Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Third Reading of the Finance Bill may be taken immediately after the consideration of the Bill, as amended, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the interval between the various stages of such a Bill."—[Mr. Eden.]
§ >Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I feel that on a matter of this kind the Government ought to give the House some reason for what they are proposing. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has looked at the Amendments, or whether he has looked at the Schedule which stands in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and there is an Amendment to that new Schedule. Over the week-end I consulted an eminent lawyer, who is a friend of mine, and the Schedule is, to him, quite incomprehensible. That being so, surely our usual custom of having separate days for the Report stage and the Third Reading of the Finance Bill ought to be followed unless there is some very good reason to the contrary.
§ Mr. Eden
No, Sir, I do not think so. When I explained last Thursday that it was proposed to follow this practice no suggestion was made that any exception should be taken to-day. It is exactly the same practice as we have followed for the last two years, and I can see at present no reason for varying it. If, of course, as the discussion proceeds, there is need to vary the practice in any way, that can be done; but I think it is reasonable now to ask the House to agree to the same arrangement as we have had in the last two years and which has worked quite well.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Surely the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman is not sufficient. For the convenience of the Government two years ago the House consented to depart from what is a very useful tradition and practice. Because we have departed from that useful practice on three occasions the right hon. Gentleman thinks that we ought to have a reason for re-establishing the position and for not going on with this bad practice. 1487 We ought now to have a positive reason why it is necessary to take the Third Reading of the Finance Bill on the same day as the Report stage.
§ Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)
Does not this show how very undesirable it is for the House to give way to representations from the Government upon occasions of alleged urgency, respecting practices which have been the rule here for many years? We are told, when the same matter comes up another year, that the Minister is only following the precedent of the previous year. It is very undesirable that any such precedent should be set up, and no reason given. A further point is that the Leader of the House forgot that when he mentioned this matter before this very complicated Motion in the name of the Chancellor was not before us, or even if it was, its contents had not been mastered by the House. The very fact that this complicated Motion has been put down is a very good reason in itself why more time should be given to Members to study it and for not taking the Third Reading immediately after the Report stage, when obviously Members would not have had time to give the consideration which is so very desirable.
§ Mr. Mander
It is very important to do all we can to maintain the ancient practices of the House of Commons, and whatever may be done on this occasion I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the importance of doing that, except when it is necessary for high reasons of policy connected with the war to rush through something as a matter of urgency. I trust also that he will bear in mind the feeling of the House on this occasion.
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
I certainly hope that this Motion goes to a Division. I have no objection to the Chancellor of the Exchequer putting his Motion down, but what strikes me as very serious is the defence put forward by the Leader of the House. The mere fact that this has been done twice before appears to him to be an adequate reason why it should be done a third time. The House is always prepared to give way on a matter of urgent Government Business, particularly in war conditions, and in order to 1488 facilitate such business to modify its traditions, but such modification is an ad hoc present to the Government and not the conferment of an established precedent. The Government are now apparently trying to turn this process or habit of taking the Report and the Third Reading stages consecutively into not only a precedent but an established order, and there is strong objection to it. It happens that there is very strong objection to it on this particular day, because of the complicated Motion put down in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not merely complicated but is very controversial, and to-day is one of the last occasions on which the process of consecutive Report and Third Reading stages should be proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but that it should be defended by the Leader of the House on the ground that we have already established a precedent seems to be an adequate reason why we should reject it.
§ Mr. Eden
I hope the House is not going to think that I wish to deprive it of long-established rights. That is certainly not my intention, and as Leader of the House it would be a very foolish practice for me to make any attempt of that kind. It is quite true that when, as a result of the Committee stage, only one Amendment was accepted, it became clear that if that Amendment had not been accepted, there would not even be a Report stage at all. That was the position as it then was, and I thought it not unreasonable to ask the House to follow the same practice as we had followed in the last two years. I certainly do not wish to insist upon this course against the wish of the House. I think we can do this to-day in the way I have suggested, but if the House feels otherwise, I am not going to press it against the wish of the House. Alternatively, there are two suggestions to make. The Motion I have moved is permissive, and if it is passed the Business may be taken in one day. If the House is willing to let the Motion be passed, and will have confidence in me as Leader of the House, and if I find, as the Business proceeds, that it is desired to have another day, I am prepared to arrange it with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Interruption.] I do not want to force it against the wish of the House, if the House is anxious on the subject of precedent, as I 1489 can quite understand it may be. We do not wish to get into the position that because the House has given us a special power we take it year by year. I think we shall be wiser not to press this Motion, and therefore I shall ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Benson
The right hon. Gentleman is proposing to take not merely the Report and Third Reading stages but a Committee stage, because the Bill is being recommitted.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Has the right hon. Gentleman asked leave to withdraw the Motion?