed my view at all. It is absolutely necessary on account of the development of the Procedure of this House.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
What has tended to occur in this House has been the curtailment rather than the extension of the liberty of speech. I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. One might have understood it had we started the discussion on this Bill and had the right hon. Gentleman found himself unable to make progress. But that is not the fact. He comes to the House before we have started to discuss the Bill and he produces this scheme. Indeed he goes further and asks, "What is the use of a flood of talk since this principle has already been discussed over and over again?" The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) makes it worse when he proceeds to analyse that statement and when he suggests that while it is true that the principles have been discussed some of them have only been discussed in previous Parliaments and not in this Parliament. It is a new proposition that because a thing has been discussed in a previous Parliament the present Parliament should refuse to consider it further.
As regards a large part of this Bill, not only the principles but the details are all-important. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull is the only supporter of the right hon. Gentleman who has so far taken part in this Debate, and he thinks that the Prime Minister has been too generous and is giving us too much time. Consider the time which is being allotted. For the Alternative Vote, which is a revolution, a change in the system of representation which has lasted for centuries in this country, we are allotted four and a half 258 hours and the hon. and gallant Member thinks that is too much. Double Member constituencies which were instituted under the Reform Bill of 1832 are now, with one exception, to be abolished in three and a-half hours. The Business Premises Vote instituted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in 1918 is now to be abolished in three hours. University constituencies, which are not without importance and interest to large sections in this House and to all sections of political opinion—[Interruption.] I may remind hon. Members opposite that in 1918 when the franchise was revised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and was put on what I may call a 1918 basis, the number of university constituencies was actually increased. That is not, however, a matter which can be discussed now and all I am pointing out is that a subject of such importance and magnitude as the university constituencies is allowed the generous provision of three and a-half hours under this Motion.
It is no use talking about principles being settled. When it comes to the actual working of the Alternative Vote proposal, the machinery is all-important and the machinery, according to this proposal, is to be settled in three hours. The truth of the matter is that when one comes to analyse this Time-table the provision made is ludicrous. It is a pretence at allotting time for discussion. It is a ridiculous farce. It is obvious that we cannot attempt to discuss these matters properly in the time allowed and all that the right hon. Gentleman desires is that this House should become a machine for registering the decrees which he thinks proper and right to put before us. Indeed he tells us that the country is tired of talk and wants action. I should think more of that argument if I did not remember that one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues used the same phrase to support exactly the contrary argument when a similar Guillotine Motion was moved in connection with the Safeguarding of Industries Act of 1921. The right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Trade then said:What would impel many of us to oppose this Guillotine Resolution? I say sincerely and frankly to the Government"—259 that is the Coalition Government—that I think the representive principle in this country is in considerable danger. It is being attacked by a very large and increasing number of people on the ground that, after they have subscribed to the representative principle and have elected this House of Commons they are denied that free discussion and full investigation of public issues which they thought they had earned."—"OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1921; col. 110, Vol. 143.]If quotations are to be prayed in aid, I commend that one to the Prime Minister. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that he has any mandate from the country for this Bill? I have asked him on a previous occasion from whom he had a mandate. If any hon. Member examines the election addresses of Members of the Government and reads through "Labour and the Nation"—that is perhaps rather a waste of time in these days, for much water has flowed under the mill since it was published—I do not think he will find in the election addresses, and I am certain he will not find in "Labour and the Nation," a single word suggesting that a Bill of this character was to be brought before the House of Commons. Perhaps there is some truth in the statement that the country is tired of talk and wants action. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull got nearer to the point. If the House of Commons were congested with work to deal with unemployment, to deal with dumping, to deal with some of the other economic problems with which we on this side are so intimately and keenly concerned, then one might agree that there was cause for the introduction of a proposal of this kind. But in the present circumstances I can only repeat that the arguments, so far advanced by the Prime Minister and by the only supporter of the right hon. Gentleman who has spoken so far afford no justification for what is an outrage on the right of free speech in this House.
§ Major GLYN
I always looked upon the Prime Minister as one of those Members of Parliament who was most jealous of the time of Private Members. But if Private Members' time is to be taken much more, if the power of the Exceutive is to be made greater than it is by restricting the freedom of Debate, it will make business in this House less an affair of the people, and of the representation of the people and more an affair of the Executive and people will not be 260 encouraged to come into this House if they are to be mere voting machines, if they are to troop through the Lobbies as occasionally required by whatever Government may be in office. There is also a danger of Bills being discussed in Parliament which are not of the least interest to the people outside. We must all be aware that when we go to the constituencies we find that the people are not interested in the Alternative Vote. A few Liberal organisers may be interested in it, but even supposing that the Liberal party's rosiest dreams come true, and they get a 15 per cent. increase, is it worth while giving the attention of Parliament to a Measure of this sort when so many other important Measures are kept out of discussion?
There is an even more important aspect of the matter. I look upon the use of the Guillotine for the furtherance of arrangements between parties inside Parliament as a very sinister move. I believe that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) said there was no bargain and, indeed the Prime Minister himself said there was no bargain, so naturally we realise that there can be no bargain. But in the words of the hon. Member for Dundee there is an arrangement of some sort and it gives us cause to think very deeply as to why this particular Measure, which is not desired by either of the main parties in this House, but only by the Liberal party, as a matter of party adjustment within the House of Commons, is to be forced through by means of a Parliamentary machine which should be very sparingly used. All of us who want to maintain the honour of Parliament and the freedom of debate must realise that, if constitutional means are to be used in the settlement of important questions, the great matter is to see that the rights of private Members and the machinery of Parliament are continued on traditional lines while being made suitable, no doubt, to modern conceptions and the rush of public business. I was amazed to read the evidence given at the Committee on Procedure by the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. If his evidence is typical of the views of those responsible far getting business through this House, it means an end to freedom of debate. A party which is proud of its Measures 261 is not afraid of discussion in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister may say that three hours are being allowed to discuss a particular section of this Bill, but it must be remembered of that time probably three-quarters of an hour will be occupied by a speech from the Treasury Bench and that will be followed by another speech from the Front Opposition Bench probably of equal length, and then possibly by another speech from the Liberal party's Front Bench. As a result something like an hour and a half will be left for back-benchers in all parts of the House, less the time occupied in a Division. In the history of this House the one thing about which Members of Parliament have been jealous has been the rights of private Members, and the only possible excuse, as the Leader of the Opposition stated, for the use of the Guillotine is a factious Opposition and an obvious desire on the part of the Opposition to block a Measure which is urgently required by the Government to meet an emergency or to satisfy public opinion. Nothing in the speeches in the last General Election foreshadowed anything in the nature of this Bill. One or two things have been left out of the Bill for which we might have been afforded time, and the main thing that survives is the Alternative Vote, which has never been discussed in this Parliament. It is an astonishing view of Parliament that, if a matter has been discussed in previous Parliaments, it is to be assumed that there has been sufficient and adequate discussion for the present Parliament. The whole complexion of Parliament should and ought to change—